Mawenzi Adventures

 VISITS TO SCHOOLS, ORPHANAGES & MAASAI VILLAGES

“Would we allow a Tanzanian that we’ve never met before to do the same thing in our home town?”

A simple question. But maybe the only one that matters. For sure it’s the first questions we ask ourselves before deciding whether or not a certain activity should be on our program. And the main reason why some are not. 

Below, we want to take a moment to talk about some activities that we regularly get asked about and that are very commonly organized here in Tanzania, but that we don’t or only partly organize. Please be prepared for an unfiltered version of the actual situation in these places, and what really happens during these visits. 

VISITS TO SCHOOLS

It’s important to know that any school that you can visit in Tanzania is per definition a school for children that are vulnerable in some way. Only schools that are not funded by the government, and that need donations to survive, will allow people to visit. In these schools, you’ll find children whose parents aren’t able to pay the public school fees, children with learning or mental difficulties, street children, children that have been the victim of abuse, etc. 

Let’s be clear: we are not against donations in order to support local schools. (*) 

But when you visit a place like this, you will automatically be taken into the classrooms, where you’ll go and disturb children during class. Children that are already vulnerable because of their home situation. Children that are already behind in their learning process for whatever reason possible. Children that only go to school a few days per week because the rest of the time they need to work to support their family. Children that often already struggle with staying focused. Children that are suddenly treated like a tourist attraction. Multiple times per month, week or even day. 

Would you allow a Tanzanian that you’ve never met before to disturb your children during class once a month, week or day? 

… or even just once? 

(*) We support donations to local schools under certain conditions. First of all, we think that projects like these should be led by the community, respect their culture and respond to their needs. We also think children deserve and need stability and really believe that schools that hire local, trained teachers are so much better than those that work with foreigners that come and go. Some stay as little as 2 weeks, which creates huge attachment and abandonment issues for the children and many of them aren’t even trained to be a teacher. There’s also thousands of local teachers that can’t find a job, but who do know the children’s culture and can offer a much more stable and recognizable environment for them. So if you really want to help, please reach out and we’ll share our favorite projects depending on your itinerary. 

VISITS TO ORPHANAGES

Everything that’s written above about schools is also true here. But there’s an extra layer when it comes to orphanages. 

80% of children in Tanzanian orphanages are not orphans. (source: Unicef)

We’ll say it again.

80% of children in Tanzanian orphanages are not orphans. 

They have at least 1 living parent, and on top of that they usually have grandparents, aunts and uncles and other family members. 80% of the children in orphanages didn’t go to an orphanage because their parents died, but simply because their parents are poor. 

Reports from eg. Unicef show that living in an orphanage is almost always detrimental to children when it comes to care, attention, love and to their social, emotional and cognitive development and it increases their risk of eg. abuse and suicide. Over 90% of orphanages are opened and managed by foreigners or foreign institutions, and many of them are faith-based, which simply and plainly falls under white saviorism. 

There’s a few projects that focus on reuniting families and providing them with the necessary support to do so (which, according to Unicef, is 4 times cheaper than keeping the children in an orphanage), but they’re rare. Why? Because it’s easier, and it brings in more money when you put the children in an orphanage. 

One more time…

80% of children in Tanzanian orphanages are not orphans. 

So we hope you’ll understand that we don’t support orphanages in any way, but only organizations that focus on reuniting families and giving them the support they need to stay together. 

Or would you allow a Tanzanian that you’ve never met before to take your children away from you just because you’re struggling? 

VISITS TO MAASAI VILLAGES

When it comes to Maasai villages, of course it’s a bit different than dealing with vulnerable children in orphanages. In this case we’re talking about adults that can make their own decisions, and children who live with their families. 

But those same, simple questions remain.

Would we allow a Maasai that we’ve never met before to walk into our bedroom just to have a look? Would we allow them to pick up our children and post selfies with them on their Instagram? Would we allow them to crash our special celebration just because we have a tradition that they’ve never seen before? 

We know our answer, and we’re pretty sure we can guess yours.

To make sure you know exactly what the ‘standard’ Maasai village visit looks like, we want to explain it in a few words. And it only takes a few words, because usually you spend less than an hour in these villages, half of which is in the souvenir shop. When you arrive, you watch the Maasai do their famous jumping, which is totally staged as it is not at all part of daily life. Next, you’ll spend a few minutes inside somebody’s house / bedroom and then you’ll go to look at their children in a staged classroom for another few minutes, before heading to the souvenir shop where you’ll experience quite some pressure to buy something that you’ll probably never use. And that’s it. No room for conversation. No exchange, nothing learned. Just a human zoo that isn’t pleasant or respectful for anyone involved.

So rather than offering you to do the same thing, we suggest something different. We want these visits to be all about a real exchange, and we are convinced that this is only possible if you’re genuinely interested, willing to ‘get uncomfortable’ and dedicate a minimum amount of time. 

We offer immersive stays in just 1 village, on the east shore of Lake Natron. It’s a village far away from mass tourism that doesn’t even have a souvenir shop, and that offers zero comfort from a western point of view. Because we strongly believe that this is how you respectfully discover a culture like this: by getting uncomfortable. 

So you can expect to get your hands dirty, to be totally surrounded by the cattle and deal with the smell that comes with it, to discover how their main source of water is a pond with stagnant water that they share with their animals, to meet people who attach zero financial value to time or who might nowish to send their children to school, to experience the excruciating heath that always seems to be present at the lake, to witness and learn more about things like polygamy and partners that don’t get to pick each other, or to have an empty bucket for a chair.

We can organize village visits of different lengths, the minimum being half a day. We don’t just drop you off in the village and let you have a look. Instead, we propose activities such as starting a fire, milking a goat and preparing tea. Nothing spectacular like the famous jumping, but activities that are actually part of the daily life of the Maasai. 

But before heading to the village, we first plan almost a day for you to spend time with your guide – who comes from the village – at your camp and during another activity. This way you can get to know each other and both him and your group can feel comfortable around each other before heading to the village. This has a huge positive effect on how you interact with each other and really helps to create a much deeper exchange. 

Please ask him all your questions. The easy ones and the difficult ones. Start a conversation and don’t shy away from the sensitive subjects. He loves to share and to learn more about your culture as well. We have conversations with him about how important education is for him, but also about how other people in the village find it totally useless. About relationships between partners and having multiple wives. About whether he believes as much in education for men as for women. About taking care of the cattle and how they charge their phone knowing there’s no electricity in the village but also about female genital mutilation… Because even though this practice has been forbidden in Tanzania since 1998, it does still happen in certain villages. 

This, to us, should be the purpose of this visit. Because you won’t learn anything about a culture by spending 5 minutes in a person’s house or watching them perform a celebratory ritual. Yes, some of the things you’ll learn might be shocking, but that’s exactly the point. We’re not interested in reinforcing stereotypes but only in showing you a realistic, deeper side of the culture. 

Are you ready to dive head first into a real Maasai experience, with time for exchange, education and respect? Are you interested in this adventures because of the culture shock, not in spite of it? Let us know. We’d be delighted to organize it for you!