For sometime now, I have been paused at my keyboard, staring at a blank page, wondering how I am going to articulate the Bridge2Aid Tanzania trip.
I had no idea what to expect, having never been to Africa, never met the majority of the group and never been away from home and family for longer than a few days.
I have to say that it was only a couple of days before I left that it occurred to me that I would be spending 24/7 with people that I didn’t know at all.
However, any fears I may have had were unfounded. From the moment we met, it became very clear that I was about to experience a fortnight filled with laughter.
We arrived in Tanzania soaking up every new sight, sound and smell, anxious to get on with the work. After an induction, a comical Swahili lesson and teams assigned by a game of ‘Spoofs’, we were ready to get started.
The next morning we were dressed in our ‘mucky’ gear and on the bus at 7.45. What would become the daily commute took us forty-five minutes, from the hustle and bustle of the town, out along the long, straight road that took us past street markets, villages and farms to Kigongo Primary School. That first morning, we bumped our way up the path to the school and were greeted by what would be the first of continuous smiles.
Enter Rachel Purdy, who had the unenviable task of trying to ‘manage’ us. We had a lot to do in the ten days we would be working and I definitely got the feeling that as much as we loved to joke and laugh, we all wanted to give it 110%.
All in all, we worked on eight classrooms, from Standard 1 (letters and numbers) to Standard 7 (maps, skin cells and skeletons). Cleaning, filling, and painting were first priority and then came the murals, or ‘murials’ as they were affectionately known. When Rachel asked who were the artists amongst us, we all exchanged nervous glances. Then Kirtsy and Nikki raised their hands to volunteer and Ian said he’d ‘have a go’, with outstanding results.
We very quickly got into our routine. Up, shower (start sweating two minutes after putting clothes on), on the bus and onto Kigongo. Then a morning of work (and more sweating), a packed lunch on the rocks under the shade of tress. Then the final push before we packed up and went back to the hotel around 5.30.
What was great about our group was that even in our designated teams, if another hadn’t finished, everyone would pitch in to get that days tasks complete.
All the while and for the whole day, the classrooms would be surrounded by smiling children, calling your name once they had learnt it and teaching us Swahili. If we were ahead of schedule the boys would get out the rugby ball or the girls the bubbles and mass hysteria would ensue, as you would quickly become surrounded.
Having only heard about the work that B2A do, it was great to see first hand how successful they are. We were helped along the way by other B2A members and an especially big ‘shout out’ go to William, Able, Lamaki and Ashfak, who came from Bukumbi village, went to Kigongo and have gone on to achieve great success at secondary school and university.
We had our perks during the trip, a boat ride on Lake Victoria, a fantastic safari and some lovely meals in beautiful locations. However, I think I can speak for the group when I say that some of the most memorable moments were playing with the children in Bukumbi, the hand over ceremony when the school children sang and danced for us and the ‘Munguzu’ vs ‘Kigongo’ football match.
I think what made this trip so special is the thought that the work we did would not only benefit the children at Kigongo now, but those who will join them over the coming years.
On 9 April, 12 of us exchanged nervous and excited smiles at Heathrow airport. Three had been to Tanzania with B2A before, and there were varying degrees of acquaintance and friendship amongst the group, from working together to having never spoken or met.
The next time we were at Heathrow would be two weeks later, where I can honestly say that I left 11 friends behind.
If anyone has the opportunity to work with Bridge2Aid on any of their projects, I wouldn’t hesitate in telling you to go for it. In fact, call, email or write to them, they are always grateful for any help you can give.
To donate to the Bridge2Aid Tanzania trip, please click here.