Jessica Stewart (Canada, AC 09-11)
The sun was directly overheard and its rays turned the air into a thick haze that pounded at my shoulders. My arms were being tugged downwards by a bucket filled with cement and gravel; a bucket that left behind blisters on my hands as if marking its territory. I lifted my eyes and saw behind me a line of other students carrying buckets in the sun. In front of me rising out of the ground, where there used to only be dust, was the beginning of a new house. I smiled and couldn’t imagine anywhere else I would rather be. I was in Tanzania.
This past summer five students from the UCW of the Atlantic, one from the UWC Mostar, and one from the UWC in Costa Rica worked in Tanzania with the Tanzanian UWC students for the HOCET orphanage. It was three weeks of hard work, laughter and self-discovery.
The first week was spent in the city Dar El Salaam, working with the younger children in the orphanage. They were aged 7-14 and their English level was fairly low, so we spent most of our time playing simple games, singing silly songs and doing arts and crafts with them. We also read with them and made posters of English and Swahili words which we left behind on the walls of the orphanage. We often felt as if we were not doing anything particularly special, but they loved it anyways. They just wanted to spend time with us and to have someone pay attention to them. One day we were even able to take them to the beach. It is an hour walk (one way) and so they are only able to go one or two times a year. They had so much fun, splashing through the waves and burying each other in the sand.
For the second week and a half, we worked in the rural branch of the orphanage with the older students. These students were aged 14-19. While we were there we painted and did some building during the days and worked with the students in the evenings. We painted the new girls dormitories, and a new classroom and we help build a new staff house, which involved carrying hundreds of buckets of water, gravel and cement. With the students we ran a few different session: games, studying techniques, reading English. We also got involved with the community by playing football with them and helping prepare food. In our free time we could relax in the shade, help some of the students with their homework and chat with them.
It was amazing to hear about all of their ambitions and goal, but it was also extremely difficult because we knew that they had such a small chance of making those dreams come true.
For the last few days we returned to Dar El Salaam and visited Zanzibar for two nights. It was very nice to be able to relax and reflect at the end of the trip.
There were so many high points of the trip. The group worked well together and we had a good time, but it was also incredibly powerful to hear about the lives of the students and to live with them for a short while. It is such a different world.
I know that we were all touched by their hospitality and joy. They have so little and yet they were willing to share and laughed so easily. It made me wonder what my life would be like if I was able to find joy in all the small things as easily as they did.
However, there were also a lot of difficult parts to the trip.
The group agreed that the hardest thing to come to terms with was our own inability to make a real difference. It was so hard to hear of all of their struggles and not be able to fix them. Building and painting was wonderful because we knew that the building would stay standing after we left and because it might make their day-to-day life a bit better. But, what about the rest of their difficulties? What about the fact that they have an extremely small chance of getting into university and would have no way to pay for it?
We had to accept that we couldn’t help as much as we would have liked to, and that was tough.
It was heartbreaking to see the hope in their faces as they spoke of their dreams, and to hear the incredible determination in their voices, but to know that they were at such a serious disadvantage.
And yet, just because we weren’t able to help, doesn’t mean that they are beyond help. There is so much good that can be done.
Hearing about poverty is one thing. Staring it in the face and living in it, is another thing. This summer I truly realized that. And while the multitude of problems can be overwhelming I am only more determined to make a difference.
This summer I went to Tanzania and it was one of the best decisions I have ever made.
-United World Colleges Student Magazine-