Little by little, a little becomes a lot in Tanzania

By Catherine Kerber, Volunteer in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Deciding where and how to volunteer can be daunting for anyone, but when I chose to volunteer overseas I knew that I wanted to do something that would benefit the community I would be serving. My friend had recently come back from Tanzania with Cross-Cultural Solutions (CCS) and raved about her time there and her plans to continue her relationship with her placement and the people she met in Tanzania. She inspired me to volunteer with CCS and I haven't looked back since.

Prior to learning about CCS I had read countless tales of people who had volunteered overseas only to find that they had done more harm than good. I had met people who once donated goods to communities in the developing world only to find their donations were harming the community's well-being. I knew that my time with CCS would be different because of our shared views on gift-giving and sustainable volunteering.

helping little by little with Cross-Cultural SolutionsDuring my time in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania with CCS I witnessed the positive impact sustainable volunteering has on communities. CCS has a constant flow of volunteers coming and going, ensuring that the community is continuously served and relationships are made. I knew that after I left Tanzania that another volunteer was guaranteed to come and take my place, just as I had done for a previous volunteer and the cycle would continue.

With CCS in Tanzania I was able to give my time and energy to organisations in the community rather than financing projects that may not even receive the funds, end up unaccounted for, or even destroy an organisation's future and reputation. Volunteering organisations like CCS are there to send volunteers to serve communities, not subsidise false incomes and destroy communities.

Whilst in Tanzania, a local women's group approached CCS volunteers about helping them with their finances. They came to us seeking advice on managing their money, asking for any knowledge we had because they knew we could help them. We showed them how to record their deposits, withdraws, loans and more. Just something as simple as this has benefited them more than just giving them some cash. It was the reputation of CCS and its volunteers' eagerness to help the community that prompted them to seek our advice and keep their organisation alive.

Also whilst in Tanzania a local organisation proposed that I should help subsidise their income. They explored ways I could donate, but such a contribution will only go so far. Would my donation make a lasting impact? Would the money really be used for what they say it will?

It’s tempting to help those in need when you know you can help, but sometimes the contribution is only temporary. As this would be against CCS' donations policy and my own morals, I politely declined to donate. I was there to help them learn to be self-sufficient and to promote education, not encourage dependency from volunteers from CCS and other organisations.

When I returned from Tanzania I told my friends and family about how important it is to give the gift of one's time, knowledge and friendship. I recalled my experiences of where my advice was sought after, rather than my bank details. I am still in touch with those I met in Tanzania and know that the relationships made will be everlasting. Just like how my friend inspired me to volunteer with CCS, I hope that I can inspire others to do the same, and continue CCS' legacy of safe, sustainable volunteering because like the Tanzanian proverb says, “Little by little, a little becomes a lot.”

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