It’s hard to believe that three weeks have passed since I first arrived in Tanzania. But in my relatively short time here, I’ve come to feel at home.
Moshi is a beautiful city, of about 200,000 people, nestled up on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro—Africa’s tallest mountain. The people here take pride in the natural beauty of the place they live—and rightfully so. It’s a contrast of lush green trees sprouting colorful flowers of orange and fuchsia, set against the dry brown dirt that seems to accumulate everywhere. But even the marabou storks (picture a vulture the height of a flamingo) add something to the visual beauty.
Town is an orderly mix of absolute chaos. At first glance, it might seem overwhelming, but everything has a system and everything works. While the driving patterns will continue to amaze me, it somehow works too. The streets are filled with vendors selling various goods of colorful sorts: fruits, Kangas (traditional cloth commonly worn by woman), tons of shoes, cell phone pay-as-you-go minutes—you name it and it can be found. The streets are amassed with people of all sorts too. Women and men alike often carry large, heavy items on their heads: buckets of fruit, suitcases—or pretty much anything—strolling through the streets in the most relaxed manner (I don’t know how they do it!). You even see Maasai men meandering across the road, flaunting their colorful garments of blue and red. It’s not uncommon to be walking down the street and have someone call after you, “Mzungu, Mzungu!” Kids often give you a shout out, “Hello!” and giggle when you respond with, “Mambo!” Moshi is chaotic, but absolutely beautiful. The people, the culture, the landscape, everything.
Africa Volunteer Corps is the nonprofit organization that I am spending my three months interning with. A relatively new organization, this group of phenomenal people are doing fantastic things. Co-founder Caitlin Kelley had the idea for the organization after she first moved to Tanzania to volunteer and, when building relationships with locals, she discovered the hardship many young adults faced in gaining employment opportunities and experience. Most opportunities were going to individuals who were not local or didn’t fully understand the culture. To address the lack of opportunity for Tanzanian youth, and to keep projects as grassroots as possible, Caitlin and her business partner Jafari Msaki developed Africa Volunteer Corps. An assembly of driven and motivated Tanzanian volunteers who are trained with culturally relevant, professional lessons preparing them for their individual placements with other grassroots, local NGOs. Each volunteer spends a year in their placement, getting real and relevant training and experience in the nonprofit sector. For the world of international development, I’d say this is a pretty forward thinking philosophy, fostering sustainability and the idea of “helping more than harming.” AVC has just welcomed their third year of volunteers, and is so far seeing great success.
I live and work in the village of Rau (about a 10 minute drive from downtown) in a house that acts as both a home and an office, along with three of my co-workers. These past three weeks have been pretty distinct because our office is full of a different kind of hustle and bustle than the typical routine of our relatively small staff. During the day the house is filled with our three other staff members, our 14 volunteers currently in training for their internships placements, different local professionals who stop by to facilitate trainings, and our two Mamas (housekeepers), who are always cooking up something good in the kitchen. Needless to say, a lot is happening. Considering there is such a large group of people in a relatively small amount of space, a few of us usually work in town (which is also useful when the power goes out, a common occurrence since my arrival). We favor a local coffee shop, brewing beans fresh of the mountainside. My current projects include social media marketing, fundraising research, grant writing, and helping to design and build a student ambassador program. I enjoy the projects that I’m working on, but I’m also excited to be doing some site visits in the future to monitor our volunteers at their placements—I think it will be an even better look into nonprofit work from the African perspective.
Three weeks in, and I’ve already experienced growth and learning far beyond what I could have expected. I’m not only learning about the ins and outs of what make a successful nonprofit and what it means to serve in the field of international development, but simply how to live life to the fullest, be present, and enjoy opportunities to learn from wherever you are. I’m ready to see what sorts of adventures will pop up with the rest of my time here, and I’m definitely ready to keep working with such an incredible organization and inspiring staff.
The realm of international development has always been something that I’ve been interested in, but it’s also been a concept that I’ve struggled with greatly. How do I help without hurting? How do I know more than the person who was born here, raised here, went to university here, has friends and family here, knows the politics and cultural norms? I don’t. But at the same time, I have a great desire to learn about cultures other than my own, to find commonalities across these cultural differences, and to learn more about myself and others along the way. If you ask me, Africa Volunteer Corps is doing international development right. And they have been the best guiding light I could have asked for, as I try to illuminate my personal path of global engagement. They’ve helped teach me some of the greatest lessons:
I’ve learned about the dedication one must have for the mission of an organization. Tanzania is an interesting place for multiple reasons. The culture is incredibly laid-back and relaxed, and living here, you learn to take things as they come. But this is paired with individuals who are highly motivated, dedicated, and passionate about the place they live in and the jobs they work. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of a tranquil pace met by incredibly hard-working individuals. I’ve always believed in having passion for what you do, but my time in Tanzania has really reminded me that my passions must be what I do, and that I must take the time to truly enjoy them and make them my life’s work.
I’ve learned to be open to situations that make me nervous because they’re often the most rewarding ones. I was asked by our Program Officer to lead a discussion with our volunteers one afternoon, and I was a little hesitant to do so. The volunteers started their trainings for their placements the same time that I started interning at AVC, so I feel like we’ve been in the learning process together. I would greet them every morning when they came in for their trainings, and even sat in on a few of these trainings with them, so it was weird to think I was supposed to be leading one of the group discussions. Turns out, it was one of the most fruitful conversations I’ve had—and it definitely didn’t go as planned. I was supposed to talk about challenges I’ve faced since coming to Tanzania, so after I shared some examples of challenges I’ve faced in entering a new work environment, I asked the volunteers to share a challenge they’ve had in adjusting to their placements. But the conversation flipped, and the volunteers ended up leading the discussion, asking me all sorts of questions instead. Their questions weren’t easy ones to answer either, especially on the spot. But they left a lasting impact and have, since then, encouraged me to think more deeply about my experiences thus far. And for that, I am grateful. While it wasn’t what I expected, it was a conversation that has helped me learn a lot about my adaption to the culture, engagement with the people, and encouraged me to reflect more on my personal experiences here as well as my ambitions for the future. I am grateful that they challenged me to think about what it means for me to not only be an intern with AVC but to live and work in an entirely new culture all together.
I’m continually encouraged to take risks and be open to new possibilities. This has helped me to speak with more confidence when I’m greeted in Swahili. To comfortably walk around town and ride on public transportation by myself. And to, more easily, build relationships with people from the community. It’s exciting when employees at local businesses remember who I am and strike up a friendly conversation. There’s a coffee shop I regularly work at where I’m greeted with a high-5 when I walk through the door and I’m not even given a menu anymore because they know my order so well. I’ve pushed past boundaries and limitations of myself, and have tried my best to take chances, say yes, and be open to whatever comes my way.
As far as my internship goes, I’ve been continuing the same projects I’ve been working on since the beginning: social media campaigns, grant writing and researching, and designing a few pilot projects AVC is hoping to launch within the coming months. I’ve also had the opportunity to do some site visits to see our volunteers in action. Of the five volunteers we have, I went to check-in on three of them and learn more about what each of them is doing. It was unique to be able to see each individual thrive within their volunteer environment, and to hear them describe the work of their placements. I gained a new perspective on what grassroots development work looks like and means by seeing first-hand the structures and environments of these local social-good organizations the volunteers are placed at. And in talking to each of our volunteers, youth who aren’t much older than myself, I gained a sense of rejuvenation as I was inspired by the passion and commitment each individual showed for their work and their communities as a whole.
When I’m not working I’ve been doing my best to take advantage of my surroundings. Weekends are often spent embarking on excursions to nearby waterfalls, hot springs, and lakes. Tanzania comes alive when there’s a dance floor and some bongo flava music playing, so I enjoy hanging out at the local dance spot. I even went to a giant festival held on the campus of the local university to celebrate participants of the Kilimanjaro marathon. I’ve met some of the most interesting people, from both near and far away. And I know I will be impacted by these relationships for years to come. This opportunity has given me more than I could have asked for, and I think it will continue to impact me as I sort through and reflect on the lessons that I’ve learned and the goals I hope to set for myself for the future. I’m sad to be going home so soon because I know that I have to leave behind a place and people that I love….at least for now.