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A Spontaneous Service Trip to Tanzania

I came to Moshi, Tanzania on a service trip as an active 63-year-old tenured professor in education from New York City after having spent my entire career working with students and educators.

Since I was a teenager, I always wanted to participate in a service trip to Africa. But between work and raising two kids, and life in general, that never happened—and truthfully, I thought it was too late. But one day at work a young colleague mentioned that she was going back to Africa after having already volunteered there once.

I had just returned from a fabulous yoga and hiking trip to Patagonia, Argentina and thought I would take some time before traveling again…but the opportunity presented itself and I jumped on it!

By that evening I had contacted African Impact and was planning my volunteer trip to Tanzania.

It turned out to be more fulfilling and unimaginable than I ever expected.

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A Warm Welcome to Moshi and Mount Kilimanjaro

Arriving at Kilimanjaro Airport after 16 hours in flight and having almost missed my connecting flight in Doha, I was thrilled to see my name on a card outside the airport gate and a taxi sent by African Impact as my introduction to the country.

Also see: Moshi: The Perfect Introduction to Tanzania, East Africa

I got in on the wrong side of the car and continued to do so for two weeks, as we, in America, drive on the other side. I was in awe during the ride to Moshi. We drove past sights I had never seen, including women easily walking with huge, filled buckets on their heads and Mount Kilimanjaro in full view for my arrival.

I was greeted at the volunteer house with big smiles by the staff and tremendous heat, which I did get used to. I embraced a new level of sweatiness while in Africa!

The tour of the grounds and orientation was informative and welcoming. The staff was delightful, encouraging, and helpful. And the food was home-cooked by the amazing chefs, Joeli and Tuma!

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Limited Resources but Endless Enthusiasm

I settled into my room, which had a private bath, ceiling fan, and a button for hot water. Elieza cleaned the room every day and provided towels and linen. Unexpectedly, we also had excellent WiFi service if the internet and/or electricity was available. At least once a day the electricity did go out, which made me truly appreciate electricity for the first time!

The next day, my first full day in Tanzania, I was introduced to the project where I would spend all my mornings during my stay in Moshi. It was in a tent in the back of the Secret Garden Hotel in Maasai town with a muddy floor, rickety plastic chairs, two whiteboards, and no erasers.

That is where I joyfully taught English to mostly Maasai men and a few girls who were always happy, diligent in their efforts, and enthusiastic!

I was able to continue the work they had been doing on family members, occupations, pronouns, verbs and tenses, writing stories, and public speaking. It was powerful, fun, fulfilling, and the time flew by each morning until it was time to get back in the van to go to the volunteer house for lunch.

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Bumpy Dirt Roads and Female Empowerment Groups

A few words about the van: Elieza is a fantastic driver who masterfully navigated the dirt roads in Moshi. The mud was overwhelming after it rained, but we always made it through—although there were moments when I was sure we wouldn’t!

I was told by many people that driving on the roads is called an “African massage” and it is quite the experience. My best advice is to hold on tight! I’m used to potholes as a New Yorker, but these are simply earth and mud and quite difficult to drive on. Getting in the van continued to be an adventure throughout my stay.

In the afternoons I was fortunate to participate in a variety of projects with different wonderful staff members. I visited two different women’s groups. We met on either a member’s beautiful, plant-covered porch or in a half-built church and discussed Leadership and Mentoring.

The Tanzanian women welcomed me and respected my input, allowing me the opportunity to share what I had learned about leadership, mentorship, and empowerment throughout my personal and professional life. Bertha translated as needed, which helped with communication.

Join one of our Gender Equality projects and volunteer with our women’s groups

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Heated Discussions at School for the Deaf

I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon with Tyne and the children of the School for the Deaf. I went back to using my degree in Health Education and taught an unbelievably engaging lesson to boys and girls on menstruation, complete with a pad we poured water onto to simulate what would happen during menstruation.

I learned how to sign my name in preparation for visiting the school and one of the teachers translated what was said into sign language.

A heated discussion ensued when students were asked True and False questions (kweli or sikweli) to provide a baseline of their understanding of menstruation. Every single student stayed seated (the designated symbol for True) when given the sentence: Girls cannot go into the kitchen during menstruation.

I was happy to be able to facilitate on a subject for which there were inherent misunderstandings and misinformation, and a subject that is so essential for women’s health and empowerment.

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Teaching Yoga to the Wazee Old Folk

Lastly, I spent some time with the Wazee, a group of old Tanzanian people who live in a home run by the state and where African Impact significantly, and most positively, affect change. They do this by raising money for physiotherapy, daily visits, providing much-needed fruit for their diet, engaging in exercise and conversation, and other activities such as reading the newspaper aloud.

The Wazee deeply affected me. Their living conditions were poor, and yet, their gratitude for our visits overwhelmed me. Their knowledge of world events engaged me. And their love for life and genuine happiness made me ashamed of ever complaining.

I practice yoga at home, and even though I am not an instructor, I worked on a Chair Yoga routine in the evenings after dinner for a few nights that I could teach the Wazee. On the day I did Chair Yoga, with Melk translating, I felt truly blessed to be able to share my passion for yoga!

One of the other volunteers offered her cellphone with yoga music that she had downloaded and the Wazee were totally engaged! Melk occasionally helped them move their bodies into postures, but mostly, they followed my example, completely immersed in the routine.

As it was my last workday before going back home, I was particularly emotional and sobbed at the end telling the Wazee I would carry them home in my heart and never forget them. I sent the Chair Yoga routine to Melk and hope they are continuing their practice.

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A Service Trip isn’t all Work and No Fun

It wasn’t only work in Moshi, there was a lot of fun too! We played games with the staff, had dinner out with the women’s group, went into town for coffee and shopping, and once a week, we had Events Night.

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard as when we played charades during Events Night. Our team was called ‘Mama Jonny’ after me, which is what I was called as a mother whose oldest child is named Jonny. Team Mama Jonny won in a close game–who knew I had a secret strength for rocking charades!

And the incredible safari I went on where I saw lions, giraffes, elephants, zebras, and many more animals right in front of my eyes, in their natural habitat. What an amazing experience!

I thought that perhaps being older than most volunteers, as well as the staff, it would separate me from the group, but I was 100% wrong! Everyone at African Impact is included, valued, and respected.

As an older volunteer I had so much to offer, including my years in the classroom, curriculum writing, and ideas for lesson planning. Additionally, I am confident in my teaching skills and was able to jump right into the curriculum, facilitating growth on so many levels with my students and within the projects.

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Joyous, Sweaty, Fun, and Fulfilling

At the volunteer house, everyone contributed to a weekly job. I was “Gandhi” and I happily shared daily words of inspiration. To all who I encountered, I generated love and it was reciprocated everywhere!

The joy and the love of the Tanzanian people and the staff at African Impact was consistent throughout my trip. I felt incredibly appreciated and valued.

It’s difficult to describe my feelings about the trip to my friends and family, but it was one of the most profound two weeks of my life and everyone at African Impact greatly impacted me!

I find myself thinking of the experience often, thinking of my students, and thinking of the people I met throughout the projects and within Moshi in general. My time in Africa was joyous, fun, and fulfilling.

I never expected to accomplish so much in two weeks and it is a credit to the program that I was able to feel such fulfillment at the end of my stay.

Throughout my career, I’ve spent so much time in a classroom and yet, my time in a tent in Maasai town with Kaso, Melk, Elieza, and of course, with my amazing students, were some of the best moments I’ve ever spent in a classroom.

The other projects that I was able to participate in also gave me such incredible opportunities to immerse myself in the culture of the beautiful Tanzanian people and really feel that I was contributing positively to their growth in many important ways.

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More Empowered and Adventurous After This Service Trip

To say that I feel changed by my adventure with African Impact is an understatement. I feel empowered and even more adventurous than before! I’m hoping to stay involved in some ways with the projects, even though I’m across the world.

I sent the Chair Yoga routine for the Wazee and I’m hoping to become pen pals with the Wazee and share information from the US with them—and in that way, help provide a bi-weekly activity of reading a letter and writing back on specific topics.

I can’t wait to share my experiences in Tanzania with others!

My one regret on the trip was that I was never able to answer greetings appropriately in Swahili. Although we were given Swahili lessons by the staff and I worked hard at learning the new language — like “Poa” (Cool) and “Asante” (Thank you) — there are so many greetings that it was hard to learn in such a short time. I have started studying Swahili using the Duolingo app, so next time I will hopefully be proficient in my Swahili skills!

I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to meet the staff, volunteers, and project participants at African Impact, and to work closely with everyone while in Tanzania.

With love and gratitude, I send thanks to ALL for the opportunity and the love, support, generosity, and kindness throughout my service trip in Moshi.

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