Ilula Orphan Program: Tanzania ~ Volunteering ~ Part I

The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences. –Eleanor Roosevelt, United Nations Diplomat and former First Lady

This story begins at the end.

Hellos are joyous and full of anticipation.

Goodbyes are filled with memories and mixed emotions.

Our two weeks at the Ilula Orphan Center for girls in Ilula, Tanzania (January 2008) have come to an end. It is our last night and after an evening of food, singing, dancing and drumming African style, I am saying goodbye to my new sisters whom I have grown to love over  this short period of time. The 32 girls in the orphanage spent time creating drawings and goodbye notes for each of us. I still have them today.

IOP Girls

The staff also presented each of us Kanga cloths, the traditional cloth worn by women as well as handmade baskets. As you can see, we had a good time.

Kanga Cloths

Each New Year, I reminisce about our time spent living at the orphanage and the tremendous amount of work our group of 18 accomplished at the facility as well as in the community. Most importantly, I see the girls’ faces and know that they are the ones who impacted me.

What triggered the decision to travel half way around the world to work in an orphanage?

We had participated in a work/mission project in Les Cayes, Haiti the year before (2007), and worked with a dedicated couple who volunteered at the orphanage the year prior; he a dentist, she a nurse. They were going back to Tanzania and couldn’t say enough about their previous experience. We decided to look into it.

The application process included a no-nonsense questionnaire that made one reflect about his/her reasons for “wanting to make a difference.”  Its objectives were for the applicant to understand the big picture.

Also, the leaders wanted to know if you had experience working with minority groups or refugees. Questions included:

  • Reflect on why poverty is still a global problem.
  • In your opinion, how can poverty be eradicated?
  • People living with HIV count 35 million south of Sahara. Give some reflections on why the concentration is so huge in this part of the world.
  • In your opinion, how can the spreading of HIV be reduced?

My answers centered on lack of education, jobs, decent wages, lack of health care, clean water, wars, corruption, disruption, famines, cultural attitudes towards AIDS and HIV, etc.

However, there was a question totally unexpected and one that I had no way of answering until I did some reading and research.

  • Which 2 of the United Nations’ Millennium Goals do YOU think are the most important and why?

I will cover this in my next post. Stay with me.


About travelerlynne

Traveler. Writer. Retired Educator.Traveling on and off the beaten path with my photographer husband. Volunteering locally as well as in Haiti and Tanzania, an enriching and humbling experience. A sun lover! Shelling, boating, fishing and watching sunsets. Growing mango, banana, key lime,and pineapple.Making smoothies and chutneys. Enjoying family and friends! Savoring each new day!
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34 Responses to Ilula Orphan Program: Tanzania ~ Volunteering ~ Part I

  1. very thought-provoking post. i loved this glimpse into what you two choose to do with your lives. you’re great examples of people who are doing some things right and setting a positive example to the world.

    ilook forward to the next chapter.

    • Thanks, Lisa for your kind words; however, wherever we’re planted (home) there are so many worthy volunteer opportunities for young and old. Right now with all the snowbirds on our island (visitors from up north for 3-6 months) we are overrun with volunteers which is nice for the year rounders to be able to step back and take a break.
      Our IOP experience is something I will always treasure. If I were younger, I would want to spend several months there and teach English in the school. Maybe, my next life.

  2. letizia says:

    Beautiful photos and post! And I love the quotation by Eleanor Roosevelt – a wonderful reminder. Looking forward to your next post.

  3. adinparadise says:

    Wonderful photos of hope and joy, Lynne. I think it’s so difficult to pinpoint the exact cause of ongoing poverty in the world. So many factors contribute to the very sad state of affairs. Well done on the excellent work you and your group did.

  4. Thanks, Sylvia. Just look at those smiles. In the first photo, the girl on the far right was 12 at the time. She is doing so well in school and is so gifted, I wouldn’t be surprised if she ends up a biochemist. Women are squelched from doing anything more than teaching, which understandably drives their best and brightest out of the country. Such a conundrum.

  5. What a lifetime achievement award, as they say at the Academy Awards. Except this one is far more important and real. Those children will remember you all their lives, and you’ll never believe the impact you made on them.

    • What a sweet thing to say. The girls are absolutely astounded that white people would come so far to work and spend time with them. They come to the orphanage feeling insignificant and it takes a while to build self-esteem and confidence that they are worthy. We are so blessed and yet they are the fortunate ones…not enough orphanages around.

  6. Dianne says:

    What a wonderful way to be a part of “another world”. The memories will stay with these young women forever and for you two as well. Looking forward to the next chaper.

  7. Thanks for your visit and comment, Dianne. You’re right.We all have our memories. I just hope and pray each girl becomes successful and can live independently.

  8. Tahira says:

    So inspiring, Lynne. And such important work, I have always believed that all it takes is for one person to make a difference (in yours & Ron’s case, two.) Bravo to both of you & I look forward to more!

    • Thanks Tahira for your kind words. These cultural exchanges are quite humbling and it does reinforce that a little goes a long way, but when you see so much poverty it can be overwhelming. If I went back, it would be for several months.

  9. Gigi Galore says:

    Looking at your faces – you, Ron and the girls, it is obvious this was a rich and joyful experience! It is a joy to see your faces! P.S: are you going to India too? Or are you staying at home and going to the movies to catch up on all the Bafta and Oscar contenders … every matinee, at least? )

    • Ahhhh,yes it was a rich and joyful experience. No, I won’t be going to India. Ron is meeting a friend and they are doing their thing. We plan do do some traveling later on but not sure where that will be. My list of things to do while he is gone keeps getting longer, but I like your idea of hanging out at the movies.

  10. Jeanette says:

    The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) played a big part in my life for many years. Can’t wait for your take:-)

    • I am glad to see a response regarding the MDGs. I was so fascinated with the information and at the same time furious at the countries that hadn’t paid their share, the US being one of them.I will be interested in knowing your involvement.

      • Jeanette says:

        I couldn’t agree more. The MDGs are such a brilliant way of setting targets and tracking progress; but, so much more needs to be done to realize these lofty objectives. Investments by all the world’s nations are essential. In addition, the recipient nations need to be committed to the goals — which requires much broader public awareness, for starts. Isn’t it sad that most folks don’t even know about these goals??

  11. i’ll bet you know that your last post leads to a dead link..

    i also bet that by tomorrow it’s going to be fixed!
    heading to bed – i’ve been painting most of the day.


  12. What a great experience for you, Lynne. I know we can’t change the world, but each little thing we do — like what you did here — does make a difference. I’ll look forward to reading more of your posts on this experience.

  13. eof737 says:

    Wonderful, wonderful photos and post… Lynne I truly appreciate you and Ron for working with people on the continent and working with them as equals and humans not as service recipients who are talked down to… As an African woman, I’ve gotten so tired of the other approach that I can’t bear to read stuff from writers with a certain condescending tone towards people of the continent… I loved you post and know your heart is fully in it… And yes I know those UN goals because I wrote about them… I will look forward to your post with joy.
    Welcome back! 😉

    • When volunteering to work with a group consisting of strangers, there is always a chance of someone you are embarrassed to have on the team, but not this case. I was really proud of our team’s attitudes, open mindedness, compassion and willing to take direction from those we were assisting. That doesn’t always happen, but I’m grateful we had that kind of experience. Thanks for your input, Elizabeth. Stay tuned for more.

  14. Madhu says:

    I can only imagine what an enriching experience this must have been. Kudos to Ron & you. Look forward to reading more on the subject. The little I know about the UN goal is from our son in law, whose cousin – Salil Shetty – was the director of the Milleneum Campaign.

  15. It’s quite a global project that will always be ongoing. Can’t fix the world’s disparity in 15 years, but leaders like Salil Shetty know that you have to begin somewhere. Kudos to him and the MDGs. Thanks for your comment, Madhu.

  16. What a wonderful story, what happiness shines from the faces of all the people and the children you’ve been working with. And what profound and challenging questions you were asked.
    You and Ron are such an inspiration and a reminder that every person’s life counts, and every person’s contribution makes a difference… looking forward to the next installment

  17. IOP and the team we traveled with was a good match for us. The group and the girls at the orphanage all drew inspiration from each other. The girls can’t imagine why a white (mzungo) person would travel so far to help them and when I tell them each of them is important enough to do so, they beam. It’s contagious. Thanks for your valuable comment, Valerie.

  18. It’s so neat to hear stories like this…the experience of volunteering at an orphanage must have been quite humbling, and like you said, how they were the ones who impacted you. I was just over at our friends’ house last night for dinner, spending time with their adopted son and daughter, who are both from Ethiopia. Sweetest kids ever.

  19. The world is really quite small when you think of all the cultures we come in contact with, like these fortunate children from Ethiopia who were adopted that you got to spend time with. Thanks so much for your lovely comment and support.

  20. vbholmes says:

    What a marvelous experience for you, Ron and the girls in the orphanage. Kudos to you both for giving of your time, energy and compassion.

  21. Thanks VB for your kind thoughts.The rewarding part is in knowing how far these girls have come these five years since meeting them.

  22. Thank you, Lynne, for sharing your account of this wonderful experience. I love that opening shot – beautiful smiles abound. 🙂

  23. Thanks, Tricia. It was a great moment for these girls. They love getting their picture taken. We took a small battery operated printer and lots of paper and took individual shots of the girls and gave them to them. That was a fun project.

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