Elizabeth Sawyer - 2015 Program Participant

A volunteer teacher with local students in Kilimanjaro, Tanzania

Saying goodbye to the Msaranga Walking Tour Class was so difficult.

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

African culture has always fascinated me and I really wanted to experience Africa for myself. I chose to visit Tanzania because it has a wide variety of national parks, plenty of elephants (one of my favorite animals), and is one of the more stable countries in Africa right now. I also wanted to gain more work experience in the field of international development since I enjoyed studying African economic development in college.

Why did you choose African Impact? 

I researched a variety of organizations offering programs in Africa. I was very nervous because this was my first time traveling to Africa and only my second time traveling overseas, so I wanted a program that would make me feel safe. The awesome African Impact staff in Moshi, Tanzania took great lengths to ensure volunteer safety during our stay, by escorting the volunteers to all of our projects and by housing us in a guarded compound that was only a few minutes' walk from some of the project sites.

I also wanted a program that would allow me to utilize my business and economics minors and my customer service experience. I was able to draw on the lessons I had learned in school and in the workplace to teach students in the community tourism and enterprise development project how to manage their own business and how to give their customers an excellent experience.

Maasai teenagers in Tanzania

Two of my Maasai friends, Yohana and Baracka

What was your favorite part about Tanzania?

I enjoyed everything about being in Tanzania. The locals were so welcoming and enjoyed sharing their culture with me. The best part about teaching the walking tour program was being able to go on a lot of practice tours with my students in the village of Msaranga and Moshi town. Not only did they teach me facts about Tanzanian history, but they also shared personal stories about learning how to make mbege (banana beer) and growing up Maasai.

Also, the scenery was so beautiful and different from what I'm used to seeing. In the United States I live in a beachside resort town, but in Tanzania I lived in the village of Msaranga at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. Whenever the majestic Mt. Kilimanjaro would be unveiled by clouds, I would morph into a crazed photographer trying to get the very best shot of the mountain that would capture her true beauty.

I also greatly enjoyed living and working with other volunteers from around the world. While I was I there, I had the opportunity to meet some fantastic people from Venezuela, Brazil, England, Ireland, Belgium, Slovenia, and the Netherlands, as well as other volunteers from across the United States. I really enjoyed learning about their different cultures and hearing their perspectives on world issues.

What sets African Impact apart from other volunteer program providers in Africa? 

What sets African Impact apart from other organizations is they work closely with the community to provide assistance to people in need. Not only would volunteers assist staff members and the village chief with donation drops in the village, but we also did a lot of fundraising events for African Impact's nonprofit partner, The Happy Africa Foundation.

The money we raised from these events went toward building a security fence around the Langoni Old People's Home, a government-run facility for elderly people. The elderly residents come from Tanzania, Kenya, and Rwanda and they do not have any relatives to take care of them, which is very unusual in East Africa's family-oriented culture. Volunteers visit the elderly residents on a daily basis and develop personal relationships with the residents to the extent of adopting the residents as our surrogate grandparents. The security fence is desperately needed since the Old People's Home is located in one of the poorest parts of Moshi and theft is a common occurrence. The Happy Africa Foundation is still in the process of raising funds for this security fence that will stop thieves from breaking into the Old People's Home and stealing the residents' own belongings.

Also, the community tourism and enterprise development program was unique in that there was no other program like it in Moshi. Along with amazing African Impact staff members, I taught two different groups of students how to develop their own walking tour companies and taught English and customer service skills to students at the Matumaini Tourism College. It was the first time African Impact had implemented this type of sustainable tourism program in the area, and it was a huge success. All of the students in the walking tour classes passed their exams and are now walking tour guides certified by African Impact and the only walking tour guides in Moshi, Tanzania certified by the Tanzanian Tourism Board!

Students working on a project in Tanzania

The Moshi Walking Tour class hard at work

How did local staff support you throughout your program? 

I always thought I would be a terrible teacher until I joined this program. I had never taught in a classroom before, but the local African Impact staff quickly put me at ease by showing me how to create interactive and informative lesson plans and how to lead as a teacher in the classroom. Shortly thereafter, I was teaching classes at Matumaini Tourism College by myself and loved it! I also could not speak highly enough of the local African Impact staff. They were always available if I needed help with something, and I had a lot of fun getting to know them.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish I could have stayed longer. Originally, I was only supposed to be in Tanzania for six weeks but I extended my trip to eight weeks. I realized my second day there that I needed to extend my trip, because this country and my program were so awesome.

Also, I would have loved to have been there to see my students graduate from the walking tour program, but sadly I had to return home shortly before the graduation ceremonies. I wished I had also given myself enough time to visit Zanzibar and the Serengeti National Park too. A few other volunteers were able to visit these places and they came back with some fascinating stories and beautiful pictures.

What was a typical day like for you as a volunteer in Tanzania?

Usually volunteers go to one project in the morning and then come back to the volunteer house for lunch. After lunch, we would then go to the afternoon project. Afterwards, we would have some free time before and after dinner to hang out at the house, read a book, wash our underwear, or visit the nearby resort for a cold drink.

What is one of your most memorable experiences from your time abroad?

For my 25th birthday I went on my first safari with some other volunteers to Tarangire National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater National Park. By far, it was the most amazing birthday I have ever experienced. Elephants are my favorite animals and we were able to observe multiple herds, including a few babies, in their natural habitat at Tarangire National Park.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

All of the volunteers lived in one big house with shared bedrooms and bathrooms in a guarded compound. I loved it because it was like being in college again. There was always someone cool to hang out with, but you could always find a quiet corner if you needed some space away from everyone. I also enjoyed getting to know the Maasai guards, the chefs, and the housekeeper. The housekeeper, Flora, became like a surrogate mother to me and I miss her so much! She is one of the sweetest ladies I know. One of my favorite things to do while in Tanzania was to chat with the Maasai guards outside of the volunteer house and the Honey Badger Resort. These guys were so sweet and funny!

Zebras at Ngorongoro Crater National Park in Tanzania

So many zebras at Ngorongoro Crater National Park

How has volunteering abroad in Tanzania impacted your life?

I was so scared about traveling by myself to Africa for the first time, but once I met my fellow volunteers and students, I realized I had no reason to be scared. My students even thought it was hilarious that I was scared to come visit their country. I completely fell in love with Tanzania and I did not want to leave; I even called my parents crying during the last week of my trip because I did not want to come home. Traveling to Tanzania by myself has given me the confidence to travel more overseas. It has also shown me that I am way more capable than I originally believed, especially when it comes to teaching. Because I loved living and teaching in Tanzania so much, I am currently planning to earn my TESOL certification and move to East Africa next year to work there for a year or two!