The Volunteer Experience: New to JBFC

June 3, 2013 3:56 pm Published by

What an incredible month. It’s strange to think that my big Africa trip is coming to a close as I wait to board my plane from Dubai to JFK. Time in Tanzania passes in a very strange and confusing way. The days are incredibly long, but the weeks passed by very quickly. During the day, it seems as if time tends to stand still, but all of a sudden, a month has gone by and it’s time to head home.

Katie, Biz, Cara and I arrived at JBFC on May 7th and thought we would never make it through a month. We were overwhelmed, exhausted, and experiencing a bit of culture shock. As with every trip of this sort, after a few days, we found our rhythm, solidified a routine, and overcame the jetlag. The JBFC campus became familiar and the guesthouse felt like home (we even felt threatened when new guests invaded our turf… but we learned to get along and enjoy their company… and movie collection.)

I honestly went into this trip with no idea what to expect. Everything seemed vague and up in the air, but it

didn’t matter, because I was so excited. I do admit, the first few days in Tanzania, I started to think, “What am I doing here?” I felt outside of my comfort zone, I felt overwhelmed, I felt awkward and out of place. As Chris began to explain to Cara and me what he wanted us to do with the teachers, I definitely became anxious. Cara and I felt like we were overstepping a boundary and intruding on something in which we had no right. How could the two of us, as college students, have anything valuable to offer to these teachers? And more than that, what gave us the right to swoop in and tell them what they are doing wrong after a week of observation. And then there was the overwhelming question that we faced…How in the world can we make a difference?

But in the end, it turned out very well. Cara and I did have knowledge worth sharing, and there were so many conversations worth having. We approached it as an idea share, not a lecture. We became confident in what we knew and what we have had the opportunity to learn in Peabody. But we also became interested in and aware of issues that we haven’t come across before this trip. No education system is perfect. Not one. Every system has its issues, whether it be resources, funding, testing, or quality.

In our discussion of student engagement, we realized how difficult it is for these teachers to teach critical thinking to their students when they were never taught or encouraged to think critically. Many of these teachers brought up the idea of a lack of resources, but once we started talking, they started to think outside the box, something they haven’t been pushed to do yet. I mentioned in an earlier post that the chemistry teacher used one of my ideas. To teach his students electron configurations, he took them outside, formed circles, and let them represent electrons with their bodies. And the best part about it was his excitement in teaching this way. These teachers have a desire to change the education system in Tanzania, and I was inspired by their grace and acceptance in the aspect of trying something new.

And while the teacher development aspect of the trip is technically why we went, I know I got so much more out of this experience. Just as I’ve found in my travels to Guatemala, the connections with the people mean the most. Spending time with the girls in the orphanage was just another experience that has shown me the resilience of people and the amazing children around the world that have faced so many horrible challenges, yet they have the ability to forgive, appreciate, and trust when they have every right to want to hate, give up, and hide themselves from the world around them. The trials and challenges that these girls have gone through has forced many of them to mature beyond their years. Because of this, they hold onto their responsibilities and independence. But at JBFC, they also have a chance to exhibit the amazing resilience of a child.

At JBFC, these girls gain back the childhood, that for reasons unknown and unfair, they had taken away. These girls have an opportunity to thrive, to learn, to be healthy, to love, and to be loved. While they might not know it, I can confidently say that each and every one of the girls at JBFC has impacted the life of at least one volunteer. These girls are truly amazing and I consider it a privilege to have spent a month with them.

And once again, just like the first time I went to Guatemala, and caught this volunteer/travel bug that I can’t seem to get rid of, I know I have to go back. I’m not sure how, but I will get back to Tanzania.

Guest blogger, Hannah Woodward, is a rising senior at Vanderbilt University, majoring in Elementary Education. She visited JBFC for a month with her classmates, Cara Dennen, Elizabeth Little and Katie Moran. 

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This post was written by Mainsprings