Wow- what a difference four years makes. Four years ago today I would have been just beginning my second semester of college with all intentions of attending medical school following my spring 2011 graduation. Instead I find myself slowly overcoming reverse culture shock ater spending the past 4 months in Tanzania and constantly thinking about, saving up for, and planning my next adventure back to that amazing country. Let me back up a little- I began interning for AVC in the fall of 2010 after hearing (founder) Caitlin give an inspiring lecture to one of my classes. I immediately emailed her following class and sang her praise about how poised, excited, and inspiring she was while simultaneously expressing my interest in helping with AVC in any way possible. Caitlin and I met one afternoon and the rest is history. Over the past year and a half I have been researching international aid, volunteerism, and the East African community along with helping to plan fundraising events for this budding organization. Not only did all this research open my eyes to a whole new world I had yet to discover, it also served as a catalyst for my trip to Tanzania. With the help of Caitlin, I immediately began to look at different programs and ways for me to spend time in Tanzania following graduation.
I figured out all the details of my trip and could not wait for August to come, but something struck me a little funny. Was I not going against everything I had learned throughout my time at AVC-international volunteers often hurt more than they help? After a couple conversations with Caitlin and some soul searching, I realized that going to Tanzania with the right attitude was going to be my key to success. I did not go over there expecting to change the world or bring them the “golden ticket”. I was going over there to experience first hand the culture and the people I had been “googling” for months, to see what I could learn from them. And with this attitude my experience can be described as nothing short of AMAZING. I felt as though my understanding of the goals and mission of AVC came full circle. Although, I had worked hard prior to learn Swahili my grasp of the language was basic at best. I volunteered at a school and was lucky enough to work with a teacher that spoke English and I do not know what I would have done had this not been the case. A fellow volunteer I lived with was not so lucky. For the first 3 weeks of her placement she had minimal success communicating with her students and would come home visibly frustrated and disappointed after her mornings at school. One day when she arrived at school she was surprised to see an addition to the classroom–a local 21 year old that decided to dedicate his free time to volunteering at the school. And did this young man make all the difference. Within days, I noticed a complete attitude change in my colleague. She came home from school with stories of everything the kids had learned that and how having this local volunteer as a translator was a blessing. This is when I had my first of many “aha” moments. I realized how much the local population had to offer and how they truly hold the future of Africa in their hands. I do believe that teamwork is an extremely aspect of international development, but I also believe that listening and learning from the local people is most important.
As I wrap up, I urge you to think about these past four years of your life. What changes did you witness? What challenges did you face? What do you want to accomplish in these next four years? Think about where AVC was four years ago and where it is now. Amazing, huh? Personally, I cannot wait for these next four years to unfold and I hope you feel the same way!