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Pepperdine Student Reflects on Service Trip to Tanzania
It was just after 6 a.m. on Thursday morning and I saw my first glimpse of real Africa. We were driving on a rickety, old shuttle bus through the Kenyan countryside on our way to Tanzania. The sun was just beginning to rise and the beauty of Africa was apparent. Excitement welled as we neared Arusha; we had finally arrived in Tanzania.
After nearly one year of preparation—including University approval, grant writing, individual fundraising, and team preparation—my travel companions and I were now experiencing Project Hope: Tanzania. The Project Hope program launched this year as an extension of the Pepperdine Volunteer Center’s (PVC) Project Serve alternative spring break program. Through Project Serve the University sends teams of students to locations within the United States as well as South and Central America to provide volunteer service and ministry. Like Project Serve, Project Hope responds to local need and allows Pepperdine students to experience that need firsthand.
On this first summer service trip offered by the PVC, I traveled thousands of miles alongside six other Pepperdine students, Volunteer Center staff members, and a representative from the local nonprofit organization KidCare International. For two weeks, we visited eleven KidCare-supported schools and orphanages in and around Arusha. We learned from the Tanzanian people themselves about the problems plaguing their country and what others can do to help.
During our time in Arusha, we saw the town bustling with women carrying baskets on their heads, Maasai warriors in traditional dress, and children in school uniforms walking through the streets. When we drove through the town, the children shouted and waved with excitement. It was difficult to be treated like a celebrity when I only wanted to serve. And yet I realized that, subconsciously, I thought serving the people of Tanzania for two weeks would change their lives and solve their problems. I thought we would somehow "save the day." As we entered the first orphanage, Chiswea—a refuge for more than 80 orphaned and vulnerable children—this mindset quickly changed.
I sat amongst 20 street children who were only twelve years old and addicted to glue. It began to sink in that these children needed more than someone to visit for two weeks and bring supplies. While visits such as ours lift the children's spirits and provide much-needed materials, they do not address the reasons why the children are on the street in the first place. As we visited more orphanages and schools, my perspective on how to best serve the needs in Africa began to shift.
Whether we were teaching English, playing games with children, delivering school supplies, or learning how Mama Dora sold everything she owned for money to start an orphanage and school in her community, we were constantly growing and learning how to be agents of change in the world. Each day held a new adventure, a new school or orphanage to visit, new children to hold, and new directors to meet while learning more about the problems and what we can do to create a sustainable difference.
Before I went to Africa, I thought that I would one day return to teach elementary school. I soon discovered, however, that this plan benefited me more than the people in need. In Tanzania I encountered many passionate nationals with strong visions who simply lack the resources to put their plans into action. I discovered that I can do the most good by empowering the nationals in the work they are trying to do; I can provide the resources they need through my connections here in the United States.
I was impacted in far greater ways by the 17 days I spent in Africa than I had ever envisioned. Not only did my perspective on service change, but I now understand the meaning of agape, true love, as I saw it in every child’s smile and with every little hand I held. I saw what it means to be truly joyful in all circumstances, especially circumstances that are far more troublesome than my own.
My eyes have been opened to new realities and now I am challenged to respond to all that I have seen and learned. I have been changed because of this trip. I am not sure what this looks like yet, but I am ready and willing. I know that God will guide me in the right direction.
by Sara Ashmore