Volunteer Africa

Eyes on Tanzania

Habari Gani.  Jana Langu Phil.

I have just watched the latest episode of BBC Click – actually a ‘best bits’ review of 2017.  It featured a report on using tablets in northern Tanzania, written in Swahili.  The Global Learning XPrize is a challenge to teams around the world to develop software and apps for tablets that could help youngsters learn basic skills. The use of tech in a remote part of a poor country like this connects what I do now as part of the IATEFL Learning Technologies Special Interest Group and where I started out as a teacher using very limited resources.  I also have a new student who speaks Swahili.

Tanzania Fundraising Montage HDR
Fundraising for Tanzania

It is 11 years since I started off my teaching career in Tanzania.  I didn’t really acknowledge the 10 year anniversary with a blog post, so this is a year late.  The background to 3 months spent in a mud hut village called Buswelu, near Mwanza, was a couple of fundraising activities in my hometown of Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.  The first was sitting up the Albatros mast for seven hours, dressed as a pirate. The second was an all-you-can-eat-buffet prepared by my brother, Peter, with live music from The Rainmen, who used to frequent the Corner House, where I worked as a front-of-house barman for 18 months.  I eventually flew out to the country in October 2006, along with Jacky (a Canadian, aged 18), Michelle (UK, 21), Tom (UK, 21), Adrienne (Aus, 25), Jenny (US, 26).  The company I went with was called Volunteer Africa, run by a woman based in New Zealand.  It was the classic ‘gap year’ experience, even though I had long graduated from university, and the original blog posts from that time reflect that kind of narrative.

Swahili lessons

My arrival in Dar Es Salaam is documented here. Here’s an extract below:

“We found our accommodation at Kilwa Road, Salvation Army Hostel, to be very basic.  Now, i’ve done Glastonbury, but i found this even more basic.  A bed with mosquito net, a wobbly fan, a very basic toilet and a shower which didn’t really work.  Not being able to drink or get the general water into our bodies, i was very cautious.  We were given given bottled water at dinner, but then we a had a power cut and had to go back into town for a pizza, by teksi (taxi).  The general tiredness showed on everyone’s faces, which had taken over from the excitement, anticipation and general concentration needed to arrive in one piece.”

We spend a week in the coastal city, where we had daily Swahili classes using the book shown above.  My whole Tanzanian adventure is archived on this site, which used to belong to STA travel and is now called OffExploring.   Some of my photos are stored on this old flickr site. Footage of me teaching at Hisani can be seen in this montage of clips, while footage of the kids dancing and goofing around to a popular Bongo Flava soundtrack can be seen in this edited clip from my DVD film of the trip.

Highlights of my whole trip, set to a live version of Toto’s Africa can be found here.  It includes footage of me on Safari, in hospital in Mwanza, flying from Mwanza to Arusha and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. I spent ages lying awake at night, thinking about this track and the various shots I would need to complete it!  It was a relief to finally put it together, but I only uploaded it to YouTube in August 2015.  It forms the final chapter of my DVD, which is why there are credits at the end.

Teaching Standard 3

Looking back, teaching at Hisani Orphanage wasn’t exactly the best preparation for teaching English as a Foreign Language.  For starters, it wasn’t explicitly English that I taught, but there were daily classes under mango trees. Often it was a bit of geography.  There were so many external factors to contend with, not least how the kids were treated by the owners.  It was, however,  invaluable experience in terms of ‘classroom’ management and teaching with limited resources – there were basically none.  One of us had to be the coordinator, deciding who would teach which class or ‘standard’ – which ranged from standard ‘zero’ – ages 4 or 5 – up to standard ‘seven’ – the high school kids – around 15 or 16.  I used to visit the local Gedelli school and see what it was like teaching to large classes, but I was only ever an observer.  It was also social care – such as raising enough money to pay for HIV tests for all the kids – and taking them to the Pizzeria afterwards – or one trip we made to Tunza beach.  My fondest memories of the actual teaching were doing a quiz called ‘runaround’ and a treasure hunt followed by a Piñata party put together by Mexican volunteer, Georgina.   I also learned the ways of the Massai – one guarded our compound – and how to jump like them.

With Tom and the Massai

I documented everything with a written diary. An extract shown is below.  It details how I tried to recover from getting Malaria and staying in the Hindu hospital in Mwanza. I have never been as bored in my life waiting for the doctor to pay me a visit that I checked myself out and into a nearby hotel. I got malaria despite taking regular supplies of  Doxycycline. Protecting myself with anti-malaria spray and sleeping under a mosquito net had proved in vain.  At one point I was on 6 different types of medication and lost a stone in weight.  The children at Hisani were far worse off than me and more resilient for it.  They frequently got malaria. As common as getting a cold for them.  One boy, Marwa, had polio and needed constant attention and daily help with his exercises.

Diary Entry – Tue 5 Dec 2006
Thomas Cook!

Tom Rogers is a weekly columnist for TES online and founder of rogershistory.com. He can be seen in the photo above cooking Ugali with me at the orphanage.  He also kept a written diary and wrote about his own experience in his own reflective blogpost – focusing on the children – in 2015.  Here’s an extract:

“My most painful experience of leaving anywhere was my departure from a group of children I will never forget; a long walk sobbing along a dirt track in the dark knowing I would never see many of them again.

In October 2006, I embarked on what would be one of the best experiences of my life, working for the charity Volunteer Africa teaching orphans in Mwanza, Tanzania.

Following a myriad of painful injections (including the 3 stage rabies jabs – ouch), research about different mosquito sprays and purchasing lonely planet (it was my gap year yah), I was ready to go.”

My relationship with Tom grew very strong, even though we were very different characters.  His passions were strong, especially when it came to how the children were being treated disgracefully at Hisani. One unforgettable experience with him (and Georgina) was getting stranded on an island in Lake Victoria. An extract is below, while a video ‘On An Island (Lake Victoria)’ is available at the end. My post about that bizarre day is available to read here.

“On Saturday, I went on the most bizarre boat trip, off the coast at Igombe, a village infested with lake flies. We set sail on a rickety fisherman’s boat, out onto Lake Victoria, and headed for an island straight ahead. Everything was lovely, until we realised that the inhabitants of said island were not used to white visitors and wanted to see documentation and ask the purpose of our visit. It all got very heated and a diplomatic row was brewing, fuelled by the locals being out of their faces on either drink or dope – paranoia was high, as were they!”

There were other times that it was often quite a scary experience.  Riding the Toyota Hi-Ace Daladala’s back and forth between Buswelu and Mwanza required some amount of ‘faith’.  At one point I even declared myself to have a faith, possibly because I felt I needed some protection on the dangerous roads.  I turned to God, and prayed like never before. It was also a very humbling experience.  The kids at the orphanage were relatively fortunate by comparison to the street kids who slept by day and begged on the streets of Mwanza at night.  The conditions, at times, were difficult to cope with and I admit checking into a couple of hotels at different times to get a decent shower or a good nights’ sleep.

I still get newsletters from one of the UK-based charities involved, Kids Aid Tanzania.  Other than that, I no longer have any connections with the orphanage and haven’t seen any of the children since.

Although it was the first time anyone in my immediate family had visited Africa, my brother subsequently won a safari trip to Kenya. My mum, whose second husband sadly died while I was in Tanzania, went on to volunteer at the Christian-based Kenyan Children’s Project and, later, made a couple of trips for Aid Africa – a charity based in Holt, Norfolk, to the more southerly country of Malawi, in Blantyre, flying into the capital of Lilongwe – which is not far off an anagram of my surname 🙂

Do Your Revision - compound pic taken by Tom Rogers
Do Your Revision – compound pic taken by Tom Rogers
Hisani Sign

Link to ‘On An Island (Lake Victoria)’

Kwa Heri (Goodbye) Africa – the final chapter of the film with credits:


  1. Fascinating reading Phil. I’d love to hear more about your time in Africa – it sounds like an amazing experience. Do you still have connections with people there? Some of the things you’ve written about remind me of my time in Borneo. I often wonder what’s happened to the children I taught there in 2004. A lot of them are old enough to have children of their own now.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Sandy. Thanks for your comments. I kept in contact with a couple of the kids for a year or two, but it stopped. I moved on and never returned to the country, despite an intention to do so. Years later, I was contacted by one of them in desperate need. But I was bombarded with almost daily messages and I found it too much to cope with, so I had to severe links. I still get newsletters from Kids Aid Tanzania, whom I forgot to mention in my post, so have just edited it. I am sure, however, that some of them are now parents themselves. The boy with Polio sadly died, according to Tom.

      Liked by 1 person

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