Ever since I was a preteen, I had this strong desire to travel to Africa and work with kids. It sounds super clichéd I know, but last month I finally made it happen and met people who had this exact dream on their bucket list too. So, this post is for anyone who has the slightest seed of curiosity and wants to take the plunge to volunteer abroad because I honestly had the most incredible two weeks in Tanzania.
When I finally was old enough to travel by myself (or for my parents to let me, shout out to my mum), I began searching for volunteering opportunities abroad. What I very quickly learnt was that volunteering with legit charities and government-run organisations was that you needed relevant experience because the work you do is educational such as conversation or health care. You’d also need to complete training and be able to dedicate a minimum of three months to undertake projects. With two weeks of my annual leave left, I wanted to test the waters first and see if volunteering abroad was something I could do.
Researching volunteering programmes
Then I discovered volunteering companies. I was quite sceptical about them, I even nearly got sucked in by a dodgy company called Original Volunteers (more on how to avoid this below). A similarity between these kinds companies was that they fell in the category of ‘volunteer tourism’. These companies caught on that volunteers from across the globe would want to explore and make the most of their trips abroad. So they partner up their volunteering placements with a tourism company and voila, you have happy volunteers who get to do work they’re passionate about and can also unwind and enjoy the wonders around them during the weekends.
So reading reviews online is obviously great but I was worried when I saw that some companies had got staff to write fake reviews on forums and even Google ratings. So to double check, I reached out to past volunteers who went through various volunteering companies by searching hashtags on Twitter and Instagram to find them e.g. #OriginalvolunteersGhana, #IVHQTanzania. Placement and accommodation satisfaction really depends on the local team, so it’s a good idea to search for the specific country you want to visit, along with which company on social media. Doing this, I was able to find out that Original Volunteers charge volunteers random high fees everyday while they’re abroad, claiming it to be donations and even their drivers charged a bomb for taxi prices. The volunteers I reached out to felt they were getting asked for more money dishonestly, which is really sad considering so many young volunteers go on their gap year. On the other hand, I was also able to find a stream of volunteers on Instagram who had the best time in Tanzania going through IVHQ and who were more than happy to answer all my questions. So I applied and soon enough, I was all booked on for their childcare project. I’ve never felt excitement quite like it, it really was a lifelong dream that I’ve always wanted to fulfil.
Getting prepared with IVHQ and TVE
Check out this video I made below to see why IVHQ was the right volunteering company for me.
Reflecting back, I was super happy with the way IVHQ prepared me for everything. They provided me a six step checklist full of information to help me get everything sorted. I’ve never done anything like this, so it was a bit daunting sorting out the best deals for flights, a work permit and all the necessary jabs and medication but IVHQ were happy to guide me. If I’m honest, this trip was ironically the most expensive trip I’ve done so far because of everything you need to set off and want to do in Tanzania, so it’s definitely worth taking the time to save as much as you can to ensure you’re covered for everything and get the most out of your travels.
Once I was ready to go, IVHQ then set me up with their local team, TVE, who were amazing. From the moment I stepped out of the airport in Arusha, I felt safe as I was welcomed by Emma, a lovely TVE staff member, holding up an IVHQ sign. We waited for other volunteers who turned out to be on the same flight as me and we were driven to our accommodation. We stayed at a house with around twenty other volunteers and the “Mamas” who kindly cooked us all up to four delicious meals a day. I mean, I don’t even like soup, but their soup was out of this world! Soon enough, I felt right at home since everyone was super warm and welcoming.
I can’t even tell you how much I loved living with people from all over the world and with limited WiFi. Instead of being glued to my phone, I was playing card games, having a bonfire, walking and talking with a friend for an hour, squeezing into dalas dalas (Tanzania’s mini bus transport) and singing passionately to some 90s tunes with people I had spent just two weeks with. Everyone I met out there had such good hearts, a great sense of humour and were doing amazing things at their placements.
Volunteering at the Venance Care Foundation
I was super lucky to spend two weeks at the Venance Care Foundation, a preschool founded by my lovely friend Venance. He aims to provide an education for children living in poverty, as well as those with disabilities and HIV who are sadly seen as outcasts in society. As a child, Venance had a tragic accident when he fell from a tree which left him in a coma and unable to walk and talk. He however persevered through physio and speech therapy, completed his education, got his degree and is now the founder of his organisation. He is such an inspiration to me and all the beautiful kids at his foundation, who absolutely adore him.
Venance was donated a piece of land which he uses to farm crops, in order to fund his preschool. This June, Venance will be climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for his farming project so he has everything he needs to keep it running year round as right now, he can only rely on the rainy monsoon season. If you wish to support Venance, please donate whatever you can at Venance’s GoFundMe page here. He has built such a happy, safe haven for the kids as you can see in this video and he now hopes to grow it to a primary school. There’s no one I trust more to take in more kids and provide them with a great education. I sincerely hope that Venance will build the school of his dreams one day. I owe him, the devoted teachers Anjelita and Tina and all the precious children who still melt my heart a lifetime of gratitude for reminding me to be humble, eager to learn and thankful everyday.
For the two weekends I was out there, a group of us booked trips away to Moshi and a safari the following week. Our Moshi weekend trip was beautiful, we went to Mount Kilimanjaro, Materuni Waterfalls, the Chagga caves, the beautifully blue hot springs and also went to visit Babu coffee who yes, you guessed it, makes coffee. The BEST coffee I’ve ever tasted in my life too. I loved this first weekend because I was really getting to know all the other girls who tagged along. It was fun sussing out everyone’s completely different music taste and putting my extensive Spotify playlists to use as the car DJ.
My last weekend in Tanzania, camping and going on a safari is something I will never, ever forget. I don’t know about you, but I LOVED the cartoon Eliza Thornberry. I mean, doesn’t everyone want to know what an animal is actually thinking?! I’ve been to zoos, I’ve seen animals looking depressed, confined, drugged up and it’s really heart breaking. On a safari however, you’re the one that’s confined in a little jeep. You get to see animals roam freely in their vast natural habitat, amongst their preys and predators. I literally felt like I was watching an episode of Planet Earth while looking at a lioness eye and conceal herself from a huge hippopotamus through binoculars. I saw zebras and wildebeests herd together and freeze in fear amongst the presence of lionesses and their cubs. I saw a giraffe run as if it ran in slow motion, but really its legs were just so long that it looked like time just slowed down. My favourite moment however, was watching a lion just sit majestically on top of a rock. The weeds and trees swayed with the wind and as the sun shone on the horizon of the infinite Serengeti, the lion looked like Mufasa, straight out of Lion King. When he sat up, he was huge, almost beastly and had such piercing caramel eyes in the sunlight. One of the girls in our jeep actually shed tears because the lion was so surreal and beautiful to look at. I remember even the land around us was so mesmerising, we didn’t mind being in a jeep for hours. There was a moment I was looking out my window and the sun shone so brightly on the mountains and land, that everything looked like it was painted in blinding white. I literally turned to the girl next to me and made her pinch my hand just to make doubly sure I hadn’t somehow ended up in heaven haha.
Tanzania will always be a trip that I’ll hold close to my heart, a trip that was so worth every penny and going out of my comfort zone to travel solo. I met so many genuinely kind people who I can now visit all over the world and I’ve taken back with me a more positive outlook on life. I didn’t even get a culture shock when I landed in Tanzania. It was when I was back in London, getting driven back home in a nice, spacious taxi along pristine streets that I was overwhelmed by what an easy and comfortable life I live. A life that I was simply born into. It’s only made me more grateful for all the opportunities that life has to offer me and perhaps a bit more fearless to seize them.
A huge thank you to IVHQ, Tanzania Volunteer and Host Experience and all my lovely new friends who made this trip everything I hoped it would be and more.