Tanzania, East Africa: An Adventure in Service-Learning

NU VISIONS Abroad is Norwich University’s overseas service program based out of Norwich University’s Office of Volunteer Programs. The program began in 2004, when five students, a faculty member, and a staff member traveled to the Cook Islands to assist with tutoring children in English. Global Volunteers, a partnering agency, is a non-profit organization which seeks to create international partnerships by organizing and staffing service projects in various countries. In doing so, its programs aid in global development and understanding through its participants serving a community in a culture foreign to their own.

Through this partnership between NU VISIONS Abroad and Global Volunteers, eleven Norwich students and one staff member were given the opportunity to travel to Pommern, Tanzania (located in the East Africa), to engage in meaningful volunteer work. For two weeks, participants helped with service projects such as helping to build Pommern Secondary School’s first library; teaching English, computer skills, CPR, Geography, and History lessons; and assisting both the local physician in the village’s health clinic, as well as the School nurse with student health issues. These projects were identified and designed by local leaders of Pommern to ensure that participants served as partners, and not “experts” – an important element of the Servant Leadership/Servant Learner philosophy to which NU VISIONS Abroad subscribes. Participants were fully immersed in the community in which they served and often worked side-by-side with local community members.

While devoting much of their time to helping and teaching others, the volunteer participants also benefited by learning from community members. In addition to attending several Kiswahili language lessons, volunteers met with several important community leaders to learn about different aspects of rural Tanzanian life. They also met with and discussed Tanzanian politics with the local village Chairman and Secretary of Pommern, learned about education policies and the structure/role of the Church through the local Lutheran Church pastor and bishop, and were taught about Tanzanian history and Pommern’s current needs by Pommern Secondary School’s Headmaster. Free time was spent playing with local children, building furniture at the Upendo Carpentry Group (a vocational school) with its students, learning about the art of basket weaving, and/or meeting with community residents to talk about agricultural practices.

Traveling to and serving in another part of the world allowed the intellectual transformation we seek to provide for our students as they learned about themselves within the global community. Because this service trip had many logistical and academic components that were addressed throughout the year, participants attended bi-monthly team meetings in the Fall 2004 semester and will, weekly, during the Spring 2005 semester. All participants, regardless of whether they received course credit, were and will continue to be responsible for making several presentations on their own research topics, creating a portfolio of their experience, and participating in facilitated reflection sessions.