Red dirt caking my shoes, skies ablaze with stars, the taste of coffee picked and brewed in my backyard. That’s what I remember from my trip to Tanzania. A year and a half ago I was given the opportunity to travel halfway around the world and experience a completely foreign culture for two weeks. When we flew into Kilimanjaro airport we were greeted by the most beautiful sunset, painting the sky a prism of colors as the sun dipped below the clouds and mountains. I took this as a good omen to set the tone for my trip, and it did not fail me. The food was to die for, and the people were even more wonderful. Here is why I think everybody who is able to should go on a service trip:
You meet the most amazing people. From the natives who welcome you into their country with open arms, to the amazing mentors you’ll have, to the best friend you make who’s from halfway across the country, there is no way that the people you meet cannot leave a lasting impact on your life. The most influential person I met on my trip was Mama Simba. She has raised around 35 children (32 of which were adopted), she welcomes dozens of international students into her home every summer and put herself through college at the age of 50. Every morning when we woke up she told us to “celebrate because we can move our arms and legs, some people are sick and do not have the freedom to do so.”
You will feel so welcomed. On my trip we were invited into our host families’ homes and schools with open arms, fed by an amazing crew of “mamas” and even welcomed by the animals that let us observe their natural habitat. Additionally, people from the Chagga tribe living on Mount Kilimanjaro opened their gates to let us trek through their backyards on our hike to a waterfall at the base of the mountain, a group of grandmothers welcomed us to their coffee farm and led us in a Tanzanian dance using corn husks as headdresses, women from the village came to braid our hair and a seamstress gamely took on our dozens of requests for clothing made from traditional fabrics. No matter where you go, I can guarantee that the natives you meet will be excited to have you there and accept you with open arms. Who knows, you may even get a second (or third) mom out of the experience!
You get to do some really cool stuff! Hiking to a waterfall at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, a weekend safari excursion to Ngorongoro Crater, dancing with a traditional Tanzanian dance troupe, and teaching at a Tanzanian elementary school, just to name a few of the things that we did on my trip! There’s no question that you will get to experience things that you could never experience from the comfort of your own couch. Sometimes it takes putting yourself out there to get something gratifying in return!
You collect cool stuff too! Thanks to my trip I now have a collection of traditional Tanzanian paintings hanging on my dorm wall, a dress made of traditional fabric hanging in my closet and authentic wooden spoons (with elephants carved into them!) stowed away in my dining room drawer. Also it’s pretty cool every time somebody complements my elephant pants to say I got them in Tanzania ;)
You will learn so much. It’s impossible for the people you meet and places you experience not to touch you, I promise you will come away with a greater mindset than you went in with! On the plane ride back I wrote down a list of things that I learned on my trip. I’ve included that list at the end of this article for anybody who’s interested.
It’s good practice stepping outside of your comfort zone. Although it’s scary to take that first step into the vast unknown, most people would agree that it’s worth it in the end! Doing things that make you uncomfortable is the only way to grow and experience the truly amazing things you didn’t know you would like so much!
Getting to experience “those moments.” You know those moments where something happens that makes you glad to be alive? Well your trip will be full of them. Some of my favorite moments were seeing the look on Mama Hepzibah’s face when I gave her my sneakers, seeing the relief in Mama Lucy’s eyes when I told her that her 7-year-old Glari’s English was exceptional for her age (I took Glari under my wing every time she came to visit the home base), and hearing a student say to me “I write better because of you.”
List of things I Learned:
- Only use what you need
- Community, family and friends matters most
- If you give students the materials to learn, they will learn
- Every student deserves the right to an education
- Every person deserves clean water and sufficient food
- “When given the opportunity to dance, dance”
- “We celebrate every morning that we are alive”
- Be a lone nut (a.k.a. a leader)
- Be a first follower
- If you speak up people will listen
- Give people time
- Appreciate everything
- Life is good
- I probably want to study abroad in a third world country
- I will come back to Africa
- Little actions can make a world of a difference
- I have mamas everywhere!
- Tell people you appreciate what they do
- Squat toilets aren’t that bad
- Always demand a second story
- Talk to strangers
- Hear people’s stories
- You can’t take an education away from somebody
- You are always strong enough
- Use your leverage/opportunity for the better
- Make your own success
- Step outside of your comfort zone
- If you are kind and happy, other people’s opinions don’t matter
- No two stories are the same
- Chances are, somebody would do anything to have your life