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How One Volunteer In Tanzania Became A Hero To A Family Of Eight


The house that Zac Built

In 2011, after deciding not to attend University, I found myself working in a restaurant in Brighton, a city in the South of the UK. One day whilst working, I started chatting to a girl with bright pink hair, her name was Lulu. Lulu had just finished a three month volunteering stint in Tanzania. She spoke so fondly of her experience and told me that it’s something which I should look into doing too. I had been contemplating the idea of travelling for a while before I met Lulu, but I hadn’t really done much about it. The way Lulu spoke inspired me to go and look more into travelling to Africa. Later that night I researched volunteering on the internet and I found International Volunteer HQ. Due to being relatively short on funds, this was the best option for me. Within two weeks I was registered, and after just two months I found myself on a plane to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.

I felt a whole mix of emotions when I arrived in Tanzania. Excitement was the main one, but also a sense of apprehension and fear of the unknown overwhelmed me. Once I arrived I checked into a small hotel which IVHQ had recommended. Luckily, somebody who worked for IVHQ was living in Dar Es Salaam at the time. I met up with her and she showed me where to book my ticket for the next day to Arusha. I woke up early the next morning to catch my bus. After a long trip to Arusha I was welcomed at the bus stop by Jessica, an IVHQ employee at the time. We drove back to the volunteer house where I had asked to stay. I was welcomed warmly by the staff and the other volunteers. After induction, which involved a tour of the town, a Swahili lesson covering the basics, and other important details, I was ready to start at my placement.

Whilst applying I had chosen to be placed in a primary school where I would teach basic English, Maths and Science. I was placed at a primary school called Golgotha which was situated in Uswahilini, a slum on the outskirts of southern Arusha. I had a fantastic time volunteering at Golgotha. I got on well with the staff and most importantly the children, and I had so much fun teaching them and playing with them at break times. The children are so beautiful, they adore you, and will do anything for you. One day one of my students clipped my nails for me after noticing that they were too long! He even filed them down for me! I love the children at Golgotha, and still do to this day. They were an essential part in an extremely important period of my life.

IVHQ volunteer Zac with a local child in Tanzania

Although working at the school was the main part of my trip, the most significant moment was when I met Mama Mary, and her family. At the time, two of the other volunteers at Golgotha, Steph and Lucy, were trying to set up a sponsorship program. This would involve the parents of the children from the poorer backgrounds, to be aided by UK sponsors, and have their children’s tuition paid for them. On one of the trips to the families’ homes, we visited Mama Mary’s house. Having already bonded with her daughter’s Vicky and Agripina at school, I was looking forward to meeting the family.

On first impression, I was appalled, shocked and upset with how bad their living conditions were. A family of eight, were packed into one small house. Built from wood and mud, and tilting dangerously to one side, the house was miles away from being fit for these children. As I had done with her daughters, I became close friends to Mama Mary and her family. Over the following months, I would visit regularly, and on weekends I would take food and other supplies for the family. One day, a week or so before I left Tanzania Mama Mary asked if I could fix their roof, which was riddled with holes and left the family sleeping in damp conditions when it rained. I thought to myself that if I got up on to that roof, I would probably bring the whole house down with me. So, I decided to build her a brand new home instead. At the time, I kept my intentions quiet. I didn’t want to give her any false hopes, incase I wasn’t able to carry it through. I discussed my intentions with the director of the school, who was delighted with my idea. We went on to discuss building plans, and how much the project would cost. I explained to Mama Mary what I was going to do, she was of course delighted. Then the pressure was on me to make sure I got this done!

I travelled back to the UK with the intention of registering a charity and raising the money. I was naive, and soon found out that this wasn’t going to be the quickest or easiest way to get the funding required. Instead I travelled to Australia, where I found a well paid job in a mining town. In August 2012 I travelled back to Tanzania with enough money for the project, and on Christmas Eve 2012, I moved Mama Mary and her family into their new home. They now enjoy a spacious three roomed house with an outdoor toilet, vegetable garden a small business to keep them self sustained.

The house that Zac built as an IVHQ volunteer in Tanzania

Since completing this project, I have registered a full UK charity called ‘The House That Zac Built’. As a charity we have helped build two other homes, and also ran a small sanitation project whereby we provided two families with improved toilet facilities.

After these initial years of success, we are now looking to move forward. Our aim now is to raise more awareness, to partner with small businesses and people to help us get to where we want to be. Ideally, within a year, as a charity we aim to have 500-800 people donating £5 or £10 per month. Even just 600 people, donating an average of £7 per month would enable us to provide a family with a new home, every single month.

Our next project will be for a 93 year old lady called Bibi Mwanasifa who lost all of her children to HIV/AIDS. She is now looked after by her grandchildren, whilst living in appalling conditions.

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