For a group of British School of Boston (BSB) students, months of fundraising, studying Swahili and raising awareness finally paid off earlier this month, when they flew to Arusha, Tanzania for a week-long service trip.
Tomas Navarro, 14; Katie Malone, 17; Rick Boer, 15; and Maya Nijhoff Asser, 14, talked to the Gazette last week about the week-long trip to the African nation they took along with classmate Stephanie Luiz, 13, and chaperone Ruth Williams in the first week of February.
“It was a life-changing experience,” Navarro said. “I’d heard a lot about Tanzania, and we saw first hand how friendly people were and how accepting they were.”
“I think we all just came out so aware of how lucky we are, how much we really need. You don’t have that level of gratitude here,” Malone said. “It changed my perspective of what it means to live a worthwhile life.”
The 18-hour trip started with meeting 19 other schools from around the world in Amsterdam before taking the final flight to Tanzania, an eastern African nation bordered by Kenya to the north, the Democratic Republic of Congo to the west, Mozambique to the south and the Indian Ocean to the east.
The students spent a week working at Maua Primary School, repainting chalkboards and classrooms, repairing broken windows and updating pathways on campus. They also prepared lessons in art, math and other subjects and taught them to Tanzanian students, along with American culture.
The BSB is a British-style private school that uses an internationally-recognized curriculum and standards, allowing ease of transition for students who switch schools between countries.
The BSB students are a varied, international bunch, many with two or more passports. They are well-traveled already—Nijhoff Asser goes to India every year, Boer had previously been to Costa Rica for another service trip. Malone is Irish and has taken service trips to Mexico and Belize. Navarro has done similar service work in his native Bolivia. But they all emphasized what a different experience this was.
“This was very different. This was much more integrated into their culture and their society, getting to see their way of life very up close,” Malone said.
“You experience their love of learning and their keenness for what you have to offer them,” Nijhoff Asser said.
“I feel like it is addicting. I really want to go back and do this again. The children are so happy to have you there,” Boer said. “It’s just an amazing feeling when you’re helping the kids and their lives are changing and you’re part of the reason why…Meeting so many people and becoming part of their community really changed me.”
Preparation for the trip was done in a very short timeframe. The trip was organized by a U.K.-based educational network, Nord Anglia Education, which BSB only joined in September of last year. The students started applying and prepping for the trip in October, compared to students in other schools, who had months to fundraise and study Swahili.
Through sales of coffee, candy, raffle tickets and student artwork, as well as a “Dance to Maua” fundraiser, where students each signed up to dance for 22 minutes—representing a part of the time it would take to get to Tanzania—BSB students were able to raise nearly $5,000.
“We surprised ourselves by how well our fundraising went,” Malone said.
She added that it was extremely satisfying to see what their fundraising efforts did for Maua School, especially upgrading their electrical system and the concrete flooring.
“Seeing the children so happy, seeing how you can change their lives so much gave me the feeling like I’d want to go back and do something like that again,” Navarro said.
The application process was competitive despite being shortened. Only five students were chosen to go out of about 20 applicants. Luckily, a Harvard-hosted model United Nations meet was taking place the same week, which knocked off a lot of the potential competition, Malone said.
Of the 20 applicants, seven were interviewed before the final five were selected.
“I think everyone took it really well,” Boer said.
Going forward, the BSB community will continue to be involved in service projects in Tanzania. The students who traveled this year will help develop future service projects in the region, and additional students will be selected in future years to return to the country to follow through on their plans.
BSB’s website is britishschoolofboston.org. It is located at 416 Pond St., on the campus of the separate Showa Boston Institute for Language and Culture.