Following a childhood dream took Jillian to the base of Mount Kilimanjaro.
I’ve wanted to travel abroad, especially in Africa, ever since I was a little girl. I never knew how or when I would be able to, until my junior year of high school. I met a recent graduate that was only a couple of weeks away from leaving to volunteer during his gap year. Before that, I had never heard of a gap year and did not even know how it would work with high school and college. In America gap years are incredibly rare, but when I learned more about how beneficial they could be and, while still allowing me to have a great education, I jumped at the opportunity!
I started researching volunteer organizations and quickly found Projects Abroad. When I learned about how long the organization had been established and about all of the placements they had available abroad, I knew a gap year with Projects Abroad was the right decision for me. I chose Tanzania of all of the countries because I had a personal connection to it; my grandfather had always dreamed of going to see Mt. Kilimanjaro. So my adventure was set and before I knew it, it was time for me to depart for Africa!
I was in Arusha, Tanzania for about three months during which I spent two months at Good Hope Orphanage and one month at Patandi Special Needs School. I have never had a more influential experience in my life. Good Hope was a long walk from Usa River, where I lived with my host family and roommate. It is away from the city of Arusha, somewhat secluded and surrounded my beautiful fields with Mt. Meru in one direction, and Mt. Kilimanjaro in the other.
taught a class of about fifteen students that were between the ages of seven and ten. Within days, these children became the highlight of my experience. As I approached the orphanage in the morning, the children would run out into the dirt road, screaming, “Hello, madam, hello!” before they ran into my arms and jumped on me in excitement. The children spoke English fairly well for their age and were always just so excited to learn. Anything I wrote on the blackboard the class would help me spell, yelling each and every letter.
In the middle of our class day we would go outside for break and play games and sing songs, and the kids loved braiding and playing with my hair. Whenever I had a camera to take pictures of them, their eyes would light up with excitement! Each child had such personality, it was incredible to see their individuality come out during my placement there. I can still hear them playing and talking in my mind. These children will stay in my heart forever.
Patandi was a difficult placement, but an incredibly rewarding one! I worked in a classroom with fourteen students. Seven of them were in one grade level, three in another, and four in yet another. We were in a classroom with desks and a blackboard in the center of the room separating the older class of seven from the younger two levels. The children in my class all had hearing disabilities and about half of them were completely deaf, so it was harder to teach than at Good Hope, but the challenge is what made it such an incredible experience.
There was one boy, Davis, who was in the oldest grade level and one of the few to grasp the idea of long division. They could all divide by a single number, but not double digits. I worked with Davis for two weeks and decided to try other things that were easier to understand, but just as I was about to move on he got it! It was during a tea break that he stayed and we tried a few problems, and with one problem, he understood it. His eyes lit up and he smiled like I had never seen someone smile before. He jumped and hugged me with excitement, and I had never felt better!
What was so incredible about my placements were the relationships I formed with the children. You are not just teaching them, you’re playing with them and enjoying the day with them. They need so little to be happy, it’s inspirational and it has changed the way I think about what is important in life. Those times I kicked a soccer ball with the kids, picked flowers with them, braided hair with them and taught them long division, those are the moments I remember from my experience abroad that bring me nothing but happiness.
Months later my time in Tanzania feels like another lifetime, but I think of it every day; it helps me keep perspective and appreciate everything and everyone in my life. I can’t wait to go back one day to Good Hope, Patandi and Usa River. A part of me will always be in Tanzania.
No matter where Projects Abroad places you, you will have a life changing experience. You will remember the people you meet, whether they are the kids you are teaching or the adults you are teaching with, for the rest of your life!
By Jillian Froelick
Source: Projects Abroad