3 February 2013

Tanzania: Volunteering to Improve Life in Rural Areas

PETER Jacob Kaale is a Tanzanian who rose from a humble rural life in Kilimanjaro Region. He managed to get best education and decided to use it to support fellow young boys and girls back in village. Mr Kaale is currently the Executive Director of African Community Exchange International Volunteer Programme.

QUESTION: How did you get the idea of enhancing this volunteering programme?

ANSWER: I was born in the rural area and I got my education through lots of hardships. When I completed my college studies, I decided to work with Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) which are focused on supporting communities. Helping communities was my quest since I was in college but while at work I was not satisfied with the contribution I was rendering to my community and that is why I thought of coming up with my own programme that focuses on rural communities.

Q: Any shortfall you noticed in the NGO that had employed you before?

A: You know that some NGOs put much emphasis on how to help orphans, forgetting that there are communities in the villages that need support on matters related to health, education and other social affairs and children who are not necessarily orphans but are poor and they need support to make them successful in life.

Another thing was that many NGOs are under the supervision of foreigners that I think are not aware of the nature of our communities and the challenges they face, and thus I found it necessary to chip in.

Q: Why did you decide to make this programme International and gave it an African face?

A: It is due to the fact that I worked with foreign NGOs and I happened to have communication with many foreigners and when I established this programme I wanted to keep connected to the world mainly targeting volunteers from abroad.

Q: What do you see as real challenges of rural communities which benefit from this programme?

A: There are several challenges ranging from poor education which is mainly the result of lack of enough and competent teachers. Children are also tasked with tough responsibilities at tender age. Unwanted deaths resulting from lack of enough medical staff to attend rural communities is another challenge.

Masculinity is another challenge facing rural communities which is also on our objectives to campaign against. Lack of working morale is another challenge especially for government employees working in rural areas.

Q: When did you launch this programme?

A: I started this programme in 2006, and I gave it the name AFRICAN COMMUNITY EXCHANGE INTERNATIONAL VOLUNTEER PROGRAMME which is now famously known as African Community Exchange (ACE).

The idea was to reach rural and marginalized communities. ACE was formulated with an intention of finding various people with divergent views who could be able to join Tanzanian communities, work with them in finding solution to challenges they face in day to day life. We wanted to focus on areas which have not been able to be reached and assisted thoroughly by neither NGOs nor government.

Q: What is the main objective of ACE?

A: It is to collaborate with various stakeholders working in rural areas especially in hospitals, schools and help children from poor families get education and assist small scale traders in business's know how.

Q: When were you registered to operate legally?

A: We received a certificate of registration from the government in 2007 and were allowed to invite volunteers from abroad to come and work with Tanzanian communities.

Q: Which areas or sectors have you been able to reach so far?

A: We have been able to send volunteers mainly in the education sector where various teachers have volunteered. We have also volunteered in hospitals and in helping elders who are left with the burden of raising orphans following the death of parents mainly from HIV/Aids.

Q: How many volunteers have you sent to rural areas so far and where do they come from?

A: Over 3,000 volunteers have been sent to various destinations and are mainly coming from United States of America, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, South Africa, China, Germany, Holland and Sweden.

Q: Any plan to have local volunteers?

A: We have carried several campaigns through media to call for local volunteers but the outcome is not promising. I would like to use this opportunity to put the message across once again that we really need Tanzanians to join hands with us in this campaign through volunteering.

Q: Why is it that it has been challenging to get local volunteers whereas thousands of international volunteers have come and worked with you?

A: This is the culture which needs to be built here at home because in the developed world volunteerism is an added value for graduates who are seeking jobs. It is high time that local companies and the government in particular promoted this culture by giving priority of employment to youths who have worked as volunteers.

Q: What else do you think would motivate Tanzania youths towards creating a voluntarism culture?

A: I think the challenge is on the big companies and businessmen to open doors and support these youths who want to work as volunteers in rural areas.

Q: What does ACE do to support those willing to work with you?

A: We provide accommodation, food and transport but we are facing a challenge because we only have hostels in Kilimanjaro region. Plans are underway to expand further pending on the availability of funds.

Q: What are your sources of funds? Are the sources sufficient to make your plans run smoothly?

A: Ours is a non-profit organisation, we have no own sources of generating funds and this is the challenge because we cannot get enough volunteers due to our limitation in handling them. We have as the result relied on volunteers who are well-off because we cannot adequately provide services which we are required such as accommodation, food and transport.

Q: Do you therefore need any support from stakeholders?

A: Indeed we welcome any one who is willing to support us in these efforts because we are targeting to reach the wider community of Tanzanians living in rural areas and who are not easily accessible. We need lots of resources in terms of funds.

Q: There is a perception among people that NGOs are there to benefit owners. What do you say?

A: It is true that some NGOs have been accused of misappropriating funds intended to support poor people, these are not merely allegations but it is the fact on the ground. The problem is that most of those running NGOs in this country are not real owners and so it happens that when owners, most of whom foreigners, send monies to help people, they end in the pocket of those entrusted to run the particular NGOs. This is very unfortunate.

Q: Any advice to NGOs with such attitudes?

A: They should deliver whatever they get to the intended communities and in case they have much than they require, they should widen their coverage by focusing the wider community. The intention should always be to help the majority lead a better life and not few greedy individuals.

Q: What has been your experience in working with various communities?

A: In fact many of the volunteers who have toured the country were impressed by the hospitality they were shown by people in the places where they worked. We are also very impressed with the support we get from the communities. It gives us the courage to keep the spirit alive.

Volunteers on their part have also been tried to always be down to earth and by so doing they have been able to win support and make people in villages consider them as the true friends and partners.

Q: Any tangible impact of your programme so far?

A: Many local teachers where volunteers went got an opportunity to learn the best ways of making students understand instructions. We have also experienced increase in the number of pupils and students who have been performing better in schools where our volunteers have visited.

We have received compliments from head teachers, headmasters and parents in the village where our volunteers worked. Last year we had a group of specialist doctors who volunteered in Kilimanjaro Region and promised to donate 100 beds at the Kitemboni Hospital in Himo District. These volunteers were coming from USA and they promised that the donation will be sent in April this year.

Q: Where do you put ACE ten years from now?

A: God willing, we hope to reach at least 80 per cent of rural communities but we emphasize the need for support from other stakeholders to make this 'dream' a reality.

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