What if the Hokey Pokey IS What It’s all Abo

Trip Start Aug 22, 2012
Trip End Jun 16, 2013

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Flag of Tanzania  ,
Friday, March 15, 2013

Two weeks of 'Hokey Pokey', ‘Head & Shoulders, Knees and Toes’, ‘Row Row Row Your Boat’ and various other shenanigans with 2.5-6 year olds was plenty for me! Much to my surprise, my 2-week volunteer placement was at the Best Center for the Blind (BCB) working in the mornings at the ‘nursery’ (preschool) with the children (with sight) of blind parents and then providing basic health education for the parents in the afternoons. 

Jim was working with ‘Women in Action’, an organization that provides care for men, women and children infected with HIV/AIDS.  It also assists widowed women to start up small businesses, many that only generate a few dollars a day, but it’s enough to enable their families to survive.  He put together a grant application to the United Nations Development Program for them and prepared materials they could use in other applications.

These two weeks were a great reminder of the many challenges of coming to a foreign country and trying to fit into its everyday life.  Language, cultural differences, the new environment, emotions such as fear for safety, frustration with our lack of impact, confusion in interactions, and compassion for those around us who have so little resources are all very real.  These all give rise to our sense of disorientation and intensity.  When simply being a tourist, life skirts around the reality of peoples’ lives and culture.  One can more easily dip in and out as desired.  Not so when volunteering.  It is full-on.  We were lucky with our fellow Canadian volunteer housemates, the Volunteer Abroad staff and our placements.  The house provided a sanctuary at the end of the day to hang out connecting with unique and interesting people, preparing for the following day’s work and planning for ongoing travel or weekend excursions.  Jim’s and my work seemed useful, contributing to the host organizations in a somewhat meaningful way considering it was just a two-week placement.

My first day was a shock – a one hour walk through town and out to a very poor part of Arusha, arriving dripping buckets of sweat.  However healthy it was to walk 2 hours a day, it was still difficult in the heat and having not been too active the past couple of months, my fitness level had something to be desired.  The preschool had up to 29 eager children crammed into a run-down 8 foot x 10 foot room.  The energy, noise and mayhem was overwhelming.  Situated alongside an unpaved road meant more noise, constant dust and nowhere for the children to go to let off some steam by being physically active other than the Hokey Pokey.  Oh, and did I mention they only spoke Swahili?

The lovely teacher Fatuma, who invited me in with open arms, was tired after four years of this work.  Together, with some email help from my sister-in-law and a niece who have taught young children combined with my very rusty experience working at day camps and coaching gymnastics to young children, Fatuma and I tried out some new ideas.  I’m telling you, a morning with these children felt like 3 days working with adults!  Although their innocence, joy, and pure energy is downright delightful. And those big eyes and wide smiles are enough to steal anyone's heart. 

Jim visited a Maasai village one Saturday while I was attending a board meeting to visit the BCB’s new location on the outskirts of Arusha.  He enjoyed this very authentic opportunity, hosted by a man from the village who had 54 siblings from a number of wives of his father, as is the Masai custom. Many of these colourful, strong and proud warrior people choose to live traditionally, keeping their cattle and goats, living in mud hats with thatched roofs and dressing in their colourful clothes.  Jim played with the children, swinging them around and winding them up to the point where they became so comfortable with him, they were feeling his slightly whiskered face wondering why he had ‘salt’ on it and trying to stick their fingers in his mouth.  As you can see, he got some great photographs.

We were both grateful for this experience; it enabled us to orient into Africa in a meaningful way, meet some wonderful people and stay in one place for two weeks which we have not done since October. Next we go on a safari…and we are off, bubbling with excitement about this adventure. 

So, go on and ‘do the Hokey Pokey and turn yourself around and that’s what it’s all about!’  Yah!
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Heather on

I am in complete awe.
Thank you for sharing your journey and your photos. It really is humbling.

Joanne Sembinelli on

Amazing what you guys are doing over there. Makes
us appreciate back home all that we have.

Leigh Miller on

What an experience - for both of you! I am so impressed with all you've done and are doing. Hokey pokey on!!

margyandpaul on

I really understand what you are saying about the difference being a tourist and actually integrating into the community. What a wonderful experience although I am sure exhausting. As always the pictures are amazing. What a wonderful experience you two are creating for yourselves.

Dar on

First i want to say it was great to meet you 2 in nungwi, and wow what an experience that would have been doing your volunteer placement! That is truly inspiring for me and makes me want to come back! Take care, safe travels and have a great time on safari!!

Sue Walker on

This is so wonderful what a lifetime experience, to give of yourselves and see how life can be so very very different. Makes us think twice about materialism doesn't it. Savour the simplicity of your journey. Thank you for your story!
Sue xo

David on

Thanks Donna, for sharing....bring back memories of summer parks eh....but totally different but still do you find kids are kids?
you and jim stay safe...i will send to keith ...

Susan on

Great reporting Donna.I knew you could bring smiles to those children. I remember how creative and energetic you were with Heather and the other gymnasts. And Jim - your photos capture those expressions so well.
Have a great safari and safe travels.

Trish O'Brien on

What an experience. So humbling......so worthwhile - for both you and Jim, and for the children and others with whom you worked. This is what travel is about, and doesn't it make you appreciate all of it just that much more. So great that both of you took the time to do this and invested all of that energy!

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