Iona volunteered in Tanzania in summer 2014. “Working in Rudewa has taught me the importance of understanding the local community at an individual level. It is at this level that true and lasting change is made.”
“I set off to Tanzania this summer as a team leader for Raleigh International, managing twelve volunteers on a community development project. Our team worked in the rural county of Rudewa, in the Morogoro region.
When I first arrived, I was struck by the way in which we were welcomed as strangers into the local community. To gain a better understanding of the community, we spoke to the Chairman of Rudewa who told us more about the challenges that villages in the region were facing. After collecting information on issues affecting the specific villages, we were able to tailor our response to fit more closely with the community’s needs. We focused on improved health and livelihood, through awareness-raising demonstrations at schools, organising sports or community action events, and working closely with community members through clubs and women’s groups.
Deforestation was a real concern for many community members, but timber was the only source of fuel available in the villages. In response to this, our team helped to build new stove structures called ‘rocket stoves’ to increase fuel efficiency, which hopefully will contribute to a reduction in deforestation as well as shortening the amount of time spent collecting firewood. The stoves also make it easier to boil water for drinking, which will help to prevent waterborne diseases.
Every rocket stove we built was accompanied by a session on the importance of treating water to prevent disease, and a workshop on how to build the stoves so that the community could continue to build them after we left. The rocket stoves quickly became very popular and, as our demonstrations became more interactive, we found neighbours and passers-by would stop to watch as well. One 14-year-old called Nasoro went on to construct a further five stoves in his community. It was this kind of engagement and enthusiasm from local people that made our project a success.
Another issue the community faced was lack of available water, which had a further impact on their capacity to produce food. Tanzania’s climate is such that many vegetables can be grown year round, limited only by the amount of water available. Collecting water can take over three hours, and this increases the vulnerability of women travelling alone to farms which are sometimes up to ten kilometres away. With the help of our project partner SAWA (Sanitation and Water Action) and the charity Heifer International, we tried to tackle several problems at once by setting up a kitchen garden at one of the local schools. The design of the garden allows water to be reused via a central filtration system and helps retain as much moisture as possible. In addition, its conical shape is an effective use of space, so gardens can be created nearby the house, encouraging community members to grow food on a domestic scale and cutting out the lengthy walk to the farm.
As a team leader, I encountered challenges from every angle. The team leader role is a complex one, managing both multiple projects and a team. My Tanzanian co-leader, Farida, became like a sister to me and together we learnt how to maximise the strengths of our team, balance the needs of the community, and adapt at a moment’s notice to unforeseen challenges. Our job was to make sure that everything ran smoothly across five schools, three health committees, two women’s groups, and five sub-projects with twelve team members. Taking on this responsibility taught me that I am capable of more than I thought, but more importantly, that a healthy dose of optimism and patience is more effective than the best laid plans! Sharing in the process of self-discovery and development and building close relationships within the team and the community is one of the most special things about the team leader role.
Through ICS I have seen the power of individuals, in my team and in the community. Although I knew that the programme had the dual aim of international and personal development, I did not expect to see such positive change in the community we worked in, nor believe it could be instigated by fourteen individuals. It has given me a concrete understanding of what it means to be an active citizen through the example of community members we worked with, and it has confirmed that I am keen to continue work in this field. Working in Rudewa has taught me the importance of understanding the local community at an individual level. It is at this level that true and lasting change is made.
After returning home from Tanzania, I undertook an Action at Home project, volunteering as a Transport Manager for the charity FoodCycle who run volunteer-powered community projects across the UK, working to reduce food poverty and social isolation by serving meals to vulnerable groups.
I think ICS taught me the contagious effect of active citizenship. So often we hear that one person’s actions aren’t going to change the world. That’s right – they aren’t. But they might change the actions of their neighbour, and before you know it you have a community thinking and acting differently. At university I am surrounded by people wanting to ‘make a difference’ – but not really knowing where to start. Setting an example, and providing practical opportunities for others to get involved can help kick-start this chain reaction.”