Sara volunteered at Grace Primary School in Sinza, Dar Es Salaam, for 4 months and arrived in Winter 2014.
She is originally from Denmark and at the time she was studying creative writing at university.
1. What was your first impression when you arrived?
I remember I arrived early in the morning, around 3 AM, and Rama came to pick me up and took me straight to the hotel room for a nap after the long journey.
It was dark at the time, so I couldn’t take much in, but it was warm and I felt the warmth run through my entire body – from head to toe.
When I awoke the sun was shining and I was met with pearly whites all around. When I arrived at the school after a few days of introductory events, I was as overwhelmed with the sheer energy of the school and the kids. From the first day, I loved working with the kids who were so willing to learn and who represent the future of our world.
2. What was your hosting situation like?
I lived in walking distance to the school, which was great. Although, a few days during the rain season I did jump in a bajaj to avoid getting soaked!
I lived in a big, gated house just down a side street to the main road where busses to the city run all day. I felt very safe.
My particular hosting situation, with many empty rooms for volunteers, provided a space for us to come together and share our different experiences in our respective projects, which was amazing. However, the relationship with other volunteers came to replace the relationship with a ‘host-family’ which was limited in the sense that host parents were not living in the house at the time.
I so enjoyed the meals we had in the evening; rice and beans, boiled plantain, peanut stew and my personal favorite most Sundays, pilau!
3. What did your typical day look like?
In the morning I would wake up and grab a bucket, walk to the garden, and fill it with water from the storage tank for my shower. I had breakfast; white bread and chai, collected my books and other teaching materials for today’s lessons and made my way to school.
On the way, I always greeted a young Masai, selling chewing gum, TIGO vouchers, water and soft drinks under a big umbrella in the gleaming sun. A lovely bibi making chapatis would be sitting as I neared Grace Primary.
I turned the corner and glanced at the colourful school before entering and finding my students running about getting things ready for breakfast - Chai and mandazi (you’ll love them!). I would do my morning lesson, usually grade 3 students and we would learn new vocabulary words, read out loud, and discuss.
I would then have lunch provided by the school, and then do my afternoon lessons with grade 6. We would write stories and pick a theme of the day and debate the reading. After school, I would walk back home and prepare my lessons for the next day.
In the evening, I would spend time with Hansi - my roommate - read, go out for a meal, go to the nearby shopping centre Mlimani City, or do some other activity with Rama, Sev and the other volunteers.
4. What were you up to during your spare time?
When I was not volunteering, I loved to travel. I went to Zanzibar for a festival - Sauti Za Busara. I went to Morogoro to visit another project at the Mehayo Center which was a great experience. I went to Mbeya, Moshi near Mt. Kilimanjaro, Iringa, Arusha, and visited Serengeti National Park and Ngorongoro Crater. The highlands are beautiful and the scenery throughout the safari journey is indescribable.
The sunrises and sunsets are the most beautiful I have ever seen.
5. What was the most difficult thing about your experience?
The most difficult part of my experience has to be leaving. I applied for an extension because I loved being in Tanzania so much, and it was granted. When it finally came time to leave, I was not prepared!
Another difficult part was the cultural differences. Coming from a northern European country, my humour is quite dry and I tend to lean towards sarcasm which is totally different from comedy in East Africa. The misunderstandings provide for a great laugh! The language is easily accessible for Europeans and Americans and everybody is willing to help in teaching Kiswahili, but can be daunting in the beginning!
With regard to the project, the most difficult thing was applying a certain type of western teaching method to a foreign audience. Western teaching methods are not always the best way to approach a classroom - keeping that in mind is surely an essential lesson for the volunteer.
As with everything, it takes time to learn about the cuture of the host country, but it is vital to do so and embrace these learnings on order to forge strong relationships and ultimately make a difference in the community.
6. What was the best thing about your experience?
Where do I start? The people, the friendships, the nature, the ocean, the students, the sunsets, the music, the dancing, the love for life, the weather, the fruit, the learning process, the open-mindedness, the markets, the relationship developments, the samosas, the creativity, the cultural insight, the animals, the colours… Oh, and did I mention the pilau??
7. What did you learn or gain from your volunteer placement?