Penticton students Caitlyn Spooner

Penticton students Caitlyn Spooner

Local students return from Africa with new outlook on life

Group of 21 teens from Penticton and Summerland spent spring break on construction crew at orphanage in Tanzania

  • Apr. 14, 2013 7:00 p.m.

Another group of Penticton and Summerland students has returned from Africa with a new outlook on life.

The three-week excursion saw 21 kids plus chaperones spend two weeks on a construction crew at an orphanage in Tanzania, where they found out a lot about themselves and the third world.

“I surprised myself with how hard I can work when I’m working towards something, and just… how you can connect with someone so fast,” said Caitlyn Spooner, 17.

“Like with all the kids there, it was so easy to make friends with them and everything, whereas you find here it might be more difficult.”

The Princess Margaret Secondary student was joined on the trip by classmates and peers from other high schools in Penticton and Summerland.

Spooner said seeing abject poverty up close made it more real for her.

“You always kind of know that there’s people who need food… (but) until you actually see it though, I don’t think you actually believe it,” she said.

Classmate Jon Hack, also 17, said his group mostly ate like the locals.

“Sometimes at lunch we would be lucky to have two pieces of buttered bread with jam,” he said.

“We had to make due. We got some Nutella at one of the local grocery stores, so we got by.”

The volunteer labourers, who lived together in a large house, helped build a dormitory at the orphanage, which is near Arusha, a city of about 1.3 million people near the continent’s eastern coast. Hack said the group expected to work on a library, but building new sleeping space became a priority.

“The original sleeping area for these kids is really overcrowded: three or four kids to a single bed,” he said.

Local workers already had a foundation in place when the Canadians arrived, so the volunteers helped lay bricks for the rest of the structure. All of the work, like mixing cement and moving materials, was done by hand. They worked from about 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., then, if they weren’t too tired, took in some local culture in the evenings.

Ashley Stewart, 17, said Arusha’s street vendors were quite aggressive, but the visitors learned to take them in stride.

“Most of them I’d say were very nice people. They all meant well,” said Stewart, adding she was told the city’s unemployment rate was 70 per cent.

She said the contrast between rich and poor there was striking.

“There’s lots of really big buildings that are super-nice, and they just look so out of place compared to everything else, which is just the same: shacks all down the street and garbage everywhere,” she said.

“We saw lots of poverty, for sure.”

Another local group is heading to Arusha this summer to build off work started by this spring’s crew, plus others volunteers who went before.