From mid-July to early August 2017, a group of Cleveland scouts (comprised partly of Stockton, Thornaby and District Scouts) spent time in Tanzania, building classrooms for an underprivileged farming community. The expedition was two years in the making, and an incredible amount of preparation went into the training of expedition members and the acquisition of equipment.
Now, with the expedition complete, each member of the 51-strong team can proudly say that they’ve made a huge difference to the lives of many in the village of Mto Wa Mbu. Speaking from experience, I can say just how fantastic all of the local people were and how much they deserved the expansion of the St. Jude Catholic Mission’s nursery school into a primary school.
In July, the expedition made their way to Newcastle International airport to embark upon a daring adventure.
Unfortunately, Greggs was closed. Nevertheless, the team bravely pushed on through security (with some Marmite and scissor related issues) and made their way to the first flight. In under an hour, feet were on the ground in Amsterdam and were eagerly awaiting the very short 9-hour flight to Kilimanjaro Airport. For many, this was their first ever long-haul flight, and the meagre 9 hours seemed to pass in a matter of minutes, thanks to the plethora of films, music, and meals that were provided.
Touching down in Tanzania, the excitement was palpable. This electrifying mood was immediately increased by an invigorating queue for security that seemed to last longer than the flight itself. Even so, the team continued on and met with the Tanzanian contact Margaret, who had organised a rather luxurious coach for us to travel to the first night’s accommodation. After an interesting journey (which involved some very much safe and legal overtaking) the group arrived at the hostel. The establishment was, as you might expect, run by a Danish father and son. After a night in beds that no-one appreciated as much as they should have, the expedition left for their new home for the next three weeks – a dusty field.
On arrival, the team were greeted by Fionda and Phill, who had arrived the week before, as well as a small collection of local children. Straight away, everyone got to work shifting bags and setting everything up, and in no time flat, a livable camp materialised. At long last, the expedition could embark upon the main task – building the classrooms. For the next three weeks, each day was largely very similar. With the expedition being split into six teams, commonly one would be catering, one resting, and four working. With this regimented, organised approach, the days seemed to speed past like the motorbikes on the road through Mto Wa Mbu.
Within the three weeks’ worth of building, a previously bare rectangular foundation sprouted up and became a free-standing building – which both amazed and impressed the locals and the priests who observed the progress. Mr Onesimo, the resident Tanzanian bricklayer for the worksite, was absolutely astounded by the ability of a group of unskilled teenagers, led by leaders lacking a building tradesman, to construct such a high-quality building in such a short period of time. A similar sentiment was felt by these very teenagers and leaders, who had no idea how they had formed a building out of crumbly African bricks!
With the expedition’s building time drawing to a close, a small celebration of their achievement was held by the priests, teachers and nursery children who had watched the work since the beginning. Sheep were slaughtered and cooked in honour of the guests, and small songs and dances by the children were performed. It was a warm and touching way to being the end.
Afterwards, the expedition began the breaking of camp and the movement to the relaxation period lodge, just down the road in Karatu. With four huge 4×4 vehicles making trips with bags and people, and those remaining working to take down tents and burn rubbish, it wasn’t long until most signs of habitation in the field were removed and cleaned up. Before the mass-exodus, the final campsite flag break was observed and gifts of tools were given to Mr Onesimo and Peter – the build site’s main labourer. A donations tent was left for the church, school and locals, over spilling with clothing, PPE, and classroom supplies.
The expedition’s final days in Tanzania were spent relaxing in Flamingo Lodge, which had buffet meals and a lovely cold pool for all the expedition to enjoy. It was a relaxing, warm-shower-filled way of ending the African adventure, and provided much-needed rest to each and every expedition member. Throughout the week, groups visited some of the world’s best national parks such as Tarangire, Lake Manyara, and Ngorongoro Crater. There were also excursions to a local coffee plantation, as well as free time to lounge around and enjoy the sun.
After a whole month in Tanzania, the expedition embarked on a final journey to Kilimanjaro airport, stopping on the way at a snake park, which was home to some of the most infamous snakes on the planet. With mixed emotions, the team made their way through three airports, sitting on two planes, and finally a bus journey back to Middlesbrough, where they were received by a crowd of adoring fans (friends and relatives).
The expedition was in the eyes of many a resounding success. The aim was to build two classrooms, and that aim was met. But not only have the community of Mto Wa Mbu benefitted from this work, but the members of the expedition have too. The experience has allowed every individual to gain an appreciation for the luxuries and comforts of home, and each and everyone has thoroughly enjoyed the entire process.
The Expedition Team kept a blog for the duration of the trip, this can be found here:
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