Matthew has just returned from six months volunteering with Jesuit Missions in Tanzania where he taught alongside fellow volunteer Rebecca at a Jesuit school St Ignatius in the capital Dodoma.
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Why did you choose to volunteer with Jesuit Missions?
I wanted to volunteer with an organisation that either worked with Jesuits directly, or placed high value on Ignatian spirituality. During my time at university, I was introduced to Ignatian spirituality and I fell in love with it and the story of St. Ignatius. I felt that the spirituality spoke to me on a deeper level than anything I have come across before our since. When I finished university and decided to spend some time in service it was important for me to find an organisation that enabled me to continue using and learning these values.
What is your most memorable moment from the trip?
Whilst there are many wonderful experiences from my time abroad, I wish to talk specifically about everyday memories. The joys of teaching at St. Ignatius in Dodoma, the companionship I felt living and working as a small independent volunteer community. My experience meant sometimes I would struggle to ‘Find God in all things.’ However, upon reflection, the time I spent in service to the school community was my greatest Joy.
What do you miss most about where you were?
A wise person once said to me, most of us are only aware of the value of something when we no longer have it. In terms of things I missed most: my community, the friends I made whilst I was in Tanzania and the students I taught. I miss them greatly, as I found in their own way, they were teaching me.
What has been your biggest challenge since returning?
My biggest challenge on returning to the UK has being trying to process my time in Tanzania and move forward from it. I have returned to a western lifestyle, with TV on demand and all kinds of food available. Yet with no meaningful daily activity in my life, I have found adjusting to life back home a far greater challenge than I found adjusting to life there.
What are your plans now you have returned?
I am trying to live more presently and find my next mission to focus on. My wish is to work with young people, especially engaging with them on matters of faith. I have applied to serve in youth ministry, in the hope that I can share my experience with others whilst being open to learn from them.
What did you learn about yourself on the trip?
I learned from the children I taught that true wisdom comes not from the facts you know but from the questions you ask. I managed to learn a little Kiswahili; kidogo (a little). I learnt that despite the differences between all the members of my community, there was an underlying common thread stitching us all together and for that reason, I could trust them with anything.
Has it changed your plans for the future or inspired you to do something different?
I do not think I have been inspired to live a different life as a result of my time in Tanzania but rather to live my life with a new perspective. From an early age, I have desired to serve people, and I came back with a renewed attitude to strive to serve others as best as I can, whilst striving for excellence in all areas of my life.
Do you think the trip has changed the way you view the world?
I think the best way I can put it is like adjusting the focus lens on a camera. Whilst my own life might be a mystery to me, what I value as a person has been made very clear. What I value, in terms of active service and personal discipline, was tested.
Did the trip affect your faith in any way?
My faith is very much in line with my worldview, thus I would say that my experience has neither dampened nor improved my faith. I am far from a perfect Catholic, but my faith in God and the teachings of the Church is not in question; I have only ever asked if I am worthy of God’s love and mercy. I would say my experience has once again made it clearer that if I can be of service to others, then God has most likely presented me this opportunity and in serving others, hopefully I can serve him as well.
What advice would you give to future volunteers embarking on a similar trip?
My advice to any volunteers is that you can never start learning the language early enough. The more you know the better; that is coming from who struggled with learning Kiswahili. Secondly, I would advise that you travel as lightly as possible; be realistic though with this advice, make sure that you have what you need. Make contact with the people you will be volunteering with before you leave and learn some of the geography of the area. Lastly, make sure you know something about the culture and its history. This will help you integrate better and be more mindful of how people will relate to you.
Jesuit Missions offers four different overseas volunteer placements. If you are interested in finding out more, visit our volunteering page here.
Posted on 09th July 2018