In early November, I arrived in Tanzania planning to volunteer at the orphanage centre built by the Czech non-profit Bez Mamy (Without Mother) and I am going to stay until the end of the year.
Bez Mamy was founded by Ondra Horecký, who himself spent some time in Tanzania volunteering as a teacher at local primary school. When he learned about the situation of the local orphans, he decided to do something about it. There are about three million children without parents living in Tanzania and the government lacks sufficient funds to take care of them. During the 14 years of its fundraising affords Bez Mamy have managed to build a large orphanage, a kindergarten and to provide many local schools with necessities like water tanks or desks so the kids don’t have to sit on the floor.
As usual, volunteers Bez Mamy cover all the costs associated with the mission (air tickets, transport, visas, meals) by themselves. The accommodation is provided for free in the orphanage complex though. The fact that the volunteering mission is self-funded surprised many of you. It is necessary to distinguish volunteering in non-profit and profit sector. If you volunteer for a business that uses your free labour to generate profit, as a receptionist in a hostel for instance, the business usually covers your life expenses. But if you decide to volunteer for a charity, it’s most likely they can’t provide any of this. Donors donate money to charities in good faith that 100% of their donation will go to the people they are donating to, not to be spent on dinners and hotel rooms of volunteers.
However, when I started to look for charity opportunities in Africa, I encountered quite the opposite extreme. When you type “Volunteering in Africa” into Google, you get overwhelmed by dozens of pages and touching promo videos showing volunteers surrounded by a group of African kids talking about the way volunteering in Africa have changed their lives, how much they have benefited the community and that everyone should experience this at least once in their lifetime. The “non-profit” books your flight tickets, arranges visas, airport transfers, accommodation, food and everything you need. You play with the kids once in a while, make few selfies and then spend the rest of your time enjoying safari trips or climbing up the nearby volcano. As a reward for your efforts, you’ll receive a volunteer certificate to be attached to your CV or application for a prestigious college. The cost of this “volunteering experience” is anywhere between USD2000 and USD5000. The price usually depends upon the quality of the accommodation, meals and leisure activities. Same story two years ago, when I researched how can I help as a volunteer in refugee camps in Greece. Furthermore, if you carefully read the terms and conditions, you’ll find out that the organisation is rather a prosperous business that donates just a fraction of the amount you’ve paid to the development of the local community and exploits the African poverty to their own benefit. Always be sure to first check NGO’s background carefully. It is completely fine to cover the real cost of the mission yourself, though it is not ok to pay someone so you can volunteer for them.
I landed in the Tanzanian capital Dar Es Salam. When leaving the airport several taxi drivers quickly rushed my way. “Where are you going, ma’am? Mbeya? Ah I’m sorry, all buses in that direction have been canceled this week. Don’t worry I’ll help you my friend, there is a last spot in a private shuttle! Very good price! ”… Few years ago I almost fell for the same scum while searching for a bus un India, so I just smiled and proceeded to get into my uber to take me to the bus station. There is no building, no ticket desk, no information or departure board in the central bus terminal. While searching for the right bus I was kinda just tossed around for several minutes to finally end up in the one going the direction I needed. Ahead, I had a 15 hours bus journey across the whole country. The bus was packed to the roof with people, sacks of rice, chickens and anything else its passengers needed to transport. After seven hours of journey came the first and the only toilet break. The bus had to stop in a traffic jam for few minutes. All the men promptly got up and rushed to pee in the palm field by the side of the road. After them quickly all the women and we continued. We were slowly approaching our destination as the inside of the bus began to warm until suddenly thick black smoke rolled up from the floor, quickly filling the entire space. The bus stopped and all passengers got out. The whole event frightened me a bit, but as obvious from the relaxed expressions of everyone else, such break downs must be common here. After two hours of waiting it started to get dark and despite the efforts of the driver it didn’t seem like the engine would be up and running any time soon. I decided to hitchhike to the nearest town where I spent the night and continued my journey the next morning.
The arrival at the orphanage was beautiful. All the small kids rushed out the door, jumped all over me, while hugging me and shouting “Welcome! Welcome!” Three of them then automatically took my backpack and carried it all the way into my room.
The days start at 5:30. Every morning I first help to get the smallest ones ready for school. Then is the time to tidy up, hand wash the laundry and cook . Lunchtime, the kids are back from school. In the afternoon I hold my English classes. Kids take turns according to their advancement level while the rest helps with preparing dinner, working on the farm, feeding animals, cleaning or doing any other chore that is needed around the house. Before dinner, I always help to get the little ones ready for bed. After they all eat it’s time to do the homework and all the kids have to be in bed before 10 pm.
Compared to European kid, one day of such orphan in Mahango is incredibly exhausting. If needed, the older ones even manage to work on the farm for few hours before going to school. The primary school is about 2 km away. It is almost 6 km to get to the secondary one. Children get to school walking. Early in the morning it’s still a bearable walk. At noon though, in the terrible heat and under the sharp African sun, it’s a very different story. Basically, the whole afternoon is then filled with manual labour, often physically very demanding. The little ones do only simple tasks and have also time to play in the afternoon. Once they grow up a bit, the only time off is on Sundays. Where do the kids get the energy to work on their homework in the evening, I do not understand, but somehow they manage. Many of them finish their school with exceptional grades.
Such intense help around the house and farm is a common part of everyday live of any African kid living in rural areas. Without the Western luxuries such as running water, washing machine or the fridge, the household chores take substantially more time. In addition, most families are dependent on the food that they grow on the farm themselves. What’s left they usually sell in the market to earn a little extra money to buy school uniforms, for instance. It’s just way too much work for the parents to do on their own, the everyday help of the kids is then essential.
In the orphanage, children are looked after by the catholic nuns and professional caretakers who have done a great job so far! I was immediately stunned at how well behaved and independent the kids were. Taking care of one English spoiled little girl in London was definitely way more work than looking after 35 orphans in Afrika. Helping me out with anything feels completely natural to them. When any of them sees me sweeping the floor, automatically picks up the broom stick and rushes to give me a hand.
Our children have been raised as Christians. They pray at the beginning of every meal and on Sundays we all go to church together. The church is a modest building full of simple benches and a little statue of the Jesus at the front. Although its humble setting the atmosphere is always outstanding. People sing, dance, men in the choir play drums, the pastor jokes around and the audience laughs. There is a mosque, right next to the church and there is a Protestant church just round the corner. In such a tiny village, three religions have managed to live in peace with no issues.
OK, one thing that seriously sucks in southern Tanzania is the food. It’s not bad just here in the orphanage, but anywhere I go. There are no imported foods to be found. Local cuisine is hence dependent on the local ingredients only and there is not much to chose from. The base of almost every dish are beans and Ugali – a staple made of corn flour, or rice. If you are lucky, you’ll occasionally find some potatoes, cabbage, spinach or roasted peanuts. The main purpose of food is to quickly deliver as much energy as possible so this energy can be later used while working on the farm in order to produce new food. To worry about sufficient vitamin a nutrient content or even some interesting taste of the food is a luxury that just few can afford. The only spices used are salt, tomatoes and onions. So whatever you order, it always tastes the same. Like salt, tomatoes and onions. After few tries I’ve completely given up on the local street food as well. It’s always just deep fried something and kinda tasteless. Smoked fish covered with flies sold in the market does not seem very appealing to me either and the meat (which I’m sure tastes like salt, onion and tomatoes without even tasting it anyway) I do not eat at all as the local butchers looks something like this:
At the orphanage we eat the same dish every day. Beans with ugali or rice. For breakfast, lunch and dinner. No one sure suffers from hunger though. The portions are huge, as is the energy consumption the kids have every day.
Fortunately there is the fruit to save me from becoming completely desperate! Local conditions are great for bananas, mangoes, melons and such tasty and creamy avocados are not to be found even in Asia. Every time I visit the nearest bigger village, I buy a huge supply for myself and children which gets them so excited every time!
However it’s beautiful and sad at the same time to see the way the food is appreciated over here. Moreover, I keep getting surprised finding out how many things can be actually eaten. Do you also peel the mango before you eat it? Our kids wont bother and will finish the whole thing including the skin within few minutes. Then they suck the seed until there is really none of that juicy stuff left. When I bought some spinach to make my rice and beans a little bit more exciting, the thick stalks I chopped off immediately disappeared under my hands and the kids enjoyed them as a started before lunch. And can you guess what the rice soup is? This local delicacy is the salty water full of white starch sucked in the water while cooking. However, the rice absorbs most of the water during the process and there are only two portions of the “rice soup” a day. Kids always almost fight over who is getting his on that day.
Life in Kajunjumeri
The orphanage is located in Kajunjumeri, a tiny village in southern Tanzania. You won’t find it in Google Maps. There are no streets and no postcodes. There’s only one shop that does not actually really sells anything and the nearest bigger village of Mswiswi is about 7 km away walking. Sometimes, you’re lucky and you’ll find a motorcycle driver that will give you a ride though. In Mswiswi, there are few shops that actually sell something, a market, and even a bar with working fridge that sells bottles of relatively cold beer.
Thanks to all the kind donations there is already even running water in the orphanage most of the time. Kids can drink, I have to use the filtration bottle to treat it first. At the moment, due to the monsoon season the tap water turned almost black thugh so we use the rain fall instead. The bathroom is just one small room with a Turkish toilet and to wash yourself you just use the bucket to pour some cold water over you. The laundry is washed by hand.
I arrived just at the end of the dry season when the temperatures were to high even for mosquitos to fly around. After two weeks, the first rain came and changed everything. The site is now full of various insects of monstrous sizes. All my stuff is covered with huge grasshoppers, spiders, cockroaches and bugs and despite the mosquito net, some of them always somehow get into my bed as well. I don’t bother counting all the mosquito bites anymore.
However, besides all the annoying insect, there are also these huge flies that can be useful. The kids first catch them and then roast them on fire – the first and the last meal I really enjoyed over here.
Despite the tremendous poverty seen all across the country, the people of Tanzania are usually smiling, friendly and kind to each other. Something that, with some exceptions, can be observed all over the world – the poorer the country, the more smiling and friendly its people are. Moreover, I feel incredibly safe moving around and for the past month and a half I haven’t had one single problem. Some parts of Paris seem much rougher than all of Tanzania to me.
I have not seen any other white person besides me during my stay here in the south and for some locals I am the first white woman they have seen in their life. Therefore I stand out a lot. When I walk down the street, people and children yell “mzungu, mzungu” (white person) and point their fingers at me. They don’t mean it in a bad way though. Everyone is really nice to me and people get often out of their way to help with anything I need.
In Tanzania, as in most of East Africa, Swahili is the official language. English doesn’t get you very far over here. Although the oldest kids in the orphanage can already hold an conversation in English if I want to be able to speak to the younger ones and to teach my English lessons in a bit sophisticated way, learning Swahili is a must. Fortunately, Swahili is a fairly simple and fun language to study and once you get yourself through all the different ways of greeting, it’s quite easy. One beautiful feature of Swahili is that to the greeting it always adds also the expression of compassion for the other’s person situation. So after saying hello, asking about today, about yesterday, about work, about home and how are the wife and kids doing, you also add a phrase such as „Pole na kazi.“, „Pole na safari.“, „Pole na jua.“… which means” I’m sorry you have to work. “,” I’m sorry you had to travel. “,” I’m sorry you have to bear the sun.” etc. I haven’t seen anything like this anywhere else and it just shows how polite and pleasant the local people are.
After few weeks, this place already feels like home. I got really attached to the kids and I’ll be really sad to leave eventually. Even though the conditions are tough I certainly don’t think my efforts here can be perceived as any kind of sacrifice. Although my presence is sure of a great importance to the kids the personal benefits for myself gained through this experience outweigh my contribution easily.
If you’d also like to volunteer for Bez Mamy, all the informations are to be found HERE. However there are many other ways you can help. Although my time and energy definitely counts, without donations, there would be no orphanage at all, the kids would have nothing to eat and any clothes to wear. You can easily support the maintenance and further development of the orphanage centre and local schools through the website BezMamy.cz. It can be an one time action or you can chose to give your support on regular basis and truly any amount helps. For less than 8€ we manage to feed six kids for the entire day. You can donate also by purchasing an original Christmas gift at TingaTinga.cz
In case you want to take your help even a step further and actively improve the standard of living of one of our kids and hence give her/him a chance for a better future, Bez Mamy offers the option to adopt one of our kids remotely. The adoptive parent promises regular financial and material assistance and Bez Mamy then mediates the efficient allocation of these resources and the communication between the child and the parent. All conditions and list of kids who are still waiting to be remotely adopted is to be found HERE.
The last way to get involved in the School to School project. European school becomes a partner of a school in Tanzania and then organises fundraising activities through the year. In case you would like to get your whole school involved all the information can be found HERE.
Many thanks in advance!
As the volunteer I also decided to set up and manage our new Instagram account Bez_Mamy. Great way for anyone interested to see videos and pictures showcasing everyday life here in south Tanzania. All the important news can be also found in our Facebook page.
Just few weeks until Christmas and the kids are getting so excited! Interested to read about the way Christmas are celebrated over here in Africa? That’s exactly what my next article is gonna be about.