Why take a Gap Year Volunteering in Tanzania?

Past Oyster volunteer Emma Collins gives an inspirational account of her time in Tanzania.

‘One look at my photos and i’m back in Tanzania. I can smell Africa. It’s distinctive and it hits you as soon as you step off the plane: the combination of heat, dust, animals and people. Thousands of people. The familiar sight of children, barefoot and playing in the street; the women swathed in vibrant coloured fabric, balancing awkward-looking bundles on their heads; Masaai herding cattle along a dirt track. It could be a scene from a film…but it was the view form my window for over 6 months.

I have always been drawn to Africa. The home of strange creatures set against images of vat landscapes. A cinematic blur of Khaki, big hats and crisp white linen, transplanted to the red earth, dense foliage and endless blue skies. Banana palms and mud huts resting precariously amidst gaunt cattle. Children playing: smiling without clothes or toys. Children crying: without sufficient food or medical care. Western comedians and aging rock stars find their way into my perceptions of a mystical place. Irrespective of any childlike or romantic notions I may have once held, you cannot live in the world today without being aware of at least some of the problems facing Africa.

At times we may feel saturated with the incessant stream of images that we face on a daily basis. Newsreels, newspapers, documentaries- few areas of the world seem to hold something undiscovered. We may think we know all we need to about Africa. I went to Tanzania convinced of what i would find. I was wrong and I was surprised.

Undertaking a teaching placement with Oyster in Tanzania is not an aid mission. But it is a fantastic opportunity to live and work in an incredibly diffeent cultural setting. To volunteer your skills and your time to help in a school where you ar truely needed. Achance to genuinely experience the life of people in a developing country. Real people with names, families and stories they are longing to share with the curious young Wazangu who arrive in thier community.

Tanzanians have always got a story. To work alongside people whose day-to-day life is more challenging than anything I have ever had to deal with and to hear them sing and laugh while doing so, was inspirational. The Tanzanians I met were incredibly generous, opening their homes as well as their work places. I was taught to cook ugali and pilau, to speak Kiswahli and to sing the national anthem. As I said before, this was not an aid mission. It was more of an educational and cultural exchange. For every song I taught my class I learned two more. For every phrase of Kiswahili I mastered, I taught my colleagues a new piece of conversational English. For each time I cursed that I only had one, out-dated textbook for over one hundred students, I was motivated to create a new alternative lesson plan, to find a new way to communicate a key concept: orally, visually, artistically and even musically. Each time I faced a problem I was forced to dig deeper, to be more resourceful and to take the lead from the children all around me.

Teaching English was the primary reson for going to Tanzania. And for someone considering a career in education it was an amazing experience. An enormous class of excitable children, who needed to be taught according to no defined syllabus or obvious resources. At times it seemed like an impossible task. But gradually, by being inventive and enthusiastic and with alot of effort, the rewards started to show.

I did not set out to change the Tanzanian education system, but rather make a difference to my students. I wanted experience, enjoyment and adventure… I found it all in Tanzania.’

A very inspiring article.

For more information on Tanzania, check out our Tanzania webpage or email Roger at jon@oysterworldwide.com

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