Saturday, December 27, 2008

To a student thinking of volunteering in Tanzania

I wrote the following...

Most of your time in Chalula will be very quiet. At daybreak donkeys bray and roosters ... well, make noise. You and your host family wake, wash up, drink tea, and then you would head off to the library, spending much of the time helping children reading, organizing activities. Life in a village without electricity is very slow. Plenty of time for walks, naps, conversation, and your own reading (preferably novels set in Tanzania or East Africa, or Africa-related non-fiction). The nicest part about an extended stay is to gradually get to know a few people well, and spend time chatting about life in a village.
In Burkina Faso and Ghana we usually arrange for a volunteer to have a young woman (if volunteer is female) live with the volunteer for the stay. She helps with cooking, everyday chores (surprising how many things need to be learned, like how to wash pots and pans when there is no running water), and companionship, and safety. I am sure that could be arranged in Chalula. We pay a modest stipend to the person, so it is a desirable "job" (and the work is usually much less than they do at their own homes, and they get a chance to practice English, etc.).
The danger spot in a village stay, is precisely illness. When you arrive, we strongly encourage you to take the time to figure out and visit various local health clinics. You should definitely bring a mosquito net. A cell phone is an inexpensive help, because you can quickly call the librarians, or your family, and get advice and comfort. After receiving a call at 2am several summers ago from two volunteers in the Ghana libraries, one with a bad fever, I also encourage you to make sure you have a couple thermometers and aspirin. "My fever feels very hot," was not a helpful medical symptom in the Ghana case. ;-)

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