ARUSHA, Tanzania — “I thought Africa was a country,” says a 16-year-old girl as she slathers a wall with cement. “Are you serious?” another girl asks. “Did you think Tanzania was a city, or something?”
Obviously the teen never gave Africa much thought before arriving in Arusha to work as a volunteer on a project to help construct a boys dormitory at Camp Joshua, a primary school in Uswahilini (meaning common folk in English) an adjacent slum to Unga Limited, the poorest area of Arusha, Tanzania.
A group of 20 volunteers, hailing from the Okanagan valley in British Columbia, arrived a few weeks ago to finish off the work started by a Canadian group of students back in May. Five chaperones work alongside them, guided by a local fundi (Swahili word for general tradesperson).
20-year-old organizer and University of British Columbia student Lindsey Richardson has been working in Tanzania, during study breaks, for three years. She’s been running the Volunteer Abroad program for Canadian students coming to Arusha to work at LOHADA, Loving Hand for the Disadvantaged and Aged, a Christian charity which provides childcare and education to orphans.
This young Canadian started bringing classmates and friends to Arusha in 2010 to build shelter for the orphans at LOHADA’s Camp Moses orphanage and now for the Camp Joshua primary school.
“In high school I started working with Free the Children,” she says,”Then I came to Tanzania on a family holiday and wanted to return to help kids here.”
Lindsey’s mother, Sandra Richardson, comes once a year with high school students from B.C. It’s a program she runs as vice principal of Princess Margaret Secondary School in Penticton that has become so popular with students in the Okanagan one admits to having waited up to two years for her opportunity to volunteer.
“It’s a great experience for the kids,” Sandra says. “They’re giving up three weeks of their summer holiday to come and do some work.”
When asked about her daughter’s leadership capabilities, the proud mom begins singing Lindsey’s praises.
“She began organizing these volunteer trips to Arusha when she was only 17-years-old,” Sandra says. “That’s the age of most of these kids here now volunteering.”
Happiness Wambura, or Mama Wambura as she’s known in Arusha, is the founder of LOHADA. She’s appreciative of the work and support from Canadians in her organization.
“The Canadians are helping us a lot. They’ve built a classroom at Camp Moses and now they’re building a boys dormitory at Camp Joshua,” Wambura says. “Apart from that, they come to work as volunteers with the kids. They’ve been with us for more than three years now.”
As Lindsey looks around the property of Camp Joshua in Uswahilini, metal rods spring out of the earth where an aid organization commenced work on laying a foundation for new classrooms, but abandoned it before completion.
“This saddens me,” she says. “Whatever building we start, we make sure it’s 100 per cent finished before we leave.”
Local kids from the slum gather around the Canadian volunteers, playing in the sand piles while everyone works. Some kids even pick up shovels and attempt to give a hand.
“We’re here for the long term, helping these kids by building this dormitory will free up the classroom which has been used as the boys dorm for some time,” she says.
Lindsey plans to return to Arusha once she’s completed her studies at UBC and spend one year working in the region, helping those less fortunate get the education they need to succeed.