x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Emirati volunteers make school work fun for Tanzania's children

Group of 19 men and women spent two weeks building new classrooms and rennovating schools in Tanzania.

Provided photos of volunteers with the Takatof Foundation and Sanid, the UAE emergency volunteers programme, building classrooms with the community of Matamwe and the students at Mfurumatonga School. Courtesy Takatof
Provided photos of volunteers with the Takatof Foundation and Sanid, the UAE emergency volunteers programme, building classrooms with the community of Matamwe and the students at Mfurumatonga School. Courtesy Takatof

DUBAI // The lives of hundreds of disadvantaged Tanzanian children have been transformed, thanks to a hardworking team of Emirati volunteers.

The 19 men and women recently returned from a two-week project in Zanzibar where they helped to build new classrooms, renovate existing schools and provide equipment and supplies to dozens of orphans.

And the volunteers said their work in the East-African country has inspired them to do more to help those in need, both in the UAE and abroad.

"I feel as though I am a different person now from the one who left for Tanzania," said Hoda Al Khezaimy, a civil servant. "I don't take anything for granted and I appreciate the small things in life a lot more now."

She had previously worked with special-needs children in the UAE through the Takatof Foundation, an organisation that aims to encourage Emiratis to do volunteer work.

The foundation worked with Sanid - the UAE emergency response volunteer programme - during the trip to Africa.

The group spent 12 days in Tanzania, from November 11 to 22. The first eight days were spent at Mfurumatonga School in the port city's community of Matamwe.

It has about 1,000 pupils who were being taught in only four classrooms. "It was a very demanding project, physically and emotionally, because we were renovating the school and also building four new classrooms," said Ms Al Khezaimy.

"The weather was very hot, but the amazing thing was that the whole community came out to support and help us - the parents, children and school staff. It was amazing."

The group also improved the playground and built a water-well support stand to help provide a cleaner water supply, and refurbished and built new school desks.

"At one stage we were worried that we wouldn't finish the work in time, but the help we received and the joy of seeing these children smiling and happy provided us with real motivation," said Ms Al Khezaimy.

The group then moved on to Kidimni School in Zanzibar, which has 500 pupils. They spent four days there building three new bathrooms, refurbishing desks, painting classrooms and planting coconut trees around the playground to provide shade for the children during the summer.

The trip concluded by taking part in a joint project with the Forum for African Women Educationalists, a group that helps provide educational support to women and children across the continent.

School supplies, including books, pens and bags, were handed out to almost 100 orphans.

"Seeing the smiles on the children's faces and the passion they have for wanting to learn, even though in most cases they don't have enough books or blackboards, made me realise how lucky we are to live in a country like the UAE," said Mohammed Al Jasmi, 25, an electrical engineer from Dubai. "For me, it came as a surprise to see how disadvantaged things in Tanzania really were.

"I was expecting it to be difficult but the scale of it really set me back. Seeing how people live there has really opened my eyes, and I've done a lot of thinking about what I should truly value in life."

Zahra Al Hosani, 20, from Abu Dhabi, who is studying mass communication at UAE University, said it was her first time volunteering overseas.

"It was really a great experience for me as I met some wonderful people in Tanzania, as well as the people I was working with as part of the project," she said. "We got on so well and helped support each other during the course of the project.

"I wanted to take part because I wanted to help people who don't have the advantages that we have in this country."

All those who took part said they would encourage friends and family to volunteer and planned to look for more projects to take part in.

For more information about Takatof, visit www.takatof.ae

nhanif@thenational.ae