Camille Tedeschi is a seasoned world traveler, yet she still gets excited about every trip she takes. The veteran Huntington High School social studies teacher recently led numerous current students and alumni on a privately funded journey to Tanzania. Billed as a “service learning tour,” participants quickly assimilated into their new surroundings and got down to work.
“We were stationed in a camp in Engotukoit, which is located about one hour outside of Arusha,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “On one side of the camp we had the view of Mount Kilamanjaro and in the opposite direction was Mount Meru”.
Ms. Tedeschi traveled with nine students and an adult chaperone on the trip, which was affiliated with Free the Children, Me to We and EF Tours. The focus of the journey was to work in a local community on a specific project connected to education.
“My group was assigned the task of renovating classrooms and getting them ready for the students of the area,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “The tasks included sanding, painting, moving furniture, digging holes and engaging with the teachers and students. None of the days at the school felt like work. We had so much fun listening to music and dancing while laughing and smiling the whole time. Meeting new people and being immersed in a new culture is refreshing. It allows for personal growth and an eyewitness account of the world around us. Kids are kids everywhere. As a teacher I can spot the child who loves to do his/her homework, the child who dislikes sitting for an extended period of time and the child who just wants to be loved.”
The kids in Tanzania quickly bonded
with their Huntington visitors.
While the differences between life in Tanzania and the United States can be stark, the kids in Africa weren’t really different all. “The children in the community were just like the children I teach in my local community,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “The students ranged from first grade up to seventh grade and they all took an interest in each other. They had the most beautiful smiles and faces and loved interacting with my group of students. Each day one of my favorite activities was to just sit back and watch the students play together. One of my favorite scenes involved my students engaged in a language lesson swapping English words for Swahili words with a group of boys while the larger part of my group played in a soccer game.”
Tanzania’s population stands at 51 million. Over 44 percent of the population is 14 years of age or under. “Shortly after achieving independence from Britain in the early 1960s, Tanganyika and Zanzibar merged to form the United Republic of Tanzania in 1964,” states the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Factbook. “One-party rule ended in 1995 with the first democratic elections held in the country since the 1970s. Zanzibar's semi-autonomous status and popular opposition led to two contentious elections since 1995, which the ruling party won despite international observers’ claims of voting irregularities. The formation of a government of national unity between Zanzibar's two leading parties succeeded in minimizing electoral tension in 2010.” By means of comparison, the country is more than six times the size of the state of Georgia and twice as big as California.
“The trip itinerary was full of excitement in addition to the work we had to complete,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “Before being at the camp and the school, I thought the best day was going to be the day we went on safari, but now that the trip is over that is the last thing I think about as I reflect on my experience. We engaged in Swahili language lessons with two Maasai warriors who were our teachers and local guides and by the time we had to leave they were a part of my travel family. These two men might have been two of the most interesting people I have ever met and I know that my students would agree. The way they interacted with my students and myself was precious.”
Joining Ms. Tedeschi on the trip were Sylvia Belanger, Kayla Ryan, Jake Ryan, Hannah Pipolo, Emma Pipolo, Charles Bast, Maddie Kobrenski, Dylan Collier, Jonathan Shecter and Hailey Bengston.
“Another activity that impacted my group was the water walk,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “We had the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of a local mama to a nearby water source to collect water for her family. This moment allowed all of us to understand the challenges faced by many in accessing clean water. By walking in somebody else’s shoes it allows you to open your mind. I know that day changed all of our lives as we gained a deeper sense of how fortunate our lives are at home. Each day all of us were so happy and in awe of what we did the day before. Every day was an amazing day.”
The CIA World Factbook states that 61.4 percent of the Tanzanian population identifies as Christian, followed Muslin (35.2 percent), folk religion (1.8 percent), unaffiliated (1.4 percent) and “other” (0.2 percent).
“Saturday is market day and we were able to become locals by going to the market and purchasing needed items to survive,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “I walked around in a small group and some of the items I purchased included corn, bananas, rope and avocados. Another fun activity was beading with Maasai Mamas. We had the chance to work with local mamas beading and singing while we worked. Beading is not easy, but it is a traditional skill that my group was able to embrace. Our facilitator told us that he never saw a group bead as much as we did and believe it or not the kids were still beading on the plane ride home!”
She’s traveled extensively throughout the world, but Ms. Tedeschi always finds something new to learn shortly after her plane touches down. She enjoys sharing her love for traveling with others and encourages them to savor making discoveries of their own.
“Every person has the ability to make a change in this world, but not all people do,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “This trip to east Africa brought about many changes to our personal lives, the lives of the people we met in Tanzania and the lives of our family and friends at home who experienced what we did from our memories by listening to our stories, watching our videos and viewing our photographs.”
Senior Emma Pipolo called the trip “amazing” and her fellow travelers weren’t about to disagree. Members of the group came back ready to share the experiences they all enjoyed with anyone willing to listen.
“The students on this tour were the best,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “They demonstrated strong leadership abilities and were always engaged in the activity at hand. I never heard one complaint. They were always smiling and eager to help.”
The daily interactions the Huntington traveling party enjoyed in Tanzania couldn’t have been duplicated anywhere else on the planet. The group went there to learn and to serve and students and adults did just that.
“On this trip I had three previous travelers; Hailey Bengston, Kayla Ryan and Emma Pipolo,” Ms. Tedeschi said. “These girls traveled with me to Peru, Costa Rica, France and England. The new travelers were in awe of the experience just as much as my previous travelers. If they did not catch the travel bug prior to the trip, I am confident each traveler has it now. We are also all ‘infected’ with the Africa virus. The Africa virus is a sickness that causes you to dream, breathe, and constantly think about being in Africa and yearning for a return. I have a severe case of this illness since I first traveled to southern Africa in 2013 and have returned to east Africa each year since!”