Back from a ‘voluntourism’ trip to Tanzania, Kalthoom al Khamayasi comes back a better person, thankful for everything in life
Kalthoom al Khamayasi, a young professional, who visited Tanzania to volunteer as an assistant teacher in a community school, returned recently with valuable insights about her true purpose in life. She now hopes that other youth in Oman have a similar life-changing experience for their own betterment.
Kalthoom, co-founder, Jisser Internship Platform, and section head, Agro-Industry Development, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, has always been concerned about the ambitions and aspirations of the youth and so had floated her own venture of setting up a bridge between organisations and prospective young employees who seek experience before taking up fulfilling jobs. Her decision to spend a month volunteering in a school in Tanzania was, however, intended to give herself an out of the routine experience.
“I volunteered as an assistant teacher at a community school for kids in need. I helped with English language classes for underprivileged teenage students unable to attend public schools and sports and crafts classes for nursery-level children. Even though this was not my first volunteering experience, the time I spent there made it so much more valuable,” said Kalthoom, adding that the decision to take on this experience was a result of the built-up stress over the past almost two years due to COVID-19.
“As soon as travel restrictions were removed, I researched the easiest countries to go to with minimum COVID-19 restrictions and Tanzania was one of them. When I arrived there, I understood why that was the case. When most of the population’s concern is about getting food on the table at the end of the day, thinking about ‘uncertain health threats’ that might or might not reach them is a ‘luxury’ they cannot afford because missing one day of work could easily mean missing all 3 meals of the day,” she asserted
Though Kalthoom had ventured on what she calls ‘voluntourism’, she says, she realised that all the stress faced by people could not be relieved within just a week or a ten-day trip. So, she spoke to friends about her plan and collected some donations to spend for the welfare of hapless children during her trip to Tanzania.
“The very low value of the Tanzanian currency made every rial I was able to afford worth an unimaginable amount for those children,” she said, explaining, “When you get there, you see how much your rial means to an entire family living in a windowless house, depending on their seasonal farm products for income and breakfast. And you stop feeling sad about your life. You become grateful for everything you have, and you soon find the lost purpose of your life during COVID-19 slowly returning.”
She pointed out that by merely skipping one meal, one could be able to help five female students buy enough sanitary pads, so that they do not have to skip school once every month for the entire academic year. Or one could buy around 10 uniforms for 10 students who come to school with torn clothes, or 10 pairs of shoes for students who wear mended rubber slippers to walk a couple of hours to school everyday.
“The thing about this school is that you can see that the students really wanted to learn. They had actual goals like becoming a chef or an employee at a specific company, so they would come to school without being forced to. They are actually thankful for the chance to attend school even in their poverty. A daily dose of inspiring chats with these kids reminds you to be thankful again for the life you have,” Kalthoom said, calling on youngsters not to get disheartened with small setbacks in life.
“I wish I had a way to let everybody know how valuable such an experience is in changing you as a person,” said Kalthoom, pointing out that she had not only collected donations in cash, but also in kind, like school stationery, some iPads/tabs, copies of the Holy Quran and headscarves for Muslim girl students, besides Omani snacks and sweets. After seeing pictures sent by her on social media, her family members and some friends sent more stuff across to help out in her self-styled humanitarian mission during her trip to Tanzania.
“When we were little, we heard adults often say, ‘You should be thankful, there are children starving in Africa’. I got to see that in real life and it hit me hard and in a completely different way. For the first time, I understood what that really meant.
One of the students, she said, often brought a stick of sugarcane to school, as breakfast and lunch because they lived near a sugarcane farm and that was the only thing they could afford to eat. That was the plight of most children but they were eager to come to school to get educated in the hope of a better tomorrow, Kalthoom pointed out.
In a message to the youth, she said, “Traveling with a purpose will open your eyes to a whole different world you are not aware of, not just to other countries outside Oman’s borders but within your own personal capabilities which you were not even aware of. I do not come from a rich family to go globe trotting, but I have realised that travelling doesn’t have to be a costly affair if there is a genuine purpose attached to it. I travelled the same old way by finding local hosts for free or at cheap rates while getting a deeper experience of the local culture during my trip to Tanzania.”