Welcome to our next Discover Corps profile! Last time, we introduced you to Alex, a Discover Corps travel specialist who talked about his passion for people and travel. This week, we’re excited to share the story of Catherine, who, along with her husband and two college-aged daughters, took a Discover Corps volunteer vacation in Tanzania. Since then, she’s even started a wonderful volunteer charitable organization: Book Clubs 4 Change.
If you’ve been thinking about taking a family volunteer vacation, you’ll enjoy Catherine’s honest account of the highs, lows, and surprises of her trip.
1. A little bit about Catherine
I am a licensed clinical social worker and have a private practice providing individual, couple and family therapy as well as Life-Coaching to teens and adults.
I live in Walnut Creek, California currently but lived in Berkeley and Oakland for 20 years before that. I am married and a mom of 2 daughters, aged 20 and 21, who are both currently attending Universities.
My husband and I made the Discover Corps trip to Tanzania with our two daughters. This was a highlight for all of us. Experiencing a volunteer program in another country as a family was fun and exhilarating. This shared experience was a trip we will all remember forever.
2. What made you decide to go on a volunteer vacation? Why did you choose Discover Corps?
We wanted to experience a country in Africa but do more than a safari and other tourist activities. We felt that volunteering would give us a deeper understanding of a different culture, and also allow us to give back and contribute our efforts for the well-being of others.
One of our daughters had participated as a teen in a service/learning program to Ghana through Global Leadership Adventures (GLA). She had a very positive, life-changing experience. As GLA is led by the same management team as Discover Corps, we trusted that the quality of the program offered by Discover Corps would be equally enriching. And it was!
3. How was your volunteer vacation different than other vacations you’ve taken?
This was completely different than any other family vacation we have taken.
* The volunteer work of interacting with the teachers and teaching English to the kids in a public school allowed us to connect, person-to-person, with the Tanzanian people. We also did the physical labor of prepping and painting one of the classrooms. It felt good to contribute to their school in this way.
* The staff of Discover Corps at the Home Base were warm, welcoming, highly competent, and gave us another way to form relationships with the people of Tanzania. Mama Simba, the director of the program, was exceptional in every way: an intelligent and inspiring teacher and leader, a genuine and authentic person, and a community organizer par excellence. In addition she was playful and embracing, creating a sense for all of us being in her words, “one big family.” The trip was worthwhile just to meet her and the staff. We developed such a mutual fondness for each other that we all cried when we left, staff and us alike.
4. What was the highlight of your trip? The lowlight?
*Our biggest highlights were doing the trip as a family and connecting with the people of Tanzania through the volunteers opportunities I describe above.
In addition, all of the other program components were memorable highlights:
– the two safaris
– the coffee plantation tour
– the hike at the base of Mt. Kilimanjaro
– the batik-making lesson
– the visits to the Tuleeni Orphanage
– the Dance Troupe performance
– the overnight visit with the Maasai People
– the visits with the village host families
– the sharing of stories by the villagers with Aids/HIV positive
Each of these activities was so well-planned and executed that we felt enriched by each.
It was challenging to be made aware of the extent of the needs of the various groups and people we met. We were told that our Discover Corps fees were in part going to each of the organizations, but the school in particular gave us a very strong message about their hope that we would help to fund larger projects. At the same time, they were very appreciative of our time, volunteer efforts and donations that we did bring to them from the U.S.
5. Is there anything you wish you would’ve known before you left?
*Yes. The need for more school supply donations, such as pens, pencils, rulers and notebooks.
*Also, budgeting in some small amounts of money ahead of time to contribute to the various groups as tips, purchases of their wares and/or donations. I know Discover Corps does not want people to feel obligated to do so but the reality is that adults (different than the GLA teen programs) will feel a pull to help out financially and should be told this ahead of time rather than feeling it in the moment. This needs to be better addressed by Discover Corps.
*For women travelers, the need to wear skirts and shirts with short sleeves (not sleeveless shirts) to most locations.
6. Do you think this trip changed your worldview at all? How so?
The trip expanded our knowledge about the wonderful parts of the Tanzanian culture, as well as the social problems that exist there. We met people who inspired us with the meaningful and self-less work they are doing in their communities. It also made the glaring needs of the people seem much more real and personal because of the relationships we formed, and consequently makes us want to find ways to continue to help.
7. What would you say to someone who is interested in going on a volunteer vacation, but is nervous to take the first step?
I would say “take the leap” of a volunteer vacation with Discover Corps and you will have the trip of a lifetime.
You will not regret it, most of the highlights of our trip were a function of it being a volunteer vacation. We would never have experienced the fun and deeper meaning of giving to or connecting with the people of the village, the school, the Orphanage, or the staff at Home Base had we just gone on a standard safari vacation to Africa and stayed in a lodge.
Essentially, we got to have the best of both worlds — the safaris and the Maasai Village experience along with all the opportunities to connect with and give time to the children and adults in the surrounding village. We gave of our time and selves but we got much more back from the generous and loving people of Tanzania.
A big thanks to Catherine for sharing her story with us! To learn about her volunteer charitable organization, please visit Book Clubs 4 Change.