The following is a guest post by Mohammad Zia who traveled to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in January 2011 and lived/volunteered with Muslim orphans who were infected with HIV. If you would like to share your story about volunteering in a Muslim-majority country or region on the AUA Volunteer Voices blog, please contact email@example.com.
In about thirty hours, I will be landing in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. This trip will be my first independent, international travel experience. A suitcase full of donations, a carry-on, and an open mind will be accompanying me on this trip. With so much travel time at my disposal, I will get a fruitful opportunity to collect my thoughts and to reflect on my purpose for traveling to Tanzania. During finals week, I was busy with exams and for the last ten days I have been busy packing and planning the technical details of my trip. With the worries of college life behind me, I am eager to begin my journey. My current state of mind is like a dry canvas, waiting to get drenched by the colorful culture, lifestyles, and experiences of the Tanzanian people.
I am eager to learn more about myself and to discover things that will incite me to think about the world around me. The following quote sheds light on my expectations of this independent volunteer abroad experience. “You never know how someone else’s life is like until you take steps in someone else’s shoes.” I am ready and willing to put on a pair of kiatus (Swahili for shoes) so I can get a glimpse of what life is like in Tanzania.
I am excited to work in Dar Es Salaam which is a majority Muslim city that has a rich history. Prior to traveling, I have studied the culture and social setup of Tanzania and there are many social issues that are plaguing Tanzanian society. HIV/AIDs (the leading cause of death in Sub Saharan Africa) and malaria are salient problems that are incessantly affecting people in the developing world. Sadly, the situation continues to deteriorate.
Often times, women and children are the ones who bare the negative impacts of living in an underprivileged nation. I hope to learn about these struggles during my trip to Tanzania. Sitting here in a beautiful airport in one of the most developed countries in the world, all I can do is close my eyes. Close my eyes and imagine. Imagine living in a world without clean water, adequate nutrition, or basic education. I can only imagine. Imagine how it must feel like to witness my friends and family members dying from easily preventable ailments. I can only imagine being an orphan in a developing nation that lacks many basic social safety nets. In a world without amenities, an orphan also doesn’t have access to arguably the most important aspect of a decent childhood-Love. Love often fills the void left by a lack of basic needs in impoverished families. Without basic needs. Without a family. With HIV. Orphans who are victims of HIV in Tanzania are suffering each and every day with a disease that they cannot control. In about twenty-nine hours, this imaginary scenario in my mind will become an everyday reality.
I will be living with a group of young orphans in an urban slum in Dar Es Salaam. I am not afraid of living in poverty because I have been exposed to life in the developing world before. I lived in Pakistan for two months and I saw, firsthand, how poverty affects daily life. I am, however, afraid that I will not be able to connect with the children. The orphans have suffered a lot in their lives and they might not feel comfortable speaking about their life experiences. Also, I am an American and I am unsure of how I will be approached by the Tanzanians based on my nationality. Consequently, I have to work hard to build a strong relationship with the children. This first hand experience of connecting with the children and immersing myself in Tanzanian society will definitely change the way I think about the developing world. I hope that this trip has a profound impact on me as an individual. I hope this trip helps think more critically about global issues.
Tune in on Wednesday to read about Mohammad’s arrival in Tanzania and his initial impressions of the city and people.