Elaine Andres is a Volunteer Abroad Team Member at Go Overseas. Elaine is fourth yearstudent at UC Berkeley majoring in rhetoric with an interest in global development. Check out the Volunteer Abroad section on Go Overseas for program reviews, listings, interviews, articles and more!
If you ever travel to Tanzania, youll never find yourself at a loss for things to do. You can climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and stand on top of the roof of Africa, or trek up famous Mt. Meru. Animal lovers can go on a safari in Ngorongoro Crater or in the famous plains of the Serengeti. The beach enthusiasts can go to the night seafood market in Stone Town and windsurf in Zanzibar. For the traveler in need adventure, Tanzania will not leave you wanting.
But for me, the greatest adventures when travelling are the moments you find yourself happily lost – the times youre no longer sure where home or your heart is. That is precisely where I found myself last summer as a volunteer in Tanzania.
Go off script.
A recommendation from a friend, a growing interest in gender studies and post-colonialism, had derailed two years I spent planning to study abroad in London. Instead, I decided to fly to Arusha, Tanzania to volunteer with Support for International Change, a non-governmental organization that works to limit the impact of HIV/AIDS in rural communities. Three layovers (I booked the cheapest route possible), 9875 miles, and thirty-hours of traveling laterI knew I was about to begin an unforgettable summer as I flew past the peak of Mount Kilimanjaro.
Know why youre project is important.
I only had a very basic knowledge of the HIV epidemic before arriving in the country. But when I began talking to staff members and others I met around Arusha, I learned about the scale and impact AIDS has not only on immediate families, but also on the infrastructure of the entire country. More than 33 million people are infected with HIV in the world, and 1.1 million live in Tanzania. Because of stigma surrounding HIV and lack of access to treatment, rural areas are often hit the hardest by the epidemic.
Be open to learn.
During the program, I alongside other volunteers from universities in the U.S., U.K. and Tanzania, lived with families in rural villages and met HIV positive individuals in our communities where we would teach a curriculum on HIV and life-skills that could help start a dialogue for prevention. I soon found that even though I was there to teach, I learned so much living with my host family and hearing the stories from friends and neighbors in our village. I realized that HIV for their community, whether they were infected or not, was in one-way or another, a lived experienced. And this took me out of my theory and away from facts and I became more invested in our goal of spreading HIV awareness because I was connected to it on a more personal level.
Believe in your work and let yourself hope.
Before my program, I had always considered myself a fairly skeptical individual. While I thought many volunteer programs were well intentioned, I wondered if the communitys they worked in really welcomed them or just how effective their work would be long term. But each day, during my program I was able to see the impact of our teachings. When we arrived, the people in our village were incredibly hesitant to bring up any talk about HIV; but by the time we left, even the oldest most (initially) resistant members of the community began asking questions about it. In the end, over 150 of our community members came to our HIV testing day. I still write to my homestay mother and some of my studentsand it makes me glad to know that people still remember our lessons and are continuing the conversations about HIV. Though I think it is important to view the world, critically, as a volunteer youll realize that it is important to look at it with hope for change.
Check out the Much Better Adventures Volunteering Holidays page for more ideas of how you can help others!
News Image(cc) David Berkowitz – www.twitter.com/dberkowitz – www.marketersstudio.com