Hello, my name is Dylan Parkin. I am 27 years old, and I come from central Illinois, USA. I spent almost every moment of my life surrounded by the flat prairie lands of Illinois and graduated from Blackburn College with a BA in biological sciences in 2015. After 24 years of cornfields for as far as the eye can see, I decided it was time for a change in scenery and applied to join the US Peace Corps’ education sector.
I actually applied to be a science teacher for the US Peace Corps in three different countries before finally being accepted. The third time was my lucky charm, and Tanzania was my highly anticipated destination. So, for the past two years I have been teaching, mostly biology and a little chemistry, at a government school in the village of Malampaka, Maswa, Simyu. Outside of my school teaching, with the help of some of my fellow teachers or best students, I also participated in implementing projects teaching community members about malaria, HIV/AIDS, and woman’s sexual and reproductive health.
What inspired you to volunteer with Cedar Tanzania?
Mwanza! In all honesty had it not been for the beautiful city of Mwanza I would have never found Cedar Tanzania. For the past two years I have lived near Mwanza. After a few weekend trips to the city, it quickly became one of my favorite places in the world. Upon finishing the two year service with the US Peace Corps, a volunteer is given a chance to find a position within their country of service to extend for one more year. Through a friend, living in the city, I was introduced to several NGOs in Mwanza. After learning more about these NGOs, it was not hard for me to see that Cedar Tanzania was the right place for me. I fell in love with mainly two things about Cedar Tanzania; one, their work starts at the grassroots level completely involving members of the community in every step of the process, and two, their belief in using multiple approaches when trying to find solutions to major problems. The US Peace Corps and my own experiences have taught me that these two strategies are imperative for success in the field of community development.
What is your role at Cedar Tanzania and how long is your volunteer placement?
I came to Cedar Tanzania to help develop and possibly implement educational programs; however, as of right now I am just learning the ropes. I live in Kamanga at the health center, so during the day I shadow current staff members and volunteers. I am learning more about the workings and procedures of Cedar Tanzania as well as meeting many of the community members. I have only been here for two weeks, but I am already looking forward to working side by side with the community and organization in effort to create meaningful educational programs.
My extension through the Peace Corps will allow me to stay with Cedar Tanzania for one year, but I would probably not be opposed to finding a way to stay longer. We will have to wait and see what happens in one year’s time.
What things have you found surprising so far about being in Kamanga?
After being in Tanzania for two years I do not get surprised by much. Also, I have only been here for two weeks so my experiences are limited. I guess the most surprising thing I have noticed so far is that there are two primary schools which share the same classrooms. One “school” (a set of students and teachers) goes to class in the morning and finish in the afternoon and the other “school” (a set of different students and different teachers) goes to the same classrooms starting in the afternoon and finishing in the evening. I have never heard of this being done. As a child, I would have been very jealous of the students who get to sleep-in every day and show up to school in the afternoon. On a more positive note, I can say that the Kamanga Health Center has a shockingly beautiful environment.
What things have you enjoyed?
Easy, the people. The people all over Tanzania are so amazingly friendly, and the people of Kamanga are no exception to this rule. The super friendly people living in Kamanga become even more friendly when they realize I, the new foreigner, am not only proficient in Swahili, but I can also greet and say a few phrases in Kisakuma, the language of the local tribe. All of this, without even mentioning the amazing people who are working and volunteering for the Cedar Tanzania.
What things have challenged you so far?
So far, the most challenging thing I have dealt with in Kamanga comes about when I am explaining that I am not a doctor. I live at the Kamanga Health Center grounds at a house for volunteers, so I understand where the confusion comes from. Telling community members I am not a doctor is not a problem, but then I run into problems when trying to explain why I live at the health center volunteer house. From there it gets a little more difficult to use my two years of Swahili experience to explain my role within Cedar Tanzania, but I’m sure the community will eventually catch on that my role is to be focused on working together with the local schools and not with the health centre.
Would you recommend this volunteer scheme to others?
Yes, of course. I really believe Cedar Tanzania is using some great strategies to do some amazing work.
What would you say to anyone who said that they could not volunteer because they didn’t have a skill to offer?
I would say that you are lying to yourself. Everyone has something to offer, and this type of work requires creative solutions which do not just come from one person alone. It requires many people from many different perspectives working together to tackle issues as big as the ones which are being taken on. So even if you think you have nothing to offer, you are wrong. Your entire life is full of various experiences which could prove to be more beneficial than you ever imagined. If you actually want to do it, you just have to have a little faith in yourself and make some moves.
Interested in finding out more about volunteering for Cedar Tanzania? Contact us here.