Photo courtesy of Tammy Sweeney.
By Baybars Charkas
In the summer of 2020, 20 Manheim Township students will venture into the land of the Maasai people, in the heart of Tanzania, Africa. The trip is organized through EF Educational Tours, a program that has historically connected Manheim Township students to European tourist hotspots like France, Germany, and Italy. However, a trip to Africa is a first.
Students will journey to Save the Children Camp, operated by WE Charity. WE Charity connects students from the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom to areas of need worldwide. Township students will spend eleven days in Tanzania, ten of which in the Save the Children Camp. Their purpose is twofold: to immerse themselves in African culture and to complete a service project.
The trip’s planning is still in its infancy, having recently recruited members and begun initial fundraising projects. Preparations for the project began in early March, and a formal parent-teacher informational meeting occurred on March 28. The trip’s general itinerary has yet to be released, as is any information on what the students will be doing at the camp.
Tammy Sweeney is the leader and main organizer of the Tanzania trip. She joins Nicole Eshelman and Hannah Broich as a chaperone. Sweeney, a history teacher at Manheim Township for five years, was instantly drawn to the prospects of a trip to Africa and the enormous cultural knowledge it would impart on the students. Raised in a family that emphasised service to others, she wanted to find a program that would help build and empower disadvantaged communities.
“I wanted to find a trip that provided that service experience as well as cultural immersion… It was hard to find a trip that fit both of those categories,” said Sweeney. “… I loved the experience that EF was able to provide, and the trip hit both of those points.”
Coupled with a strong emphasis on service, particularly on the construction of schools and libraries as well as access to clean water, the trip provides an immersive, unparalleled view into the lives of the Maasai people. Students will spend their morning learning Swahili, a lingua franca of many indigenous groups in Africa, and learning the art of Maasai bead making.
Mrs. Sweeney emphasized that WE Charity’s projects are tailored to meet the needs and wishes of the Maasai people. “These are projects that the people in the community have chosen to do, and we’re just an extra pair of hands,” said Sweeney.
Drawing from history, Mrs. Sweeney made sure to mention the history of colonialism and its reverberations in Africa. Sweeney expressed concern over Americans and Europeans going into Africa to do service projects on the orders of someone else, often at the expense and dissatisfaction of the native population. Sweeney explained that WE Charity specifically caters to the wishes of the natives and not any other outside figure. To Sweeney, the importance of community-approved work is crucial.
Like Sweeney, Hannah Broich, English teacher at Manheim Township, has led a life entrenched in service work. Daughter of a musical pastor, Mrs. Broich has participated in mission work with her church across the United States.
“I’ve done service projects in downtown Philly, Atlanta, and Texas. I’ve cleaned up neighborhoods,” said Broich. Her history within ministry was the main propellant for her interest in service in Tanzania. “Every single service trip that I have been a part of has been affiliated through a church. I am looking forward for this to be affiliated with the secular environment as well.”
Though she is well-traveled within the United States, Broich has never left the country and is most eager to do so. Even before the tour, Broich expressed much interest in visiting Africa. “I’ve always wanted to witness the majesty of Africa.. to learn more about a culture that is so different from my own,” said Broich.
Sophomore David Wolf is one of the twenty students embarking on the trip to Tanzania. For him, the trip is a gateway to viewing a new culture and environment. “I always wanted to travel and do as many things as I could. This is a way for me to travel and do something that I could not do otherwise,” Wolf said.
Wolf, who is interested in engineering, was particularly enticed by the prospect of planning and constructing a school or irrigation project. To enrich his knowledge of the globe around him, Wolf is especially interested to learn more about Tanzania and the United Nations development goals the project will attempt to complete. “I’m really excited to be with friends and have a great time. We really have a great group of people,” Wolf added.
The trip is one of the most adventurous in Township history, and will take students the farthest from home. They will be separated from Wi-Fi and electronic communication with family—though an emergency line is provided. For ten days, students perform manual labor for an extended amount of time in warm African summers. Part of the itinerary is a walk to water, a mile trek wherein students will carry water back to camp. Its purpose is to teach the students that we take access to clean, fresh water for granted, and how many others in the world do not have this human necessity.
“This is not a trip for everybody,” said Sweeney. “This is not a trip for someone who does not want to live in a tent, who doesn’t want to be doing some heavy lifting and work.”
Needless to say, there are rewards in store for the students’ hard work. Owing to a lack of artificial light pollution, students will be able to look up into the night sky and see the stars in their greatest glory. In addition, on the trip’s final day, the group will go on an all-day safari in the African savanna. Mrs. Broich is especially excited to see the giraffes in their natural environment. “If I see one, oh my gosh, I might faint!” she said.