Kwaheri for Now, Tanzania

Mambo from Canada, friends! It’s been just over two weeks since I left Tanzania and since then, I’ve been catching up with friends and family, settling back in at home, adjusting to things here and keeping up with the adventures of Ben, Duncan, Julie and Adriana as they climbed Mount Kili and went on a safari as part of their post-project adventures. Hard to believe it’s already been two weeks.

I never did write a blog entry before I left to sum up my experience in Tanzania, something which I usually like to do wherever I go. Amidst preparing final lesson plans, packing, travelling to Morogoro, final reporting, and then debrief in Dar, I just didn’t have a chance to sit down and write properly. Okay, I think also because I secretly wanted to enjoy my last week in Tanzania, soaking up the culture and hanging out with my YCI friends, knowing I might get emotional from writing a reflection piece while still in TZ (trust me, there would’ve been waterworks). I’m glad I saved the entry for now though.

These past two months have been INCREDIBLE in so many different ways.  I’m so proud to have been able to represent Canada as a Youth Ambassador with Youth Challenge International and travel back to Africa, to Tanzania for this project. It was the perfect opportunity to gain experience in development and there were a lot of ‘firsts’ for me, from travelling to Eastern Africa for this venture, meeting with local NGOs in Arusha to collaborate and build new partnerships, to planning events (I’d only learned about and created communications plans for special events for school), to gaining insight into a country’s needs, the attitudes of the people, most importantly the youth, about themselves and their country.

The Tanzanian national flag

I really enjoyed teaching the students at the Umoja Centre. They were such a fun group and there were moments in class where they would crack jokes, in Swahili of course, which would result in delayed laughter from Nicole and I after translation into English. One thing I took away from working with these students is that it is the small things that can make all the difference. That may sound so cliche and I think that’s a question that comes up as people embark overseas for volunteering, ”Will I really be able to make an impact?” And the truth is, YES, you will. It’s just that sometimes a lot of the results aren’t visible or apparent right away and the smallest impact you have may be working towards something bigger and more long-term.

The Umoja Students

YCI’s programming is aimed at achieving results in the long-term so the work that the eight of us have done work that has built upon past activities and projects by the group before us and has set a foundation for the next group. When I spoke with students in my CV/interview class, they all raved about the material they were learning and were so excited to be learning topics like putting together a CV, prepping for an interview and even the elevator speech which they loved. And hearing their thoughts on the community events, about working together as group and having cooperation and learning how they can be leaders in their community, it was neat. These 35 students have all got such great aspirations and bright futures ahead of them!

On a personal level, staying with a homestay family was such a rewarding experience. From getting a sense of what everyday life is like. I’m reminded of the conversations Nicole and I would have with Jimmy and Lillian about life in Canada and aspects of life in Tanzania, spending time with Mima and Viva who are so much fun and bring such joy to life, playing karata (cards) with Cliff (putting our own twist by challenging ourselves to count in Swahili) and even the little moments with our dada, Dada Masa who we would hear belting her little heart out to gospel music at various times of the morning and who would always greet us with a big smile in the mornings when we would ask for maji moto (hot water) or let us know when dinner was ready with ‘Chakula? Karibu!’ Even thinking back on the friends Nicole and I made in Arusha, fellow mzungus and the conversations we had, the things we did. It definitely helped us to have a ‘sense’ of home.

My Tanzania family

And let’s not forget my fellow YCI volunteers! I love how close the eight of us have become. I love how we were able to plan that amazing weekend in Zanzibar, it all worked out so well! Such a blast. It’s been interesting hearing from everyone what this experience has been like for them and the kind of work they’ve done and everyone’s plans for post-project. We all came into this experience with for different reasons, with different goals in mind, but we’ve all been able to relate in the fact that we want to learn and grow and gain experience. And just getting to know everyone! I miss Ben and Nicole’s outgoing personalities, Julie and Adriana’s quick wit, Duncan’s sense of humour and fun and his tendency to fall asleep pretty much everywhere haha, Christine’s cool and chill demeanour and Tasha’s introspective comments and of course our dance parties in Dar. Ben, Duncan, Julie, Tasha, Nicole, Christine and Adriana, I’m missing you all a lot right now, but am so excited for our reunion!  

The T11-8D team! Duncan, me, Christine, Adriana, Nicole, Tasha, Ben and Julie

I also want to give a special shoutout to my dear rafiki and fellow YCI Arusha volunteer, Nicole Fassina. We had the chance to meet up beforehand which worked out so well since we had recently found out we’d both been placed in Arusha! As international volunteers, Nicole and I worked together on YCI’s programs in Arusha, from lesson planning to event planning, and spent pretty much 24/7 together, from the moment we woke up (bunk beds!) to the moment we went to sleep. She’s been such an amazing support not only at work, but also personally and I think we were able to keep each other sane during stressful moments. I had a blast with her, from meeting up beforehand, to our journey to TZ and that 12 hour bus ride to Arusha, working with her and exploring Arusha, flying to Zanzibar (on the teeny tiny plane, in style!), our short(er), crazy bumpy bus ride to Morogoro and the journey back here to Canada. I miss your peanut butter cravings, your laugh, smile, positive energy, the nights we’d have a dance parties and get ready to go out (ViaVia!), the walks in town to and from work, our indecisiveness, many things. Miss you roomie!

This experience has also taught me to have further gratititude. A friend of mine, Jay Perry, recently posted this on Facebook and I wanted to share an excerpt of it here:

Today, be grateful. Be grateful for your favorite music, for movies that make you feel good, for your phone that connects you with people, for your computer, and for the electricity that lights up your life.

Be grateful for air travel that flies you everywhere. Be grateful for the roads and traffic lights that keep the traffic in order. Be grateful to those who built our bridges.

Be grateful for your loved ones, for your child, for your pet, for your eyes that enable you to read this. Be grateful for your imagination. Be grateful that you can think. Be grateful that you can speak. Be grateful that you can laugh and smile. Be grateful that you can breathe. Be grateful that you are alive!

Be grateful that you are You!!!!

Be grateful that these are two words that can change your life, and say them over and over again.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank You!

It’s amazing how much we take for granted. There would be times when the electricity would cut out and we didn’t have running water, or we wouldn’t have hot water to take a bath. Walking through our area to work was definitely eye opening. There were an array of houses, including houses made of mud with tin roofs or made out of wood planks with a small opening as a door. We visited some homes as part of an initiative by a local NGO, Initiative for Youth, and went into a few homes like this. We were lucky to be staying in a house made of cement, furnished with running water and electricity, with a TV and DVD player and have two meals, breakfast and dinner, every day. During our layover in Amsterdam, it was a bit overwhelming walking through the airport filled with nice shops and products and thinking about the materialism of it all, how easy it is to get caught up in it, versus the simplicity of things in Tanzania. These are things that will stay with me, these and also the little moments over the past two months that truly made me realize and appreciate having this experience.

Like my friend and fellow volunteer, Ben (click to check out his blog), this experience has also made me consider the capacity I would want to work in the international development field if that is where I end up. There is no question though that I will continue to find opportunities to do the same kind of work in my own community, whether or not I work in development, or work in communications and PR. Either way, I want to be able to help people and make a difference. And with that, let me end with a quote that Ben, shared with us before we left for TZ and included on his blog:

"The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others." - Gandhi

Asante sana (thank you very much) to the YCI staff here in Toronto and the YCI Arusha team (Linda, our program manager and Elvis and Magreth, our local volunteers), to my fellow YCI volunteers who are all amazing individuals, to the friends I made along the way (shoutout to Danielle and Alison, miss you guys!).

The YCI Arusha team. Linda, Nicole, me, Magreth and Elvis at International Men’s Day

Me, Nicole, Dani and Alison

And of course, to everyone back here in Canada for your support, encouragement and excitement over these past few months! I couldn’t have done this without you. I’ll continue to blog here and there as I settle in back home and let you know what I’m up to next :)

xoxo Avi