Volunteering in Arusha – The first week

Volunteering in Arusha
 Volunteering in Arusha – the first week
Sorry for the delay, but things have been hectic this past week in Arusha.  To get there from Cairo, I had a 5 hour layover in Doha, Qatar (probably the best airport in the world), and then traveled overland via Nairobi, to arrive at my home for the next month.

I’m volunteering with an organization called Tanzania Volunteer Experience or “TVE” which offers a variety of volunteering opportunities from working with women with HIV, childcare/orphanages, or helping out at schools.  While there, I’m living in a volunteer house with around 20 other volunteers, with most ranging in ages from 18-to mid-20s, with a few older people sprinkled in.  They are all from a variety of places, like England, Mexico, Norway, and even Cypress Island.

The house is relatively nice, with rooms that have 4-6 bunk beds, a living room, and an outside area.  There is also a gate around the house for security.  There is a live-in “Mama”, whose name is Neema, who cooks our meals.  While simple, usually consisting of rice, beans, and fruits, and vegetables, they are usually tasty.  There also is a local pizza place that offers delivery, which is nice for a treat.  Electricity however, is not very reliable.  Our power is out more often than not, due to Arusha’s complications from switching from oil to natural gas, which means cold showers for us.

First Impressions of Arusha
I like Arusha so much better than Cairo so far.  The people are friendlier, always greeting each other on the streets and most speak at least a little English.  The little kids shout “Mzungu” to me, which means “white person” in Swahili.  It is also very dusty and dirty.  I don’t think I will ever be completely “clean” whilst I stay here.  The flat plains and bright sun here are what most people picture when they hear the word “Africa”.  I can see Mount Meru from our backyard, and Mount Kilimanjaro, which I plan to climb, is only a hundred kilometers away.

Volunteering in Arusha
Mount Meru, as seen from the backyard of the volunteer house.
Volunteering in Arusha
One of the many roundabouts in the city with the Clock tower to rival Big Ben.

Dala Dalas
Oh dala dalas.  These are the quintessential African experience.  Instead of buses, Arushans (and many other African cities) have these giant vans that have been tricked out to have about 12-16 seats. However, the true amount of riders is closer to 25-30, as people cram their way into the vehicle, taking up every available inch of space.  Depending on your position during the ride, it can be a very uncomfortable experience, although very cheap (about 20 cents).  This is how the locals get around, and is a safer alternative than the boda bodas (hopping on the back of someone’s motor bike).

Volunteering in Arusha
The main dala dala station, Kilombero, where you are able to switch dala dalas. This is mid-day, a relatively calm time.

Cheti School
The organization for which I will be volunteering my time is called Cheti School.  There are 5 of them total (numbered 1-5), with the closest one, #1, about 45 minutes away from the volunteer house.  This school only hast the pre-primary levels (ages 5-6 mainly).  These kids are just beginning to learn English in class, and don’t feel comfortable to speak it yet.  They instead like to jump all over me during the break and recess times and give high fives as they grin from ear to ear.  Cheti 5, the furthest away from the volunteer house, is about an hour and a half away, or 3 dala dala rides.  This school is the largest one, though with over 300 kids for grades 1-7.  There is also an orphanage on site, where around 50 of the kids live.  The school’s founder, Zuma Mtui, built the school outside of the city, where land is cheaper.
These kids are able to speak English fluently by around the 3rd grade, and have all of their lessons conducted as such, except for their KiSwahili class.  Supplies are scarce here, with students only having pens, pencils and composition books for which to do their work.  The teacher writes problems on the board and the kids copy them down and complete their work.  As the school does not have a copy machine, there is no way for the teachers to print out worksheets for the kids.  The classes are also very large, with around 40ish kids each.
During this week, Cheti had their mid-term exams, which of course were written on the board by the teacher and then copied into composition books by the students.  Myself and another volunteer, Nacho (from Chile),  graded the 5th grade’s exams.  While the problems consisted of facts and skills like fractions, decimals, and area/perimeter that similarly-aged kids would be learning in the US, it was evident that the children had not grasped these skills yet, as many errors were made.  Nacho and I hope to be able to help them nail down some of these skills during our time here, as the teachers seem eager to sit back and let us teach, by simply handing us a piece of chalk and ushering us to the front of the room.

Volunteering in Arusha
The “Middle Class” at Cheti 1.
Volunteering in Arusha
The grounds of the school and orphanage at Cheti 5.
Volunteering in Arusha
More of Cheti 5.

The Tanzanian presidential election is set to be held on Sunday, the 25th of October.  The city is abuzz with political slogans, ads, and dala dalas blaring politically themed music.  I’ve learned that this election is the first time that another party has a legitimate chance of seizing control from the dominant party, since 1961, further amping the excitement.  The results are not set to be revealed until Wednesday the 28th (early for African standards), and depending on the results, we might spend the day at the volunteer house, since tensions will be high.

Up Next
This weekend I will be headed to Moshi, the next town over, with a few of the other volunteers.  On our agenda is visiting the Meru Waterfall, a coffee plantation, and a visit to some hot springs

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