During the Easter holidays, internationally-minded Sixth Form pupils Holly Hutchins (I) and Claudia Watts (M) embarked on volunteering experiencesin Tanzania. In this article, they discuss immersing themselves in very different cultures working with children in schools and orphanages and being inspired by the less fortunate.

CLAUDIA – WORKING WITH AFRICAN IMPACT

I became open to the idea of doing some charity work back in the Fifth Form. As I was researching charities, I came across African Impact, an award-winning organisation which aims to improve lives in communities across Eastern and Southern Africa. The charity manages and distributes donations equally across 11 major projects while relying on volunteers to go out and improve people’s lives through sustainable projects.

Having only just turned 16, my parents were not so keen on me signing up to volunteer, but eventually agreed under one condition: I raised the money myself. So I signed myself up for the Teaching and Community project in Moshi, Tanzania.

‘DID IT CHANGE MY LIFE?’
THE SIMPLE ANSWER IS YES.

My fundraising target was £2,080, which I managed to reach in 14 months through fundraising events and daily posts on social media. After 17 injections, an extremely emotional goodbye and a 21-hour journey, I arrived at Kilimanjaro Airport to begin my experience as the youngest ever solo volunteer at African Impact Moshi.

After laying awake on the first night questioning my decision to volunteer, I headed out with the other volunteers to my teaching based project. I was assigned two classes of 21 children and a nursery group for children aged 3. I followed the set curriculum, teaching on topics including jobs, weather, seasons and basic English greetings. On top of this, I taught a Basic English Foundation class, focussing on grammar and tenses. I had a translator to help me due to the language barrier from English to Swahili.

During my time in Tanzania I also had the opportunity to work with the Maasai Tribe town group where I learned a lot about the cultural norms of one of Tanzania’s largest tribes, as well as the inspirational Wakipa women, who have all either been in abusive relationships or widowed. They have set up their own catering company and travel all over Tanzania cooking for events.

I also met the Wazee, a group of people with no families who have become homeless or ill. Every day I would visit them to bring them fruit as the meals were limited. We would talk with them, share stories or do gentle exercise with them.

While with them I was able to donate the money that I had raised at the Stanley House Evening of Entertainment towards funding for physiotherapists and medical surgery costs. The time spent with the Wazee affected me the most and made me realise how grateful I am for the education I receive.

Many people asked me the clichéd question of ‘Did it change my life?’ and the simple answer is yes. Seeing the difference in lifestyle compared to mine was astonishing. We had only occasional hot water, electricity that cut out at night and there were HIV signs all around town to bring awareness to what is a huge issue in Tanzania. I made four best friends from fellow volunteers, some being 55 years older than me, and made friends with the students who I am still in contact with to see how their English is progressing.

I am already looking forward to be working with African Impact again on my gap year.

HOLLY – VOLUNTEERING FOR A FUTURE IN MEDICINE

I worked with Medical Projects, a company providing work experience opportunities in hospitals for aspiring medical students both in the UK and abroad. I chose to go to Tanzania as I wanted to see the realities of healthcare for people outside of the UK. I wanted a completely new experience, forcing me outside of my comfort zone and challenging me to do things I never would have done otherwise.

Upon arrival at the hostel I met some of the other volunteers working on some incredible projects such as the Women Empowerment Project, the Street Kid Project and working in schools.

The majority of my hospital work experience took place on weekdays and is something I will never forget. Walking in for the first time, immediately seeing how different healthcare in Tanzania is compared to at home, was humbling and eye-opening. Over my two weeks I spent time in Internal Medicine, Paediatrics, Surgery and Labour wards.

I spent the first day treating adults with diseases such as tuberculosis, malaria, meningitis and HIV. Up to ten patients would be treated in rooms half the size of the Warden’s Room at Bradfield and the beds were so close together that during rounds the other volunteers and I could barely move around the room.

The doctors were fantastic. They were friendly and welcoming and not only were they experts in medication but they had to continuously weigh up the treatment costs against how effective the drug was as there is no free healthcare in Tanzania.

In Paediatrics we were able to get involved in much of the daily work, taking temperatures, holding medical instruments and even weighing new-born babies. We mostly shadowed doctors and this is where we learned about how complicated healthcare can be. Many of the patients’ families send the sick to witch doctors first as they are legal and cheap. The doctor took us to see a very young girl who was covered head to toe in burns which had become infected after a witch doctor had applied a salve on family wishes. It was a horrifying sight to witness.

I also volunteered with Tahima, a charity made up of three parts, an orphanage, an HIV community outreach project and a school. The motto of the orphanage is “an education for a real future” as they aim to prepare all the children they look after for a future where the children can support themselves and no longer need to be supported by the charity.

At the orphanage, we spent the morning playing games with the children before helping them during school lessons on topics such as the alphabet and numbers. We also helped with the gardening and cleaning.

I GAINED SELF-CONFIDENCE AS I WAS FORCED WELL OUTSIDE OF MY COMFORT ZONE.

What did I gain from this experience? I gained self-confidence as I was forced well outside of my comfort zone. It also consolidated my plan to pursue a career in medicine while giving me a global perspective on healthcare and a deeper understanding of Tanzanian culture. It was great fun to interact with the local people and discover what their lives are like.

If I do end up studying medicine then I will plan to return to do my placement there and I would like to go back next year after finishing my IB exams to do more volunteer work.

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