My trip to Tanzania was an unforgettable experience of contrasts and differences. The people we met were so welcoming that I felt a connection with them almost immediately. The children have an insatiable appetite for learning and are very knowledgeable despite the fact that they don’t own textbooks for school. The local government officials (with whom we met) were obviously reactive rather than proactive and had an attitude of complacency. Consequently, the infrastructure is undeveloped resulting in limited access to clean water, unpaved roads that are almost impassable because of ruts and boulders, a non-existent landline phone system that, among other things, minimizes the effectiveness of any emergency response system that may exist.
The poverty is so extreme and widespread that it is difficult for me to comprehend how people can live that way. The one room huts that dot the roadside at great distances from each other don’t have running water or electricity. The people have to walk long distances to find wood for the stove and water for cooking, bathing and laundry. The only available water often times is dirty and contaminated so it must be boiled before use. The physical labor is assigned to the females and they seemingly assume the role without argument. They walk home carrying five gallon jugs of water or 40 pound bags of grain on their heads because there is no other means of transportation. It’s a very hard life. I don’t know how they continue to hope and cope.
There are people within the community who are educated and aspire to a better way of life for themselves, for the children and for the future of the country. There are civic and social organizations that are making a difference in the lives of the less fortunate, such as the disabled, children orphaned by HIV/AIDS and women and children who have been diagnosed as HIV positive. Many of these organizations receive funding from NGOs in other parts of the world. For example, one of our partner organizations, UMABU, receives financial support from Terre des Hommes, an organization headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
The group of people with whom we (Tanzania Development Support) partner have a clear perspective of what they must do to improve their plight in life. They recognize that education of the children, particularly the girls, is critical to a promising future for all. They are educated and have an unshakable determination to do what needs to be done to change. I was particularly impressed by the women teachers at the school who told me that they must teach the girls to respect themselves and believe that they deserve a life that is far better than fetching wood and water.
While I was there I noted that social behavior was often dictated by cultural beliefs and traditions but I wasn’t there long enough to learn what these beliefs are. Next time I go I hope to get a better understanding of the cultural influences.
I can’t find the words to describe the gentleness and kindness of the people we met. The beauty is in their hearts and souls and is reflected in their eyes and smiles. The smiles are wide white grins that light up their faces and connected to my soul. That’s the picture that comes to mind when I reflect on the experience.
TDS Board Member and 2011 Volunteer Trip Member