What I learned volunteering at an orphanage in Tanzania
This past December, I volunteered for three weeks with Cross-Cultural Solutions in Tanzania. Before I left home for my big adventure, my CCS Program Site Specialist was sure to remind me over and over again how important it is to be flexible and adaptable with my volunteer assignment. I don't think that I fully understood what that meant until my first day as a volunteer.
My first day was a whirlwind of unexpected stress. I truly wanted to impact each child's life as much as I could, but I didn't know how or where to begin. Once I returned to the CCS Home-Base after the first day, I had some time to reflect and formulate a plan for the next three weeks of volunteering. I thought about how I could offer the kids as much academic support as possible in the short amount of time that I would have with them. But as I thought about the lesson plans, the materials, and the academics, I began to realize that maybe this shouldn't be my top priority.
The kids at the orphanage didn't have parents to go home to each night. Instead, they were all there supporting one another as one big family, and they were generous enough to welcome me and allow me to be a part of that loving, extended family for three weeks. I realized that as a volunteer, my job was to give the children as much love and attention as possible. It was my job to ask them what they wanted to learn about, and what interested them the most. I wanted to see their excitement and astonishment when I answered their questions or taught them something new, whether it was about my take on the bigger questions (the meaning of life) or a simple geography lesson. The kids at the orphanage taught me about the effortless joy of life and they showed me how to take advantage of opportunities to create stronger bonds with the people around me. Although I was the one there to teach them, they ended up teaching me so much. They taught me to appreciate my own life, my path, and the network of family and friends who were all waiting for me back home.