Saturday, June 3, 2017

On May 12th 2017 I had the opportunity to volunteer in Africa with a Canadian organization called VIDES Canada ( I was sent to a Salesian School in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania that catered to four hundred children. The school was located in the slums of Dar Es Salaam with basic essential resources. It is characteristic of Salesian Schools and Youth Centres to be located in impoverished neighborhoods to be in solidarity with the poor and offer them hope through God’s love and provision. 

I usually write a summary or a reflection about my mission experience but this time I decided to change the format into a Question & Answer. Many people ask me about my volunteer experience so I took the time to address the most frequently asked questions.  

Why did you decide to volunteer? 

Short answer: I desire to glorify God and manifest His love in my life. 

Long answer: I enjoy working with underprivileged youths and when I volunteer, I experience God’s presence vividly.  He uses it as an opportunity to shape my character through humility and reliance on His grace. 

Working in the financial services industry, it is easy to develop a mindset that you are in control of your life and your future because you feel financially secure and professionally fulfilled. 

On the missions, however, you constantly have to trust that somehow God will provide. Hence, you learn that God is ultimately in control. You also learn to be more grateful for the simple provisions you receive through God's hands. It truly stretches your faith.

But don’t get me wrong, I’m not insinuating that a career in the financial industry is bad in any way. In fact, I genuinely believe God has a purpose for me in the financial world. But I never want to feel that I am too self sufficient to rely on God’s grace, no matter how successful I become at my work.

My experience on the missions humbles me and reorients my focus on how I can serve others. Through obedience, God can use me more effectively to spread His light and draw people to Him through love and acts of charity. 

When I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." --John 12:32  

What was your daily schedule?  

The children arrived at the school at around 7:30 a.m. Monday – Friday. Below is an outline of a typical day. 

6:00 a.m. Wake up and get ready 
6:30 – 7:00 am Morning prayer 
7:00 – 7:45 am Breakfast 
8:00 – 9:30 am Work in the kindergarden class room (eg. arts and crafts) 
9:30 – 10:30 am Outdoor activity / play 
10:30 a.m – 12:30 pm Teach English and Math to grade 3 
1:00 – 2:00 p.m. Lunch 
2:00 – 3:00 p.m. Free time (hand wash my clothes, write in my journal etc) 
3:00 – 4:00 p.m. Assist one of the teachers in his/her class room 
4:00 – 5:30 p.m. Supervise children playing outside 
6:00 – 6:30 p.m. Community prayer of the rosary 
7:00 – 8:00 p.m. Dinner time 
8:00 – 9:00 p.m. Clean up 
9:00 - 10:00 p.m. Personal time 
10:00 p.m. Bed time  

What were your personal challenges?  

Tanzania has the third largest slum population in Africa with over 11 million of its people living in poverty. The school was located in the slums and so I had to adjust to the simple living conditions which was a bit of challenge. 

In addition, I had to take medication every day to protect myself from mosquitos that carry malaria which is an infectious disease caused by a parasite. The strong malaria pills had several side effects which cause a level of discomfort but it was manageable. 

I just lifted up my pain to God and I focused on my work with the children. I knew that God would give me the strength to endure any form of suffering. I was very grateful that I did not get sick because it would have hindered my ability to perform my duties.  

What was the highlight of your experience?  

I was really happy to be surrounded by many children who always had a big smile on their face. It was a privilege to be around them because their joy was contagious! I remember on my first day, the entire school organized a welcome song for me. Four hundred children lined up in a single file in various groups and sang together in unison to welcome me to their community. It was wonderful and I touched by their thoughtful gesture because it really made me feel at welcome.  Music is a big part of their lives. They have beautiful voices.

Youtube link:

When I walked in the school yard after teaching my class, some of the children would stop their game and run up to me to give me a hug. They were quite affectionate.

My classroom had 60 students and they were very respectful and eager to learn. It was easy to manage the class because they listened attentively to my instructions and raised their hands when answering questions. 
During math class I was quite impressed that the grade 3 knew how to do long division with three digits. The sisters told me that 98% of the students passed the National Exam in grade 4 and grade 7. It was pleasure to teach a group of well behaved children.  

What were the challenges in the community / school? 
  • The government imposes a hefty tax on the Salesian school and other private schools because they see that the school receives donations from foreign countries.  
  • Some of the children were born with AIDS and thus, have a shortened life span because their families do not have the money to buy the necessary medication to prolong their lives. 
  • When the students graduate primary school, many of them enter the public school system (for high school) which are poorly managed and not designed to help students succeed academically.                                    The private high schools offer better quality of education but most of the families cannot afford the private high school tuitions. As a result, many of the adolescence end up searching for a low paying job after high school because they do not qualify to attend University.

What did you do in your free time? 

I had an opportunity to go on a Safari Adventure in the Ngorongoro National Park and it was an incredible experience. I discovered that a Safari is not simply wildlife viewing, but rather, an inspiring journey through various natural and wild experiences. It gave me deeper appreciation of God’s creation and natural wonders. 

The Ngorongoro Crater is Tanzania's visual masterpiece. It is the word’s largest volcanic caldera with a land mass of 260 square kilometers and natural walls of 2000 feet high. It is essentially a natural amphitheater for the densest population of large animals. 

I was astounded when I arrived at the based of the Ngorongoro National Park.
I saw a breathtaking landscape of extraordinary beauty. There were patches of golden sunlight spread across a lush field with all sorts of large animals coexisting together. 

It was amazing to be in such close proximity to the massive Elephants, Rhinos, Giraffes, Lions, Zebras, Wildebeasts, Hippos, Flamingos etc. It's very interesting to observe the animals in their natural habitat. 

What did God teach you in this experience?  

I was at a local restaurant in Moshi Tanzania and I saw a picture on the wall that read “Happiness is not a destination. It is a Way of Life”. I pondered on that statement because it holds a lot of truth.  Everyone desires to be happy, but many people do not experience it because they look for it in the wrong places. There is a preconceived notion that going on a nice vacation or acquiring a certain product will bring happiness. It may temporarily in the short run, but most people discover that the feeling quickly fades away. And so, the search continues for the next best experience or item to purchase. 

I am reminded of a quote from G. K. Chesterton when he states: "Meaningless does not come from being weary of pain. Meaninglessness comes from being weary of pleasure."  It is when you have exhausted the last dream and still find yourself rather barren and empty.

Many people fail to realize that the happiness that endures comes only from God and is cultivated by life of service. God is the true source of joy and fulfillment. 

There were many ways I could have chosen to spend my vacation time. I could have traveled to anywhere in the world but through prayer, I chose to respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit in my heart. I knew that there were challenges in choosing to do missions, but I also knew that this was an opportunity to trust God and see His hands at work. 

My time in Africa taught me the value of humility and what it means to be in solidarity with the poor. The Lord refreshed my hope and reminded me that no matter what challenges I may face in life, He will be with me and His mighty hands will never be too short to provide. 

The Lord rewarded me on this journey by enabling me to experience the joy of being with the children and following Him-- who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. 

 “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” -- John 14:6