Volunteering, community outreach and teaching in Tanzania with Raleigh ICS
Volunteering, community outreach and teaching in Tanzania with Raleigh ICS
As far as the limits for planning your PIPs are concerned, I would say anything is possible. I spent three months in Magaga; a small village in Tanzania, which had a total population of just 2,000 people. I found out about the programme through International Citizen Service (ICS), a government-run organisation by the department for international development (DFID) that enables young people from the UK to travel to developing countries and make a real difference in the fight against poverty. One of the key aspects of ICS is that the UK volunteers were able to work side-by-side with local volunteers, providing a unique and educational once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Raleigh International is a sustainable development charity that focuses on implementing water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practice in developing countries. In Tanzania alone, over 10,000 children under the age of 5 are killed every year as a result of diarrhoea; a disease that is preventable, treatable, and even trivial in our country. The repercussions of poor sanitation and unclean water in Tanzania on education are frightening; with a huge impact on children, especially girls, whose dropout rates coincide with entering puberty. In a country where achieving gender equality is of paramount importance, these setbacks to education not only affect individuals, but the progression of the entire country as a whole.
Life in Magaga
My team and I were placed in a village that had no plumbing system, where residents would collect unclean water from a water pump that was shared with neighbouring villages. The alternative was a microbe-infested river that often ran dry, even in rainy season. For ten weeks, I lived in a homestay with one of the primary school teachers, who welcomed my roommate and I into her home and told us about the challenges that the village faced. There was a 60% known prevalence of HIV within the community, largely propagated through alcoholism and idleness as a result of a lack of farming work due to failing crops. Furthermore, when we arrived, the primary school, which was our main focus of development work, had incredibly poor sanitation facilities, consisting of only three latrines to be shared by the entire school of approximately 400 children.
Our role was to work alongside the community, including the church, women’s groups and primary and secondary schools, in order to encourage the treatment of water and good sanitation practise. Following some research, which involved going door-to-door in the community and completing questionnaires for the school children, we found that the majority of households did not treat water at all, and used dirty water from the pump or river for washing themselves and preparing food. Also, many people did not wash their hands at key times or know about the consequences this could have on the health of their families. We ran WASH workshops with a number of groups within the village to create awareness of techniques such as boiling water and ‘three bowls’ to wash plates and cutlery using soap and bleach, and to stress the importance of sanitation and the effect upon health and disease. I believe we made a significant impact on the practises of the village and by the time we left, many more people had taken our advice and were passing the knowledge on to others.
Alongside our community outreach, we also worked with SEMA, a local charity based in Singida, Tanzania, to build three new sanitation blocks at the primary school. We assisted with building the blocks themselves, as well as promoting their use through painting murals on the side to encourage hand washing. The infrastructure was an invaluable addition to the village and I hope it will improve the attendance and quality of learning at the primary school in the future.
International Women’s Day
One of my main highlights was holding a WASH event for international women’s day. The United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that form the basis of outreach programmes like Raleigh were created in 2000 with an aim to reduce poverty by 2015. While considerable progress has been made, not all of the MDGs have been achieved and promoting gender equality and empowering women remains a struggle: to close the gap in the numbers of girls in primary, secondary and university education compared to boys. Worldwide, the disparity is greatest in sub-Saharan Africa, and was painfully evident in our village of Magaga, where girls were given the option of marriage or to work as house-girls from as young as 7 years old, while boys aimed for scholarships to study in Dodoma, the closest town, which was three hours away.
Therefore, in order to encourage women and girls in the village, we held an event at the primary school with music, performances and speeches from the school children and significant members of the community. We expected a modest turn out, as our only form of advertising was word of mouth and DIY leaflets created by the volunteers. However, it seemed that most of the village was in attendance and it was a huge success! There were even plans to make it an annual event after we left.
WASH lessons and teaching
For me, the most enjoyable part of the placement and what I though was most effective was teaching primary and secondary school children. While adults might be set in their ways and less pliable to change, it’s children who decide the behaviour of future generations and are instrumental in creating a positive difference. We taught general WASH lessons two or three times a week about water treatment, times of hand washing and the importance of soap, with varying levels of complexity depending on the age group. This was particularly useful to me, as it allowed me to learn how to communicate with people of different ages, once the language barrier was overcome! Also, I was able to teach my own biology lesson to students aged 16-18 about preventable disease and the spread of bacteria through dirty water. While it was a nerve-wracking experience, being my first teaching experience ever, let alone in a foreign, non-English speaking country, it was incredibly rewarding, with many of the students (and volunteers!) telling me how much they learned and that they enjoyed the lesson.
Challenges faced and skills learned
The biggest challenge was the immediate culture shock and being thrown out of my comfort zone from the moment I arrived in Tanzania. After getting accustomed to that, it took time to overcome language barriers and cultural differences in order to work within a team of UK and Tz volunteers. When we first arrived, there was a general feeling of ‘how much of a difference can we really make?’ I struggled to see what personal aid I could provide towards an issue so large. However, over time, we realised that the fight against poverty is slow, but progressive. Although we didn’t see the immediate effects of our being in the village, I knew that we had contributed to positive change.
Personally, I gained so much from the experience. I realised I could be a leader within my peers as well as being able to deal with conflict and stressful situations. Although it was tough, I would recommend ICS as a PIP to anyone who wants to use this time to discover how much you are capable of, while experiencing international development at its forefront.
Priya Joshi, MIBTP 2014