Five months ago we entered Frankfurt airport together with fourteen other volunteers imagining we were about to embark on the most exciting year of our lives. We, Teresa and Julia, are the two current “weltwärts” volunteers working at SEA until August 2018. Already that day when we left our homes in Germany feels very far away. The uncertainties and fears with which we entered Tanzania have disappeared and we’ve developed a daily routine on the other side of the equator.
But what is this “weltwärts” program that enabled us, along with about 3500 young German volunteers to experience a whole year in a far away country?
The German word “weltwärts” translates to something like “worldwards” and is the name of a program run by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation (BMZ) and Development. BMZ provides financial support for 160 German organisations which are in charge of organising and operating the voluntary year for young people in the age of 18 up to 27.
One of those 160 organisations is “Deutsch-Tansanische Partnerschaft e.V.” (DTP) and we were lucky enough to obtain two of their 16 places. The program we are part of is called international understanding and climate protection. All of the Tanzanian organisations we join for the year aim to create sustainable livelihoods and try to raise awareness for climate change and other environmental issues. As most of us started our voluntary year right after school we don’t come as experts but as learning people. “weltwärts” is an educational program and therefore is based on mutual exchange. While trying to support our organisations with the knowledge we have we also learn a lot about the Tanzanian culture and bring first hand information about the German and European way of living. All of us live in host families, and this enables us to get a very real experience of Tanzania’s culture. We feel that this helps reduce prejudice on both sides.
This week we returned from the mid-term seminar. Lead by a former volunteer, we shared our experiences, reflected our thoughts and behaviour and worked out possible solutions for difficult situations we had encountered during the first five months of our stay. It has been a different experience for all the volunteers – some have found it easier than others, some learn Kiswahili faster and others slower – but we all felt that we are very lucky indeed to be here with our hosts.
So, would we recommend a voluntary year like the one we are doing? Yes, certainly! Staying a whole year in this country and living in host families allows us to gain a very intense image of the Tanzanian people and their different cultures. It wasn’t easy either to raise the money to come here – although it’s also subsidised. We live here on a very tight budget, but that’s a lesson in itself!
Living in host families gives us a very intense experience and of course has its ups and downs. Just recently my German mother was visiting me here on Zanzibar. Talking about her visit to my host mother before, I got aware of the huge differences in the relationship between children, especially girls, and parents here and in Germany. “When your mother is here you’ll be her little child again”, was what my host mother said. For her it was very confusing to hear that my mother and I have a friendship-like relationship since I moved out in 2014. It’s not easy to adjust to the very hierarchical structures in almost all parts of the Zanzibarian society but it’s also so interesting to have such a different perspective on life here as well as in Germany.
At our NGOs, in this case SEA, we have 2 Zanzibari-led projects we work closely with – Vikokotoni Environment Society (JMJV) and Cultural Arts Centre – we’ve written a bit about them already in this Blog. They are so different, but both are sustainable enterprises and teach us about very different aspects of living in Zanzibar.