Last Sunday, I was the woman of honour at the football field. I was escorted up to the highest level of the stand which had been created for Pope Paul II's visit in 1992. As all things Africa, it is covered in red dirt. They have found 4 plastic lawn chairs – most likely from a local cafe – so that I have a seat. I am kept company by G, the Programs Manager. All of this honouring is being done because upon arrival in Tanzania, I passed on two team sets of youth uniforms and various other donations from my community soccer team.
After the game, I am brought down to the teams. Coach explains that I brought the uniforms and supplies from Canada and that the games were to show their gratitude. The team captain speaks in english with the coach translating kiswahili for the team; then handshakes and “asante” all around. Uniforms can be bought here – relatively cheaply, but the work to obtain them is long and time consuming so donations are happily accepted. Balls only last 3 or 4 games as they are played on the soil rather than grass fields, and are expensive to buy here.
The special thing of this event is that Tanzanians are not known to be demonstrative in their appreciation. The fact that Coach organized this and that the donation was recognized publicly was a great gesture and quite uncommon. Other donation items were asked for and distributed to other projects and organizations but without a word of thanks or acknowledgement. Having heard of this beforehand, I was okay with it. The value to me was in providing the item, not participating in the use or having any control of the outcome.
Pearls of wisdom (warning – will not be palatable to all; but are my opinions, observations and experiences):
If you decide to bring items to donate; please understand that you should give over any emotional expectations. Gifts are generally opened in private afterwards and made little of, though some are learning to understand the Mzungu way of obvious signs of appreciation and thanks. If you want to see children playing with your donations – please don't expect it. The teachers or manager know best when and how they should be distributed or used and kids can only use so many toys, crayons or books at a time. Tanzanians do not put the same value on material possessions and they are not very organized, so things get damaged or lost – or used by another and not returned – this is, after all, a communal society. The environment of Tanzania is also very hard on things so things wear out or look bad very quickly. Please give it as a gift with no expectations and consider that unless it is something specifically requested then the best gift to bring is money so you can buy something here that is truly needed. I will also go onto a limb and suggest that we nix the concept that “anything regardless of how out of date, is better than nothing” I have been just as guilty of this way of thinking, but it is not the case. They are as much in need of current electronics, cameras or products as others. A computer with an old operating system that cannot support current software is no more useful in Africa than in our home country. Please, work with your company or NGO closely of what is relevant and useful and ask what type of reception or expectations you should expect. A generous gesture and spirit should not become clouded because of lack of acuity or insufficient information; but you might need a little self talk in preparation before you come with donations in hand.