‘You’re going where?’ was the reoccurring response I received from family and friends when I told them of my plan to close 2019.

Having learnt about a three-month volunteering programme for a small NGO in Tanzania, I decided to pack my bags and make my way to East Africa.

The purpose of the trip was to be a part of the changes that the Assalam Community Foundation were making in a small village named Kizimkazi in Zanzibar. Zanzibar is semi-autonomous region just off the coast of Tanzania – one of the most impoverished countries in the world.

It is known for its exotic beaches, spice plantations and diverse culture.

Despite the abundance of culture and beauty, it is also a place with poor sanitation, health care and education. 

After recognising the needs of the locals in Kizimkazi, a Turkish woman named Hatice Yentürk set up the Assalam Foundation just two years ago. The small and independent NGO is currently providing around 50 jobs to local people and schooling just under 100 children.  

Asian Image:

Assalam Foundation campus

The opportunity to work with the organisation to better the lives of young Zanzibarians was one that I felt could not go amiss. 

It was also a chance to discover a new culture, meet a variety of people and challenge myself. I had just graduated with a First-Class degree in English Language – yet I still had not found a job and I felt unsure about my future.

This was my chance to make those uncertainties clearer and find some direction in a job market that is overpopulated with people like me.

Fast forward three weeks from the day I sent off my CV, I got on a plane and travelled over 7,400 miles to work as the Communications Coordinator for the Foundation. While this three-month trip may not seem so out of the ordinary for some, as a British Pakistani female in her twenties, travelling to East Africa to work is not the norm for girls like me.

Asian Image:
The roofs of the houses on campus are made from coconut leaves

I was told that girls can’t travel so far alone or that Africa is not safe. While the latter can be justified by some arguments, it is naive to paint an entire continent with the same brush.

From my personal experience, as someone who has also visited the archipelago on holiday, Zanzibarians are the friendliest and most welcoming people I have met. While it is too early to make any concrete judgements, on Zanzibar or the people, I would have never had the privilege to make that call if I listened to the naysayers.

Asian Image:

Me alongside Isaka – 2-year-old boy living on campus with his mother and father, who work on campus. 

Asian Image:

Fishermen of Kizimkazi, Zanzibar

My first week living in Zanzibar has been challenging to say the least. From eating breakfast amongst chickens to regular power outages, my life in Zanzibar could not be more different to my life in Blackburn. 

As someone who is a fussy eater, often refusing to eat my mother’s daal (lentils), I soon learnt that attitude is not an option in East Africa. There is no Starbucks or Domino's so needless to say - now the daal seems like heaven on a plate.

While getting accustomed to things like food and hygiene has been testing at times, the experience at the Assalam Foundation has been extremely gratifying. I am living on the Assalam Community campus, along with Turkish volunteers and local workers. 

There is a nursery school and tailoring room that provides jobs for women in the village and everyone works together to ensure the projects are delivered up to a high standard. 

Asian Image:
Assalam students during their weekly sports class 

Working alongside both volunteers and local workers and attempting to converse in English, Swahili or Turkish has been a unique, yet enjoyable experience. I have only been in Zanzibar for a week, but I already feel part of the family here at Assalam.

Everyone works with the ultimate aim to create an Africa that is sustainable and self-sufficient – and I am proud to be a small part of that change.