I first meet Caroline at a Communications and Fundraising meeting. She has a firm hand shake and confident eye-contact that is both business-like and warm. Throughout the meeting, whilst fervently taking notes Caroline sits quietly and observantly.
She later tells me that she was born and grew up in the south of Germany, close to Lake Constance. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chinese and Romance Studies from the University of Frankfurt and Beijing and has been working as an Executive Assistant for the last five years. But about two months ago, she and her partner learned the exciting news that he had been offered a position with a local NGO in Mwanza, Tanzania. Caroline agreed to join him and to be part of this new adventure.
Having previously worked in a money-driven environment in Frankfurt and London, Caroline says she was ready for a more “meaningful” job. “I stumbled across The Cedar Foundation Tanzania,” she says, “and I immediately found their work captivating and also differentiated: What sets Cedar apart from other NGOs in the region is an understanding that no single outcome (Health, Education, Entrepreneurship and Women’s Empowerment) can be achieved in isolation, especially in such a fluid environment.”
I ask Caroline what her role at Cedar Tanzania is and she replies, “My job title is ‘Volunteer Project and Office Assistant’. But the role is very diverse and so I’m helping with a variety of projects, including implementing new processes and procedures, reorganizing some office systems, assisting in managing some of the projects, helping with funding applications, communications and events and much more.”
Caroline hopes that her initial three month placement with Cedar Tanzania will be extended, just as it happened to her country fellow and former Cedar volunteer Vivian, who now holds the new position of Project Manager.
I ask Caroline what things have surprised her and what things she has enjoyed since arriving in Mwanza. “Well, I have been surprised to hear how easy Swahili is to learn- at least that’s what most Tanzanians that I’ve met like to tell me,” she begins. “My goal, therefore, is to be able to have a fluent conversation in Swahili, in a couple of months time. I hope this is not too optimistic.” She says.
“I also didn’t expect Mwanza to be such a friendly and relatively safe city,” she continues. “I feel totally comfortable walking around during the day by myself. Even school kids will greet you as they pass by and if you are able to greet them back in Swahili you will be rewarded with a beautiful smile- it’s priceless.
But what I love the most about Tanzania is the good weather- even during the rainy season, since it doesn't rain the entire day, so you are sure to see some sunshine at least for a couple of hours the day.
Waking up in a warm, sunny environment is life changing for me and puts me in a good mood immediately.”
But not everything has been a field of roses. She confesses that seeing women and children begging on the streets saddens her and reminds her, “why NGOs such as The Cedar Foundation have been established in Mwanza in the first place.”
But in spite of the distressing poverty that she sees around her, she firmly recommends this volunteer program. “It’s simply an amazing opportunity,” she begins, “and a once in a lifetime experience. You will be challenged, but also rewarded with an enriched life, encouraged to be a more tolerant and respectful person, and at the end of the day you would have contributed immensely to making a difference in someone else’s life.
You know, I was hesitant myself at first as I had never worked in the third sector before, and didn’t have any experience in charity work. But I think that the most important thing, above any qualification that you may have, is that you are motivated and proactive and not afraid to ask questions.”
Caroline ends the interview by saying, “As Dr. Martin. Luther. King says, ‘Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve…You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love’ ”
Cedar Tanzania is grateful to have such volunteers like Caroline, who believe in living a life of service that changes lives.
Contact us and find out more about how you can change lives here in Mwanza, Tanzania.