How did I end up volunteering in Tanzania?
As I entered my last few years at Shrewsbury, the prospect of a Gap Year became more tangible and I soon started planning. Once things began to come together I managed to establish some targets for the year:
1. Be financially self-sufficient.
2. Try to put something back into society.
3. Challenge myself by doing some independent and slightly unusual travelling.
My initial plan was to go for an Army Gap Year commission. I duly applied and passed the first two rounds of selection but then failed the Board and it was back to square one. With my three targets in mind, I thought about where I might like to spend my time: East Africa sprang to mind, having thoroughly enjoyed a running trip to Kenya and Ethiopia with The Hunt in 2013. In principle and in line with my targets, I decided that I would earn some cash, do a few months of volunteering and complete the year by doing some travelling.
With the help of the Shrewsbury School Careers Department and the help of John Clarke a Shrewsbury Governor, I now sit writing this at DCT (Diocese of Central Tanganyika) Mvumi Secondary School.
Having earned enough money working long shifts in a Herefordshire cider factory and fundraised for Mvumi School Trust (the British charity that supports the school) by cycling 1284 miles, I set off to Tanzania.
DCT Mvumi Secondary School is located in the Dodoma region of Tanzania, which is one of Tanzania’s poorest and most arid. There are about 650 students at the school with 150 or so supported by Mvumi School Trust via bursaries or scholarships, thanks to generous donations and sponsors. The school always achieves a strong set of results and gives children a great opportunity to move on to further education. For many pupils, education is a route out of poverty, echoing the school’s motto ‘Education is Liberation’.
DCT – as the school is known by the locals – is also home to the region’s secondary education visually-impaired unit, which means that all visually-impaired students from the Dodoma region who take part in secondary education attend DCT.
The school structure is one of junior (FI-FIV) and senior (FV-FVI), with competitive entry to the senior school. More information about the great work can be found on the Trust and school’s websites - http://mvumischooltrust.org.uk/ and http://dctmvumi.sc.tz/
What is it like to be a volunteer at DCT Mvumi Secondary School?
Volunteers work through the Trust, which is currently represented here by the very welcoming and extremely hardworking Jane and David Whyte, who deal with the day-to-day running of the charity. Volunteers live in the guest house, which is well equipped with everything you could want, apart from an oven and hot water! There can also be long periods without electricity, which can cause a whole host of problems.
Lunch is provided at school but all other meals are self-catered, which is fun, but buying food is an experience (although Agnes the housekeeper is always willing to lend a hand). Now I am on my own, I keep it simple. But when there were girls around, they managed to put together some very tasty things. The choice of fruit and veg is incredible and if you are a fan of mangoes or bananas, this is the place to come – I often find myself practically living off them. Eating out is easy and often cheaper than cooking for yourself, but the options are limited: the ‘go to’ has become chipsi mayai (chip omelette) which is 2000Tsh, i.e. about 70p.
At school the atmosphere is extremely friendly and volunteers are warmly welcomed by the staff and pupils. Inevitably all schools have to operate to a timetable, but the African concept of time is a little different from ours. (For instance, boarding pupils interpret the start of term very flexibly.) My school day starts with attending the staff meeting at 7:30am but I wake up closer to 5:30am as the boys start singing!
Each day Jane and David put together a timetable with a range of tasks. Your tasks will be adjusted to your strengths and interests; so for instance a volunteer who has now left was a med student, so he helped with biology. I am by no means very academic, so I spend a lot of time doing handyman and computer work, which includes fixing doors, painting, updating the website and lots of typing so that resources can be translated into Braille.
The bit of teaching that I do is helping the Form 1s with their English. As all secondary education in Tanzania is in English, it is vital that the students reach a good standard; this is difficult, as the vast majority of primary schools teach in Swahili.
Lessons end at 2:30pm every day and then it’s time for lunch, which for the pupils always consists of ugali and beans, but staff often get rice and sometimes even meat! What you do for the rest of the day is up to you. There is sport three times a week and plenty of other things you can get involved with around school.
There is time to get away from Mvumi. A few weekends ago the Kiwi volunteers and I had a long weekend off when we climbed Mt Hanang, Tanzania’s fourth highest peak, and saw some of the oldest rock art in the world. From Mvumi, Dodoma (the capital) is only 50km away, which means you can easily go and experience Tanzania’s city life.
The ample downtime can be filled in a variety of ways, whether it be cards (often with a warm lager in a local pub) or walks and runs in the beautiful countryside to little children’s shouts of “Mzungu” – foreigner. Quite a bit of my spare time has been spent on planning the remainder of my Gap year; especially my route around Tanzania and Uganda, including a expedition in the snow-capped Rwenzoris and devising a way that two school mates and I can complete a 10,000-mile road trip in an old banger around the Caspian Sea.
My time here is proving very enjoyable and I hope it is a help to the community. It would be great to hear of more Salopians coming out here.
Please do follow my blog to get more of an insight into what life is like here.