Things I learned from my mission trip to Tanzania

On the 25th July 2019 myself and ten other members from my church St Peters Farnborough caught the plane from Heathrow heading to Tanzania. There we spent two and a half weeks in the small village of Ibumu helping build a nursery school and school administration block, as well as teaching secondary school and pre-school children. We did this in support of Emmanuel International (EI), a charity who work with local churches helping plan and complete community projects with the aim of empowering and building a self-reliant community. Our church specifically supports missionaries based in Iringa (the nearest city to Ibumu).

It was a very successful trip and there are lots of learning points that apply to my own projects at home.

Team diversity

Our team came from numerous backgrounds and, thanks to that, had a huge range of skills and experiences. Some skills were obvious, we had a few teachers on the team who quickly took to working in the secondary school. But a lot of skills I didn’t fully appreciate until we were out there. For example, one team member had a real gift of communication especially with children thanks to being a grandparent.

In addition to the core team, we had support back in Farnborough. The value of this support can be seen in the small things, such as forwarding update emails to friends and family while we were away, but also in major events such as organising lifts to and from the airport after our taxi was cancelled at the last minute.

We also had members of the EI team and community that joined us day to day. I found their insight into the community invaluable as they were able to point out the cultural changes that I wouldn’t have seen myself for example motivating women to work on the build site.

Knowing and trusting in the team strengths was immensely useful as it meant that I didn’t need to worry about everything, for example, I always knew that logistics were in hand, this let me focus on the activities we were doing and engage with the now.

But there can be a danger in trusting in skills. At one point we found out that the building plan was being followed upside down; leading to a rather impromptu building redesign.

Moving bricks at the nursery school

Flexibility

We always knew we would have to be flexible, especially working in the secondary school as there were many unknowns. The biggest one being, how good is their English? When we got there we found other issues, two of the school forms actually shared the same classroom – so with 80+ students it was a squeeze.

Knowing that their English skills might be an issue and during our planning we had built in flexibility so that we could spend more time on the items they struggled on and also teach more if they excelled. The “form two” class did excel, so we were able to focus on using plurals, something that they were particularly struggling with.

Flexibility was also required at the build site where we were all given trowels and floats and taught how to lay bricks. Towards the end of our trip so many locals were joining us on site we were running out of equipment. Flexibility allowed this to be used to our advantage rather than being a hindrance. We were able to help in other ways, collecting water, getting to know the locals and even sitting in the school classrooms helping with marking.

Secondary school students

Forward Planning

Over the months leading up to the trip, we spent a lot of time planning. Deciding who will lead each activity, what songs we will sing, creating school lesson plans and gathering resources. This was also happening in Tanzania where the EI team were planning logistics and getting building materials to the site for us. This was especially important since we were doing two back to back building projects. Both sites would need to be at a point where we could come and help as well as being well resourced.

It is notoriously difficult to plan anything far in advance in Tanzania as they are always focused on the present. We were fortunate to have one team member heading out early and kicking the community into action, setting up bunk beds, showers and paving the way for the rest of us.

These three points all came together in an unexpected manner when we visited the nearby village of Ikuka, some team members and others from St Peters had visited Ikuka two years ago so we were excited to see the village again. When we got there we spent a couple of minutes of seeing the new church building when we received a text saying “get to the village office, the whole village is here.” There we were met with hundreds of people singing, dancing and bearing gifts filled with jubilation.

All in all I had a great trip, filled with many great memories so do ask me about it if you get the chance.

If you want to learn more checkout the Emmanuel International website.

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