Who would you choose if you received $10,000 to donate to the charities of your choice? Adam Dodge, a United Planet alumnus who volunteered for eight weeks in Tanzania in 2008, made a vow to make a contribution to the school at which he volunteered. A few months ago, he got the perfect opportunity when his company awarded him with Outstanding Contribution to the Firm, an award given to only one employee each year. As part of the award, Adam was given $10,000 to donate to the charities of his choice. In January, we received a call from Adam with the announcement that he was donating his award to the United Planet Tanzania project!
After working for years, Adam felt it was time for a change. He planned an eight-month trip around the world, and he wanted one of the stops to be in a challenging environment where he could give back. So he decided to volunteer in Tanzania teaching English and chose United Planet for its flexible program options.
On Adam’s first day volunteering in Tanzania, the head of his host family walked him to his project. The children were gathered for an assembly in the dirt lot adjacent to the school building. Adam was introduced, handed a teaching schedule, and given control of an entire 2nd grade class. He had no idea what they were studying– the only direction was “teach the kids when to use ‘has’ and when to use ‘have.’” Using as many resources as he could find and his creativity, he came up with a lesson plan. The first couple of days were difficult, but he quickly adapted and was always prepared for class thereafter. His mother was a teacher, and he sought inspiration from the years of observing his mother prepare for her own lessons.
One of the great challenges Adam faced was the lack of available resources. There was a chalkboard and chalk, and a tiny exercise book. If he wanted the kids to have worksheets, he would have to go to the computer lab, print the pages, and pay for them himself.
Even with the limited resources, Adam quickly got the hang of teaching English. However, he found that merely being exposed to someone from such a different culture was a great learning experience for the children. He encouraged them ask him anything about America; the children curiously inquired about his family, friends, and even about his job back in America. Since Adam was in Tanzania in the summer of 2008, the children were infatuated with Barack Obama and the American presidential election. Running with the children’s enthusiasm, Adam held a mock election with his class, which turned out to be everyone’s favorite lesson.
Volunteering in Tanzania exposed Adam to much more than teaching experience. He discovered many interesting aspects of Tanzania, including the surprising solidarity of its people and the differences in its educational system. Adam lived with a Muslim family. He worked at a Christian school with many Muslim students. With so much conflict between people of different religions portrayed in the media, Adam expected tension between different religious communities. But Adam didn’t see that conflict at the local level. In the community in which he lived and worked, people primarily identified themselves as Tanzanians. Parents’ primary concern was their children’s education. A Muslim family, such as his host family, would gladly send their children to a Christian school if it meant their children would get a good education.
Adam also found it surprising that there was no concept of public school in Tanzania. Parents had to pay for all seven years of elementary school at a cost of around $10,000 per child – a steep cost in Tanzania. As a result, the children were really grateful to be able to go to school; they understood education to be a privilege, and they were focused and ready to learn.
Adam learned so much from his time in Tanzania and explained, “You are taking away more from it than you feel like you are giving.” So, naturally, when his company surprised him with the Outstanding Contribution to the Firm Award and a $10,000 charity fund, Adam immediately called United Planet to see how he could help the Tanzanian school. The school drafted a plan for a new computer lab, and Adam donated the full $8,000 needed to make the plan happen (the rest of his award money went to a local charity).
He spoke excitedly about the resources that will become available with a new computer lab in the school. Not only will the children gain the computer skills necessary for the modern world, but they will also have unlimited access to all the available free educational resources online. The benefits, he mentioned, will extend to the teachers as well. The teachers he worked with had limited training- with a computer lab, the resources can enhance teacher training and provide teachers with more ideas and class material for lessons.
Advice for people who are thinking about taking time off work to give back? Adam says, for him, the perfect time to take the leap was between switching jobs. He says, “It sounds like it’s really hard to do, but when you take a step back and look into it, it’s really a lot easier than you think.” Adam took eight months off to travel and volunteer, and his time in Tanzania, he says, was clearly the highlight of the trip.
Thank you, Adam, for your generous donation to the school and children in Tanzania, and for your commitment to United Planet’s mission of cross-cultural understanding. If you would like visit the school firsthand and volunteer in Tanzania, visit our website for more information or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.