I had the opportunity to spend a month volunteering through Projects Abroad and shooting a documentary in Arusha, Tanzania this summer as part of my thesis with the aid of a Travel Abroad Grant from the Honors College. While this wasn’t my first time abroad, it was my first trip to a developing country; I didn’t know what to expect.
One of the first things I learned was that Tanzanian people are very friendly. When walking around the city center or from my host family’s house to work (at the Kilimanjaro Film Institute), I would constantly be greeted by those I passed- from school children to adults. The most common greeting is, “Mambo.” There are several appropriate responses, but the most common one is “Poa!” I would say this at least five times on my short walk to work every morning.
Working at the Kilimanjaro Film Institute (KFI) was a priceless experience. At KFI, I did motion graphics work for their TV channel, Tazma TZ. I absolutely love motion graphics, so I was quite excited; however, we often lost power at work, and when we had no power, we couldn’t work on our computers or access the wireless Internet connection. I also had the opportunity to lead a workshop for some students on scriptwriting, and I trained some of the staff on using Adobe Photoshop and After Effects. I do not normally view myself as a leader, so this experience served as a growth opportunity for me personally. This, I feel, is characteristic of volunteering abroad. You go to use your skills to provide a service or educate those in the developing world (or simply in a different culture), but in the process you grow as a person and learn so much about yourself.
Besides working at KFI, I also worked with other Projects Abroad volunteers to paint the walls of the Juvenile Detention Center in Arusha. As part of filming my documentary, I had the opportunity to go along on a medical outreach and visit an orphanage as well. I will always cherish the friendships I made with the other volunteers from these experiences.
My time in Tanzania wasn’t all work and no play. On the weekends, I got to travel to the Hot Springs at Moshi and go on a safari to the Serengeti and the Ngorongoro Crater with some of the friends I had made. Words cannot describe how beautiful Tanzania is. We swam in the hot springs for hours getting tickled by tiny fishes and fighting the current to explore secluded pools. I have never seen such crystal clear and azure water in my life. The next morning we drove to the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, where we hiked to the Ndoro waterfalls and visited the gate where hikers start to climb Kili.
I went on a three-day safari that started with a game drive in the Serengeti. The wildlife we saw was astounding- cheetahs, elephants, giraffes, lions, antelope, a leopard, hyenas, hippos, ostriches, buffalo, baboons, and zebras. We spent two nights camping while on safari- one in the Serengeti and one in the Ngorongoro Crater. I had never been tent camping before, but I absolutely loved seeing the stars so clearly without any light pollution from the city. Because we spent the night at the top of the Ngorongoro Crater, which was created through the collapse of a volcano, it was extremely cold. We bundled together, and I wore my Massai wrap around my shoulders everywhere I went.
I will never be the same person I was before I traveled to Tanzania. I have experienced a new culture, a new way of life, and new natural beauty that have opened my mind and expanded my worldview. If you’re ever given the opportunity, travel. Travel to places that scare you and excite you, because you will gain so much from those experiences. And if you get the chance, volunteer abroad, because it truly allows you to integrate into another culture and appreciate your own.