Tanzania – 2016
Today I wanted to share with you a little of my story from my trip to Tanzania last summer. It was one of the most memorable trips I’ve been on to date, and really challenged my way of thinking, and my attitude to life.
In the July of 2016 a group of 25 students from my school embarked on a life-changing trip to a small village in Tanzania, called Musoma. We went with the organisation Go MAD, which stands for ‘Go Make a Difference’.
While being a completely eye-opening experience of African culture and lifestyle, it was especially meaningful for me as a first-hand example of mission. Over the two and a half weeks in which we were there, I witnessed life in a completely new way, we had the opportunity to give something to the community, but most importantly, I learnt valuable lessons from the people I encountered.
Before I tell you more, I’d like to start with this. When walking through life, it can be very easy to find yourself caught in a personal little bubble, containing your friends, family, job, church, school etc. I’m as guilty of this as anyone, but I’d like to encourage you to take time to stop. Take a moment to appreciate what you have around you, and what lessons you can learn from the people you encounter. Often the most valuable things can be learnt when you’re not expecting it: but you do need to be open.
Today I want to highlight some aspects of African life that we experienced while out there, along with some of the work that we participated in with Go Mad. I’ve got a couple of other elements of my trip that I want to share with you too, but all in due course. First off, the important stuff.
I think the easiest way for me to explain this will be through photos. I think seeing the landscape and water source through my own eyes made this strike home.
Let’s put it this way. The women we met walked two-hours, three times a day to get to a water source. This was the water they collected. While to us, this would be unthinkable, for them, they have no choice. Water is a precious commodity, so much so that on one occasion, we were stopped by a man with a machete, who had taken control of the village water source. He had been charging the villagers for entry, and warding anyone off with the threat of violence. It is so easy for us to access water; we merely have to go and turn on a tap, yet it means something so different to people without. Without water, there isn’t much hope – we need water to live. When your only source of water is a lake like the one above, not only is it difficult to access, but is home to many water-borne diseases.
One of the areas in which Go Mad seek to help the community is through building water tanks for families and schools. As a team, we funded production of 3 water tanks, which hold 9,000 litres. These should last for the entire dry season. I think the main thing that I appreciated about this project, is that while Go Mad volunteers start the build, it is finished by the villagers, who earn an income, and learn a trade. Where possible, it’s about giving the people an opportunity to be self-sufficient.
I think for me, the most striking thing was seeing the houses that the villagers lived in, and trying to imagine a whole family in just one room. I have a really small family, and so even family occasions with the extended family are relatively quiet events. In Africa though, family is everything, and families are often large. Families look after their own, but often that can mean they live in very cramped conditions. Raising children in these conditions can hardly be ideal, yet the first and foremost attitude of the people is one of hospitality. Everywhere we went, we were faced by welcoming smiles and generosity, and it was a real challenge for me.
These people have so little, yet want to share it all.
Another thing that stuck out was the realisation that it is such a patriarchal society. Women were so dependent on either their husbands, or their family, and didn’t have their own feet to stand on. While there were examples of some people challenging this attitude, they were faced with trial and hardship, as the options just weren’t there. One example of this can be found in Evelyn’s story.
Evelyn was just one of the lovely people we met when out there, and she helped out with the weekly Girls and Guys club that Go Mad run. Evelyn had two small children, who were some of the friendliest, and cutest children there (and that’s saying something, I am so NOT a children person…!) Unfortunately, she had gone through a nasty divorce, and her ex-husband was adamant he owned the land, upon which her house was on. As a result, she was facing being made homeless, and had also ended up in hospital after a nasty assault from her ex-husband’s new partner. One of the things we decided to put our money towards was a new house for Evelyn, to provide security and protection for both her and her children. Evelyn had saved 400,000tsh to buy a new plot of land, but it was isolated, and lacked protection. Eventually, it was agreed that her new house would be built next to the old one, allowing her ex-husband to take the materials he wanted, but Evelyn to keep her water tank, which had been built as part of her work with Go Mad.
Being part of the team who got to share with Evelyn the news about her new house was a truly special moment. It may seem so simple to us, yet it meant the world, and the gratitude was painted across her face. I’ve got a few photos here of the beginning process, but also of the completed house, and I think you’ll agree, it was amazing to be able to change her life in such a practical way.
Schools and Education
As you may have picked up a while back, education is something that I’m passionate about. The opportunity to experience and witness the state of education in a variety of manners while in Tanzania was one I really valued, and it made me appreciate my education so much more.
We first visited the local primary school, called Nyakanga Centre Primary. I think the first thing I noticed was the buildings. Their classrooms were brick buildings, with very few windows, and slightly holey roofs. There were also faces everywhere. It turns out that there were 1258 students at the school when we visited, with 26 teachers. That doesn’t seem too bad, but the teachers rarely turn up. The school was split into two sessions, in order to allow more children to get an education.
While the children were so eager to learn, and really valued that opportunity. But many of them had to walk between 30 mins to an hour to get to school, often without water. A walk of that length is not too uncommon here, but you would never find a four-year-old girl walking to school on her own in the UK. Their classes were often made up of 70 students, and if their teachers turned up, they would teach for only 15 minutes, out of a 40-minute period.
When education is so highly valued and seen as the ‘future’, it pains me to see the struggle that children have worldwide to get a decent education.
On a different day, we travelled further a-field to the village of Bunda. This gave us the opportunity to visit three different ‘school-type’ organisations: a kinder-garden, the Girls’ Brigade, and a private girls school.
Seek, Serve and Follow Christ
The trip to the Girls Brigade Centre in Bunda was extra special for me, as I was part of one when growing up. It was almost like revisiting part of my past, and amazing to see the work spreading around the world, in ways I had never imagined. The centre gives girls who have left education for whatever reason, an opportunity to extend their skills through a one-year course. They get trained in English, bible studies and embroidery, giving them a new skill in which they can use to find work in the future. The girls were so friendly, and welcomed us with singing – and we even got involved in dancing too!
The message of the Girls’ Brigade is there even in the middle of Africa: Seek, Serve and Follow Christ. In Swahili, this translates to ‘Tafuta, Tumikia, Fuata Kristo.’ It was an honour to witness the work that’s being done in the centre, and gave me a sense of pride that I used to belong to such an organisation.
In the kinder garden, there were about 14 small children who were learning English from a group of Tearfund volunteers. One of my favourite memories of the whole trip was standing in a large circle with the Tearfund volunteers, the kids, and our whole team, and singing ‘Our God is a Great Big God’, complete with actions. So much fun, and I loved their singing!
We stopped and had lunch at the Boys’ Brigade (similar set-up to GB, just with fewer numbers). Afterwards, we visited the Bunda school for girls, which is a private boarding school. The fees cost about £500 a year, which is a staggering amount for families out there. In December, they have a month off at home, and last year, two of the girls came back to school pregnant, having been raped while they were at home. These students weren’t allowed to go back to school, and were left with very little support. It pained me to see the harsh realities that strike even when dealing with families who are a little wealthier. Although 2 in 200 students doesn’t seem too bad, it’s still a shocking statistic in the scheme of things.
And finally, while the private school may have had better facilities, the students may have understood far more English (as they were taught solely in English), and they appeared to have a greater understanding of the world around them, there was one thing that both Nyakanga Centre Primary and Bunda School for Girls had in common.
The children had the same aspirations. They all had the same dreams – they wanted to be doctors, pilots, or even teachers (which was surprising given the state of teaching at the first school.)
Education is a gift – and I really learnt that while I was there. It’s something we shouldn’t take for granted, no matter how much homework can be a chore, or when the next deadline is creeping up. We are blessed with the opportunity to learn for free, and have the standard of education available to us.
If education really is the key to the future, we need to make an effort in seeing educational equality become a reality.
I’ve got a lot more to share with you about my time in Tanzania, but this is just a collection of some of my thoughts about the Life in Africa I witnessed. I hope I’ve encouraged you to take some time out of your day to stop, and say thank you.
In something I read the other day, it was talking about an ‘attitude of gratitude’. This is something I want to challenge myself by, and maybe you can join me.
Until next time,