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Alison Waller - Tanzania Teach, Dive and Wildlife 

Alison was looking to experience as much as possible during her time away, and the Tanzania project certainly delivered. From cataloguing birds in the jungle to teaching in the local village, Alison really made the most of her time away and is already planning her next adventure!

Why did you choose this particular project?

I chose Tanzania Dive, Teach and Wildlife because I wanted to do a wide range of things while I was away. I love teaching and I have volunteered in the UK but I wanted the chance to volunteer in Africa and make a real difference teaching English. It also gave me the possibility to do environmental work which takes my interest in geography and environment even further.

Which kind of work and activities did you do during your project?

In my first week I was mainly involved in the terrestrial team and that involved lots of bird surveys. While I was in Tanzania the team was trying to identify and catalogue all the different species of birds along a transect in order to assess the biodiversity of the area. The data was going to be compared to past surveys and would tell us if there was environmental degradation occurring on Mafia Island.
I did a lot of teaching in my second week which is the most rewarding thing I have ever experienced—even if my lessons didn’t always end up following the plan! I taught village lessons to adults who wanted to learn English to help them do business or get a job in the tourist lodges. I also taught primary school children (7-14 years old). We sang songs like Old MacDonald and I taught them clothing and colours. I taught at the nursery (3-7 years old) every day and although it was manic and hectic, I had so much fun! The children have so much energy and small things such as pencils which I took with me from the UK brought the hugest smile to their faces.
On my third week I combined the first two weeks together and included sea grass surveys and had a very good time. By the end of the third week I really felt I didn't want to go home!

How did the culture and people differ to home, and what were the locals like?

The people in the local village of Utende were so welcoming. I have very pale skin and ginger hair so I was worried before I went out to Mafia that I would stick out a lot. As soon as I landed I felt welcome and I never felt unsafe or unsure about being in the main town of Kilindoni or in the village. I taught at the village lessons and that introduced me to some of the locals and it was really nice seeing them in the village and trying out some of my Swahili on them—and then them replying in English!

What was the accommodation like?

The accommodation was basic. There is no disguising the fact that you stay in banda huts and sleep on wooden planks with a roll mat on top. However, it is no worse than camping and I found it surprisingly comfortable. Showers are a shock experience the first time as it is a bucket but, after a week, I really started to enjoy showers especially at the end of a day when the sun was setting and the water had warmed up from the heat of the sun!

What were the staff and other volunteers like?

The other staff and volunteers made the trip for me. Everyone was so welcoming and made me feel at home straight away. With 24 people on camp in my first week I felt within a few days I knew everyone and we could laugh and joke around. The staff were always fun and answered any questions in order to help you with anything that you needed. I know that I have made friends for life in only three weeks.

What was your most amazing moment or your best memory?

I have two memories that stick in my mind the most when I think about Tanzania. One was when we took the dive boat at to Chole island and we watched the sunset over Mafia Island: it was the most incredible sunset I have ever seen, so I took a lot of breath-taking photographs! The second memory was when I was teaching animals in the primary school, I wrapped a sticker around the end of some pencils that I brought out from the UK and gave them to the children as prizes if they could say a sentence including the animal I was acting out. The smile and thankfulness from those children for a simple pencil made me appreciate everything that I have in the UK and it was at that moment I fully understood how I was helping in Tanzania.

Do you feel the work you were doing was worthwhile?

The work I was doing felt so worthwhile as I was involved at every stage while I was on the project. I did so many different things and from that I really saw the point of the projects. From teaching you had the thanks from the adults and seeing the progress from the children in their English was incredibly rewarding.

What sort of wildlife did you encounter?

Fish, Birds, Mammals—you name it! I saw so many brightly coloured spade fish on the reefs to juvenile barracuda in the mangrove forests. I saw huge African fish eagles sweeping over the beaches to tiny paradise fly catchers with their bright colours. I also saw the rare elephant shrew which is a medium sized rodent with a black head and a russet coloured back.

What were you hoping to learn while on project, and have you achieved those goals?

On the project I wanted to understand how fortunate I am in the UK and to develop my passion for wildlife and geography. I have done both of these 110%. I came back from Tanzania to AS-Level results day and I know how lucky I am to pick them up and now be looking at university options. I also dipped my toe in practical geography which gave me a lot to think about in terms of taking geography beyond my degree.

Any tips and advice you might like to pass on to future volunteers?

My biggest piece of advice is that getting up early is the best thing to do. Don't waste any time and get stuck in with as much as you can. There are so many opportunities to get involved in the village and on camp and it is only at the end that you realise what you missed out on. Safety pins are also amazing at clipping things together and pinning your sleeping bag liner to your sleeping bag so you don't get tangled up! Also if you can take stickers, pens, pencils or paper out for the children at the schools it will be an experience that you will never forget.

What do you have planned next?

My next adventure I think will be my A2s! But I am also hoping to travel to Indonesia to see the orangutans in Borneo.

By Alison Waller - Tanzania Teach, Dive and Wildlife

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