What was I doing?
In the summer of 2015 I travelled to Tanzania as an Expedition Leader for the Edinburgh based charity First Aid Africa (FAA). It is a young charity committed to delivering first aid training and integrating first aid kits made of local, sustainable materials in rural parts of East Africa where access to emergency healthcare is limited.
Part of our role as expedition leaders was to work with in-country staff, community leaders and school heads to set up and run all 2015 Tanzania teaching placements. As a result we had to manage the logistical arrangements associated with having 32 UK volunteers spread across 20 rural placements. In addition we had to assemble and manage the five-figure 2015 budget, deliver all in-country inductions for volunteers and give pastoral support when required. It was an absolutely fantastic, albeit a little overwhelming, 3-month experience that I will never forget. Having been to Tanzania in 2010, stepping off the plane felt amazing and instantly brought happy memories flooding back. I felt embraced by the warmth of the Tanzanian evening sun and found myself giggling with delight as the inevitable chaos of the disorganised airport arrival ensued.
What was I worried about before I left?
Before leaving I was worried about many things but the main thing was how I would cope with the responsibility of having 30 volunteers in my charge across the summer months, as well as getting everything ready in time for their arrival. I was also extremely worried about driving myself – and others(!)- around on the crazy Tanzanian roads!
What did I learn?
I learned an awful lot throughout the role. I learned a lot about people-management and how no matter what age someone is or experience they have, they cope with complete change in totally different ways and require varying degrees of support. I found methods of executing my role so that I gave ample support to those needing it, without patronising those who felt they didn’t.
I learned a lot about myself and my coping threshold. I found that I thrive under pressure and that being alert and ready to deal with anything 24 hours a day for three months is indeed possible!!
In addition, by finding numerous placements for our volunteers to teach first aid at, I was privileged to have the opportunity to make meaningful connections with so many people from completely different walks of Tanzanian life. My love for Tanzanian culture and the never-ending spirit of community deepened enormously. One morning in my final week, I had driven two volunteers far out of town to teach in a Maasai tribal village nestled between sugar cane plantations and it was unforgettable. I found myself pretending to be unconscious (for teaching purposes!) lying on a cow-hide, surrounded by children and adults alike, when a goat narrowly missed my face as it trampled on by. I felt paralysed with happiness and laughter. How had I got here? How had I weathered three months of utter mayhem? How had my 23 year old self coped with all the responsibility? I didn’t have many answers but it felt euphoric!
A country in which the national catch phrase is ‘pole pole’ (or ‘slowly slowly’) can only teach you to take life a little slower and enjoy it. Here’s to not finding unimportant things stressful, working towards rebuilding community and finally being grateful for every moment! POLE POLE!!
Thanks again to the PGAF for helping make it possible.