As a kid I knew I wanted to do something important. I remember laying in bed at night wondering how one went about joining PETA or working for Habitat for Humanity. My mother had a big influence in this. She was always donating to cause, pledging a monthly gift, lending a hand, and giving her time to make sure others didn’t go without.
I also remember having a keen interest in Africa. I wanted nothing more than to go on safari; I wanted to taste exotic foods and dance exotic dances, listen to music created only by drums, meet people who might teach me the lore of their forefathers.
I latched onto this interest, and eventually decided to pursue it in college. As an anthropology major, I wanted to know everything I could about the magnificent cultures of Africa.
Throughout college, my passion for helping others never deteriorated, and in fact only became stronger. I decided I wanted to combine my passions for African culture and providing aid to others by volunteering abroad.
So I did. I traveled to Tanzania with one of my best friends and taught at an English medium school in Arusha. i can only describe it as one of the most amazing, most important experiences of my life. Staying in Tanzania opened up a whole new world to me. It was nothing like I expected from reading my anthropology, history, and cultural studies books. It was so much more. I never thought I would fall in love with so many people, but I fell in love with everyone I met. The Tanzanian people were so gracious, so intelligent, so determined and courageous. I loved the students even more. Each story I earned about their lives was more touching than the last. Every single one stole my heart.
Its still in Tanzania even now.
Perhaps because I loved so many of the people I met, I wanted nothing more than to continue helping them in any way I could. Other volunteers in our homestay felt the same way. Much discussion led us to a very disheartening conclusion, however: voluntourism wasn’t the answer. Why were we, white people, mzungu’s, flying halfway around the world to provide a service which there were already plenty of people to provide? Why were we spending thousands of dollars to help these people when we we could have just given that money to locals to help themselves? And why did it take visiting a country miles and miles from home for us to begin asking these questions?
I thought for a long time on what might be the best way to aid the people I had fallen so hard for. I have always been a believer in the power of education, and I knew there must be some way to aid these wonderful people through as such; I just didn’t know what.
Then, in February of 2014, everything came together. It began when I received an email from Grace. It read, “Dear friends, I have a plan! [And] I need your cooperation!”
In a follow up email, she explained:
“Through profession: I am a teacher my friends. Since 2008. Through this profession I want to help the society by helping those who lives in hard situation. I shall require much and orphaned children...
My plan: should assist/help the society. Though this plan I cant do myself without getting cooperation from different members, especially you my friends, to reach the goals of helping the society.
So my dear friends, shortly that is what I decided to share with you! So I must having a learning centre which may help these kids to get knowledge and skills which may raise up their life. So I have to start with nursery section and as years go I will start the primary sections so that my pupils will not suffer for looking for primary school after graduating nursery.”
I was hesitant at first to help her. Opening and funding a school would be so much work, and although I believe strongly in education, I had to admit that this was something I knew very little about.
But the more I thought on it, the more sense it made. Not only would we be giving Grace a greater chance at advancing her career, we had the potential to offer education to whomever we so desired. Given my history, I was immediately intrigued by the idea of helping marginalized individuals, those who, in Tanzania, rarely receive an education. Slowly, it became apparent that not only could I help the people of the Tanzania, but it could be done sustainably by offering jobs and income to locals--it wasn’t necessary to find mzungu’s to do the job.
I contacted Grace the day I made this decision and informed her I was ready to help. We got to work immediately, and I’ve never looked back.
Since that day, my entire world has changed. I have put my heart and soul into this mission; I have met so many amazing people who care about educating the less fortunate as much as I do; and I have fallen in love again and again, with each and every student Grace introduces me to. I look forward to seeing those smiling faces every day when I open my new emails, and I can’t wait to see them face to face, to thank them for making my days brighter.