The adventure starts directly once you exit the airport. The heat is a slap in the face and the car journeys are an adventure in itself, especially the 10 hour bus journey from Dar to Ilula. Be prepared for your bus to breakdown and do not drink or eat too much, toilet breaks are rare.
For our surprise the bus stopped in the middle of Mikumi National Park for two hours, which allowed for animal sightings and plenty of bush toilet breaks. But all your worries and fears are quickly erased as you get out of the bus in Mazukanzi and are greeted with a warm ‘welcome home’ from the volunteer coordinators Enicka Sanga and Tamari Moto.
It really doesn’t take long to realize that you ARE home. All of the IOP staff are so curious to meet and greet you, they want to know where you are from and what you do, leaving you little chance to ask questions about them. But do not worry, the staff are so kind here you can approach them anytime, with questions or just a nice quick conversation. Since most conversations include some Swahili words, you will also be able to master the basic greetings. Eventually the members of staff will no longer be your work colleagues but they will become your ‘dadas’ and ‘kakas’ (sisters and brothers).
The days are filled from morning until evening with different jobs and activities, and the day ends with fun moments with the IOP Orphan Centre girls. The bonds you build with them become stronger by each minute and the hangouts are never boring. Some evenings are for homework, some for playing, but no moment is boring as laughter and singing fills the rooms and hallways of the Centre. Come bedtime it is time for evening song and goodnight hugs. Be prepared you might get some really tight squeezes, which we wouldn’t change it for anything.
It has now been 6 months since our adventure began and we are extremely sad to be leaving. Volunteering at IOP has definitely been an amazing opportunity and as with everything in life the more you give the more you get back.
The more you involve yourself in different projects (and there are plenty of projects - IOP is a huge organization) the more you will learn.
The more you involve yourself in the locals’ lives,
the more you will understand about the culture and way of living.
The more you challenge yourself, the more you will grow.
Thank you for this amazing opportunity. It has been an honour working at IOP and with the amazing staff. We will miss you all. We can’t wait to see how IOP will progress and how the girls will grow into strong independent young ladies.