By Contributor Claire Jones. Jones is a VIU Global Studies student providing a recount of her own experience with one of the many Canadian-run non-governmental organizations (NGO) with opportunities available.
Last spring I had the most incredible experience of my life volunteering with Give a Heart to Africa (GHTA) at a women’s school in the city of Moshi, Tanzania; now, the NGO is looking for new volunteers.
GHTA is a small Canadian NGO run by Monika Fox, a former Toronto businesswoman committed to empowering underprivileged Tanzanian women to start up their own small businesses in their communities. GHTA is comprised of a school that provides free classes in Business, English (Tanzania’s language of commerce and higher education), and vocational skills such as beadwork and sewing. There is also an affiliated crafts cooperative and a food kiosk, both run entirely by former students, which double as field studies where current students can learn first-hand the process of successful small business management.
I was in Tanzania for four months, though there is no particular minimum or maximum length of time—some volunteers stay for only two weeks, while others have gone for upwards of five months.
Volunteers stay in a small house attached to the school, where electricity, water, and weekday dinners are provided. Duties vary, and participants are placed in a teaching role in one of the three classrooms, with a ready-made curriculum to be delivered. Those skilled in arts and crafts may be tasked with helping out at the cooperative, while volunteers with business experience may lend their entrepreneurial skills to expanding or managing the cooperative or kiosk.
Volunteers must be over 18 years old, and some previous experience in any of the school’s subject areas are a plus. For example, before I left for Tanzania, I earned a Teach English as a Foreign Language certificate online, and tutored at a local college. It is not a necessity to have, however, as the curriculum is already prepared.
As a volunteer English teacher, I was responsible for designing lesson plans based on the curriculum and teaching two classes from 9 a.m. until noon. While the curriculum was pre-designed for the school, there was plenty of opportunity to use creativity in putting together lessons and activities for the students. Over the first couple weeks I came to know what kinds of lessons were most useful and popular, which greatly improved my teaching abilities over a period of time.
Then, of course, there was the process of getting to know the students. These were women from impoverished backgrounds seeking to create better lives for themselves and their families through education. Coming to know their names and stories, acquiring enough Kiswahili (Swahili) to converse with them in their own language, and visiting them at their homes around the city was a window into an entirely different way of life. Their progress in the class became a joy we could share—together we came up with games and songs to help them learn vocabulary, many of which were so much fun that the whole class was laughing by the end of it.
There are few feelings more magical than reaching that “aha” moment with a class—when the students are so proud of themselves for having understood a difficult concept and the volunteer is proud of having helped them get there. Many of them endeavoured to teach me Kiswahili—our translator, Furaha, once even brought me a picture book she’d drawn and stapled together to help me learn the names of household objects and basic verbs.
As I was teaching them the language that would help them advance their businesses, they were teaching me, in ways both direct and indirect, what it meant to be a woman in Tanzania and how daily life is lived in a world as far away as one can get from middle-class western Canada. As friendship developed between my students and I, opportunities arose to walk with them to the local markets, attend their church services, live it up at local festivals, play with their children, help cook traditional meals, explore the city together, and ask them questions about Tanzanian society.
Tanzania is an extremely diverse country, and within a single classroom were women of various cultural groups, native languages (Kiswahili being the shared common language or lingua franca), and religions. Each of them brought to the classroom a unique set of skills, viewpoints, and life experiences that fostered fascinating discussion sessions.
The friends I met in class helped me through every stage of adjusting to my new environment, including educating me on the proper dress code and manners that would allow me to better fit in. It allowed for an experience far richer than one would get from passing through Tanzania as a tourist or short-term volunteer.