By Lucie Bergeron
There has been a great deal of friendly interest in Daniel Blackie’s trip to the Upendo Face Orphanage in Tanzania in our community, as well as some very thoughtful questions. Drawing on Daniel’s blog and his comments in conversation about his experience, I would like to share a few things and hopefully answer a few questions.
How it all started
Daniel has been interested in a volunteer experience of this sort for several years. Plans started to firm up when he realized that he had enough credits to swing a gap semester. With support from many people in the community, including friends, teachers, counsellors and especially our youth liaison, Megan Shandro, he was able to find a way to go. He paid for his flight and his stay with money earned working through the summer and part of the fall. Not surprisingly, being a minor led to a few extra hurdles, but none were insurmountable and it all came together in the end.
Daniel is volunteering at Upendo Face Orphanage, located in Nkoanrua village. It provides a home for orphans and daycare for village children. It is a non-governmental registered charitable organization headed by Godfrey Izack, who grew up in an orphanage himself. The orphanage has a great deal of local support, and many local and international volunteers. Daniel volunteers for five hours every day, and has an entertaining 45-minute long commute twice a day. The commute involves a half hour walk from the volunteer house to the dala dala stop, an exciting dala dala ride (basically brightly painted mini vans emblazoned with religious slogans, in which as many people as possible are crammed), followed by another walk through a relatively rural area to the orphanage. Duties include teaching basic numeracy and literacy, helping with general physical care of the orphans, and of course, play time. Daniel describes himself as a human jungle gym these days.
Currently, the orphanage is in the process of building a dormitory to house children who are coming in from quite a distance to attend the daycare. Many of these children are orphans living with extended family who do not have the resources to care for them. Construction stopped prior to Daniel arriving due to a lack of funding, but has started up again as more money has been coming in. Daniel has raised $1,000 to date, and would like to help the orphanage raise the money needed to finish the dormitory. He will continue to accept donations to his gofundme account until shortly before he returns to Revelstoke at the end of November. The other volunteers are also raising money, connecting the Upendo Face orphanage to communities all over the world. Daniel feels confident that the money he raises will be used in an ethical and principled way. The orphanage is community based, very open, and displays a high level of accountability.
Volunteerism vs. Voluntourism
In the wake of the viral and highly publicized Doc Zone film “Volunteers Unleashed”, many people I talk to express understandable concern about this type of volunteer experience. Daniel researched his service provider very carefully and has been overwhelmingly positive about his experience. He has encountered some other volunteers whose approach to volunteering seems driven by consumerism and a sense of entitlement, but overwhelmingly, the volunteers are committed, hardworking, and sincere. One young woman that he mentions in particular has been to Africa many times over a number of years and has set up projects in several villages that create employment for women, and effectively doubles their wages.
So, although “Volunteers Unleashed” raises many important points about privatized volunteer organizations, it perhaps doesn’t do justice to the value of the reputable, well run ones. There is no doubt that this sort of experience can shape lives and connect people to the suffering of others, as well as providing an opportunity to help out in a small but real way.
Daniel is currently living in a volunteer house with about a dozen volunteers from all over the world. Meals are taken communally, family style. The house is staffed by two housekeepers, two security guards, and several volunteer coordinators. He feels he was well oriented, and is performing volunteer tasks that are easily within his skill set. The coordinators have found him a music school to volunteer at in addition to the orphanage, which is definitely a great fit for his musical talents.
Many volunteers include tourism as part of their stay, wherever they may be. At the house where Daniel is staying, it is easily possible to make arrangements to go on a safari or another type of excursion through the volunteer coordinators. Some volunteers like to end their stay in Tanzania on a beach in Zanzibar – at their own expense, of course. Given that some volunteers stay and volunteer for as long as a year, it seems petty to begrudge them some R & R. Daniel is very excited to be going on a safari starting on November 7; look forward to some exciting blog posts!
If you would like to donate to the Upendo Face orphanage there are a couple options open to you: