By Nicole DeStefano
Most college students ring in the New Year in a similar way — with a night of celebration surrounded by friends and family. This was certainly not the case for senior management major Gregorio Perri, who arrived in Tanzania, Africa, on New Year’s Eve and kicked off the new year with volunteer work 7,000 miles away from home.
Perri left his comfort zone and familiar faces behind as he headed to Tanzania. The trip, which lasted 17 days, was put together by New Zealand-based volunteer organization, International Volunteer HQ. It was Perri’s desire to make the most of his last break before graduating from the College in May 2016 that motivated him to join the volunteer trip.
“I chose to take this leap of faith because I am about to graduate and enter the working world,” Perri said. “Before that happens, I wanted to travel, volunteer and ultimately make a difference by doing something completely different from the norm.”
When Perri arrived in Tanzania, the weather was hot and dry, around 85 degrees Fahrenheit each day. He stayed in the northern region of the country at a volunteer house in the city of Arusha.
His weekdays were spent teaching at a local elementary school. Every Monday through Friday, Perri would wake up at 7:30 a.m. to eat a breakfast consisting of a hardboiled egg, fried dough and a cup of tea. He then would leave the volunteer house to begin his trip to the province of Sanawar, where the school was located. This daily trip through Arusha consisted of uneven dirt roads congested with countless livestock. The streets were lined with banana, mango and avocado trees.
“I would then walk to the street and catch two dalas — equivalent to a taxi in America, but a lot more uncomfortable — until I reached the stop for the Charity School,” Perri said. He explained that he was often squished among roughly 20 people in the dala and sometimes had to sit on a stranger’s lap. “After getting off the dala, I would walk about 20 minutes through the province of Sanawari until I reached the school.”
While in Tanzania, Perri worked as a teacher’s assistant at the Charity School, where he taught local children everything from English, math and science to how to play different types of sports. On his first day at the school, Perri and his fellow volunteers were welcomed by the children with open arms and gleaming smiles.
“As I spent time with these kids, I began to learn why they welcomed (the volunteers) as such,” Perri said. “Many of them have tough households and they look at us volunteers as close friends, older siblings or even as family who support them. Seeing those bright, shining faces on my first day really left its mark.”
While the time spent with the children laughing, dancing and singing greatly impacted Perri, so did Mosses Mollel, a founder and manager of the Charity School, which opened in 2010 with only 20 students registered. With Mollel’s care and management, the school has since expanded to teach over 100 students. According to Perri, Mollel dreams of further expanding the elementary school to provide additional classes for middle and high school-aged students in the area.
“Mosses is an innovative, bright, diligent, hard-working man who knows no limits,” Perri said. “He has had the strongest impact on me and my perspective of the world.”
After school, Perri would explore the town of Arusha with the other volunteers. Here, they would visit supermarkets and cafes and, of course, take advantage of the limited Wi-Fi access whenever possible. On the weekends, the volunteers found themselves discovering the beauty of Tanzania. Perri’s favorite adventure was the trip to Moshi. He visited crystal clear hot springs, made coffee at a coffee plantation, tried the local tribe’s famous Banana Beer and ended the trip by going to the Ndoro Waterfalls.
“This was a life-changing experience,” Perri said. “Being immersed in a completely different culture really opened my eyes. Words cannot express the impact this adventure has had on me. I recommend taking that leap of faith and doing something outside of the box. You won’t regret it!”