Jesuit Missions volunteer Ellie Clark is settling into her six months teaching at St Ignatius Primary School in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania. She tells us about her first month on placement.
When I arrived into Dar Es Salaam, I was immediately struck by the noise and the heat. It was completely different from the UK. Even the luggage claim was different; people were climbing over each other and up the walls (literally!) to find their bag on the only conveyor belt in the airport. Straight away, I was thrown in at the deep end. This proved to be a pivotal moment for me; as amongst the hustle and bustle, the only firm ‘fixture’ that I could rely on was God.
In my first month, each day brought its fresh challenges. Be that navigating the bucket shower, hand washing clothes without getting them dusty, or having no WiFi (something I didn’t realise how dependent on I was). However, the biggest challenge has been the language barrier. Thankfully, at every turn I have been met with kindness and patience. I am fortunate to live with 3 volunteers from the US who have taken the time to nurture me through the process of settling in, and have brought so much joy to our house here in Dodoma.
I am spending my time surrounded by children; which fills me with a constant sense of fulfilment and joy. As a primary school teacher in the UK, I was excited to see if there is any difference between children’s attitudes. I can report that all children are the same! They are all excitable, cheeky and fundamentally beautiful. They require my attention and thrive from my willingness to do a good job. That being said; teaching is very different in Tanzania. Children have a teacher for each subject in primary school, so I am teaching English, Vocational Skills, Personality Development and the occasional RE lesson. The children are always keen for me to spend time with them, so I enjoy teaching them games and being taught little bits of Swahili by them during the break times.
On a Tuesday I travel to the local orphanage and work with the pre-school aged children, getting them ready to enter main-stream school in the coming months. I find this a demanding experience each time I go, simply because it is so humbling. As I do not share the same language, culture or customs as the children, they were initially very wary of me. Now, I am accepted as part of their ‘Tuesday routine’ and they spend much of the day simply teaching me how to be Tanzanian. I am privileged to watch the sisters at work. For many of the children, they have only known life in the orphanage, yet they are overwhelmingly happy as, for them, the Sisters are ‘Mama’ and they are loved beyond words.
One of the greatest things I’m learning is the art of selflessness. I see my role here as one of deferential support. The beautiful mission is well established and thriving. As much as my desire may be to buy the children all of the toys, pens and pencils that they may desire; by doing so I put myself in an excessive position of power and wealth. Instead, if I really want to help, I must stand back and work behind the scenes humbly and gently.
During my first few days in Tanzania, I was given two wonderful pieces of wisdom by Sarah (a fellow volunteer from America) and Brother Vincent (of the Dar Es Salaam Jesuit community).
Sarah said; “The beauty of doing something like this is the ability to press the restart button on your life; you learn to walk, talk, wash and even eat from scratch!”
Brother Vincent kindly said; “Welcome to the best place in the world to live! We are always happy because we invest all of our time in ‘jumoiya’ – the community.”