27 Jul Teaching in Northern Tanzania with One Heart Source
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Theresa
In the summer of 2012, I spent nearly two months working as a volunteer teacher in a school in northern Tanzania. When I decided to go I had never done anything like that before; and as I write this reflection four years later I realise just how blessed I was by my time there, and how humbling an experience it was for me.
The organisation that I worked with was called One Heart Source. One Heart Source was founded in response to the claim by the UN in 2008 that at least 1.1 million children in Tanzania had been orphaned as a result of the devastating impact of HIV and AIDS. Spurred on by a desire to combat this, the NGO began its work in Tanzania and has since spread to other parts of the world, including South Africa and Jamaica. Everywhere they go, they emphasise the need to work alongside communities with a vision to enacting lasting and fruitful change. The majority of their work is based around education, often relating to HIV and AIDS awareness but also focusing on other vital areas such as raising literacy standards and improving the opportunities for lifelong learning amongst people in the community.
The One Heart Source programme that I was accepted on was based in a small village called Musa, about an hour’s drive north of the city of Arusha. This rural community had been one of the very first places to be involved with the work of One Heart Source. The main form of outreach in Musa was through education, and volunteers here worked as teachers during the summer months in the village primary school. In addition to teaching, we were also invited to live as the guests of local families during our time there. This was a huge privilege, as it enabled us to build up real personal relationships with people outside of the classroom. The families we lived with treated us as part of their own, and I came to love every member of my adopted family during my time in Musa.
Musa had two schools; a primary and a secondary school; and these served pupils from a wide surrounding area. School was not fun; teachers were strict, resources were very limited, and the students were expected to understand at least three languages – Swahili, English and the local Maasai dialect. It is not surprising that few of the pupils who went to primary school ever went on to secondary school, and even fewer made it on to college. Only one Musa student in recent history had ever gone to university. One Heart Source was under no illusion that every child in Musa would go to university, but it wanted every child to be empowered through education, and given the chance to go as far as they were able.
The schedule that we followed was fairly straight-forward. Each morning during the week, every volunteer would teach a class on either English or health education to one of the primary school classes. In the afternoon, we would lead additional, less formal sessions to those who wanted to come – ranging from reading groups to art classes. I taught the Level 6 English class (roughly what would be called Year 5 in England), which comprised about sixty students ranging in age from about ten to eighteen. It amazed me how excited and enthusiastic all of them were! The progress that they made in six weeks was remarkable, and by the end they had all written their own short story in English. Some of the students demonstrated a stunning intelligence that I can only hope is given a chance to flourish in the future. By the time that it came for me to leave, I felt that I had learned quite as much from them as they had from me – and very likely a great deal more!
My time in Tanzania caught up with me faster than I wanted, and it seemed before I knew it I was saying goodbye to my family, friends and students. I would love to say that I made a great difference through my volunteer work, but in reality I know that one untrained teenager can only have so much of an impact. However, I believe that organisations such as One Heart Source can make real and meaningful change for the better in places like Musa. One Heart Source engaged on a down-to-earth level with those they worked with, as equal partners in the fight against inequality and disease. Volunteering is just one way of helping them in this endeavour.
As the years have gone by, I have come to appreciate how much my summer in Musa has affected me as an individual. It has helped me to realise that volunteering isn’t just about a one-off event; it is about a way of life that values doing something for others without focusing on what you are going to get out of it in return. You don’t have to visit Tanzania to do that though; you can do that in all sorts of ways in your own life and local community. Whether it is in a kind word to a stranger, or by volunteering at your local soup kitchen, it is in these small steps that love and grace can be a little bit more realised in the world. It is this commitment to making those steps that so deeply inspired me about One Heart Source, and continues to inspire me today. I hope that my memories of Musa will never cease to remind me of what humanity is capable of achieving when we work together.
Scripture calls for all people to work for a world marked by peace, justice and dignity for all. And if we really do work together as one common human family, despite our flaws and differences, for a better world then I do not think we will be far from this vision, and from the kingdom of God.
Alex Taylor is currently working on a Masters Degree in Archive Administration at Aberystwyth University, Wales.