The moment I saw “I was born to change the world.” doodled on an older boy’s notebook after the 3rd day of the weeklong renew workshop in a school in Arusha, Tanzania, Africa, I realized what an impact this program was having.
I had no idea how much this trip would inspire me personally, how many laughs we would have, and how it would light me up inside. Adam and Uswege have started something so special, something you may just have to experience to understand the power it has on you. I have trouble summing it up, but the workshops all over the world are empowering kids and adults alike to look inside and find their strength, to know themselves, like themselves, love and respect themselves, and see the good in others. To trust themselves and live with integrity, with no self imposed limitations.
To be honest, when I applied, I had no idea where we were going or what we were were really doing. I am not proud to say beyond the basics, I did little research on Tanzania. I just loved that the purpose of the trip was to work with kids and ‘volunteer’, and in Africa, such an important continent in our world that I had never had the opportunity to go to. I love jumping into the unknown to a certain extent (calculated risk) so I didn’t overthink it, just followed my gut instinct, packed my oils, lots of oils :) and went with it. I honestly did not know if we were sleeping in mud huts, or if we had beds until about a week before.
I instantly knew I had made the right decision starting the journey with the warmest welcome ever at the airport in Zanzibar. Then arriving at our idyllically located villa this was confirmed again, as it was over and over throughout the trip. We ate, worked, meditated, laughed, hugged, played and danced together. Our workspace stood on stilts in the sea and the tide would go in and out all day so the landscape was constantly changing. The boys worked out at silly o’clock, there was sunrise yoga and homemade pancakes or something equally as yummy to set us up for the day. We slept under mosquito nets, woke up in paradise and prepared by going through the exercises ourselves, experiencing the power of the techniques personally.
The true and deep authentic love that radiates from Adam and Uswege is completely infectious and contagious, it quickly gets into your heart via smiles and hugs. They are truly inspiring and authentic people who attract more interesting, beautiful people who made the trip so much fun, aka the other volunteers. Friendships were formed on such a deep level. There was a lot of fun with an immense sense of support. We were a motley crew that worked amazingly together. People make any experience, and the warmth in this group was so special. There was a great mix of Australians, Tanzanians, including founder Uswege, the other founder is from the US, Adam and then me being Scottish.
Margaret was the backbone of the group as she lovingly prepared our food morning, noon and night and prepared lots of vegetarian friendly options as well, it was a real treat to eat so well. The Ozzy volunteers Athina, Mimi, Grace, Darren, Michael (aka Napoleon Dynamite) and myself were welcomed by the Tanzanian crew, who were also volunteers and we all worked together from day one. Everyone on this trip was an inspiration in their own right and I felt such a connection with everyone, but I think half the group being relatively ‘local’ really made the experience so special for us foreigners. The Tanzanians taught us a lot, dubious swahili, silly songs, what was appropriate to wear, how dancing should look, but mainly they inspired us with their selflessness in how they support young people who need it more than them. Rose works closely with local women who need support in many ways, Godfrey started a library where young people from all around can learn and better themselves, OJ opened a film and photography production company and supports a lot of actors, Alex and Allan are working on amazingly brave documentaries dealing with horrific issues such as violence, rape, HIV and female mutilation. Already with the projects they give their time to, with extremely limited funds, they are individually living examples of selflessness, how one person can make a difference in the world.
We left paradise as a big family, excited to take on our upcoming responsibility of facilitating #theRENEWexperience ourselves for the kids. We flew to Arusha, which is inland, to do some more training and start working in the school, we were all so excited! Of course we foreigners didn’t know what to expect, we had lived in a bubble for our first week. We wandered how the kids would respond to us, and, how well we would be able to communicate? However, Adam and Uswege prepared us well by empowering us to even take the lead at times which was an incredible experience. On a personal level, I overcame a long time fear of public speaking. Something I have spent so much money and time trying to overcome. I actually spoke two times, even with a microphone, no script just from the heart and I loved it. This is such a huge step for me as this is something that holds me back in lots of areas. It was the safest space I have experienced and we all felt it.
Before we even got started on the first day the crew were dancing to music, then Alex and some of the kids started singing and it was unreal, before we knew it there was a full on sing off with a couple of the boys which inspired one of the girls to join in the next day. The talent in that room made most of us volunteers well up with emotion and cry before we even introduced ourselves. The kids singing became our way to start everyday.
The kids came into this eager, the transformation in the week was astounding. The girls, who traditionally are very shy, were loving speaking up after some gentle coaxing. They believed in themselves, knew who they were, and how others saw them. The impact was heart melting. They were excited talking about their futures, one girl is going to be a lawyer and fight for women’s rights, another boy is going to write screenplays, a couple of the girls I spoke to were going to be scientists. The talent was so apparent, they just have to fight so hard for any opportunity in Africa. There were so many incredibly inspiring, strong, wise, beautiful kids in that room and they are our future. I truly hope they reach their potential, they will forever be in my heart.
I kept asking myself what we foreigners were actually bringing to the table, but connection is priceless, seeing people from across the globe sharing the same fears or experiences helps to empower them (and us) to all strive forward with our hopes and dreams. They connected more deeply with each other through and with us. Kids really are our future and to hear some of the kids purposes in life and their intellect, well it gives you hope that a better world is possible. The kids we met in Tanzania were generally curious, but the thing that hit me the most was their gratitude to even have the opportunity to learn, to just be at school. Research from later in our trip showed most kids are driven by a sense of providing hope for their family, many of whom struggle to keep them there learning, due to lack of income opportunities.
With all the extra time we had, we experienced as much of the Tanzanian life as possible. We visited an orphanage which was heartwarming because those little souls were so amazing and full of love, but heartbreaking all at the same time. Especially when it was time to leave and you are trying not to show emotion and they are crying and hanging onto you. Really makes you think about all the kids who need love all over the world and want to do more. If it wasn’t such a long and difficult process with many moral questions about family who may miss the child, you just couldn’t leave those wee faces behind. These orphanages vary enormously and the one we visited was really lovely and while they struggle to keep funded for food and supplies there are other orphanages which are nowhere near as nice.
We were so privileged to explore many places most tourists wouldn’t be able to, there is an incredible mix of developed and undeveloped, it was a lot to take in at first. Shopping malls and movie theaters down the road from mud huts and a variety of chickens, goats and cattle milling around the road. We saw the most spectacular waterfalls that were so hard to access we had guys with machetes cutting us a steep path down to reach them, there were lush green landscapes with the biggest old mahogany trees, we experienced a beautiful boat ride around the most peaceful lake with a hangover. All this not far from the dolphins in Zanzibar and the safaris only a short drive away. I will miss the hard bargaining at the colourful markets, the feeling and surprise of hot running water when it worked, the feeling of freedom of being able to wear a bikini and short skirt at the luxurious hotels, walking home through the dusty roads, the music, the dancing, the giggles, even sleeping under mosquito nets (they weren’t as bad as we expected) but most of all, the people I met - this was the trip of a lifetime, a trip that is good for the soul as well as being part of something that is good for the world.
I love my Renew family! xxx
PS: Applications for The Renew Experience 2018 are open now, I think there are a couple of spots left!
(Donations also welcomed)
#theRENEWexperience #Tanzania #wearejeaniius #africastolemyheart