Teaching in Ethiopia by Laura Spinozzi
I've been living in London for 20 years and working in the travel industry for most of that time. At the end of 2012, I finally decided to give my life a drastic change which meant leaving London and my job, experiencing something completely different and finally fulfilling my long term dream. I once read a post that said "never define yourself, change direction every time you feel like it". That's how I felt; it was time to change direction.
Having attended a teacher training course in 2011, I felt the desire to combine my wish of going to Africa and getting some experience in teaching, and on top of that support a great cause. I started searching for an organisation that inspired me, and soon as I came across Projects Abroad I did not have to look any further. I chose to go to Ethiopia followed by Tanzania. So, on the first of October 2013 I was on board the Ethiopian airline ready to enjoy the experience of my life.
My first impressions of Ethiopia
I must say that the first 10 days were not easy for me. No matter how much I prepared myself, the impact I had was not what I expected. I've always read amazing experiences of volunteers having the time of their life whilst volunteering that I was sure I would have exactly the same. I did not feel that way. It's difficult to describe those feelings but if I can summarise in one word how I felt, I would say "alone".
I was in Addis Ababa, a chaotic and messy city of 8 million people! I could not contact my family right away and even if I was with a family, they were all strangers for me. I suppose this was what they call culture shock.
What I did not yet know, though, was that I would treasure those 10 days for the rest of my life. I was simply experiencing life out of my comfort zone, in a situation I've never find myself before and in a surrounding that looked so daunting to me. However that was exactly what my life needed, a big shake to make me a stronger and a more determined person. I understood in the end that I went there on a journey to discover myself on a deeper level. Everything became a great challenge and a fantastic opportunity to learn.
My Teaching placement
My first challenge was the Teaching project. I spent 2 weeks in the older classes and 2 weeks in the kindergarten. Well, I went with my own idea of teaching but I've realised it was not always the right approach. I was trying to support the teachers but most of all I was the one learning from them, I even felt guilty at times! The two weeks in the kindergarten were so lovely that I still miss all the kids! For me those weeks were the most eye opening because I had never dealt with such young children, especially those who didn’t speak English. However, I grew fond of them and learnt from them too. Also, I felt more useful because I was helping and supporting the teacher.
My host family in Ethiopia
My host family made sure I felt comfortable had enough to eat and overall they looked after me as one of their own. We got to know each other, shared our life experiences, talked about politics, movies and sports, so dinner time was always lovely.
My host sister was lovely and supportive, and she even took me out of Addis for a day trip. It was great way to spend time together and to get to know each other. She was kind enough to help me organise my two days trip to Lalibela, where the magnificent, unofficial eighth wonder of the world, the carved churches, unfolds before you!
Final thoughts in Ethiopia
The greatest aspect of Ethiopia is certainly the people. They are friendly and very helpful too! I once had to take 4 shared taxis for one trip, and in each of them there was somebody who looked after me and made sure I reached the destination. I could not believe it! A week later I bumped into one of them... how weird! He kept me company while I was visiting the beautiful University of Addis and even told me some history of Ethiopia… priceless!
Moving to Tanzania
My experience in Tanzania was certainly more relaxed mainly because, by now, I almost felt like I was an African! Arusha is a lovely city. It’s easy to go around and I’ve never felt scared, even when I found myself being the only white in a super crowded bus on a two hours journey. I’ve made friends with locals with whom I tried practise a bit of Swahili (I learnt some at the language social event organised by the local staff of Project Abroad).
My Teaching placement in Tanzania
I loved the Teaching placement and strong from the experience I had in Addis, I knew more about teaching children. The kids’ smiles and curiosity have touched me deeply. They were challenging at times but I have them to thank as, since teaching them, my creativity has developed.
The school is a church and it’s at 45 minute drive from Arusha, close to a Maasai settlement in an area called Meserani. Going to work was fun because every day was a different adventure. I found myself at times squashed in the DalaDala but still managed to smile, how could I not? With loud music to keep me company all I felt like doing was dancing!
Tanzanian host family
My host family had a beautiful house, very spacious and comfortable. Be prepared though to spend days with no water for a shower or electricity. No need to worry, you get used to it. What at first seemed a frustrating situation it actually forced me to consider that life with no water and electricity for few days can actually still go on. Especially after witnessing how the Massai settled in very remote villages, live, I had nothing to complain about.
Independent travel in Tanzania
When volunteering, you also have time to travel. I took the opportunity to do a 4 day Safari with some other volunteers. I have now seen such a breathtaking and diverse landscapes, not to mention the wild animals. The Safari proved to be a bit tough for me because it was mainly a walking safari, but I would definitely do it again. It was a physical challenge that I won whilst enjoying what Mother Nature had created.
What I took with me from my time in both countries is a strong sense of survival and spiritualism that helps people go about their daily businesses. Hope and happy faces seem to govern people’s life and that is important to me because it lifted my spirit and helped me to deal with my daily struggles.
I am now living in Rome, Italy, where I come from. I am still looking for a job whilst helping a couple of girls learn English. Due to the experience I had in Africa, I am thinking of taking a teaching course specifically for very young children. My wish is to go to Africa again on another volunteering project and I am setting that goal for 2015… Watch This Space!