Volunteering experience with VHSO
It’s hard to know where to begin describing my VHSO time… Initially, it was a case of web browsing and spotting an organisation that looked a bit different from other volunteer organisations, in that it was locally run and was really focused on “sustainable development” (favourite tag-line, but it’s true!). A friend and I decided it seemed interesting, emailed for more information and a couple of months later found ourselves on a plane to Tanzania!
Being my first time not only in Tanzania, but also in Africa, the first few days were a bombardment of culture shocks.. Well not so much shocks, but just a feeling a bit like being in day 1 at primary school again. Our host and hostess extrordinaires, Rehema and Jacob, however, were great. Flip chart Kiswahili lessons and planning of our social calendar to meet other people living in Arusha meant it (cheesy as it sounds) did feel like home very quickly.
Our dala dala riding skills improved, we could hold a conversation in Swahili consisting of nothing but greetings for at least 15 minutes and most importantly learnt exactly where to go in town to get the best curry, tilapia, chips mayai… I think our introductory few days getting to know the area and just general cultural politenesses were a great help when we began our project.
We were working with VHSO, a small NGO working in an area , in which high rates of HIV/AIDS and poverty cause people to have great difficulties in fulfilling even basic needs such as food and adequate houses. What soon became apparent was how difficult it can be for a charity that is so small to be able to get government funding and generally carry out the tasks that they need to. We got involved in trying to help document the work that they do and people they are working with.
I just have to mention here too that the people we met when visiting the different families were just the most amazing, kind and welcoming people, it really was an inspiration! Our daily routine varied a lot, from riding around the villages on bicycle taxis and speaking to families; to emailing potential funding bodies and typing up organisational profiles; to loading newly purchased mattresses onto a truck for distribution to the families.
I think that working with a local charity made the experience very real and gave an insight into how hard it can be to try and get help to where it is needed, but at the same time how absolutely necessary the work is. Overall, it was an experience I wouldn’t change for the world. I really think that work to help communities sustainably develop (there it is again!) to try and reduce the cycle of illness, poverty, lack of education is so valuable.
Although there is never going to be a quick fix to some of these problems, seeing and trying to help the steps in the right direction was genuinely rewarding. I was maybe quite naïve going in, but some of the things we saw did shock me. I think that VHSO has a really good set-up however, in looking after volunteers and working with smaller charities that couldn’t host volunteers themselves.
It gave a good perspective of city and rural life by being able to enjoy all that Arusha has to offer alongside the volunteering; meeting other people doing amazing work in the city too. Together with idyllic yoga-on-at-sunset, ultimate Frisbee work-outs and having the incredible Serengeti literally a stone’s throw away (almost)… I want to go back!
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