Volunteer Spotlight: Jason, Wendy and Finn

Volunteer Spotlight: Jason, Wendy and Finn

Jason, Wendy and Finn (or Mama Finn and Baba Finn as they’ve affectionately been titled) arrived from Manchester in August of 2015 and it is safe to say that they’ve made a lasting impact on everyone here in Nkoaranga. 

This amazing family is an example of the positive change volunteers can affect in a community. We are so lucky to have shared this time with them. To have laughed until we cried, cried until we laughed, taught together, played sport together, learned together, explored together, and loved.

Below, we have included an interview with Jason and Wendy–this interview highlights some of their initial impressions of the organization and daily life at TST as a long-term volunteer.

For anyone interested in a more in-depth dive into their experience, you can visit their personal blog here

WHAT WAS LIFE LIKE BEFORE TST?

Jason: We were ready for a change. I managed a team of child mental health professionals and the day to day was enjoyable but frenetic, busy, and at times stressful.

Wendy: Yes! There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing. I counseled young adults and loved my job, but weeks were bleeding into other weeks and it was hard to experience time together as a family—all three of us!

TELL ME HOW YOU FIRST GOT INVOLVED WITH TST AND WHY YOU CHOSE TO SUPPORT THIS ORGANIZATION OVER OTHER ORGANIZATIONS? 

Jason: Well, we had contact with several projects in Tanzania, Vietnam, Cambodia and other East African countries before we decided to volunteer with TST. TST was actually one of the first organizations we established contact with! Anyway, there were two primary reasons that we chose to volunteer here.

1) It had the infrastructure necessary to accommodate a family. We were assured that the space was safe and that it was an environment suitable for Finn’s continued growth.

2) We really respected the organization–its visions and values.

Wendy: We were always attracted to Africa. Tanzania is a very safe country and offers a lot! Moreover, we were aware that we wanted to choose a volunteer opportunity that would allow us the flexibility to explore and enjoy our surroundings. A lot of decision making was based around Finn of course. We wanted to be considerate of how this change would impact him. School and education largely influenced our choice.

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST MEMORY OF THE CHILDREN’S VILLAGE?

Wendy: The first time we met the children of HFCV we were here—right in the volunteer compound! The kids were dropped off from school, and I can clearly remember David and Baracka in particular –they were just so warm and welcoming. David took Finn by the hand and began to introduce him to everyone. Finn had been making loom band bracelets and that first week, he was tasked to make one for every child! I wondered how I would ever remember all of their names…

Jason: There was an immediate sense that they were a really happy group of children. I remember their interactions–they were all very sibling like and looked after each other. This close-knit feeling extended over to their care-takers as well—when you saw the children interact with local mamas, you immediately felt this overwhelming sense of security.

Did any moments surprise you?

Wendy: The quality of the care that the children receive is amazing though I suppose that’s not really a surprise and part of the reason we chose to work with TST! It was great to see the relationships that the children forged with the care-givers. It really reinforced our decision to be here. Ultimately, we wanted to enhance and strengthen the organization and its local workers in whatever way we could and it was fantastic to see that the organization reflected this value. Oh. Another big surprise was the outreach program. I didn’t realize that it existed or rather, that it was so involved and to me, that’s really the essence of the organization. TST enables families to survive, creates opportunity and helps individuals pave a path out of poverty.

Jason- The outreach methods really surprised me. As a social worker by trade, I read and understood the vision of the program, but I didn’t quite understand the execution. To see how the team pulled together and came up with really creative, individual plans for each family was amazing. It felt good to contribute to an organization that had such invested staff and I realized that there was also a role for me to play too– considering my background in management!

Wendy: We also did a lot of direct work with the children—more than we initially expected—which was quite nice. One day of the week we’d visit their school which was very interesting. It gave us the opportunity to do some focused work, experience the inner mechanics of the education system and, well, just see the children in a different setting.    

Were there any moments that you really felt justified your choice to be here?  

Jason- It didn’t take very long! Establishing relationships helped evaporate any trepidation from the outset.

Wendy- It was amazing how quickly the children accepted Finn! His process of settling into the community in general was surprisingly easy. Two or three weeks after we arrived, I asked Finn what he thought about living in Tanzania and he replied “It’s pretty much the same as Manchester!”

Jason: And it wasn’t actually just the children that helped reinforce our decision.  It was the local staff and their commitment and passion that really made a huge difference. They are such a great group of people.

Wendy: If you’re working for a great cause with great children but staff isn’t impressive……well that wouldn’t be good! The staff highlights the values of the organization and TST staff really shines.

WHAT HAS INSPIRED YOU HERE?

Jason: The relationships we’ve built with children and the staff alike inspire me. Seeing what can be achieved has left us with a sense of wanting to continue to contribute to the community in Nkoaranga. I want to see the progress continue. I want to see these kids grow. I want to see the local staff support this community. And I want to play an ongoing role in some shape or form to push that progress forward. On a more personal note—I want to maintain the friendships we’ve built, and revisit this beautiful country. Our experience here has really opened up a whole new chapter of our lives.

Wendy: I’ve become obsessed with the bird life here—that’s something I’m now inspired by! Tanzania has helped me develop a new passion. Beyond that, the mamas inspire me every day. They know each child in a very personal and individual way and really care. Mama Pendo, the head mama, has been managing the Nkoaranga orphanage for over 25 years and continues to do so. She’s built relationships with every child, has adopted some (in addition to her own children) and when any don’t have a family to return to for holiday, she invites them over! She is an inspiration.

What do you wish other people knew about living in Tanzania and the village of Nkoaranga specifically?

Wendy: If you’re looking to volunteer in Nkoaranga, it’s important to remember that you will be based in a small community atop a mountain. The living arrangements are safe and secure, but can be a little insular so it’s important to make an effort to integrate yourself and to see the rest of the country.

Jason: Yes—it’s an interesting juxtaposition. On a day to day basis, available activities can be a bit limited as there is not a lot of access to typical coffee shops, eateries or play-parks. However, living  here and having a base from which to explore really allowed us to experience things we never would have experienced… in a country that has everything you could ever wish for.

From a holiday perspective—Tanzania has wonderful beaches, lakes, mountains, and wild-life viewing. As our Swahili language has grown and we’ve become more comfortable and confident in the environment, we’ve also become more adventurous and have done things we may not have initially done! (Like an unguided safari trek into Ruaha National Park!)

Any advice for people considering a volunteer opportunity with The Small Things?

Wendy: Talk to someone on the ground. Be open. Be adaptable. Be flexible. Expect the unexpected and view challenge as an opportunity. Remember that you’re in a country with so many amazing and different people and just be aware of how valuable building relationships can be– the guards, the children, the villagers, the mamas–all of these connections will really shape the time you spend here in Tanzania.

Jason: Contact people who’ve done it before!  Also, be aware of the continued vision of the organization. The Small Things plans to open a community building which will enable the organization to attract and assist different groups of people. There are limitless possibilities for growth as the community building will expand the current outreach program and create new opportunity for very interesting, very varied community based work. The organization and the role you can play is constantly evolving.    

Wendy: Remember that the goal of TST is to keep families together and to support the community to develop those skills. You won’t transform a child’s life by playing with them for a few hours a day but you can make a real difference by strengthening and empowering Nkoaranga so that they can help children develop those skills.

Baba Finn, Mama Finn and Finn: Thank you for letting us be part of your Small Adventure. 

The world is wide and wonderful. Continue to experience it on as grand a scale as possible– together! 

We only hope that your travels guide you back here siku moja. Safari njema, friends!

For anyone who wants to get involved with our cause, the Small Things Summer Campaign is still in full swing! Check out our recent progress–thanks to your help, we’ve managed to purchase a bus for the children and are now focused on outfitting the community building (home to a library and need-based day care) with all sorts of supplies! Help us provide opportunity for the vulnerable families and children of Nkoaranga. No action is too small to create change!

For additional information on volunteer and remote internship opportunities, you can also email [email protected]

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