Volunteer blog: Time out with a meaningInspired by a volunteer vacation feature on the Allianz Knowledge Site, journalist Bettina Blass signed on for four weeks in Africa.
Later, when I worked full-time as an editor, my boss offered me a staff exchange with a partner department in the United States – and then fired me and the entire team before we had the chance to say yes. And my efforts to apply for a journalism scholarship to work abroad also proved fruitless.
Of course, I knew about volunteering but, for a self-employed editor, taking a couple of weeks off to do unpaid jobs proved pretty impossible.
Crestfallen and demotivated, I came across the image gallery about volunteer vacations on Allianz Knowledge, and was fascinated by the organization Village Africa that conducts a variety of building projects in the rural areas of Tanzania.
Admittedly, my experience in house building tends to zero but I learned that Village Africa welcomes all kinds of volunteer help, even for short periods of two to four weeks. Coincidentally, they were also looking for a journalist to help with public relations and brighten up the project’s web presence with images and videos.
My husband was ready to let me go if I promised to come back so I figured I’d take my chances. I wrote an application which was followed by a phone call with a Village Africa employee in England. They also asked me for a third person who would be willing to act as my referee. And so the casting began.
I had to refresh vaccinations and get new ones. I had to get valid travel insurance. I had to book flights. I had to make some initial payments and fill out a forest of forms. I had to apply for a tourist visa which was supposed to be a preliminary to receiving my Volunteering Permit to, well, work as a volunteer. And I learned some Kiswahili words too.
I booked my flight and, after some reassurance from my Village Africa contact that everything would be ready in time, I waited faithfully along with my fellow volunteers from Australia, England, and Belgium.
All volunteers will meet in Dar es Salaam. Then we’ll go on a six-hour bus ride to Tanga, a seaport in the north of the country, from where a jeep will take us to the Usambara Mountains. This will take another two to three hours. After that, we’ll have to hike for another hour because our final destination, Village Africa, isn’t connected to the road system.
I’m excited, and scared. But I’m also happy to get going.