Eileen volunteered at Ilula Orphan Program (IOP) in Iringa, central Tanzania, for 2 months and arrived in Winter 2013.
She is originally from Ireland, but lives in Canada and she is retired.
1. What was your first impression when you arrived?
It was a long bus drive down; I was very grateful to Rama Mohamedi for accompanying me to the "confusing" Dar bus station and doing the long journey down to Iringa with me.
Tamari Moto welcomed me at IOP. I spoke to Berit about my background. There were several younger people there on field study/work with off-site families etc; met the girls and various volunteers. Berit introduced me to Malaki Likondi, who had contact with the local Mwaya Primary School Deaf Unit, where Tumaini Ngalillo is the Head Teacher. (I am hearing impaired). I also was introduced to a Norwegian couple who were the same age as me, who are friends of Berit's and regular visitors. Started to feel kind of "free" to look around and carve out my role.
2. What was your hosting situation like?
It was in the orphanage itself, a dorm like accommodation structure. Bunk Beds. I had room to myself for first week. Then a large group of visitors (high school students and adults from Norway) came to visit, so I shared with another woman. It was fine. I did feel a bit "deprived" of creature comforts I was used to eg: a lot of people sharing the bathroom, cold water and so on, but I understood this.
Meals were regular and good. There was a lounge area to sit.
I regretted not having more reading material and/or my laptop though. Something I'd recommend bringing!
3. What did your typical day look like?
I didn't give myself a great degree of structure, given my age and so on. I made contact with the Deaf Unit down at Mwaya, and Tumani, and rode the dala dala down at least twice to the school. Had intensive discussions with Tumaini. I also spent a very interesting afternoon at the Our Lord's Hill, the IOP high school; it was fascinating to see the collaboration between the Tanzanian teacher and the Icelandic volunteer in the brand new Science Lab.
Another day, I visited the ambrosia field and plucked the leaves. Visited the fascinating Pre School and interacted with the children. Met and shared ideas with the older lady from Norway, regarding her work with the local women's empowerment. She invited me to talk at the Credit Union meeting, and also to a demonstration of soap making, which was a lot of fun! We also talked about one young orphan girl, late teens, who had severely delayed language. The hope was to get a volunteer to maybe work on her communication skills at some stage. She really needed Swahili as well!
4. What were you up to during your spare time?
As I said above, there wasn't a lot of structure to my time, so this doesn't really apply. I did enjoy a bus trip into Iringa, to Neema Crafts, and also another (Sunday) outing to the Masi village, with the Norwegian group. We spent a fascinating day there!
5. What was the most difficult thing about your experience?
As an urban North American, I missed some of the comforts of home. I also found the days a bit long, as I didn't have enough books and no computer. The age difference was a bit hard at times, as was the hearing loss around the dinner table.
6. What was the best thing about your experience?
The exposure to the various amazing projects and interacting with the people. The realisation that I was witnessing enlightened collaboration between the locals and overseas volunteers/visitors. My time down at Mwaya Primary School with Tumaini.
7. What did you learn or gain from your volunteer placement?
When I returned home, I did a fundraising campaign with my friends for Mwaya Primary School Deaf Unit, raising $4000 USD. I also included a $600 donation to IOP for a bike for a staff member. The whole idea of "paying it forward" by having a direct experience came true for me!