ITWS Student goes to Africa!

Hi everyone!

My name is Lindsay Poirier, and I love Africa! I should explain.

About a year and half ago, I had an epiphany. I want to go to Africa. It was strange. I had never wanted to go to Africa before; I had never even thought of it. It was just this random urge that overcame me. I was signed up with a volunteer program by the end of the following day.

Since that fateful night, I have spent two of my winter breaks providing care and education for the orphans at Living Water Children Centre (LWCC) in Arusha, Tanzania. As a volunteer, I had the opportunity to immerse myself in the Tanzanian culture – eating the way they eat, sleeping the way they sleep, commuting the way they commute, living the way they live, and so on.

Have you ever heard the term ‘culture shock’?

Well, it’s real. When I landed in Tanzania for the first time, I could only think about how beautiful everything was. It looked exactly like the National Geographic pictures and travel documentaries. I ‘ooh-ed’ and ‘aww-ed’ the for the entire duration of the car ride from the airport to the village, having no idea what was truly in store.

It didn’t take long for me to hate it. There were geckos on my bedroom walls and rats running around the house. The power was turned off every other night, and don’t even get me started on the Internet connection. Showers were cold, and drinking water was warm. There were fleas in my bed; I was constantly covered in dirt, and worst of all, I got sick just about every night from the food and the heat. Sounds like a great time, right? By the end of my second week, I wanted nothing more than to be in the comfort of my home.

The great thing about culture shock is that it fades. All of those little annoyances that I mentioned eventually just become a regular part of your day. You learn to deal with them until you forget that they ever bothered you at all.

I was lucky. I had a group of 30 kids to help me get over it a lot faster. The kids were the best. I would wake up in the morning, walk up to the centre where they lived, and hear ‘Good morning Teacha Lindsay’ from about a dozen voices as soon as I opened the gate. We would then spend the morning doing lessons in math or English and the afternoon dancing and playing games. They were all so happy and bubbly, and best of all, they all had extremely distinct personalities.

About three weeks into the trip, primary school started. This is when things really started falling into place for me. A few weeks before I arrived, a donor had set up a computer lab at the primary school. Unfortunately, there was no one at the school who knew how to use computers. They were literally just going to sit there.

So I offered to teach a computer class to each of the grades. I have never seen students so anxious to use a computer. I would walk into their classroom to announce that it was time for computer class, and they would sprint to the lab to get a good seat.

Seeing their excitement changed the way that I look at technology. It inspired me. It made me realize how my college education had given me a skill that could greatly impact lives for the better.

So I went back.

The second time was a lot easier. No culture shock. In fact, Christmas Day was the only day that I even experienced homesickness. This time, I just loved everything about Tanzania and couldn’t stand the thought of leaving. It’s truly a beautiful country with beautiful people.

I was a bit more prepared to teach computers this time around. Prior to the trip, Lorena Nicotra (ITWS ’12) and I had worked together on an open source educational software package that was tailored for the Tanzanian curriculum. My plan was to teach the instructors how they could use this software to enhance student education.

In Africa, things never really go according to plan. Due to political and infrastructural issues with electricity, I wasn’t able to actually turn a computer on at the school until my last week in Tanzania. I ended up cramming a lot of training into that week. They all seemed so appreciative though and were really excited to use the software with the students.

I kept a blog during the trip to document all of the crazy things that I experienced. If you’d like to hear more stories, you can access it at www.lpoirier.myrpi.org/Tanzania/journal.

Thanks for hearing my story!

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