Archive for the ‘Volunteering Tanzania’ Category
For 7 weeks of 2007 I took part in Volunteer Africa‘s Singida Rural development program based in Singida, Tanzania. I was helping to build a dispensary, a medical facility in a village called Mvae. It was an incredible experience, which is difficult to summarise. If you read the rest of this category though you can get a feel for the trip from the 6 email updates I sent during my time there.
I recommend doing something like this to anyone who wants to experience a completely different culture, and doesn’t mind living in basic conditions! You can read more on Volunteer Africa’s website. Also check out Luke Mill’s blog, written at the time I was there. A few photos but these can’t do the trip justice…
I’ve decided to post some of the emails I sent during the project in Tanzania. They were all sent from an Internet cafe in a town called Singida – I travelled back there most weekends from the village. I hope these will give a little insight into the project and my time volunteering in Mvae.
Just thought I’d write from Singida before I travel to ‘no internet/electricity etc but apparently a mobile signal’ Mvae!
After a tiring bus ride (it did break down but they were able to fix it), Singida is great. It is pretty and really relaxed here and the locals are extremely friendly and helpful when we go round practising our Swahili. I can’t imagine a better place to try to learn a language! The place we are staying is also really nice and even has toilet seats and hot water (in the afternoons)!
We go to a nice bar each evening where there is great food and beer. The mornings are pretty intensive Swahili lessons and the afternoons are more relaxed but usually involve some practising Swahili with the locals. Yesterday we went to the market and bought things like bananas. The group of volunteers are really starting to get on well now – it’s a shame in a way that we are going to split up to go to our villages – though of course we are all eager to get started – and in any case hope that we can sometimes meet up back in Singida at the weekend.
Next time I write I hope to be able to update you on how the project is going..
I am back in Singida after my first week in Mvae.
Living in the camp is brilliant – it is a great group and we are all getting on really well. On Wednesday we slept outside under the stars! There are no mosquitos there which is nice. It can be quite noisy at night – with a lot of wind, but I am sleeping really well anyway. There are lots of bugs and things and mice in the tent – we also found a small scorpion on one of the spare beds! All part of the fun though!
Mvae is also great – again everyone is really friendly and there is much more than I have time to write about in terms of experiences, things I’ve seen and interactions with people. It is great fun playing with the kids – they love to see themselves in photos on our cameras – and videos make them go completely crazy!
The dispensary is looking good. Most of the structure is there. Things still to do include building a porch, plastering walls, ceilings, flooring and finishing the toilet. Unfortunately it looks like the staff houses will not be started until next year – and because they are neccessary to get staff the dispensary probably won’t be used until after they are built.
At the moment there is quite a bad water shortage in Mvae. We have enough to drink because we are buying it in bottles from Singida – but showers and clothes washing are minimal or non-existent. Some came in a cart pulled by 2 cows yesterday – we were so excited to get more water! For the project though the lack of water is a big problem as we are unable to make any more bricks without it. I went to see where the villagers get their water and it is a dried up river with a few holes that muddy water slowly seeps into – and that’s for 1200 people. There is actually a deep well but there is no money in the village to buy diesel to operate the pump. Mr Brown who is in charge of the construction site is going to try to arrange to sort it out this weekend. Hopefully he can as at the moment all we can really do is split large stones to make smaller stones.
Best wishes to you all – I’m looking forward to getting back to camp tomorrow!
The main news is that we now seem to have plenty of water – I think HAPA made arrangements for some diesel so for now there is plenty. This has meant a bit more washing (of ourselves and clothes – though we are still being careful) and more importantly we can now make bricks, cement, plaster and concrete. As such we’ve been getting much more stuck into the work this week and it has been quite satisfying. Although the main dispensary structure is done there is plenty of plastering, ceilings, external wall work to do, and in addition we are making bricks for the nearby toilets – for those the pits are finished but the building itself isn’t started. Once the plastering and ceilings are done in the dispensary we can start painting as well.
In terms of finishing the dispensary and toilets this year (the project only runs till November – start of the rainy season) we are behind, but apparently as long as we continue to have a water supply and we work reasonably hard we should be able to make up the time. The staff houses will definitely not be this year though.
Note though that ‘hard work’ is a bit relative – the culture here is a pretty relaxed one! For us we can pretty much work as much or as little as we want to. Some afternoons, if it is very hot for example we only do an hour or two. The effort put in by the villagers and builders is also very random – sometimes we are the only ones working while a group of men sit around watching – other times there is so many people trying to help it is difficult to get a spade to do anything. It’s just the way things are here though – you have to adapt to it.
In addition the girls have been teaching in the nearby school in the mornings. There are around 100 children per class. There are 800 children in total in the school. Between us we have bought uniforms, bags, shoes and basic stationary for 100 children who could otherwise not go to school (having uniforms etc. is a prerequisite). Hapa have got involved with this to help make sure they go to the children who really need them. The shoes are made out of old tires – and the total for all those things for each child is about 4 pounds.
Camp life is still great – though it has been really windy – making cooking, general living, and playing cards a bit challenging!
Also I dropped my phone down the toilet this morning – the toilet is a 5-6m deep pit with maggots in the bottom and bees living in it as well so that’s the end of that phone.. Nevermind – at least it wasn’t my camera!
Hello again from Singida,
It’s a big week here because 4 people from our camp are leaving and 3 new volunteers arriving. (I’ll be meeting them later today) It almost feels like it is the end of the project for me and that I’m starting a new 3 week one next week! To say goodbye the villagers held a small ‘festival’ for us yesterday – with dancing, singing and speeches – and then we invited 20 or so for a meal/party in our camp including the chairmen, school teachers, builders and our camp gaurds. It was a great day. I’ve started having a good laugh with the builders – their English is as bad as my Swahili – but that seems to work out pretty well!
The water situation is still fine – we have plenty for the camp and the project. I’ve found out that actually the problem was more of an organisational one – the villagers are meant to pay a small amount for the well water which is then collected and used for diesel – but for some reason this process had broken down. HAPA are working with the villagers to get this scheme running properly now. It’s very interesting for me to learn that some problems here may not be lack of means or infrastrcuture but are actually down to poor leadership/organisation. HAPA tell us that the village leaders are elected but often have no experience and get no training - so one of their goals is educating the leaders to better organise things.
Work wise this week we made more bricks for the toilet block (construction now underway) and we also painted all the celings with lime to prepare them for painting. The builders have also made good progress plastering the walls. In addition this week we went to the school to distribute the uniforms and equipment we bought (with HAPA’s help). There was a camera there – I’m sceptical but apparently it was for national TV! (oops – should have washed!)
Oh I bought a new cheap phone btw. Still can’t get over the fact that there is no tarmac for 100km but I have a full mobile signal!
There is a possibility you won’t hear from me next week as we have been invited to a party at the primary school. If I go to that I may not be able to come to Singida as well.
Best wishes all,
Back in Singida so have time for another update…
We toured a fair few of the HAPA projects both yesterday and today – and spent the night at the Mghumbu camp – so strange to be in a camp with many things the same but others completely different! Mghumbu is greener and has a lot more trees and the camp is more secluded. However we have a much nicer view! They also get their water from a hand pump, wheras ours is delivered by hose (when there is diesel and no problem with the pipes).
The tour included schools, a water project and a dispensary – it was great to see them all up and running and actually working – and to get a good idea of what the dispensary we are building will look like when finished.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve been trying to interact with the community as much as possible – for example – teaching 45 minute English lessons in the morning, visting one of the teachers houses for breakfast (pancakes!) and lunch, visting a couple of other family homes and going to the party at the school.
The party was for a teacher who is leaving – I was asked to sit at the head table even though I didn’t even know him! Then everyone stood up and gave introductions – so I did so – and used most of the Swahili I know so sat down feeling quite pleased with myself – however – then they went round again giving more in depth speeches – the head teacher whispered to me that they’d like to hear more from me next! Oops should have saved something! Managed to cobble together another couple of sentences with the help of my phrase book! Then they wanted me to dance on my own for the first dance! I talked the English teacher into joining me though.
Anyway as you can see it is an amazing experience and I’m having great fun. Tomorrow we get a 5am bus to Katesh, Sunday we climb Hanang and Monday we return to Mvae for my last week. We should be painting the dispensary – I think that will be pretty satisfying. Then we will have a leaving festival and cook for some of the villagers. Then I plan to go to Arusha and go on Safari with Shane (Mvae) and Hughi (Mghumbu). I have a total of 3 weeks travelling/holiday in Tanzania after the project.
It’s been a big week. In brief – I’ve had Malaria. I was only actually sick for one day – which involved 6 visits to 3 different ‘hospitals’ – it was apparently a fairly mild strain because I was still able to climb Hanang the next day. I’ve been completely fine since.
Once we got back to the village (late due to a bus beakdown and then a Land Rover breakdown) the rest of the week was really just saying goodbye. Yesterday I took a last English class in school as the English teacher there himself has Malaria – after some revision on tenses we went outside and did the Hokey Kokey with 90 kids!
The dispensary is looking good – most of the building work is done now – just the veranda floors to concrete, a second concrete seat to make, fittings to put in and painting to do. It should be on target to finish in 3 weeks time (the end of the project for this year).
Finally in the afternoon/evening we had traditional dancing from the villagers, some songs sang by us and then a party in the camp – with lots of uninvited extras it was crazy but great fun and the speeches were very touching. I was sad to leave Mvae - but am also very much looking forward to travelling. Regarding which – I’m planning to extend my trip to do another 3 weeks travelling – mainly to climb Kilimanjaro, go to Zambia and then South Africa (I’ll be joining others from the climb for those). There’s so much to see!
This will probably be my last group update – though I will be checking email. Miss you all and I’ll see you early December.