This summer, Minal Ahson, a junior double-majoring in microbiology and religious studies, volunteered with Cross Cultural Solutions, an international grassroots volunteer placement organization. Ahson conducted her volunteer work in Tengeru, a small village outside of Arusha, Tanzania. She was awarded the Patrick Stewart 2003 Human Rights Scholarship from Amnesty International for her project to research the HIV/AIDS and healthcare situations in the village. This is the second installment of a four-part series, in which Ahson will describe her experiences and volunteer work in Tanzania.
JOURNAL ENTRY #2
My first day of volunteering was something I will never forget. We drove to Nkoaranga, which is on a small mountain. My placement was in somewhat of a compound, with the orphanage; secondary, primary and nursery schools; a vocational school and hospital all in the same area. We pulled up in front of the nursery school, and about 50 kids ran up to the van to greet us, as if we were celebrities! It was amazing how happy they were to see us. They all would yell, “Good morning.” I later learned they picked up the greeting from radio programs and would use it at any time of day.
I met the headmistress of the secondary school, who introduced me to the rest of the teachers. They were so excited to have me there. It was amazing how much respect they gave me. They told me I could teach any subject I wanted. I decided that I was not fluent enough in Swahili to teach biology, so I settled on English and math. While I was being given a tour, the students were eager to greet me and practice their English. They felt special that I had come all the way from America to see them. I felt very humbled and grateful for their open arms.
The orphanage was a short walk from the school, and as soon as I walked in, two children ran to me and glued themselves to my legs. The condition of the orphanage was extremely sad – holey clothes, no shoes and diapers changed only once or twice a day. Many of the children had diaper rash, and a few others had rickets and other similar developmental problems from the nutrition-less diet of rice and beans or noodles and porridge. The children are adorable, but the extremely sweet women that run the orphanage are so loaded-down with the everyday washing of clothes and preparing of food that the children are unable to get the attention they crave. Although there was a language barrier, the kids loved to sit in our laps, dance with us and wear our shoes around. Everyday I would leave the orphanage with my hair all messed up because they had not seen hair like mine and wanted to play with it.
The nearest city to Tengeru is Arusha, which is where the United Nations Trials for Rwanda were being held. The city itself has many diverse groups living there, making for a unique mix of tradition and culture. It would not be unusual to see a South Asian walking next to a traditionally dressed Maasai, one of the prevalent tribes in the region. Whenever we went to Arusha, the local shopkeepers bombarded us to buy their goods. We were often called mzungu (which literally means white person, but really means foreigner), and were asked if we wanted to go on tours or safaris.
That weekend, a few of us did in fact go on a safari. The first day, we drove to Lake Manyara, where we saw animals that I have only seen in books and on television. Giraffes, antelopes, baboons, monkeys, elephants and exotic birds walked around in their natural habitats. Our tour guide informed us that it was mating season, so that made for an interesting time. The second day we went to Ngorongoro Crater, which is actually the largest unbroken caldera (formed by a volcanic explosion) in the world, and is about 610 meters deep. From the lodge, you could see herds of elephants, antelopes and giraffes moving around. The next day, we drove down into the crater and were able to see lions, ostriches, hippopotamus, zebras, wildebeest, rhinoceros, warthogs and many other animals. The ground of the crater was covered by wildflowers because rainy season was just ending, and seeing the animals run around freely was surreal. It was definitely an experience that I will always cherish.
Minal Ahson can be contacted at email@example.com
PROFILE OF TANZANIA
Area: 341,200 sq.miles
Capital: Dar es Salaam
1 Tanzanian shilling = 100 cents
Languages: Swahili, English, local dialects
Religions: Animist, Christian, Muslim
Total GDP: US$ 21,000,000,000
Imports: US$ 2,028,000,000
Population Growth: 2.96%
Death Rate: 13.6/1000 people
Life Expectancy: 52.1 years