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What I Did on My Summer “Vacation”

by Stacey Moyers, Sr. Vice President, Client Services, MMS Education

You’ve seen the story. Most Americans are not using their vacation days. I’m proud to say that this summer my husband and I not only used the days, but we used them to be part of something that not only left us refreshed, but that also permanently reshaped our perspective on life.

Our recent trip to Tanzania was about more than sightseeing, rest, and relaxation. We finally did something we’d talked about for years — we volunteered on vacation.

Through an organization called African Impact, my husband and I served two weeks as teacher volunteers in Moshi, Tanzania, near Mount Kilimanjaro. (By the way, what an amazing sight “Kili” is to wake up to each day, that is, if the clouds part and permit you a peek. You could look at it for hours . . .)

As Education and Community Support Volunteers, we were tasked with teaching English to adult learners of all levels, most of whom had never been part of a formal school setting. This role suited us. My husband is a teacher in the School District of Philadelphia, and I work with education programs for various clients in my role at MMS.

Our days were busy. In addition to our classes supporting adults as they mastered some of the basics of the English language such as learning the present, past, and future tenses of verbs and how to say things like weather and seasons in English, I was lucky enough to spend an hour a day with (very) enthusiastic four- and five-year-olds who were also learning English as well as a little bit of arithmetic.

My husband worked with a women’s group that bands together to boost their economics, as most of them make just $10 a month. African Impact is helping to change that by teaching these strong women valuable skills like sewing, for example. The textiles they create and sell help them earn some extra money and put them on a path toward their goal of starting a catering business.

We also had the honor of visiting a home for the elderly, whose life stories are heartbreaking, but whose hopeful and positive outlook and spirits warmed our hearts and shook our perspective.

Adjusting to life at the volunteer house was, well, quite an adjustment. Far from the comforts of home, I had to push past a few things. Cold showers? No problem. Mosquitos? Eh, worse at home. Power out? Solar lights. No WiFi? Needed a break from Facebook anyway. No TV? Happy to miss out on the political commentary. It’s true, you can get used to anything.

As we closed in on our departure date, we found ourselves longing for more time in this “Hakuna Matata” culture. (Yes, it’s real, and not just from The Lion King.) While in many ways American eyes would perceive life in Moshi as “tough” and much more challenging than life in the States, in all honesty, we longed to remain in (and plan to return to) this much simpler way of life. The pace is slower. The people are peaceful. Light shines not on our differences, but simply on those chased-after “important things in life” — family, friends, and simply living life.

Now that we are home, we are confident our students will continue on their path of learning with the support of other volunteers who arrive on their “holiday” eager to help. If you have ever considered a trip like this — do it! We are sharing our story with family and friends and making one important note, circled and highlighted: we need more vacation time to spend in Moshi!

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