Tanzania: one month in

Jesuit Missions volunteer Ellie Clark is settling into her six months teaching at St Ignatius Primary School in Dodoma, the capital of Tanzania.

She shares her thoughts and impressions about her first month on placement: “there is no other way to describe Tanzania than as truly breathtaking.”

The first thing Ellie was struck by at her arrival were the noise and the heat. “Even the luggage claim was different; people were climbing over each other and up the walls (literally!) to find their bag on the only conveyor belt in the airport. Straight away, I was thrown in at the deep end. This proved to be a pivotal moment for me; as amongst the hustle and bustle, the only firm ‘fixture’ that I could rely on was God.”

Each day of this first month brought fresh challenges: from navigating the bucket shower, to having no WiFi. However, the biggest one proved to be the language barrier. “I am fortunate to live with 3 volunteers from the US who have taken the time to nurture me through the process of settling in, and have brought so much joy to our house here in Dodoma.”

“I am spending my time surrounded by children; which fills me with a constant sense of fulfilment and joy,” Ellie recounts. As a primary school teacher in the UK, she was excited to see if there would have been any difference between children’s attitudes. “I can report that all children are the same! They are all excitable, cheeky and fundamentally beautiful. They require my attention and thrive from my willingness to do a good job. That being said; teaching is very different in Tanzania.”

Children have a teacher for each subject in primary school, so Ellie is teaching English, Vocational Skills, Personality Development and the occasional RE lesson. On Tuesdays, she travels to the local orphanage and work with the pre-school aged children, getting them ready to enter main-stream school in the coming months.

“I find this a demanding experience each time I go, simply because it is so humbling. As I do not share the same language, culture or customs as the children, they were initially very wary of me. Now, I am accepted as part of their ‘Tuesday routine’ and they spend much of the day simply teaching me how to be Tanzanian.”

“One of the greatest things I’m learning is the art of selflessness,” Ellie further reflects. “I see my role here as one of deferential support. The beautiful mission is well established and thriving. As much as my desire may be to buy the children all of the toys, pens and pencils that they may desire; by doing so I put myself in an excessive position of power and wealth. Instead, if I really want to help, I must stand back and work behind the scenes humbly and gently.”

During her first few days in Tanzania, Ellie was given two pieces of wisdom by Sarah, a fellow volunteer from America, and Brother Vincent of the Dar Es Salaam Jesuit community.

Sarah said: “The beauty of doing something like this is the ability to press the restart button on your life; you learn to walk, talk, wash and even eat from scratch!”

Brother Vincent kindly welcomed her "to the best place in the world to live! We are always happy because we invest all of our time in ‘jumoiya’ – the community.”

Find out more about Jesuit Missions work and how to apply for volunteer placements.