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Travel Confessions: Volunteer Lauren Smith in Tanzania

Published August 13th, 2014

Tanzania. A diverse nation on the East coast of Africa bordering Kenya, Uganda and the Indian Ocean. It's also the country where uni student Lauren Smith spent two months volunteering for the Plaster House - a recovery home for children who have had corrective orthopaedic surgery, plastic surgery or neurosurgery for a disability.  No stranger to volunteering, the Tanzania trip was Lauren's fourth volunteering expedition. She chats to SF marketing intern Ashden Walker about her African adventure.

 

Lauren and one of her charges at the Plaster House.

 

What inspired you to volunteer in Tanzania?

I can definitely give all of the credit to my friend, Hannah Kelly. Hannah has so much enthusiasm and love for Tanzania and the Plaster House. When she invited to me to come on what would be her fourth trip back to Arusha in Tanzania, it was too irresistible to say no.

 

Plaster House buildings in Arusha, Tanzania.

 

Where else in the world have you volunteered?

I’ve volunteered in India twice as well as in Australia. In India, on separate occasions I’ve worked at a school teaching English and with a social organisation that works with Tibetan refugees. In Australia, I’ve worked with the Oaktree Foundation, a youth-run movement to end poverty, as a program facilitator, and I am currently working as a Volunteer Refugee Tutoring and Community Support (VoRTCS) tutor for a refugee family.

 

A couple of the kids at the Plaster House.

 

Where did you stay in Tanzania?

I and three other friends rented a three-bedroom house for two months. Our place was great as it was close to the centre of town, close to fruit and veg markets, and to public transport to get to work. We also had a wonderful landlady who lived in a house in front of ours.

 

Prior to leaving for Tanzania, did you learn any Swahili?

I definitely tried to learn some of the basics. I accessed Swahili learning books from my uni’s library and watched videos online to learn a few words and get an idea of how Swahili is structured. In saying that, most of the (very basic) Swahili that I picked up was learnt while in Arusha.

 

The Plaster House crew and kids (Lauren at bottom right).

 

What was a typical day at Plaster House for you?

A typical day at Plaster House for me would run from around 9am until 3:30pm. The day would start with greetings, tea, and setting up the classroom for learning. A lot of my time was care oriented, involving lots of toilet runs, feeding, and helping to look after and play with the kids. This would be followed by and coupled with roughly 3.5 hours of educational activities broken up by an hour for lunch. Throughout the day, the kids would also have physical checkups and have their wounds attended to.

 

Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania

 

I can imagine Tanzania is host to a variety of different foods. What was the most interesting meal you had during your time in Tanzania?

The one that pops to mind is ndizi stew, a savoury banana-based dish. It has an odd texture, which takes a lot of getting used to, in my opinion at least. We ate a lot of Swahili cuisine, however, which is delicious and usually has a base of rice (wali) or ugali (made of maize flour).

 

Did you have the opportunity to travel, if so, where did you go?

We absolutely had an opportunity to travel. For four days we went over to Zanzibar for a reggae festival, Sauti za Busara. We stayed in the south for a couple of days and then moved up to the capital, Stonetown. The festival was at night, which enabled us to explore Stonetown and more of the beautiful beaches up north.

 

Swimming in Zanzibar

 

What is your greatest memory from your experience?

My greatest memory from my time volunteering was getting to discover an organisation doing such great things. What I love about Plaster House is their high love/low cost mantra and most importantly, how they fill a huge gap in the access and treatment of kids with physical disabilities.

 

What would be your advice to someone who is interested in volunteering?

I would recommend volunteering to pretty much anyone. There is so much value in volunteering. My advice is simply to do your research and volunteer somewhere that you are passionate about.

 

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