Volunteer in Tanzania – it’s the surest way to learn Kiswahili by accident. Seriously.
With GDP per capita around $700 USD in 2014, Tanzania is a very low-income country. However, social capital is very high: people make time for each other, and greatly value relationships, solidarity, and community service. SID’s volunteer program in Tanzania is based in an especially poor and rural area. If you want to paint murals between beach runs, you’ve come to the wrong place! If you are an intrepid problem solver or adventurer, welcome.
The United Republic of Tanzania is a large country in the Great Lakes Region of East Africa, just south of Kenya. With a population of over 53 million and over 100 recognized local languages, Tanzania is arguably more diverse than the European Union. The official languages in Tanzania are Swahili and English, though Swahili is the national language and lingua franca used to communicate between different groups. Primary school is taught in Swahili while secondary school and higher education are taught in English. Each region of the country has its own mother tongue and customs. Most people will be able to communicate in Swahili but very few will speak English outside the major cities. It is interesting to note that Zanzibar, the group of islands off the coast of the country on the Indian Ocean, is an autonomous region and considers itself culturally and politically distinct from the mainland.
Projects in Kenya
Where We Work
SID is proud to partner with The Olive Branch for Children in Tanzania, which is located in Mbeya region in the southwest, bordering Malawi and Zambia. These borders are safe and secure, and people travel regularly between them. The Olive Branch does most of its work in rural communities in Mbarali district, covering over 40 communities in a 320km² area. Mbarali is one of the least developed and most rural districts in the country. SID’s work with the Olive Branch focuses on health programs for women and those living with HIV/AIDS – a prevalent issue in Tanzania, with about 5% of the adult population estimated to be infected with the disease – as well as improving access to education in rural communities.
A round trip flight to Dar Es Salaam, by far Tanzania’s largest city, can cost upward of CAD$1,500. The state-monopoly airline Fastjet provides an inexpensive, efficient and safe way to travel from Dar es Salaam to other major cities in the country, including Mbeya. People also bus or take private cars around the country. Within the cities people often take a dala dala (a private minibus or shared taxi), and in the countryside one can expect to take a boda boda/piki piki (motorcycle) for transportation. Prices may not always be standardized, and travelers should make sure to establish a fair price before getting in a vehicle.
Tanzania is a highly secure and politically stable country. Protests and riots may sometimes occur, and foreigners are advised to stay clear of these events, but these are generally the exception and not the rule. Travelers should be mindful of potential scams in public and when taking transport, and make sure they are traveling with legitimate companies when getting around. Volunteers should make sure to leave any important valuables locked up and not to display any signs of wealth in public, including expensive electronics, jewelry and money.
Tanzania has fairly fixed and even dry and wet seasons, from May to October and November to April, respectively. In Mbarali, which has hilly landscapes and savannah plains, volunteers can expect to see virtually no rainfall during the dry season. The average temperature ranges from 20 to 25 degrees Celsius. However, nights are much cooler, especially in the dry season, and afternoons are much warmer than this average. Travelers should pack clothes for a variety of temperatures.
Level of Economic Development
Tanzania has a low score of 0.521 on the Human Development Index (HDI) as of 2015, where it is ranked 154th. The country receives a substantial amount of aid to combat hunger in the population. Many places do not have developed plumbing or Western toilets. Electricity may sporadically go out in Mbeya from time to time, and electricity and internet will be virtually inaccessible in some rural areas, though many people still have mobile phones. The cost of living in Mbeya is quite low compared to Western standards, with a meal at an inexpensive restaurant costing around CAD$2.
Unlike many of its neighbours, Tanzania has a fairly strong and united national culture rooted in the Kiswahili language and important historical figures such Julius Nyerere. While there are many different tribes in the country, most of them are proudly Tanzanian, with Zanzibar as a notable exception for political and historical reasons. Tanzanian culture is filled with a long list of different greetings and customs for showing respect when meeting people; learning these can make one’s time in Tanzania much easier and more enjoyable. Ugali (corn or maize flour made into dough), rice and beans, and some wild vegetables are common foods. Most meats, except for chicken, are not abundant and not always available.