This year, 22 September-13 December 2016 I embarked on the most challenging journey of my life so far. Since returning, I’ve had many people ask “was it amazing?” “did you have an incredible time?”. And it’s questions like this that have inspired me to write this blog post. The truth is, I had the best time of my life, but I also experienced times close to my worst. It was by far the biggest rollercoaster that I’ve ever been on, but also the most worthwhile project I have ever dedicated my time to. I hope to tell an accurate account of my time in Tanzania, although I won’t be posting the majority of my photos onto social media, I am happy to speak to anyone or show any photos to those who are interested – I don’t feel like allowing anybody on my friends list to flick through an album of photos is the right thing to do following my trip.
Whilst at London Heathrow airport, I said a quick goodbye to my Dad, Karen & Hannah, dropped a text to Mum and Meg and before I knew it I was in Zurich for the changeover, and then settled in for the 12 hour flight from Zurich to Dar es Salaam watching Eddie the Eagle without a second thought to what I was leaving behind in the UK. One of the most breathtaking moments of this journey was looking out the window and being met with this view.
Once we arrived in Dar es Salaam, we travelled to a hostel for the evening and then made the 5 hour journey to Morogorro where we stayed for a few days training. It was here that we were allocated into teams – my team being Echo 8. Echo 8 were based in a village called Mbewe on a Save The Children programme. The trip from Morogorro to Mbewe was around 20 hours drive.
Above is a picture of the main road in Mbewe, if anybody has been to visit my house in Manchester, the majority of the roads we travelled on were worse than Croft Bank.
Our programme required us to teach members of the community about Entrepreneurship, nurturing their talent and providing them with the opportunity to pitch to a panel from Raleigh and succeed in accessing a grant to start up their business. Throughout the programme, each 1:1 group were assigned particular individuals to support and teach up until pitching day.
Above is my 1:1 group with my dream team partner, Onesmo. It was a dream come true to be partnered with somebody who didn’t allow for language to become a barrier to teaching in a country that it would have been so easy for me to be silenced.
We selected 5 of our entrepreneurs to have the chance to pitch to the panel, of those who pitched, 2 were successful. Meshack Peter Fiyao is 15, attending secondary school in January with a passion for business and an idea to sell cooking oil in Mbewe was successful in pitching for a grant of 350,000 TSH to set up his business. When the news was broken to him, both me and Onesmo cried (and nearly set off everyone else in the room). Emmanuel Mtega, a victim of the high youth unemployment rates in Mbewe was successful in his quest to obtain 350,000 TSH to set up his business selling agricultural facilities to the farmers in Mbewe. Agriculture was by far the most popular field of work within Mbewe.
Whilst we were in Mbewe, we had a series of Action Days where we raised awareness about a variety of causes, the photo below is from an action day that was dedicated to improving the hygiene and sanity levels throughout the village. This game was called ‘handwash relay’ and was played with the majority of the primary school pupils. The general attitude towards school in Mbewe is laidback, due to the approval of corporal punishment in Tanzania, the majority of parents allow their children to avoid school through fear of them being beaten. Although I didn’t, never have, and never will, support corporal punishment, you have to embrace the new culture that you’ve immersed yourself in – and that sometimes means accepting, but not supporting the way things are run. Corporal punishment wasn’t the only thing I found hard to digest.
It was tough not only being away from home, but also having restricted access to communication from home. Keeping a journal allowed me to reflect on each day and the activities and opportunities that I had throughout my time in Tanzania, and also allows my family and close friends to read through the journal and gain an understanding of my mindset whilst I was in Tanzania and now, following my trip.
I would rate being away from home with no communication as the first ranked on the things I found tough, secondly would be food. We have no idea how lucky we are to not only have a range of foods available to us, but to be able to access them – wether your closest Tesco is a walk/bus/drive away. Trust me, you are not hard done by. It was a staple diet of rice, beans, a dish called ugali (which was made from maize flour and boiling water), fish, and occasionally chips. Not having the freedom to eat when I wanted or have access to food when I was hungry was tough on so many levels. A popular breakfast served was mandaazi, the best way to describe it is a jam doughnut.. without the sugar, and without the jam.
With food sources so limited, at our mid-phase review in Mbeya, me, Josh & Jordan went on the hunt for snacks. When we found Nutella, the level of happiness is worryingly similar to that of my graduation day.
After returning to the village, we quickly learnt that dipping Mandaazi into the Nutella was one of the best ideas we’d ever had. Mine didn’t last long.
The occasional time that we left the village (normally travelling from one base to another), we were treated to chips or chips mayai (pretty much a chip omelette), but chips mayai soon became my favourite dish. Whenever we had it on the road, it was presented to us in a way that I can only give it justice through a photograph.
Yes, that is what we call in the UK – a dog poo bag.
Normality in Mbewe soon became an army of children following me and watching my every move, as I’ve mentioned earlier, each day I would write in my journal to reflect on the days events and note down how I felt.
No matter how the day had gone – there were a mixture of days from both ends of the spectrum. It could have been the worst day in the world, but spending an hour on Mbewe’s football field with the children was the most uplifting, positive way to end the day and removed any negative feelings. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to spend time with the children of Mbewe. I was welcomed with happiness and willingness to join in with any games (most of the time it was a game of me doing any kind of action, whilst they copied me and hysterically laughed). I couldn’t help but compare it to the UK society of today where it’s rare to find a child who not only is willing to play outside, but a child who has never had access to electronic devices and are the happiest group of children I’ve ever met!
Not only were the children uplifting, the two people you see in the photo I hold responsible for not only me going crazy, but also for me getting through the programme. Even in the days where I was completely paralysed by homesickness and not sure how I would see it to the end of the programme, I was made to laugh. It would be something so stupid and simple, but laughing every day really helped. And I will be eternally grateful for the friendship we had, and will continue to have following on from the programme. It was 5 weeks in when Jordan gave me a hug – and we realised that that was the first human contact we had had in 5 weeks. If you know me, you’ll know that I love nothing more than a hug. So to go 5 weeks. 5 WEEKS. Without so much as a hug, was tough.
The family that I stayed with were a family of four – man and wife and 2 sons. I shared my room with my counterpart, Latifa. Who helped me to get water from the well when I needed to, showed me how to wash my clothes in a bucket for the first time (and defended me whilst all the locals laughed at me and shouted ‘machine’), together we were able to laugh at the fact that we shared our bedroom with a variety of animals – a personal highlight was a rat stealing Latifa’s headphones. Life in Mbewe without Latifa would have been tough, there were times when we were both homesick, and times when we both knew that we needed to curl up together on her mattress, watch Home Alone and pretend we were anywhere but Mbewe. We celebrated the first time I made a fire from scratch and boiled water so that we could have a coffee and milk from the powder we had taken with us. We worked together at 3am in the morning when the rain was coming down so hard it came through the metal roof and started soaking Latifa’s clothes. Times that at night, once we’d left Come Dine with Me on a Saturday night, it was so dark with no electricity in the village we walked home via headtorch light arm in arm cautious as to what could be around us. We played I Spy together when we couldn’t sleep, and genuinely created a sisterhood that I will never forget, and will always be grateful for.
Of the few times I managed to contact my family in the three months that I was away, this moment is my favourite. At mid-phase review in Mbeya, we found a cafe that had free Wi-Fi, a letter that I had taken with me from my Dad told me that he was on a weekend away in North Wales so I knew he was my best bet of making contact and getting a response. He isn’t the brightest spark when it comes to technology but somehow we managed to FaceTime (After a number of failed attempts!). His face loaded on the screen and there were no suprises with what I was greeted with!
Despite the length of this post, and all that I’ve written. I think it’s the tip of the iceberg, I could write forever, but there are moments from the trip that I want to keep to myself, and others that I will share when I’m ready. I can’t quite explain the feeling of returning home. Of course, I’m completely overwhelmed with happiness at being reunited with my family. But after spending a prolonged length of time in Mbewe, falling in love with the children and spending each day surrounded by the incredible team that was Echo 8 – I feel lost. I feel like I don’t belong in this world that’s surrounded by so much that we don’t need. Being home in Manchester we have a Tesco, Sainsburys, ASDA, Morrisons, ALDI all within a 10 minute car journey, all with a ridiculous amount of food a million other products on offer.
Coming home at Christmas time, which we all thought would be incredible just amplifies the differences between the worlds that are less than 24 hours apart. I know that I’m incredibly lucky, and I’m fortunate that I’ve always known how lucky I am to have the family around me that I do and to have access to both job and education opportunities.
I know I only send the link for this blog to certain people, but knowing my Mum she’ll be linking it to everybody. I have over 2,000 photos from my trip, and several stories that I’m more than happy to share – just not impersonally and over the internet.
Below are the links to the blogs we published whilst on placement: