Teaching in Tanzania: Profile of a Human Rights Volunteer

Caela Provost is an alumnus of the University of Limerick and she has often blogged for us about her time studying in Ireland.  Read her interview with Brian Knapp about the practicalities and the realities of volunteering in Tanzania.

 I was recently given the chance to interview Brian Knapp a recent graduate of the University of Maryland College Park.   We talked about his time spent volunteering for 6 weeks as a teacher at the Tuam Keni Orphanage in Tanzania.  His interview was so informative and interesting that I felt compelled to share it with an audience of study abroad enthusiasts...all of you!  


“… volunteering for 6 weeks as a teacher at the Tuam Keni Orphanage in Tanzania.”

Besides giving me the basic, run of the mill, fairly predictable low down on volunteering abroad, Brian also gave me insight into the essentials, the nitty-gritty details, and the many aspects of volunteering abroad that many people don’t think about before embarking on their own volunteering adventures.

Before I delve more into the “meat” of the interview, here’s the “potatoes and vegetables”: still important, but not quite the centerpiece of the meal. (While you read this bit, I may go and get a cookie; all of my darn food metaphors are making me hungry!)


Indoor Plumbing? (Yes or no): 



If you’re in college, go to the school for vaccinations… they are more readily available and cheaper. Make sure you know what vaccinations you need to get into the country. Hepatitis A, typhoid, typhus, tuberculosis, yellow fever, flu, polio, are some I remember. To get into Tanzania you need your International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis from the World Health Organization.

Best Resources:

We did a lot of stuff on forums like Facebook […] and a lot of communication with people who were there at the time, people who already went there, and people who were planning to go. [We’d ask] “What malaria pills are you taking?” “How are the mosquito nets?” Forums and communication are more helpful than just website research.


I lived in a volunteer house. You get to meet people who speak the same language from all over the world.  They divided the rooms by gender.  I had my own room.  I would sleep on the lower part of a bunk-bed with a mosquito net over me.

 Schedule for a typical volunteer day:

Characteristically, the volunteer days followed a normal 8am-3pm school day with a usual routine; 1) lesson, 2) lunch, 3) break/exercise, 4) lesson. Brian notes that the lunch served at the orphanage school was often the only meal students would eat per day, and that, “some weekends we [the volunteers] would go places with the children for fun and make sure they ate”.


“some weekends we … would go places with the children for fun ..”

Usual volunteer tasks on a daily basis:

Teaching (chiefly English) was the main form of volunteer work; however, it wasn’t uncommon for volunteers to purchase arts and crafts supplies, athletic equipment, or colouring books to pass out to the children on site. (Note: There were a couple of nursing volunteers on the premises as well.)

Free time activities:

Exploring Tanzania, hiking, volunteer planning, visiting nearby countries and their historic/cultural sites. (Note: Brian attended the World Cup in South Africa and toured the Genocide Museum in Rwanda!)

 Now that you know the basics, I think it’s time we delve into the bonus interview. I asked Brian some not-so-interview(y) questions to try to get a better grasp on what volunteering in Tanzania was/is really like. What does that mean for all of you? Bonus answers. The truth.  The crux of volunteer teaching in Tanzania.  No nonsense.  No sugar-coating. Just answers.  Enjoy!

Delving Deeper – The Bonus Questions:

What type of reception did you get from the natives of your region? Were you accepted?

Dealing with people on the street…they appreciate everything you do so much more than you can ever understand.  The Swahili word for “white person” is Mzungu, and they would chant that word in the street when we passed.  They believed that “if someone who has never met us from the other side of the world comes all the way to teach us something, then we’re obviously making progress”.

 Your volunteer “issue/calling” was to teach abroad. How does teaching in Tanzania compare to teaching in a classroom in the United States?

 The schedule was a normal school schedule [but] kids are at different levels even if they’re in the same age group […] You have to be able to know “sit down”, “keep quiet”, “don’t hit”, and “stop talking” in the original language. Resource wise you’ll have a chalk board and chalk.  You won’t have a pencil sharpener so learn know how to sharpen a pencil with a knife […] Students had bench desks and marble notebooks, one for each one of the five subjects […] Some kids can’t read, some kids can barely read.  On an actual academic level, their abilities are very, very varied.  Sometimes that has to do with why they are in an orphanage in the first place [home life].  You had to be flexible with kids. You had to be able to look at what they were doing before you told them what to do before you could solve an issue.  You had to understand their disabilities before you could give them the power to override them.

Besides the obvious reasons to volunteer, what were some of the “perks” to teaching in Tanzania?

I think one of the bigger draws people have toward these places is that you can think about what to do for the area around you and in the area around you versus what the issue is.  With Tanzania, most of the people that volunteer there volunteer in the north.  You get options to go on safari, to beaches, explore the area, and travel on weekends […] Every volunteer that goes leaves seeing the world a little bit differently.


“Every volunteer that goes leaves seeing the world a little bit differently.”

Why was your line of work/volunteering (teaching) important to your area? Is there anything else you’d like to add that is of particular importance?

If you go into volunteering with the idea that education is a means to an end: employment, and that people who are on the ground and need help want to be employed, then you are able to work towards a goal.  People come in to volunteering with the wrong mindset.  They’re here because it sounds good or it feels good without thinking about why it’s beneficial to someone else.  If you can connect those two, then you can come closer to the combatting of issues like extreme poverty, hunger, and disease. Connect why it feels good, why it sounds good, and why it is good. If you go…the whole point of you volunteering is to make it so that, down the road, people don’t have to do it again. If you’re trying to solve a problem, you want to be so good that you make yourself irrelevant.  You are working towards your own extinction.  If you go in with this objective goal, you and those you serve will be a lot better off.

Thank you all so very much for reading!  I hope that this interview has helped to inspire all of you to follow whatever travel abroad ambitions you may have, be they as a volunteer or otherwise! A HUGE thank you to Brian Knapp for agreeing to participate in this interview.  For more information on Tanzania, please feel free to check out the following websites:




interview by Caela Provost