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Tanzania Expedition, November 2016: As Seen By Simona Ivanová

30 November 2016

It is interesting to see how insanely diversified our world is. How things are not always fair. How certain people are privileged due to their race or gender. How wealth is not spread equally. Yes. This is the world that we live in, even though many of us don’t see it from behind the gates of our properties. Not everything is as pretty as The Daily Mail describes it to be. Not everyone is fussing over Steve Harvey misreading the Miss Universe winner. Not everyone has a dilemma whether to get just Botox or a whole new face. When we stepped outside of the artificial world that we live in, created by wealth and power and entered the pure wilderness of another continent, our minds opened up to something extraordinary. We saw real life, real worries and the struggle of some families to live from day to day. 

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Last week we travelled 3996.4 miles to a place, which in regions screamed with poverty. It seemed as if though we entered another dimension; we were no longer surrounded by loud trams, blinding traffic lights or the buzz of a metropolis, which in contrast to Arusha, Bratislava really is. After a long, ten-hour flight from Vienna and an overlay in Istanbul we finally arrived to Tanzania. Tired but excited we first stepped foot on Tanzanian soil and felt the rush of excitement pulse through our veins. We made it. Our parents’ worst nightmare came alive. Their little stinker-winker-bears were set free in one of the poorest countries of the world. Was that a problem for us? Absolutely not.

All of us came to Tanzania expecting it to be different. We had textbook knowledge about the major differences in our cultures and knew not to expect a Four Seasons getaway. But it is different to read a text about differences and then actually coming face to face with them personally. As soon as we left the terminal of the Kilimanjaro International Airport, taxi drivers and bystanders looked at us as if we were gods. White blonde girls striding in fitted leggings were as amusing to the local men as herds of elephants were to us at the safari. We were different. They were different. Everything was. But that was the exciting part of it. We saw life beyond our spheres; talked to people who we would otherwise never meet and saw just how lucky we are to have been born in the places we were born in. So often we complain about our home countries, but it is only after we have seen worse when we come to a realization that our homeland is actually Holy Land.

Throughout the nine days we contributed little by little to the community. In groups we were assigned a family and built a goat shed, solar powered lighting system and a smokeless stove in each of their houses. These families submitted a request for aid to the local government because very often they had absolutely minimal or no income. Usually these families consisted of grandparents taking care of their disabled grandchildren or married couples looking after each other’s sick parents. Students contributed to these families by raising enough money to purchase goats, which will produce dairy products that will later on be sold and provide the family with income. It was miraculous to see how little effort was needed from our side to bring so much happiness and joy into the lives of others. We were labeled as “gifts from God” and “the best things that could have happened” to the families. Seeing how much little contribution could change people’s lives for the better brought tears into many of our eyes. Installing the solar powered lighting systems to their households was something extraordinary. These families had no electricity in their homes and therefor remained practically unable to function after sunset; mothers could not cook, men were unable to work and children unable to study.

One of the most shocking experieces for many of us was visiting the local schools. The clasrooms, often filled with seventy or more students, rather resembled prison cells than a child friendly environment. Broken glass windows, uncomfortable, small wooden desks occupied each by four children and a desolately looking chalkboard were the environment in which students were expected to focus in. We were told that the average budget of a Tanzanian school is 120$. Per year! That equals twelve students buying 10€ Nalgene water bottles to the expedition. Children were missing stationary and textbooks and most of their knowledge came from their teachers. In Tanzania the teacher is always right. If 1+1= 3 then 1+1=3, no discussion, no questions asked. The contrast between our school and the Nazareti school at which we have worked at for two days is indescribable.  The teachers there are not valued. The profession is not regarded as an actual profession and only students who receive poor marks on their secondary examinations get this job. So there you go... individuals with the poorest marks possible are the ones who the young generation looks up to. Well what good does that serve?

I was extremely happy that I could contribute physically to the communities; building something which is permanent and actually helpful. I saw it happen, it was there unlike all the funds and financial aid that gets sent to Tanzania but actually never make it as far as to the people. We saw just how wrong the system really is. We got told that girls’education is not worth much becuse it is the women in Tanzania who are expected to provide for the family. So the men see female education as a threat because a well educated, well spoken female is less likely to stay at home and take care of a family. We realised just how difficult it really is to help Third World countries, but if bright young minds merge, we can always help, even in the slightest ways possible. We saw with our own eyes how much happiness we brought into the people’s lives by doing so little.

The strongest experience for me was an encounter with a little deaf girl at the Children’s Centre. Even though she did not have parents and could not hear a thing from the people surrounding her, she was genuinly happy. Her smile, so pure and innocent, reminded all of us to stay humble and not complain about such minor issues which concern us. Your daddy brought you a Black iPhone 7 instead of a Jet Black iPhone 7? Unfortunately these are the type of things that burden us. Seeing the way of life in Tanzania and the values shared by the people surely had an impact on each and every one of us. A level of superficiality got shed from us, as well as levels of prejudice and ingratitude.

After four days of hard manual labour we got to enjoy a two day safari at the Tarangire National Park. We travelled through the city of Arusha where masses of Tanzanians waved at our bus at the sight of visible tourists and eventually we passed through Masai communities along the highway. It was fascinating to see old tribes live just a few kilometres outside a relatively civilized area. We learned a little bit about the Masai culture and how their values are based on the number of cows and goats they have. Boys found it fascinating that each Masai has between three to five wives and girls found it captvating that the interest for a Masai boy very often depends on whether or not he is fit enough to pass the process of becoming a warrior. At the park we saw an incredibly rich biodiversity with all sorts of flora and fauna. One of the best experiences was spending the night at safari, sitting and talking by the bonfire and eventually waking up in the morning being told that lionesses were roaming around our tents at night and had to be deterred by guards in their 4x4 vehicles. Very safe.

All of us already miss Tanzania and the great experiences and memories we took home with us. We had an amazing time and on behalf of every single student as well as the BISB staff who attended, I would like to thank Dave, Mike and Nord Anglia who helped realize this expedition and also the excellent staff at the Shamba Kipara Camp who took incredible care of us. And last but not least, on behalf of all students, a huge thank you to Miss Trégerová, Mr England and Mr Warmington who were patient throughout the whole process, from applying 29 students for visas up until making sure that every single student boarded the plane safely back to Vienna.

It warms our hearts that we helped the communities and made their difficult lives at least a little brighter.

Simona Ivanová