Summer had arrived on my uni campus. I was going about my usual routine; scrolling through other people’s travel pictures on Instagram while I was meant to be taking notes in lectures. As my finger dragged down the screen I began thinking about how I had always wanted a gap year. However, after I got my A-level results and realised I’d actually got in to university (don’t let anyone tell you the Lord doesn’t do miracles today), I somehow found myself unpacking my bags in Southampton instead. Sitting there in my lecture, distracted by Instagram, I was left wishing that I’d taken that year out to travel.
Having signed up for a four year course, I did the math and realised that I would effectively have a year of free time to work with over the length of my degree. Maybe I could take a ‘gap year’ after all. So I began to research the options. I’d heard about the damage of voluntourism, but when I found Tearfund Go’s website I had confidence in their approach to volunteering, working alongside local partners and communities. So I began a number of fundraising ventures, which included taking a job at a service station and babysitting for the entirety of Guildford. Before I knew it my bags were packed and I was off.
Fact to reality
Our team was based between Musoma, along the Lake Victoria eastern shore, and Bunda, an hour drive away. On our month long placement, the ten of us successfully worked our way through the standard challenges you might expect; homesickness, tiredness, actual sickness, and tears, which I took chief responsibility for. One afternoon, I retreated to the toilets to cry for about twenty minutes over spilling a cup of tea. It was a good day.
Spilt tea aside, there were also real, deep challenges and profound moments of realisation. Before going on placement, I knew that 3 in 10 people in the world lacked access to clean and reliable drinking water. I knew it, but I didn’t really understand it. But I was struck hard by the understanding of what that statistic really meant standing in a field with one of our hosts, David*.
One of our main tasks in Tanzania was helping build water tanks for a local school and a Bible college. Standing by the water tanks on the college grounds where David and his family lived, he told us that two years ago the rains had been late. It was only by a couple of weeks, but without anywhere to store water the impact was huge.
Voice cracking with emotion, he explained how he’d had to spend a year’s worth of savings on bottled water to take care of his children. Due to contamination, the only other local source of water was as dangerous as dehydration. I looked across the field to where our team were enthusiastically mixing cement for the tank. They were watched by David’s two daughters playing on the porch with their pet dogs. One water tank wasn’t going to save the world, but it was going to change at least three lives.
As I landed back at Heathrow I’ll be honest, I wasn’t wildly transformed with a burning passion for social justice. My transformation was slower, quieter – but it was persistent. At the time, I mostly felt sad to be saying goodbye to my team and my new friends. However, I can honestly say that the friendships and experiences that began on placement have continued to mould, challenge and encourage me in the three years its been since.
What began as an eighteen-year old’s vague and naive interest in ‘going to help Africa’ grew into a firmer understanding of how our faith shapes our approach to justice. After seeing development in action in Tanzania, I went on to do a masters degree in Conflict and Development. Now I work in advocacy, campaigning for those living in poverty. On placement I worked alongside Christians from different cultures, backgrounds and perspectives. And I saw the beauty of God’s global church. My time in Tanzania inspired my passion to see the church join in unity, using its resources and voice to fight injustice and follow Jesus.
*Some names have been changed
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