Philanthropic travel in Tanzania
By Melanie Wiseman
Vacation while supporting nonprofits
“Jambo! Jambo!” Our guide, Sultan, rang out this cheerful greeting before every meal and learning experience we had in Tanzania, Africa.
For years, I had longed to see wild animals in their natural habitat. In January, my dream of going on an African safari came true when my husband and I traveled to the harmonious country in East Africa with a small group through Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT). To my surprise, the animals were the cake but the people were the frosting.
In two weeks, we immersed ourselves in the lives of the country’s 50 million people—their dance, dress, language and art. We prepared and ate local foods, drew water from wells, visited locals’ homes and listened to their stories. Despite being considered a third world country, we found we had much to learn from Tanzanian people.
In 1964, the states of Tanganyika and Zanzibar combined to create the country of Tanzania. Their inaugural president, Julius Nyerere, is revered to this day for bringing the nation together. First, he declared Swahili as the national language, bridging the tribal gaps.
In this divisive world, Tanzania is a breath of fresh air with 126 tribes—plus many subtribes—living and loving together peacefully as one.
One reason we chose to travel with OAT was because of their worldwide philanthropy and conservation and sustainability efforts. Part of our trip cost went to aid worthwhile projects, but the greater satisfaction was participating in personal philanthropic experiences in each country we visited.
On our very first day in the city of Arusha, we had two such experiences.
In two weeks, we immersed ourselves in the lives of Tanzania’s 50 million people—their dance, dress, language and art. We prepared and ate local foods, drew water from wells, visited locals’ homes and listened to their stories.
The number one health problem in Africa is limited access to clean water. The nonprofit Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa (www.swcea.org) produces handmade clay water filters for families and schools throughout Tanzania and Kenya.
We actually rolled up our sleeves and put our hands in the clay to help make the filters. We watched the firing process, followed by an astonishing before-and-after demonstration that turned dirty water clean.
At $50 each, a filter provides five years of clean water with proper maintenance. As a group, we bought four filters and gave them to remote villagers drawing from an unclean well, educating them on proper usage and cleaning.
Our next stop was the Albino Peacemakers women’s sewing group. Tanzania has the highest population of albinos in Africa. These people face serious challenges—80 percent die of skin cancer by the age of 30, and local superstitions view them as an evil curse. Albinos are often rejected by their villages and families, or even worse, murdered.
Sister Martha Mganga, who has albinism herself, started the sewing group in 2014 to help women with albinism support their families through covered work protected from the sun. We were inspired by their stories and craftsmanship, gladly purchasing their beautifully created aprons, totes and placemats sewn from traditional African fabrics.
Making a difference
Part of our trip costs supported a greenhouse and shade trees on the Njia Ya Panda Primary School grounds. The children sang and danced for us, and excitedly practiced speaking their second language: English. For people who have so little in comparison, they’re so full of joy. We left smiling and with our hearts warmed. Furthermore, the lack of food for lunches inspired many in our group to continue supporting the school even after returning home.
Our last stop on the trip was Shanga, a craft center that used mostly recycled materials to give blind, deaf and handicapped adults work, income, purpose, community and interaction. We were taught basic hand signals so that we could communicate with and acknowledge the pride in their endeavors, which we gladly supported and purchased.
We also learned that some of our trip expenses contributed to wildlife protection, supporting people who collect illegal wire snares and educating villagers on the value of wildlife by engaging them in animal protection versus poaching. We directly benefited from their efforts when we saw first-hand the amazing animals that inhabit Ngorongoro Crater, the Serengeti and Tarangire National Parks.
My dream of going on a safari was finally fulfilled. But it was the people of Tanzania who warmed our hearts by sharing their lives and giving so freely. We left with the joy of knowing that each of us, in our own way, gave back and left something of ourselves in Tanzania.