The bags are packed, the tickets are booked, and in less than 12 hours I will be on a plane with a new adventure ahead! Three years ago, around this same time of year, I embarked on my first international travel and service-learning experience to Bangladesh. Compared to my trip in Bangladesh where we did a lot of traveling and met new people each day, I am incredibly excited that we will be staying in one place for five weeks.
Working in the same schools with the same students will allow us to develop meaningful relationships which in turn will foster in-depth discussions. This will be important as we have been invited into the schools to deliver a curriculum that promotes gender equality, leadership and health to secondary school boys and girls. Think discussions about discrimination, gender-based violence and abuse, puberty and sexual development. These discussions are challenging enough between people having grown up in and live in the same society, now relocate this discussion thousands of miles away to a society with a different culture and way of life. I think you can begin to see that challenges are bound to arise. So why have university students, who are not experts in the subject-matter, travel thousands of miles to deliver this program? To that I have a couple of answers.The first being the selfish reason that we are going to learn and grow in ways that we can’t even anticipate. The second reason I have is merely speculation based on experience, that being familiar with only one way of life makes it difficult to explore other ways it could be. What is gender equality? What does it look like? When we lead these discussions we have a different perspective than that of the students and as a results the students are challenged to explain their ideas. This very exercise helps them to clarify their understanding and gives them the opportunity to be exposed to different perspectives. The reverse is also true, where we will be challenged to explain our perspective.
My fear is that what we deliver in the programming won’t be applicable to the student’s lives because we did not take into consideration their perspective, their culture and their way of life. I fear that the messages we convey are messages are only reflective of our own values and beliefs but are not applicable in a Tanzanian context. Thankfully, we have the support and knowledge of the staff at the non-profit organization, Canadian Physicians for Aid and Relief (CPAR), who will be guiding us through this journey.
My goals while in Bunda are to continually challenge my perspective about the subject-matter in the curriculum just as we expect the students to, as well as to work with my group to facilitate discussions that fosters an environment where the students feel safe to explore and challenge their existing ideas on gender equality, leadership and health. During my time with CPAR in Tanzania, I am interested in learning how they address health issues using a holistic approach. I look forward to a new routine, new sights and sounds, and to becoming fully immersed in a different culture and way of life. If the quote, “the world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page” (Augustine of Hippo), is true, then I anticipate that I am about to begin a whole new chapter.