Aaron is a Physics and Math High School Teacher who went to the University of Minnesota. He did a World Endeavors Teaching volunteer program in Tanzania.
What were your first impressions of Tanzania?
I arrived in the Kilimanjaro airport and despite not being sure of what to expect, everyone was helpful and friendly. The World Endeavors coordinator picked me up at the airport and immediately engaged me in fun conversation. He shared information about the city Arusha and told me about some of the Tanzanian culture. He dropped me off at the volunteer house and I was immediately greeted by the “house moms,” even though it was late. The next day, I was getting a tour of Arusha with one of the World Endeavors contacts. He showed me key places of interest and taught me a little Swahili. Despite sticking out, the people in the city would smile and the kids would shyly say hi and giggle. One full day in and I already felt welcome and prepared.
What was your volunteer project like?
I had the opportunity to volunteer at a children’s center, which is comprised of both a children’s home and a primary school (roughly pre-school through 9th grade). It is an amazing place. Education is private in Tanzania (everyone has to pay to go), so for vulnerable children, school is usually non-existent. The school is made up of students whose parents pay and the children who can’t pay. The parents, who pay, pay extra to allow the vulnerable kids to go to class too. This was an amazing example of community.
My role at the children’s center was mainly teaching. I am an aspiring math and science teacher and the Centre asked me if I was comfortable jumping right in at the primary school and work with the teachers. The teachers were very welcoming and eager to let me give a helping hand. I was fortunate enough to teach about 3 math or science periods a day. The teachers also asked me to aid them in the classroom throughout the day. When I was not in the classroom, I was helping teachers grade assignments and write assignments. Outside of being a teacher, I was just a big kid running around and laughing with the children. For half of my stay, a couple times a week, I was able to tutor the kids at the children’s home who were on holiday from their secondary school.
Tell us about a typical day in Tanzania.
I would start the day riding the bus with the young students to school. In the mornings, I would help out in the Baby Class (pre-school age, I loved the name) and Intermediate Class (Kindergarten). I helped watch over the class, help focus the students, give more students attention, and just be a smiling helper. Lunch time was my opportunity to hang out with the kids, joke around, and be more of a friend figure. In the afternoons, I would teach the 3 math or science periods. After school was out I would get to hang out and play. We played soccer, read books, drew pictures, and other activities. The day would end with the bus ride back to the city. And my usual walk through the city centre to the volunteer housing.
What did you do in your free time?
I would go to the children’s home every other weekend to play with the kids there. Otherwise, I would explore the city, check out the market, and meet locals. Sometimes, I would meet up with volunteers and hang out at some of the local hot spots. I was also able to go on a guided hike to a hidden waterfall in Mount Meru (It was spectacular!). Another weekend, I was able to visit a Masai village. The weekends were also time to relax and reflect on the wonderful week that had just passed.
What were your living accommodations like?
I stayed in volunteer housing, which meant it was myself and anywhere from 4-12 other volunteers around. We had security guards and two “house moms” who cooked and cleaned for us. The house was in a little area called Themi (about 10 min walk from the city centre). The house was gated and I felt safe during my whole stay.
Living with other volunteers was an incredible experience. I was able to meet people from all around the globe (about 12 different countries). The volunteers I lived with were volunteering in all kinds of fields, medicine, law, education, child care, and veterinary. It was very enjoyable to come home from my day and sit around and eat dinner with the volunteers and “house moms” and discuss our adventures of the day. The “house moms” and security guards were Tanzanian, so I was also able to learn more about their culture and become good friends with them and some of their friends.
What are you most proud of from your time abroad?
It started with a little dream of volunteering in Africa and after this experience; I am able to recall my amazing time there nearly every day. I learned a lot about happiness, patience, friendship, and family. The culture there is amazing to witness and be immersed in. I am proud to call people in Tanzania my brothers and sisters.
What did you find challenging during your time abroad?
The most challenging part of my time abroad was saying goodbye, especially with the children. The people I met in Tanzania hold a special place in my heart and I am eager to say hello to them again.
How has this experience impacted you and your plans for the future?
As far as my future plans, I know that I will be going back to Arusha at least once. My teaching career is going to reflect many of the lessons I learned about teaching in Arusha. The experience has also given me a bigger perspective on family, friendship, and the appreciation of what I do have. A carry a part of Arusha with me every day and it helps me realize how fortunate I am and also helps me tackle the obstacles I face that day.
What’s one of your favorite stories to tell about your experience in Tanzania?
Every Friday was testing in the morning and then games for the rest of the day. We would sing, dance, run around, play soccer, play African games, and much more. But one of the biggest games of all was tug of war. The school had a huge rope that was long enough for about 100 kids to play at a time. One game day, the younger classes (Classes 1-4, ages 6-10) challenged the older classes to tug of war (Classes 5-7, ages 10-15). The younger ones had numbers, but the older ones were much bigger. So the game began and the older kids were starting to pull right away, so one of the teachers jumped in to help the young ones. Soon enough all the teachers were playing. I quickly jumped in with the young ones once I saw more teachers go to the older side. I have played some tug of war in my day, but this one was a battle. It was going back and forth and the kids were all trying their best. All of a sudden, the younger side started gaining some ground. I yelled out for everyone to pull on three. Sure enough on three the whole side comes rushing back and the older ones stumble forward. The game was won! The young ones erupted with joy and laughter. I quickly, jokingly flexed my muscles as the kids all gathered around me and the teachers on our side. They all laughed and joined in good fun. The older ones came over to high five everyone and the teachers were laughing nearly as much as the kids. I’ll never forget the feeling.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to volunteer abroad in Tanzania?
Mostly, do it! Getting over the list of things that are holding you back and just jumping into the decision is not easy, but it is super rewarding. Once you make the decision to go, spend time learning about the area you are going. Talk with others. Keep an open-mind.
Once you’re there, soak it all in. Every day has its treasures. I recommend keeping a journal to spark your memory of all the little things.
Why did you choose World Endeavors? How was your experience working with WE, both in the US and abroad?
I chose World Endeavors as it was local, I live in Minneapolis, and it was affordable for my “college” budget. The people I met who were associated with WE in the US and in Tanzania were all amazing. They had a smile and a helping hand. They helped me be well prepared and kept in contact during my time abroad. I am grateful for working with World Endeavors, especially when looking back; their organization helped me have a wonderful experience.