A “close and inspirational bond” – uOttawa alumna describes her volunteer experience in Tanzania

Katie Chastven

Katie Chastven is driven by, above all else, a passion for travel. This love has shaped her studies, fuelled her engagement and volunteerism and is now having an impact on her future career goals.

The Burlington native graduated from the University of Toronto with a BA in 2011 and then went on to complete her BEd at the University of Ottawa in 2013. During her time at uOttawa, Katie was one of the Faculty of Education’s Developing Global Perspectives Cohort, a unique option designed to integrate global perspectives and international education into the Ontario curriculum. This led her to get involved with two Canadian volunteer projects, Kitigan Zibi and an Elections Canada initiative.

Yet, it was her involvement in Project TEMBO that struck a chord with her. Based in Tanzania, TEMBO works to support girls and women through education and microbusiness sponsorships. What interested her most was the chance to make a lasting difference in young girls’ lives.

A year ago, in June 2014, alongside four other uOttawa students, she joined the TEMBO English Camp (TEC) to create engaging English as a second language lesson plans that would be incorporated into the Tanzanian curriculum. In addition to collaborating closely with two Tanzanian student teachers, the five students were given the opportunity to volunteer in the community, holding literacy workshops as well as workshops on female rights.

Katie notes with pride Project TEMBO’s string of successes, not only since the program’s inception but also in the short time since was in the program. Currently in its sixth year, the program grew from 54 students in 2014 to 66 students in 2015 and has had no dropouts since it started. TEMBO recently constructed a new learning centre and library in Longido and runs a guesthouse to accommodate visiting volunteers, all of which provide work for various community members. All these projects are aimed, too, at making TEMBO economically sustainable. The model may even be introduced in many other communities in the future.

Most important of all to Katie, however, is that Longido’s community values are changing for the better. As more voices openly speak up, the public is now beginning to tackle important issues such as the practice of female genital mutilation, which has been illegal in Tanzania since 1998 but is something that nearly impossible to enforce. The community is also pushing for girls to begin their English studies earlier in their lives.

TEMBO’s team plays an important part in challenging social taboos. One role model is Mary Laiser, Project TEMBO’s community facilitator for the Longido area. Affectionately nicknamed Mary Tembo, the former TEMBO guesthouse worker is a pioneer in the community—she was the first Maasai woman in her community to hold an “alternative” coming-of-age ceremony for her daughter, Happiness (who, during Katie’s stay, was also named class valedictorian and accepted at university).

This attests to the far-reaching impact education can have on a community as a whole. Instilling lasting community change, Katie says, can happen only by ensuring access to education. “And that’s exactly what’s happening there. You really don’t know when a seed will be planted.”

Since her experience with TEMBO a year ago, Katie has stayed in close contact with her TEMBO teammates from uOttawa. In fact, her next venture will take her to Taiwan to teach English as a second language, alongside a former colleague.

Currently living in Toronto and working at the Hospital for Sick Children (Sick Kids), Katie is pursuing additional qualifications courses, a testament to her deep commitment to development education as a whole. When asked about the current shortage of jobs for new teachers in the region, she seems unfazed—her optimism ever present.

She laughs when asked if she ever stops to take a break. Even after all these experiences, Katie seems just as inspired to get involved as when she first started.

“There’s no way volunteering will be a negative experience; it’s worth getting involved in any way, shape or form. It’s a lot of work, but at the end…it’s worth it.”

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