Shannon Schaubroeck, currently a staff intern at WorldTeach’s Cambridge office and a sophomore at Harvard, shares with us a reflection on her experience growing up in Tanzania, where WorldTeach has just recently opened its newest year-long program. (*”Moyo” is Swahili for “heart”.)
My brothers and I grew up in the tiny Tanzanian village of Nshupu, which was perched on the side of Meru, an active volcano full of wild and mazy jungles. I remember when my youngest brother, Joshua, started attending a primary school on the other side of the river, and I’d walk him to class in the early mornings. After his first day at school, he came running home with a tear-streaked face, howling about the traumas of kindergarten. Apparently, he’d been mobbed by classmates who wanted to touch his hair – and his solution was to escape out the window, much to his teacher’s disapproval.
It took a few months for our family to lose our novel shine and become locals, but the people of Nshupu welcomed us into their homes with two arms flung wide open. Looking back, I can hardly keep track of all the “aunts” I had in the village, or of the hundreds of teas, dinners and wedding parties we attended inside smoky tin huts. The generosity of Tanzanian communities was overwhelming – people with only one unreliable cow would serve us milky chai; families with wilting vegetable gardens brought us tomatoes as a love-gift. The interdependency of Tanzanian life is hard to write about, but it’s palpable as soon as you’ve lived one humid, sweat-soaked, song-ridden day in the country. It’s a wholesale generosity, where the success of each individual is bound up in that of the community. Our family was no exception to the rule, which is why I’m so indelibly marked by my Tanzanian family.
Since coming to Boston for college, my longing for home has grown with each week that passes, and on certain sleety, fast-paced Cambridge days, I can’t understand why I’m so far from Tanzania. When my deep love for the country coincides with its obvious need for teachers and educators, it is sometimes frustrating to spend the bulk of my year in Massachusetts. I started working at WorldTeach last October, and at the time, I didn’t anticipate that some of my hunger for Africa would be satiated by an office-job. But while I’m still physically separated from that beloved continent – at least as long as I’m a college-kid – it’s been wonderful to be part of a larger effort to reach some of Africa’s most knowledge-hungry youth.
Not everyone has the desire or the capacity to shift for one year into a wholly different world, but WorldTeach volunteers consistently rise to that challenge with enthusiasm and courage. Our new Tanzania program brings with it a huge set of unknowns, without even the testimony of previous volunteers to dispel any pre-departure fears. But while Tanzania is not exempt from the poverty and hardships of a developing country, its people have a dignity and joy for which they are not often credited. Tanzania’s young people have minds that are too large and hungry for its understaffed education system to sustain – which is why I’m so excited that WorldTeach has decided to play a part, however small, in reaching the school-kid population.
By the way, Joshua’s hair eventually lost its entertainment value, and he became an average Tanzanian school-kid, missing shoes and all.