I completed my first service trip in Tanzania in 2016. We went to a super impoverished area where the average family of seven lived on 5 USD (10k TZS), which could buy a couple fruits, soap, and a kilogram of corn for the entire week. In the time we spent there, we completed a water walk as well that involved walking several miles with 40 liter containers of water that was mud filled and potentially contained loads of deadly bacteria. This is the daily routine of the women who walk 7-8 times a day for this poor water source. These people were also lacking in education, which is what we helped with, by building a new school. This trip ultimately changed my life, and I definitely recommend completing a service minded trip for these reasons:
1. YOU WILL BE IMMERSED IN CULTURE, RATHER THAN TOURIST STUFF.
Often times, while traveling, we tend to be engaged in the cliches, whether its the perfect aboriginal experience in Australia, or Big Ben and Parliament in London, or Machu Picchu in Peru. While these are not bad experiences by any means, it is nice to get away from the mass crowds of people and experience people who are dressing and acting as themselves, not to attract tourists.
2. YOU WILL HAVE MORE INVOLVED AND ENGAGING PHOTOS, RATHER THAN YOU ONLY POSING IN FRONT OF CLICHE LANDMARKS.
Doing the cliche tourist activities comes hand in hand with cliche tourist pictures. Again, not bashing on tourist culture, but to me, a picture of you helping alongside locals who each have a story behind them is much more valuable than you pretending to hold the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Again, those photos are not bad, but taking service oriented photos gives variety to your Instagram, scrapbook, or just you iPhone gallery.
3. YOU SET A POSITIVE EXAMPLE FOR YOUR COMMUNITY BACK HOME.
Whether you are just in National Honor Society in high school, or just trying to set an example amongst your peers and fellow coworkers, helping those in need is a seriously good way to do so. You are showing that you are willing to do more than just helping the elderly across the street; you are literally globe trotting to aide those in need. That shows a lot of integrity and character within itself to influence the people around you with.
4. YOU WILL GET INSIDER INFORMATION ON WHERE TO GO AND WHAT TO DO.
Instead of blaring, bright signs telling you where the best places to eat are or where the best shopping is, have the locals, the people you are working with, tell you. This potentially can save you a lot of money, and once again, gives you an authentic experience. The mom and pop restaurants off the beaten path are usually the ones with the best home cooked meals and lowest prices.
5. IT GIVES THE TRIP A MORE PERSONAL FEELING.
Suddenly, your trip is filled with a focus on a specific community rather than a whole bunch of spots scattered across a city. You are fully immersed in a group of people that somehow make you feel at home and even treat you like family. In fact, in Tanzania, I had a family in Orbomba, that the mother looked a lot like mine and once she saw a picture of my mother, decided that I am part of her family and called me her daughter from there on out.
6. YOU GET TO HELP AN ENTIRE COMMUNITY, EVEN IN THE SMALLEST WAYS.
You are not only completing a large group project such as building a school, but you are also helping in ways you don’t recognize. Maybe that is by teaching the little children some English, or educating them a new way to filter water, or teaching a skill that will help them earn money. There is essentially endless possibilities.
7. YOU WILL MEET SOME LIFETIME FRIENDS.
Some of my closest international friends are from the trip in Tanzania. These people are the ones you will be spending only a couple days with, but they will impact your life forever. The people that helped guide me around, such as Lekihiti and Mollel, were so difficult to say goodbye to. There were tears everywhere, but I still talk to them today.
8. YOU IMPACT FUTURE GENERATIONS.
These projects aren’t just for the people you meet now. The things that you do are impacting generation after generation. That school will educate for years to come and that water system will sanitize water for more and more individuals as time passes. The work may be temporary but it will last a very, very long time.
9. YOU GAIN ANOTHER PURPOSE FOR TRAVELING.
At some point, regular travelers will question why they are fueling this addiction and spending their money. Well, amongst the desire to learn about other cultures or ecosystems or places, a service trip allows you to help, another reason to gain a stamp in your passport. Helping people is also a very positive reason to travel, it aides yourself and others all in one!
10. YOU WILL HAVE THE FUNNIEST INSIDE JOKES BETWEEN YOU AND YOUR COWORKERS.
I still laugh at really incomprehensible phrases like “sleeping like a pancake” or “schwarz!” that only have meaning to those who were with me on the trip. You will experience this often and it brings so much more memories and good times when you look back on your trip.
11. YOU WILL UNDERSTAND THE EFFECTS OF POVERTY IN A DIFFERENT COUNTRY.
If you live in a first world country, poverty is much different in your country than poverty in a third world country. Here, there are resources for the poor, whether that is water, food, shelter, or education. Areas without these are few and far between. However, being below the poverty line in a third world country can often be severe, see my journals, photos, and above descriptions for more info on what I saw in Tanzania.
12. YOU WILL GET REALLY GOOD AT CARD GAMES.
Especially in areas new to development, one will often have downtime that allows them to experience some new card games, or games in general from both your own country and the one you are in. This is super helpful in times of boredom, and in reflection of your trip. I will never forget the reigning spoons champion, Shania and the 24 times Kyle beat me in speed. Maybe I need to get better at card games.
13. YOU WILL POTENTIALLY SAVE SOMEONE’S LIFE
Those structures you build or things you do are going to impact someone, possibly by keeping them alive. Maybe if you didn’t build that water filtration, some individual along the line may have contracted a disease, or maybe the schools taught the kids something they would need to know later in life. You will never truly know the full impact of your work, but it will for sure make a huge difference in many lives. This effort of yours will be for the better.
14. YOU WILL EXPERIENCE REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK AT ITS FINEST.
Coming home will be one of the most insane things you have done. Who would think that your little hometown would make you feel this way about things. For me, one of the biggest things was water. How did I get so privileged to have this resource so abundant and at the turn of a faucet? Why do others continuously struggle with finding adequate amounts of safe water. This took me a while to grasp, and I felt guilty for a very long time, but I learned to turn that guilt into gratitude and action. It changed me for the better, in every way.
After reading this, I hope I have inspired you to take a trip not just to see sights but to help others. What you do makes a difference!
Did you like what you read? Share to social media to help others understand the importance of service traveling!