by Devon Mills, Grade 10

After seeing a presentation about a service trip to Africa while I was in Junior School, I knew one day I wanted to have this experience of a lifetime, and over Spring Break I was lucky enough to go. After a spur-of-the-moment decision earlier this year to go on the school service trip to Tanzania, I spent the next few months preparing for and anticipating what I would soon encounter.

Our trip started with an exhilarating 30 hours of travel, which led to a midnight arrival in Arusha. We were picked up from the airport by our ME to WE leaders, who soon became our best friends. We spent our first night at ME to WE's Gilgan Family Leadership Centre in Arusha and had a delicious late-night dinner.

The next day we drove to the village of Oldonywas, where we would be staying for the next 10 days. We were welcomed by hundreds of beautiful faces of students who attended the school where we would be volunteering, as well as the whole Maasai community. It was incredible and overwhelming knowing that right from the start we were welcomed into their community; I definitely shed some tears.

We stayed in mobile tents, which were very nice, and had a community ‘mess tent’ where we ate our meals, played cards and spent time together. Most of our days consisted of spending part of the day building a library for the school, which was really fun and extremely rewarding to see the progress we made. The other half of the day was spent immersed in the culture. Whether it was learning Swahili, shopping at the local market, going on breathtaking hikes, going on a water walk and beading with the village Mamas, teaching and playing with the children, or boma smearing (repairing homes with cow dung), every experience was equally amazing and educational. We also participated in many activities where we would discuss world issues, specifically those affecting Africa, and it made all of us a lot more aware of what’s going on. It inspired each of us to go home determined to make a difference in the world.

I was pushed out of my comfort zone emotionally and physically but I was never scared or uncomfortable. I can truly say I have never been happier than during those two short weeks spent in Tanzania. We made connections with the children that I will forever cherish. Our group was also so blessed to have had the most amazing leaders and Maasai warriors with us. It was so rewarding to have people staying with us who knew so much about the culture, and we were constantly learning from each other. They quickly not only became our friends, but our family, and our final night with them and having to say goodbye was heartbreaking.

One of my highlights from the trip was our last day in the village. The entire community, including the whole school, took time off to come together for our goodbye ceremony. The children performed beautiful songs and dances for us, and the Maasai brought us up to dance with them. It was the perfect end to the perfect trip.

The principal of the school kept telling us how they could never repay us but I believe it is the complete opposite. I will forever be grateful for the love they gave me. Oldonywas will always have a special place in my heart. I learned so much about myself and gained a different perspective on so many things. This was an unforgettable experience for me and one that I hope everyone will get to have at least once in their life. Thank you, Tanzania.

Photos courtesy of Charlotte Campbell, Joel Kiggundu, Kevin Cook and Elisha Gardiner