Doing Development Differently

This post is authored by Ilunga Kalala, AVC Board of Advisors. 

When people ask me why and how I became involved with Africa Volunteer Corps, I usually start by describing the first time I met Caitlin Kelley, one of the organization’s founders.

Myself, my wife and Caitlin at our wedding in November 2014!

I had recently returned to New York from the Congo and my return coincided with Caitlin’s, who was just back from Tanzania.

We met for coffee and from the beginning it was apparent that we had much in common. Caitlin was an African History major and so was I. I spoke French; so did Caitlin, although admittedly a little better than I. I was in the midst of beginning a non-profit after my first volunteer experience in the Congo and Caitlin was doing the same in Tanzania, drawing from her volunteer experience in Tanzania. But that’s where the similarities stopped.

There was something different about the non-profit Caitlin described to me that day. AVC, as Caitlin described it to me, was going to harness the power of motivated, educated Africans and put it to use for locally-initiated development projects in Africa. I distinctly recall saying “That’s a great mission” and thinking, “Why didn’t I think of that?” What’s more, AVC had been conceived in tandem, by Caitlin and Jafari Msaki, a native Tanzanian whom I would meet two years later in Arusha, Tanzania. In fact, it was Jafari who brought AVC into existence when he pondered aloud about the necessity and efficacy of local volunteerism.

I kept in touch with Caitlin as the idea we discussed over coffee in New York materialized in Tanzania and gained traction through local support and partnerships with stakeholders.

When people ask me why and how I became involved with AVC, I always end by describing the volunteers. In so many ways, they are our true heroes. These are young men and women who represent the future of Africa. Through their charity and selflessness they reaffirm my own passion for encouraging development and growth in Africa.

There are great ideas and then there are great ideas in action. Our volunteers are bringing value and hope to locally-initiated development projects in Tanzania. Like Catherine Saria, who volunteers with El-Shaddai Center, an organization that provides help to 300 students who are living in poverty; or James Kirima who volunteers as a social worker at  Mshikamano (Solidarity), an NGO that works with people living with HIV/AIDS; or Laurent Fanuel, who volunteers at KIVINET a local organization that was established for the purpose of monitoring and coordinating Village Community Banks (VICOBA) in the Kilimanjaro region.