Not too long ago, many of us were sat in our respective homes in Tanzania and around the world scrolling through the Raleigh’s blog. Individually, we all had our own expectations of what this experience would be like and what we wanted to achieve.
Seven weeks after the start of the programme, both the Tanzanian and international volunteers in the group have fully immersed themselves in the community of the rural village of Matanga (in the district of Kongwa). We have been learning more everyday about each others’ cultures and ideas. We find ourselves becoming increasingly aware of the lessons we are learning. In the same way that our expectations differed, difficulties we have faced on an individual level have also been unique. The ‘challenge’ that Raleigh prides itself on is far from one-dimensional. It is complex; weaving physical, cultural and social aspects together.
Understanding our challenge
The project in Matanga entails working with the rural community to construct toilet blocks for their local primary school. Initially, we expected that the main challenges of Raleigh Expedition would be the actual construction of the toilet facilities and the physical demands of trekking across the region of Iringa during our Youth Leadership Trek. Placing ourselves in a remote setting (and for some of us a foreign culture) and working with a mix of people from different regions, nationalities and backgrounds was also a daunting element of the undertaking.
However, we have now discovered that Raleigh’s development work goes much further than building toilet blocks in schools. We have been stretching ourselves by teaching SWASH lessons to the schoolchildren, holding meetings with youth, women and elders in the community and doing our best to raise awareness of good hygiene practices. We have seen the confidence of individual volunteers grow alongside confidence of community members.
The easiest metaphor to use to explain what we are learning is considering construction itself. Most people would look at a building and see the bricks that provide strength and structure. In reality it’s the cement between the bricks that holds the building together. This can be likened to our experience with Raleigh. The challenges that we mentioned earlier, that can be seen on the surface, have still existed. But inbetween the hurdles, there have been tests that have developed us further as individuals, and even surprised us.
One member of the team would say that the biggest challenge has been learning to work at different paces to accommodate for different kinds of personalities. For someone else, being surrounded by so many different people pushed them out of their comfort zone and taught them how to make new connections and find common ground. Similarly, for another volunteer it was experiencing differing leadership styles that taught him how to adapt to his environment and the people around him. Whilst these lessons may seem simple, within the confines of Expedition they have a major impact on each young person. Upon reflection, we now realise that the most important lessons you learn from volunteering are the ones you don’t expect.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to us all, is that in helping others, we have experienced our own personal development. The unique way in which Raleigh operates provides a platform to not only make an impact within a community, but to make an impact on yourself. Regardless of who you are, or where you come from, your time with Raleigh will provide you with opportunities that you would never otherwise experience.
Words by Expedition volunteers AJ, Ben, Helen and Hugo. Edited by Communications Officer Lou McGowan.