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I Found Myself in Tanzania

When I returned home from Africa this past August the first thing people would ask was, “How was your trip?!”. Now, almost 3 months later I still struggle to find words that do it justice. Luckily, I chose to participate in the academic course through Central Washington University, which was by far the best decision I could have made regarding my trip.

I found that participating in the academic course created a deeper relationship between the experience and myself. Overall I felt more involved, engaged and connected to what I was doing. The course provided me with the tools and structure I needed to make the most out of my time in Africa and after returning home it helped me to reflect on my experience academically, professionally and personally.

Nothing can fully prepare you for what you encounter in Africa but before I even stepped on the plane I had an understanding of where I was going and what it would be like. Learning about the things I was going to see reduced the severity of culture shock allowing a smoother transition into actually processing and understanding what was going on making it easier to delve in to the “why is this happening” rather than the “what is happening”.
Nowadays almost anyone can earn a bachelor’s degree online. Employers are looking for that thing that is going to set you apart from everyone else. This experience will do just that.

One of the biggest things I took away from this experience was people-skills, which are huge in any work field. Being from a small town I never had much experience interacting with so many different types of people, so during the discussions I was fascinated hearing everyone’s different perspectives on issues. One day on the construction site I also got the chance to work with a local man to build a support column for the library. He spoke little to no English and my Swahili was limited to “hello”, “very good” and “cement”. However, despite our complete lack of verbal communication we were able to successfully build the column using a system of hand gestures. This is just one small example of how I, and others on my trip, had to adjust and adapt in a situation where there was a task to complete.

Through this experience I also gained a much deeper appreciation for the education that we are so blessed to have access to. I was inspired by how eager and excited the people of the village were to learn. While there I had the amazing opportunity to paint one of the classroom walls. As I stood in the empty classroom staring at the blank wall I tried to think of what I should paint. I finally decided that it would be a cool idea to do a map of the world so the kids could practice their geography, but I was not prepared for what happened next.

My materials included a small map for reference, which had been donated by a previous volunteer, a piece of chalk, paint, a roller and 2 paint brushes made out of sticks and rope. I started to chalk the outline without thinking of how I was going to reach the top without a ladder. And as I was finishing all that I could reach of the outline I became discouraged, debating if I should start from scratch and come up with a new idea. Just then one of the men from the village wandered into the classroom and asked me what I was doing. I showed him the map and pointed to the wall telling him that I was going to put the world on it. His eyes did not leave the map for a very long time and finally he said, “Where are we?” I was shocked that he didn’t know where we were so asked him if he had ever seen a map before and he said no. Right then I decided that I had to find a way to finish. The villagers carried brick after brick into the classroom to build makeshift scaffolding for me to stand on in order to reach the top. When I began painting people became more and more curious about what I was doing. They would walk into the classroom and watch, occasionally someone would ask questions and I’d show them the smaller map explaining what they were looking at. I’m assuming word spread because over the next four days I acquired many visitors of all ages. The other volunteers even brought over their tutoring students showing them where they were from and teaching them the names of the continents. I hope that this mural serves as an educational tool for students to use for many years.

This leads me to the biggest thing I took away from this trip and the academic course, which is that in regards to sustainable development it is important to understand that the best way to help someone is to give them the tools they need to be successful. The age-old motto says it best – give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. The people you meet on these trips are incredibly smart and more willing to learn than you can imagine, they just need a little help. But what is truly amazing is what you can learn from them.

After this trip I noticed a shift in my priorities. Things that were important now seem obsolete and I am beginning to find joy and inspiration in things that seemed so irrelevant before. They showed me the importance of relationships. Getting together with people face to face and not only talking, but truly listening to what they have to say and having the courage to ask “why”. The people of Africa taught me to be selfless, gracious, understanding and thankful. I will never forget them for they helped me discover who I am. I have always believed that to find yourself you must first lose yourself. I lost myself a long time ago but I am blessed to say that through this experience with Give and the opportunity to take the academic course – I found myself in Tanzania.

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