Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels. If you would like to take part please click here for more info.
This week, Nikki (or ‘Noodles’, as she is otherwise known to her friends) has been telling me all about her time as a volunteer at Newlands School and Orphanage in Moshi, Tanzania. Having always been inspired by her grandparents’ love of travel, Nikki tries to fit in travel and adventure at every available opportunity. Following the passing of both her grandparents in 2013, she made the decision to take the plunge, leave her job and flat, and go on an even bigger adventure in memory of them, spending almost ten months backpacking across four continents.
Growing up, Nikki had heard so many captivating stories about Tanzania from her grandparents, as they had spent a number of years living and working there. It therefore only felt right that she included it on her itinerary and saw for herself why this country became so special to them. So after lots of researching and planning, she decided to spend some time volunteering for various NGOs in and around a town called Moshi. To find out more about her journey so far and what’s next on the horizon for Nikki, you can follow her on her blog Where is Noodles? or on Twitter @_whereisnoodles
Welcome to Postcard From, Nikki! Sounds like you’ve been on one heck of an adventure…
I’ve not long returned back to the UK from a solo RTW adventure, where I spent the beginning and end of my trip (a combined total of five months) volunteering in Moshi, Tanzania. I never planned to go back to Tanzania when I first set off on my travels a year ago, however it became such a special place to me, I had to return!
Moshi is a vibrant medium-sized town located in the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Most days you would forget the mountain was even there while it hid behind the clouds, but on a clear day – WOW – I was always completely blown away by its presence as it loomed magnificently over the town. Sometimes we were lucky enough to see it from Newlands, where I volunteered in a nursery school and orphanage for most of my time in Tanzania.
Newlands is located around 15km from Moshi and is a small rural village, mostly made up of mud/brick houses, some with thatched or corrugated metal roofs. The school itself is made up of three classes with around 110 children ranging from 3 to 7 years old. Next door to the school is the orphanage, which is the home to 65 children, some of which attend the nursery school.
I bet volunteering in Tanzania was an incredible experience. What was the accommodation like?
I stayed at Hostel Hoff, a small organisation that offers affordable volunteering opportunities within and on the outskirts of Moshi.
While researching where to go, I found many international organisations charged quite a lot of money to volunteer. However Hostel Hoff is locally-run and works on the ethos that no-one should have to pay. Therefore the price simply covers your accommodation at the hostel – including breakfast, dinner and laundry – and the volunteering experience is free!
At Hostel Hoff, it’s like being in one big happy family. The staff work incredibly hard to make you feel at home and make sure you are looked after on your volunteer project. I think it’s fair to say I had some of my happiest months here – volunteering through their organisation was definitely one of the best things I ever decided to do and I am itching to go back one day!
What was a typical day like while you were volunteering?
At the start of the day, myself and some other volunteers would walk for around 30 minutes through the busy streets and markets of Moshi town to get to our Dala Dala stop (Dala Dalas are basically a public minibus and the main way most of the locals get around). Once the Dala Dala was full to the brim with passengers, we’d then embark on another 30 minute journey through sugarcane fields to get to Newlands.
A typical day in the school would often start with the teachers and volunteers singing various nursery songs with the children. The whole room would erupt into loud chanting and dancing – it amazed me just how much boundless energy these children seemed to have on a daily basis. They absolutely loved to sing and dance and joining in with them quickly became one of my favourite parts of the day.
The rest of the day, we usually helped the teachers with basic English, Maths and Swahili lessons and provided one-to-one support to some of the pupils who were falling behind. Other days would be filled with more fun activities like colouring and playground games.
Once school finished, we would then head over to the orphanage next door. Some afternoons we would help the staff out in the kitchen, preparing food for the children, while other days we would spend time playing games or helping them with their homework.
What was your highlight?
Just seeing the children’s smiling faces every day was the biggest highlight for me. Some of these children haven’t had the best start in life, but they rarely let this keep their spirits down. Their happiness and enthusiasm to learn was truly infectious and made them a joy to be around. While at times teaching them could be a challenge with the language barrier, when you had those break-through moments and knew you’d helped them learn something new, it made it all worthwhile.
Did you learn anything new while volunteering?
I think I’ve definitely gained a new perspective on a lot of things. Not only did it make me appreciate how fortunate I am, it also made me re-evaluate what’s more important to me in life. While a lot of cultures are based on material wealth; community, family and faith are at the heart of Tanzanian culture. Through volunteering I got to spend a lot of time with families living on next to nothing, but that didn’t mean they were any less happy. In fact it was quite the opposite. When you walk around you witness so much laughter and joy. And this is something that really made an impression on me.
When you weren’t volunteering, what other activities would you get up to?
Due to its location, Moshi is the gateway to SO many beautiful places that will give you a taste of East Africa. But perhaps one of my favourites activities (which most people don’t know about when visiting Moshi for the first time) is heading to the old railway station which is no longer in use. Not only can you get great views of Mt Kili, it’s a great place to while away a few hours and people watch as most of the locals still walk along the tracks as part of their daily commute. The best time to go down is before sunset, when most of the locals are coming home from work. Plus they’ve converted one of the booking offices into a small bar where you can grab your local beer of choice (my favourite was a Serengeti beer of course!)
Do you have one piece of advice for anyone who wants to do some volunteering in Tanzania or elsewhere?
I’d say first and foremost, to do their research. There are many organisations out there that charge thousands of pounds/dollars to volunteer, and it’s not always clear where this money goes or how much of it actually contributes to helping the community or project. So make sure you research the organisation and have a good understanding of what their long-term visions are. Make sure you know how your money will help before committing.
Very good advice – it’s important to make sure that you choose the organisation carefully. Now it’s time for some questions about you. What’s your favourite travel read?
I’m not really a big reader BUT I have recently got my hands on How Not to Travel the World by travel writer Lauren Juliff, and I’m absolutely hooked! This book follows Lauren on her journey while overcoming her anxiety and fulfilling her dreams to travel the world. Documenting the many misadventures she encountered along the way, the book is a comical and heartwarming read. I really loved the way Lauren is so candid about her struggles with anxiety, which is something I can definitely relate to having experienced it myself in the past.
And finally – what do you love most about travel?
The freedom and the opportunity to immerse myself in new cultures and learn more about the world. There’s so much to see and experience out there, and there is nothing quite as liberating as being on the road.
NB – all images are owned by Nikki