Volunteering in Tanzania: Lessons Learnt

Nellie Huang January 7, 2013 1

Some say that traveling the world is the best form of education – I can’t agree more. To say that traveling teaches us life lessons is an understatement. After a decade or so of traveling, I felt that I had come a long way in learning about myself and life in general; I wanted to find a way to give back, so I put my teaching experience to good use and signed up for a volunteering program in Tanzania. Little did I know that it would teach me so much more than anything I could ever give.

Here are some of the life lessons I learnt in Tanzania. If you’re planning to volunteer abroad, I hope that this will help prepare for the adventure ahead.

Cherish what we have

The school where I taught was half-constructed and it barely had proper doors and windows. Some of my students didn’t have running water at home while some had to walk for miles to get there. These children didn’t even have basic things like bags and pens, yet they were so enthusiastic about life. The experience definitely left me humbled and taught me to treasure what I have around me and be content with the things we have in life.

Treat every day like it’s our last

I was distraught when I learned that some of my students were orphans and a few of them were infected with AIDS. I paid a visit to their orphanage and was glad to see that they were well taken care of but they still depended on NGOs abroad for their medication. They were barely 12 years old and had a bright future ahead of them if not for their ill fortunate. Despite their circumstances, they were cheerful and optimistic and had an attitude towards life that deserved our respect.

Don’t try to change their way of life

During my volunteering stint, I also helped to reconstruct the school building and I was involved in community meetings and discussions. I found it difficult to adapt to the way they dealt with things, and felt that I needed to show them how things were done in our world. Soon enough I realized that it didn’t work and I learned to take a step back and respect their way.

Don’t expect to change the world

Prior to the trip, I wanted to make a difference. Like many volunteers, I was naïve and thought that I could change their world. We have to know that in the developing world, there are many things that are beyond our control. Some changes cannot be done overnight with just a single person’s help. But don’t let that get you down. While we may not be able to make a major change, we can still make a difference on an individual level and to a community.


One Comment »

  1. Meg January 16, 2013 at 11:47 am - Reply

    This was a great article! I completely agree with the lesson “Don’t try to change their way of life”. Way too often I find friends that travel with intentions of “teaching” new cultural ideals. I also ponder why my friends think their culture is anymore superior. I’m printing this article and placing it on mt fridge. Good job!

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