by Patricia Gott

Volunteer Abroad in Africa to Empower WomenTanzania greeted me on a balmy 70-degree evening around 9 pm in November. Cross-Cultural Solutions had sent a driver, Simon, to pick me up and drive me to the Home-Base. He spoke English, and it was from him that I learned much about Tanzania and its people in the coming weeks.

Simon said, “Patty, you are bibi (grandmother). As respect, you sit here every time,” and he indicated the front passenger seat of his van. I thought—Yeah, this is good. That evening on my way from the Arusha airport to Moshi, my first thoughts were, Why is everyone walking? and Why aren’t there more cars on the road? Of course, I learned later that most Tanzanian’s do not own a car as it’s far too expensive and therefore they walk or hitch rides. When we drove the last two miles from Moshi to the CCS housing in the village of Rau, we bounced and bumped along the worst rutted, pot-holed, dirt road I’ve ever been on. I hung on for dear life trying not to fall off my seat.

There were approximately 33 volunteers housed by CCS, staying three weeks to three months; ranging from ages 17 to 75. Three buildings were utilized as sleeping quarters; mine was named appropriately, Kilimanjaro. Our accommodations were adequate, with four volunteers per 9’ x 9’ bedroom with two sets of bunk beds, each shrouded in mosquito netting. We at least had toilets and hot water for showers. There were no such things as clothes washing machines or dryers. We had the option of paying the housekeeping staff to do our laundry; but most of us elected to wash our own outdoors, by hand, in cold water just like local people, and hang them on the clotheslines to dry.

CCS assigned volunteers to jobs teaching English in primary and vocational schools, caring for children at nursery schools, orphanages, and street children centers, assisting in local medical facilities including HIV/AIDS, and working with income-generating women’s groups. My placement was working with women in the business of batiking, primarily with a shop called the Unique Batik, owned by Mama Lida Msaki. I couldn’t have been happier!

Mama Lida mentored other batik-producing women and employs several females-in-training who sew clothing from her batik and tie-dye designs to sell in her shop. Because she spoke fairly good English, and the other women spoke little to none, my work was mostly with her. Lida, in turn, would interpret the information she learned to the others.

Although Mama Lida has run a successful business since she started it in 2000, I found she had been operating with no bookkeeping system. I worked with her to set her business up with a simple but effective sale and expense bookkeeping system. Once she fully understood how to make daily entries and run totals for the month, she could then compute her profit or loss for the month, as well as each year. In addition, Mama Lida and I created Unique Batik handbills that were distributed to hotels, restaurants, and posted on local city bulletin boards. I also helped design an advertising brochure, complete with photos and shop background information that she could use in the future.

Too soon, it was time to leave and get back to the world I’d left a month ago. Knowing what a culture shock it would be upon returning, I wasn’t sure if I looked forward to it or not. However, I had started the ball rolling with my bookkeeping and marketing ideas in place at the Unique Batik, and it was time to see if Mama Lida and her coworkers could keep it moving on their own.

I volunteered with the intent of giving something of myself but found that I received far more than I gave. The Tanzanian people are courteous, friendly, and respectful. Despite their lack of economic resources, they share whatever they have: space, time, and ideas. Space—whether living in overcrowded housing or riding three on a bicycle—time, like talking with family or strangers over a cup of chai tea—ideas, whether business or personal, to improve their community. I was left feeling that many Americans are “glutted with riches but have poverty of the soul.” Maybe each of us can reflect on what we have, what we really need, and then be willing to share some of the excess. I will be forever thankful for being able to take the opportunity to volunteer in Tanzania. It enriched my soul.

Check out The CCS Girls and Women’s Empowerment Project to learn more.


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