Over Christmas break 12 University of Cincinnati students had the opportunity to travel to Mto wa Mbu, Tanzania to build a basketball court for the Mungere Secondary School. Partnering with Red Sweater project, memories were made that will last a lifetime. It’s hard to imagine how different life is when traveling to a part of the world that you have never been to before but that’s part of the fun. Learning that “Tanzanian time” is so much different than the order and fast paced lifestyle that we Americans are used to was probably the hardest adjustment. We agreed that from the very beginning that we wouldn’t use our phones unless it was to contact our parents. We wanted to immerse ourselves completely into the culture and atmosphere and take every day one step at a time. It was such a relief losing touch with the outside world and zoning in on why we were there. Living completely in the moment.
Our trip was instantly off to a great start. We had finally met Sam Obol, our Courts for Kids representative and we were already impressed. Sam’s kindness and love showed through in everything that he did and we couldn’t be more thankful for him. After 36 hours of travel we finally made it to our campsite for the week. When I tell people we stayed in tents, I always get an “oh wow!” response but I will be the first to tell you that we stayed in the 5-star version of a tent! Having a place with running water and a comfortable cot to sleep on at the end of the day was such an added bonus. We were able to ensure that the work that we were putting in the next day was not compromised due to lack of sleep. We were also treated to made-to-order breakfasts and 3 course dinners each day. We all agreed that we definitely ate better there than we do in college. With that said though, we felt guilty eating all of these amazing meals when a lot of the people in the village eat just one meal a day. We started giving away our packed lunches to the students at the work site each day and you could just tell that they were so grateful. Food is something that is so accessible to us. Most of us never unwillingly miss a meal and it was something that was really hard to get used to.
The first couple days of work were mostly preparation. Moving around heavy dirt and sand in order to make sure the area was flat enough for the court was definitely pretty daunting work. Little did we know that the worst was yet to come. Flattening the rocks with 60 pound metal stompers was definitely an experience. The men that were helping were so surprised when the girls offered to take turns and were succeeding in lifting such a heavy tool. We definitely noticed that the expectations of what the girls would be doing were different compared to the boys. When we were wheeling barrels of dirt, after the girls did one or two, a guy would step in and take over. It was definitely a bit of a culture shock to be seen on a different level than the guys. We did show them eventually though that we were just as capable as the boys and they began to see us that way as well.
At the worksite we were able to talk to the students that were helping us. Most of the students who came were second level and spoke amazing English. It was so nice to hear their sides to everything. The love that they have for learning was also very refreshing. We often found ourselves talking about U.S. History or Politics because they were so interested in it. Being able to talk to them and learn about their lifestyle and Tanzania made getting through the hard work each day so much easier. Even when our mixer broke and we couldn’t work for two days we were still able to make the most out of it. In a way, some of the problems that we occurred were blessings in disguise. If we wouldn’t of had a break from all of the work, we wouldn’t of had a chance to see Ema’s amazing futbol skills. We also would not have been able to visit Amina’s home and play with the eight adorable puppies that were just born. We wouldn’t have been able to go on a nature hike and take in the beauty of the escarpment that the school looked at. I’ve always been a huge believer in the statement that “everything happens for a reason”, but this trip just validated that for me even more. The one day that it rained I remember being pretty upset. It put a huge setback in our progress. However, just as I was getting down about it, we looked up and saw the most beautiful double rainbow. It was just one more clarification that this is what we were supposed to be doing.
This trip was all around just an incredible, eye-opening experience. Just as we impacted the village of Mto wa Mbu, the people of the village impacted us. The memories that we have created from this trip will always be a part of us and I know that eventually all of us will make it back in order to see the court we built still standing tall.
“My favorite part of the trip was learning about the people, as individuals and as a community. We spent hours working alongside the local community members gaining an understanding about their stories, passions, hopes and dreams. The values of the community were evident- family, faith, hard work, (and) education.”
– Lauren Mayernik
“It is amazing to see how similar we all truly are even though we live half way across the world. I was fortunate to connect to some of the kids on a much deeper level and they taught me all about perseverance, faith, hope, and happiness.”
– Kelsey Ulliman
“I was totally out of my comfort zone and had many fears going into this trip. I’ve learned just how strong I am and how I was reassured on this trip just how I want to live my life in the future. I know I want to help people and make a difference in people’s lives for my whole life . . . I feel it’s my duty to give back to others.”
– Erin Pope
“Mungere Village taught me to choose wisely what I complain about. These people have very little in materials, but so much in life. I feel that these people taught me to become content with what life throws at me.”
– Megan Mitchell
“My favorite memory is seeing and completing the concrete pouring and work for the basketball court. The immense value and impact of our group’s hard work for this court is extremely rewarding and humbling.”
– Jacob Kallenbach
“One thing that I understand more clearly now is the huge impact that this court will provide. The kids that came every day were so enthusiastic about the court being built. Stefano, one of the local school kids, was so excited to be learning how to play basketball. He expressed to me that he gets sad because since futbol is such a big deal here and he isn’t very good he gets left out. He told me he wants to be good at this and wanted to learn as much as possible from us. That right there helped me truly understand the importance of this court.”
– Tori Groene