Philipp’s Voluntary Service 2022
“The true benefit has become clear to me, contrary to my expectation, precisely not by those who benefit from Schulbank, but by those who could have benefited from Schulbank.”
When I arrived in Iringa in mid-April after almost six weeks and 4,000 km, I had a very inaccurate picture of Tanzania. In Zambia, on the one hand, I had been enthralled by the beauty of nature, but on the other hand, I honestly found the lack of much of what one takes for granted in Germany – peace and quiet, space, a watertight sense of security, street lighting and liverwurst – unnerving. How positively I was surprised by Tanzania afterwards, where the clocks seem to turn even slower than here. In Swahili, the traditional language of the country, the time is offset by six hours, so that the day begins with sunrise and one lives in the rhythm of nature. Tribes still play a major role in dress, language, manners, identity; some tribes, such as the Maasai, still maintain their centuries-old traditional way of life of herders and farmers, often still living in the countryside in huts made of wood and mud. In general, I perceive people as very warm and open; there seems to be a great willingness to help each other, and many call peers Kaka or Dada (brother or sister) and elders Mama or Baba (mom or dad).
Everyday life seems slower and less stressful than in Germany, but also less comfortable. There are no supermarkets here; many grow their own corn or keep chickens, food is bought at the market. Since most people have neither computers nor smartphones, information is passed on almost exclusively from mouth to mouth; if you want to know something, ask your neighbor. The traffic seems chaotic, but it has its inner logic of showing consideration and demanding consideration; without traffic lights or signs, drivers communicate with each other, and on the outskirts of town or in the countryside, one waits many a time because a herd of cows or goats crosses the road.
Iringa itself is located in the highlands at an altitude of just under 1,500 m; when I arrive, heavy thunderstorms herald the end of the rainy season, which in May gradually gives way to the initially hot, later cool dry season. The town is arranged around a main street, which in turn is lined with countless small stores and stalls, and within a few minutes’ drive you are in the countryside, where ranges of hills stretch majestically into the distance, beautiful sunsets bathe the fields in color, and clear starry skies make you pause in wonder. I lived and worked in this city for three and a half months, and I had the great fortune to meet three other exciting people from here, in addition to my work colleague Edgar, whose story I would like to tell.
My first friend in town is Jackson, 23, from Mafinga, about 50 miles west of here. Jackson is a tuk-tuk driver by profession, always in a good mood, reliable and helpful, bright, interested. We quickly move from small talk to storytelling; where we came from, what shaped us, what we dream about. We spend evenings with his friends in front of his small house on the outskirts of town, where we sit around the fire, listen to music and talk. He tells me about the loss of his mother, who died when he was a child, and that his father left him alone years ago. With no parents and no money, Jackson could no longer afford secondary school and was forced to drop out, but was able to get an apprenticeship as a mechanic. As a mechanic, however, one earns less in Tanzania than as a tuk-tuk driver, so he changed professions. He likes meeting new people, and he knows every corner of the city like the back of his hand, but it’s not a nice job for him. He works seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m.; on good days he makes 50,000 shillings, of which he has to give 20,000 to his boss – this sum is independent of his daily earnings – and spends 10,000 on gas. So these good days give him the equivalent of 8.51 euros. Of course, these 8.51 euros have a completely different purchasing power here than in Germany, but you can’t make long leaps with it – and since the tourists have stopped coming because of Covid-19, these good days hardly ever happen anyway. And yet he is brimming over with life and sees the beauty in many small things, for which I admire him greatly. His dream is to own a chicken farm one day. He once worked for a dentist who raised chickens on the side, and knows chickens and how to handle them inside and out. But for this you need a space, time, food, vaccinations, heat, and most importantly chickens. He doesn’t have the money for it, no bank would give him a loan, and his friends don’t have enough money to lend him that much either. And yet: he says that if I come back in two years, he will invite me to his farm.
My second contact in town is Pepoli, the handyman of the property where I live in a small house with a tin roof. He’s half Italian, half Tanzanian, 31, and creatively inventive. As the little man’s MacGyver, he can fix an instantaneous water heater with a wire, and there’s almost nothing he can’t get working again. When he was fixing the electric in my house, I invited him over for a beer, and after a few outings, dinners, and quite frankly half-nights together, he told me his story. The father left the family at an early age, and his mother, belonging to the Tutsi, went with the children to Rwanda, where the Hutu genocide broke out in 1994. Pepoli, his mother and his sister fled on foot, and what he saw he will not or cannot tell. In Tanzania, the family was safe, and Pepoli was able to go to the public primary school. When I ask him what his school days were like, he shakes his head and tells me that violent caning on hands or bare buttocks was a really common and completely legitimate means of education. He would have liked to go to a private school or study, but the family’s money wasn’t enough for that. His dream is to have his own farm where he can grow corn and keep cows. He has already bought a piece of land outside the city, but for cultivation he lacks money, time and, as a self-taught farmer, perhaps a bit of expertise. That’s why he lives his life as a “jack of all trades”, hoping to eventually have enough money to finally get his farm up and running.
The third person I get to know better in Iringa is Beatrice, my Swahili teacher. She is 36, has two children, and lives in a small house on the outskirts of town where she keeps chickens and grows corn in subsistence farming to feed the family. We get along well, and many lessons we talk about God and the world rather than learning the seventh noun class. Her English is excellent, she’s a great teacher, and later she joins the evenings outside Jackson’s house, so all three – Jackson, Pepoli and her – get to know each other. Beatrice lost her father and mother as a small child and was raised as an orphan by an aunt. Afterwards she met her future husband, for whom she interrupted her studies in order to be able to financially support him, who was unemployed at the time. After the birth of the second child, he found a job, left her, cut off all contact as well as support, and moved away. Since then, money has been more than tight, and she still doesn’t know how she’s going to get the school fees for her children together. But she, too, is far from complaining or giving up. She draws a great deal of strength from her faith in God, seems tremendously resolute and firmly believes that she will make it, which, as with Jackson and Pepoli, impresses me deeply.
Why am I telling the stories of these three people? While their fates would have touched me even without my Schulbank background, they really got to me with that background for one simple reason: the lives of these three people I met here completely by chance could have been much better with Schulbank and perhaps even fundamentally different. Maybe Jackson could have graduated from secondary school and now have his chicken farm instead of not making 60 bucks in a 98-hour week. Perhaps Pepoli would have been spared at least the physical violence at elementary school after the terrible experiences of his childhood in a formative phase of life; perhaps he would have been able to study agriculture and his farm would slowly return its first profits. And maybe Beatrice could have finished her studies and started her own language school, and her worries about her children’s school fees would be less.
The benefits of Schulbank and the potential impact of such a scholarship were clear to me on paper before I left. It was really nice to meet the scholarship recipients who stopped by the office, proud to have finished the last exams of the school year and looking forward to the vacations. But the true benefit has become clear to me, contrary to my expectation, precisely not by those who benefit from Schulbank, but by those who could have benefited from Schulbank. With Jackson, Pepoli and Beatrice, I have met three people here who would also have deserved such a scholarship, and whose lives may be lacking exactly what such a scholarship can offer: a secure perspective.