From Tanzania to Malawi
My name is Luis, I´m 32 years old, I come from Madrid via Miami, and I work as a Service Delivery Manager for Hewlett Packard in SAN and Storage Array Integration.
I decided to volunteer with help2kids after talking with some good friends back in Madrid about their different volunteer experiences abroad, and I ended up being especially curious about those in Africa. So I decided to do some research, and I found the help2kids organization via Google.
Right away I could see a complete difference from other similar volunteer programs simply by how the information was humanized and expressed. I immediately got in contact with Lauren and requested some more information about how to participate in the program. Her response was very fast, friendly, and precisely clear. She truly did an outstanding job in addressing all my questions, and concerns.
Lauren mentioned that help2kids had recently started a new project in Malawi and that I might be interested in taking some time to visit and participate at both locations (Tanzania\Malawi). So I followed her advice and decided to try both for approx. 30 days.
help2kids provided me with a detailed list of some of the key items I should bring with me, such as Mosquito Repellent, Sunscreen, a Flashlight, Sandals, and some other things which I would need during my stay in Africa. So I made all the final arrangements at home, got my vaccines, purchased my airline ticket, and finally packed up my bags!
Upon arriving in Dar es Salaam via Turkish Airlines @ 2:30am, I got off the plane and immediately proceeded to get my Tanzanian entry visa sticker with the customs and immigration authorities. I was then greeted promptly by Jacob (thehelp2kids\Friendly Gecko taxi driver who would be taking me to the guesthouse) who was already outside waiting for me and holding a Friendly Gecko sign. We then jumped in the car and made our way out to the guesthouse (Which is about a 20 min drive from the Airport).
When Jacob and I finally arrived at the Guesthouse (here the link: www.friendlygecko.com) everyone was asleep, but Karina had made sure to leave me a note welcoming me and indicating where my room was located (She even got up and out of bed to make sure everything was in order!) I unpacked my things, sighed in relief, and climbed into bed. The following morning I awoke a bit late, got dressed, and stepped outside my room to find Karina and some of the other volunteers having breakfast. I introduced myself, and immediately felt completely at home. Everyone was super nice and friendly.
I visited the children’s home the following morning and when we left Karina asked if needed to go to the Malawi Embassy to get my entry visa, and I said I wasn’t sure, so we drove around for a bit until we finally found it. I got off and she said she had to run off to do some other administrative things, but made sure to carefully explain how to get back to the guesthouse via a bajaj (a very common and quite peculiar 3 wheel taxi service in Dar)
After I got back (and I was still in complete disbelief that after the months of careful planning I was finally in Africa) and still having plenty of day light I decided to head out again to the Tazara railway station and inquire about train departures and also purchasing my train ticket. (The idea was to head out to Malawi right away and then come back to Tanzania, as the Malawi help2kids project was just recently started in June of 2012 and needed more volunteers)
That evening at dinner I met all the other volunteers, in total we were nine, Signe and her sister, Daniella, Urs and his girlfriend, Melina, Sara, Flora, and Justine. I have to say everyone was super friendly, and I could feel very pleasant and chill vibe. They each talked about their day working in the different projects, some at the children’s orphanage, and other at the school in Kunduchi (a small and very poor fishing village where help2kids has organized the building of a small primary school). Hearing them each talk about their respective experiences made me feel as though I almost couldn’t wake to get started!
I totally had a smile from ear to ear as I went to sleep that night ( …to be honest I almost couldn’t sleep from all the anxious excitement and anticipation!)
The next morning I joined the group of volunteers going to the Kunduchi Fishing Village Primary School Project. We all walked out of the house together and down the dirt road leading from the house towards the main road, there we turned right and headed down to the Africana area where I was told we would jump on a Dala Dala that would take us to Kunduchi. I remember being fascinated with how everything seemed so chaoticly organized. Once we jumped on the minibus I glanced out the window to see the streets of Dar which are an influx of all kinds of merchants and street venders. After a brief trip we arrived at the Kunduchi turn off and we all got off. As we walked toward the school site everyone greeted us waving with big smiles, I waved and smiled back, the impression was just totally awesome.
When we arrived at school site, the students were already there, and right away as soon as they saw us they came running saying “Teacher!! Teacher!!”. I don’t think I could put the amazing feeling I had then into words now…
The volunteers introduced me to Dysnieto (The head local supervisor of the project) and we decided to split off into groups. Some volunteers would teach and supervise the kids, and other would begin working on building the outdoor shelter for the second classroom. Being that I normally sit in an office all day, and also as I was still quite worried how I´d do as a teacher, I decided to help with the latter. But first we got together with the kids in a big circle and sang “if your happy and you know it”!! It had been years since I had sang the song, and although I could barely remember the words I had a really great time participating.
When we finished the kids returned to the shelter to begin their classes with some of the volunteers and I grabbed a shovel and jumped into action! Dysnieto coordinated and together with our group we began settling the foundation for the shelter and building some wooden benches so the kids would have a place to sit and work. It was an awesome feeling to know down deep that the work I was doing would help provide a safer physical environment for the kids in the village to learn.
We all worked really hard, and around 1pm we wrapped things up, I was quite tired, but that overwhelming awesome feeling I had inside along with all the smiles and sounds of children laughing truly made all the difference. Again, I just can’t begin to put into words of nice that felt.
After an extraordinary first few days in Dar with all the volunteers and help2kids staff the time came for me to jump on the Tazara Train and make my way down to Malawi. So I packed up my bags once, said my farewells to everyone at the house, and embarked on my adventure.
I knew the journey would be long, and as the project in Malawi was still rather new in its operation I would be one of the first volunteers from help2kids to make the trip.
I was able to research a lot of the information before hand, both online previously to leaving Madrid, and also at the guesthouse in Dar by reading some of the lonely planet books and inquiring with the staff and other volunteers around the house.
I arrived on time at the Dar es Salaam Tazara Railway station, checked into the 1st Class lounge and waited for the officials from Tazara to advise us that we could board the train. After a short while an official finally announced that we would begin boarding and took us through the doors and out into the main platform, they checked out tickets, and then set us off in a line to begin boarding the train.
I quickly found my train car by asking one of the attendants for help, and went inside to locate my cabin. When I arrived I opened the windows and took a bunk.
After a really amazing journey from Dar es Salaam to the other help2kids Friendly Gecko Guesthouse in Leopard Bay I can truly say that I was welcomed with open arms. Andrea found me just in front of the Kazembe Primary School as I was still on the main dirt road that leads into the Lifuwu Market area, and she helped me find the way to the Friendly Gecko Guesthouse where I met Erin (The Malawi volunteer coordinator and guesthouse manager), Tryness (Our guesthouse caretaker) and Patson and Moses the two guards and groundskeepers. They all completely welcomed me and made me feel right at home!
Erin was also more than awesome in helping me get completely oriented and adjusted at the new house. She also showed me around the main parts of the village.
Life in Lifuwu Village is absolutely enchanting, you could say this is “Paradise on earth”, I have felt at home since my very first day here, and the people are also wonderful and extremely friendly and welcoming. I have made a great deal of new friends in just a very short time, and I am looking forward to making more!
The work with the community and school is progressing along very nicely, this is my first time actually teaching children at this level, and although at first I was some what nervous, now after having been able to observe and finally taught my own class on my own I am feeling very confident that I can help the kids better their education of English and maybe some other subject.
I hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures and I will keep you posted!