So, as most of you already know, the main purpose of my trip to Tanzania was to volunteer at a local nursery school and orphanage for a month (which ended up being seven weeks in the end)…..however now it is almost time for me to say my goodbyes (sob!) as I’m about to embark on the next leg of my travels.
It’s a bit of a bitter-sweet situation, as whilst I am really excited about travelling around South East Asia for the next two to three months, I am also feeling extremely sad about leaving the children, and everyone else I’ve met along the way. Tanzania has a way of getting under your skin and Moshi has definitely become a place I have grown to love!
An introduction to Newlands…
Newlands School is located in a small village on the outskirts of Moshi, and is made up of two classes with around 80 children ranging from 3 to 6 years old. The village itself is fairly small, with mostly mud/brick houses, some with thatched or corrugated metal roofs. Next door to the school, is the orphanage, which is a series of cement buildings and is home to some of the children that attend the school.
Newlands Orphanage is funded completely by donations and sponsorship and cares for 65 children who all receive free accommodation, education, food, medical care and clothing. Both the school and orphanage are managed by a man called William who does an amazing job of caring for the children and ensuring that they have everything they need. Both William and the staff were very welcoming and accommodating, and one of the first things that struck me about Newlands was what a tight-knit community it is. Everyone clubs in to do their bit, and quite often people from the village would come and go throughout the day to do the odd job or just to say hello.
In order to get to and from the school, myself and some of the other volunteers would either get a 30 to 45 minute taxi ride or hop on the local dala dala (an old rickety minibus). One of the locals once told me “a dala dala never gets full” and that certainly seemed to be the case in my experience! Once you think it’s full, more and more people hop on and as I’m being squished further and further into a corner, I wonder where the hell they all fit as they disappear into a mass of bodies.
On one journey I had a lady with a chicken sat on her lap next to me on one side, and another lady with a huge bunch of bananas sat next to me on the other side, and they still managed to squeeze in about twenty people! But despite the discomfort, the journey itself is probably one of the most scenic routes I have ever taken. The roads are lined with bright red blossom trees and on a clear day you get a great view of Mount Kilimanjaro as it looms over acres and acres of sugar cane fields.
My experience as a volunteer…
My first couple of weeks in the school were a complete whirlwind and it took me a little while to find my feet. Every morning the moment you stepped out of the taxi, you’re surrounded by lots of smiling children trying to jump on you, shouting “teacher, teacher” or “mzungu” (which means foreigner). As we made our way to the classroom, I literally felt like I was a walking, talking human climbing frame with several kids hanging off me! This was a bit overwhelming at first but I soon got used to it and it actually became something of a fun game each morning!
A typical day in the school often started with Esther and Mary, the two teachers, singing various nursery rhymes (both English and Swahili ones) with the children. The whole room would erupt into very loud chanting and dancing – it amazed me just how much boundless energy these kids seemed to have on a daily basis. They absolutely loved to sing and dance (in true African style) and watching and joining in with them quickly became one of my favourite parts of the day.
The rest of the day was usually made up of basic English, Maths and Swahili lessons, and I would always try to help out as much as I could by assisting the children and marking/correcting their work. This proved to be quite difficult at times with the language barrier, but it did force me to learn some basic Swahili phrases, just so I could communicate with them on some level.
Other days would be filled with more fun activities like colouring and playground games, which I guess like any child across the world, was clearly their favourite activity as it meant they got to play with each other and us volunteers. They are fascinated with mzungu skin and hair so playtime gave some of the kids the perfect opportunity to brush and braid my hair! Who needs a hair salon!
From day one it was apparent the lack of resources they had at the school. Even the simplest things like pencils, paper, books, and toys are few and far between. As a result the children would quite often break out into fights over who got what, and found it very difficult to share whatever they got their hands on.
This was particularly challenging for me as I found it incredibly hard to discipline them with the little Swahili I knew and some days you did feel like you were just on crowd control! The classrooms themselves were also very basic, with just a few benches to sit on and chalkboards for teaching. These are things we completely take for granted back in the UK, but I was continuously impressed by how the teachers tried to do their best with the little equipment they had.
At the end of the day, myself and some of the other volunteers would go to the orphanage to collect a big bucket of porridge to take back to the school and serve to the children. Sadly for some of them this would be their only meal that day. Carrying the porridge became something of a daily workout, and made me wonder how on earth many Tanzanian women are able to carry this sort of weight on their head while walking! Rest-assured I didn’t try, and the children got their porridge safely! Once the children finish their porridge, each volunteer would get a high-five before they toddle themselves off home through the school gates.
Over the weeks I developed a very close bond with many of the children, however admittedly I did have a few favourites! In particular, one little sister and brother, aged 4 and 5 respectively, became very special to me. Ashlini and Shabani come from an extremely impoverished background and have very little, but they never let this keep their spirits down.
Every day they’d make their own way to school and would greet me with the biggest smile and a hug. Like many families in Newlands, their mother can’t afford the school fees as education is paid for in Tanzania. Fortunately for Ashlini and Shabani, they are being sponsored by a former volunteer, however it is a sad fact for many other children who have no choice but to miss out on the chance to learn.
During my time here, the children have continued to blow me away each day and I never realised just how much they would come to mean to me after only six weeks. Some of these children haven’t had the best start in life, but their pure happiness and enthusiasm to learn was infectious.
Saying goodbye to them has been one of the hardest things I have ever had to do, but I hope to come back here and help out again one day soon (may have to rethink the rest of my trip!) There are already some plans in motion to ensure that some of the less fortunate children of Newlands receive the education they should be entitled to, however I will explain more on that another day.
In the meantime, if you would like to learn more about being a volunteer at the Newlands Orphanage Centre and School, or would like to do your bit to help this Christmas, please head over to the Newlands Orphanage Centre website. No donation is too small and would go a long long way to helping these amazing children.
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