Next Stop Tanzania

Adventures travelling and volunteering in Tanzania

Archive for the tag “travel”

Boost Your Happiness: Think Like a Traveller

There’s just something about travel. Every day feels like an adventure, an escape, a dream full of endless possibilities. You wake up every morning full of anticipation, never knowing exactly where you will go, what you will do or what crazy characters you might meet along the way. You live completely in the present moment. You happily try new foods; speak to strangers; get lost; take photos of absolutely everything; become awed by a flower or a rainstorm or a really cool door… You want to soak up every single second, seize every opportunity, every lesson, and every experience – good or bad – that reminds you how awesome life truly is.

Then return to reality. Suddenly everything is completely ordinary and predictable. There’s nothing to be excited about. You feel like an outsider, even though this is your true place, these are your true people. You long to disappear into the sunset once again and reclaim that sense of limitless adventure and freedom. How can you ever expect to find that same happiness here when nothing is ever different or surprising or new? And yet there are people right now in the exact same place, surrounded by the same people, looking at the same things, maybe even on the same bus as you, with the same grumpy bus driver, and for them it is an incredible adventure full of unknown. They are probably from someplace far away, where everything looks and feels and sounds and tastes completely different. They don’t really know where this bus might take them or what they might experience along the way. But actually, neither do you. In reality, anything can happen at any moment – and often it does.

So what is it exactly that enables one person to see a bus trip as a great adventure while the person next to them sees it as the most miserable and boring part of their day?

Well, the only difference is their state of mind. It is not simply the actual place we travel to that gives us incredible experiences – it is also the fact that when we travel our minds are more open, more optimistic, and more appreciative. How often have you woken up for work on a Monday morning with a huge smile on your face in ‘real life’ and thought: “This is going to be an amazing day”? And yet, it makes complete sense to wake up with a huge smile on our face in a hotel room in Rome, or a tent in Cuzco, because we absolutely expect it to be an amazing day simply because we are in Italy or Peru! And due to that optimism, it more than likely will be.

Even when we have a negative experience travelling, while it may be traumatic in the moment, we are far more likely to be able to see the lesson, and maybe even the humour, later on. Did you get mugged? Hassled? Stuck on a broke down bus full of chickens and screaming children for six hours when you had a plane to catch? We promptly tell ourselves and each other: “Oh well, these things happen when you travel”, “It can’t all be smooth sailing”, and “It will make a great story”.  How much harder is it to remind ourselves of these things when we have such an experience back in ‘real’ life?

So, basically, it is possible to create adventure and happiness no matter where you are or what you are doing – just by thinking like traveller:

1. Be open. Just say yes.

2. Go out of your way to try something new every day.

3. Let go of disappointments more quickly. Find the lesson and the humour, and then focus on the new possibilities that have been created.

4. Appreciate the awesome moments more fully. Trust me, once you start looking there are a lot more than you might think.

5. Try this experiment and see what happens: wake up with a smile and expect the day to be nothing less than amazing.

This is Life in Tanzania

Photo courtesy of Mark Tipple

There were around thirty women sitting on both sides of the narrow hallway on colourful woven mats. All were dressed in mtandio, traditional Muslim headdress, and long flowing dresses. Sometimes the door to a bedroom would open and two women would whisper urgently back and forth in Swahili before the door was swiftly closed again. I felt the gaze of two young girls watching me closely from beside their mother, perhaps unsure what to make of a strange munzungo (white person) in amongst the familiar faces. They did not return my hesitant smile. From somewhere outside floated the muffled sounds of Arabic prayer, a sudden burst of cheering, a baby crying and being shushed.

Arriving at the wedding, I had been asked by one of the groom’s relatives to respect the “traditional way”, which meant men only participating in the ceremony while the women -including the bride – waited inside. My “bodyguards”, three of the students from Kigamboni Community Centre, had urged me to stay with them, but I wanted to be respectful, and to at least try to fit in. An hour and a half later, I started to question this decision. I felt sweat trickle down my back, shifted position on the floor in the hallway. In broken Swahili I attempted to ask Mata, my designated carer, when we would be allowed outside. The answer was “ci jewi” (I don’t know) – it was difficult to tell whether it was a response to my question or my terrible Kiswahili.

There was another eruption of cheering and singing, followed by a long silence. Mata nodded at me and got to her feet, “We go there now.” We walked out to the front of the house where a large group of men were sitting underneath a tarpaulin, a sea of white kunzu robes and golden hats. One of them stood in the very centre with a microphone, one arm outstretched toward the groom who nodded gravely as he spoke. I still had not laid eyes on the bride, who was to remain in her room until the very end of the ceremony. My friend, a photographer, was constantly directed this way and that, inside and outside, from guest to groom to child to grandmother, with the command “Make photo!”

After several more songs, speeches and prayers, the husband and a small group of the men disappeared inside. The loudest cheer of all arose from the bride’s room and eventually she appeared in the doorway, her gaze downward, her face emotionless. Her dress was a dazzling turquoise, covered in delicately threaded sequins that glinted in the fading sunlight. I turned as someone offered me a plate of wali (rice) and when I looked back the bride and groom had slipped into a white car that was already halfway down the street. The wedding guests slowly meandered behind them to the spot where buses usually stop. When a bus failed to appear after ten minutes, they spontaneously broke out into a dance circle in the middle of the road. This involved jumping forwards and backwards around the drummers in time to the beat, stirring up clouds of dust. I was dragged into the circle by my “body guards” who showed me the steps and laughed and cheered at my attempts to imitate them.

Eventually the bus arrived and everyone travelled to the groom’s home where there was a huge crowd of neighbours and friends packed into his front garden. I squashed into the front row along with the KCC crew and watched our acrobats, dancers, and a stilt walker who was challenged to a dance-off by an elderly woman in the crowd. She pointed a crooked finger up at him before lying down on the ground, groaning and rolling back and forth. While the rest of the crowd found it hugely amusing, the humour was completely lost on me.

Just as the speeches were beginning, our bjaji driver yelled for us to “Go, go!” and hurriedly ushered us out of the crowd and into the bjaji. Then we were careening around the narrow dirt roads in the darkness, thumping over rocks and potholes in order to make the fast ferry back to Kigamboni. It had been a crazy and brilliant day. Like most days, it was full of contradictions. The joyful dancing wedding guests and the still and silent bride. The formality and seriousness of the ceremony followed by the absurdity and fun of the performances. I had felt like an outsider in every sense of the word. I could not communicate with most of the guests, could not understand the rules and customs, and yet somehow simply taking part in it all, amongst my new KCC friends, made me feel deeply connected to the community.

As yellow car headlights blurred past us on the streets of Dar, I leaned forward and shouted over the roar of traffic for our bjaji driver to go more pole pole (slowly). He laughed and he began to sing at the top of his lungs in a mixture of Kiswahili and English. I couldn’t make out most of the words, but every now and then I heard: “This is life in Tanzania!” Indeed.

Photo courtesy of Mark Tipple

How To Be An Explorer

By: Cat Wright

So, it is exactly three weeks today until I set off from Sydney bound for Dar es Salaam. My brief for this project is essentially to tell the story of the Kigamboni Community Centre and everyone in it – the young students, the volunteers, the four founders, the past achievements and the future hopes and dreams…  It’s a little bit daunting and a big bit exciting. In the last few days I’ve been thinking about how I need to ‘be’ in order to capture these stories authentically. I think this may be a helpful place to start:

Sometime, Somehow: The Simple Yet Profound Philosophy of KCC

This is a guest post from our friend Richard, who was the person to share the story of Kigamboni Community Centre with us. Originially from the UK, he has been living and volunteering at the KCC in Tanzania for around two years.

 By: Richard G

I’ve been working with the guys here at the community centre since I met them by chance in 2010. Prior to meeting them, I spent 9 months travelling around Southern and East Africahoping to find locally-initiated, effective, sustainable, grass-roots social projects (a surprisingly demanding wish-list as it turns out). During this time I was fortunate to meet a lot of wonderful people behind a number of fascinating initiatives: from craft-based enterprise and life-skills projects in the townships aroundCape Town, to a German-born, internationally-renowned Asset Based Community Development expert living in a township on the edge ofWindhoek,Namibia. From a school set up in the depths of the Okovango Delta in Botswana to give kids who had been expelled from the government system a second chance, to a brilliant project in Kenya carving through the seemingly impossibly complex task of trying to provide services to homeless children whilst simultaneously working to unearth and treat the root causes behind their situations. From one project using soccer as a tool of integration for refugees in Uganda, to another providing trauma healing, leadership and entrepreneurship skills for orphaned genocide survivors in Rwanda.

Having been fortunate to meet so many amazing people along the way, I’ve often asked myself why KCC? What was it that stopped me in my tracks and within an hour of walking through the door made me almost beg to be able to stay and work with these guys here in Kigamboni?

 Firstly, it was the energy of the place – dozens of kids back-flipping and somersaulting across a giant sandpit whilst others practise traditional dance, art, drama and music in other corners of the yard is a sight one doesn’t see every day.  I was also impressed by KCC because despite being incredibly poor they had seen that donor-dependent projects are inherently unsustainable and tend to stifle creativity, ownership and dignity. This meant they were crystal clear that their project would run on self-generated income, even if they had no idea yet how to make that happen. A third factor in me wanting to stay and work at the Centre was the simple yet profound philosophy of the four young founders, two of whom had lived on the streets as children: “We don’t have qualifications, but we all know how to do something. If we come together and share with each other what we do know, that is development.” One of the founders knew acrobatics, one knew art, one knew music, and one wanted to teach. They had unnerving faith: “We don’t know how we will reach where we want to go, but we know we will get there”.

 However, the factor that I found most impressive was simply what this group of four young guys had managed to create with only one school-leaving certificate between them, in less than three years and with no funding beyond the odd $20 offered by passers by. Their project had more than twenty local volunteers, and in a community where people earn on average well under $5 per day and volunteering is perceived as a past time for the wealthy, this is a minor miracle. They serve more than 200 children a day, through full-time nursery and primary education programmes, free post-school tuition, a social education programme including community education and free English classes, and a 10-stream talent development programme.

 George, co-founder and Education Director, pretty much embodies everything remarkable about KCC. Despite having been forced to drop out of secondary school after year two, when KCC started George was adamant that he wanted to teach. Too many children are unable to complete (or even begin) their education due to financial hardship in their families. Tanzania had signed up to the Millennium Development goals, meaning every child should have access to a free primary education. The small print however is that this only applies to children who enrol by the age of seven. With huge levels of child migration, and an adult population who mostly never attended school themselves, vast numbers of children aren’t enrolled in school in time. They do get a 2nd chance however if they can sit and pass an exam at the end of the 4th year of primary school, which of course is almost impossible if you aren’t receiving an education.

George in action.

George developed an education programme for children over the age of seven who weren’t in primary school, condensing these first four years into two, after which each child sits the exam. Those who pass go back into mainstream education. Those who don’t simply stay on at KCC until they do pass. This programme has a near-to-100% success rate. Then they saw another problem. Nursery education is not free inTanzania, and where schools are over-subscribed, headmasters prefer to select children who have completed nursery school over those who haven’t. In order to reach a school that will take them, many children who haven’t attended nursery school are therefore forced to travel distances which are too great for either their feet or their family’s financial means. So George started a free nursery programme at KCC. Problem number 3? Children who pass their end-of-primary exams are guaranteed the offer of a place at a government secondary school. Yet the standard of education at most primary schools is so poor that any family who can afford it will send their children for private tuition. George set up a free tuition programme for those whose parents can’t afford it.

George walks 6km from his parents’ home to the Community Centre every morning, arriving by 8am to start the nursery and primary programmes. At 6pm he leaves to walk home again, unless it’s his turn to teach the evening English class, in which case he leaves around 8.30pm. He has been doing this for almost 5 years and has never been paid a penny. He is 29 and still lives with his parents. Until recently it was not uncommon to see him teaching both nursery and primary programmes simultaneously – it’s hard to find other teachers willing to commit to teaching every day for free. The reason that this is no longer a common sight is because the government came a couple of months ago and told him he was no longer allowed to teach the primary programme as he doesn’t hold teaching qualifications. The government moved KCC’s primary education programme to some empty rooms in a local primary school and have provided some temporary, qualified teachers.

Having received little more than a thank you for his efforts, when I found out about George’s effective redundancy, I was expecting him to be devastated. On the contrary, he was characteristically calm and upbeat. “It means I now finally have time to go to teacher training college to get my qualifications”. When I asked him how he would pay for it, true to form, he told me he has no idea, but he knows it’s going to happen sometime, somehow…

– – –

To find out more about our campaign, check out our website: www.indiegogo.com/kccdar

Thinking Like a World Citizen

When I was eleven years old, I was lucky enough to take three months off school to go travelling with my parents. My Mum told me quite matter-of-factly, “You will learn more through travel than you ever will at school.” She is a teacher. And she was right. I learned about the power of dream catchers in California, the beauty of dolphins in Hawaii, the mystery of sea monsters in Scotland and just how green grass could be in England. My mind expanded a little more with each country we visited and I began to see myself as being connected to something much bigger than just my neighbourhood or even my country.

The place that probably held the most learning for me – a young, sheltered girl from Sydney – was Africa. I had never witnessed such extremes of the human condition. There was overwhelming poverty and desperation, and in the same heartbeat a pure joyfulness and unity I had not experienced anywhere else. Visiting small villages, we would be greeted with dazzling smiles and spontaneous singing and people willing to share whatever they had. When I got home I was thankful for clean running water, proper toilets and the opportunity to go back to school because I knew not every child in the world could. My eleven year old self just could not comprehend why all the countries of the world weren’t working together to make sure that every child had access to things like food, clean water, a safe place to live and an education.

The thing is, my twenty-seven year old self still can’t comprehend it. So when I see a group of dedicated and passionate volunteers trying to help their own community in Tanzania with little to no outside support, there is no question that if I can help, I will. The volunteers at Kigamboni Community Centre are working incredibly hard simply to allow the children in their community access to things we take completely for granted in Australia – shelter, food, education, good health and a sense of belonging. They have a near 100% success rate at getting children back into the education system. My friend Nikki and I want to volunteer our time and skills to help them continue to do this amazing work. (Nikki will be talking more about the practical details of our project in the next post.)

My naive eleven year old self thought all countries could all work together to change the world. Now I believe that small groups of people can work together to make change community by community. We have the opportunity to make a positive difference to the children of Kigamboni, so let’s take it. As Woodrow Wilson put it, we are all world citizens, and that means we can all do something to “enable the world to live more amply, with greater vision, with a finer spirit of hope and achievement. You are here to enrich the world and you impoverish yourself if you forget the errand.”

By: Cat Wright

For more information or to donate, please visit our indiegogo campaign: http://www.indiegogo.com/kccdar?a=498194

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