Experience Report – Volunteering at the Zanzibar Help Foundation


Here’s a short report from one of the volunteers who worked with us this year.

My name is Stephan; I am from Germany, 25 years old and have been studying Business Administration and Economics. Within this article I will describe my experiences volunteering as a teacher for the Zanzibar Help Foundation.

Why did I choose the Zanzibar Help Foundation?

I became aware of the Zanzibar Help Foundation through “google”, when I was surfing the internet for opportunities to volunteer for a 2 months period. To be honest, at first I had been looking for an exotic place, which would provide me the opportunity to experience a completely new environment. I did not know too much about Zanzibar or its history.

Nevertheless, I just mailed Hassan Jaffer, who is one of the Directors of the Zanzibar Help Foundation. I was fairly convinced volunteering at this organization by his continuous and fast reply. In addition, this is one of the cheapest of all (African) programs; housing, and even a maid for your laundry, is provided and there are no agency fees. All in all, you just need to pay for your travel to and from Zanzibar and your own costs of living, which are rather cheap, if you come from a so called first-world country.

My first days in Zanzibar

Housing is provided at a beautiful town house right in the center of Shangani – Stone Town, which is a ward of Zanzibar City. To me, who has never visited Africa before, the first days there were very imposing. Life in in the historic downtown of Zanzibar City is multifaceted: Buildings of public authorities, luxurious hotels and tourist shops are merged with street trading, open market places and local restaurants. If you wander around the narrow alleys you will always find something new.

I visited Zanzibar from mid February until end of March 2013. On the first two days Hassan Jaffer and one of his Co-Directors, who voluntarily works as a dentist on Zanzibar, Dr. Feroz Jafferji, took me around the island. They did not only show me the “neighborhood” and some beautiful resorts and beaches, but also introduced me to their friends and relatives. So, right from the start you have some “go-to-persons” throughout the city (e.g. shop owners, restaurant owners, etc.) and are not feeling lost.

Volunteering as a teacher

On day three I started my work as volunteer assistance teacher, teaching English and Computing to primary school children, teachers and residents of the village of Unguja Ukuu.

The village is located in the rural Eastern non-touristic part of Zanzibar. You go there by dala-dalas, which are privately owned minibuses or smaller lorries, substituting the missing public transportation system. Although, they do no follow a strict schedule, they are a reliable mode of transportation.

Every dala-dala is numbered and repetitively drives a certain route (similar to a bus line). Although, they are always overloaded – at least from a European perspective – and the Zanzibari traffic system in general is rather chaotic, it is not too dangerous. The ride takes about 30 to 60 minutes, depending on how many people enter per stop, as the dala-dala only continues his ride with a minimum amount of passengers on board. I even took naps and have never been robbed.

All villagers of Unguja Ukuu – from little children to police officers – gave me a very warm welcome when I arrived at the office. The school is, thanks to the Zanzibar Help Foundation and its contributors, in a very good condition (African standard). It has roofed class rooms, with chairs and benches for pupils (!), a small library and a computer lab.

Right from the start you become aware that the school system in Zanzibar is ineffective. Almost all teachers are very motivated, especially when a Mzungu is around them, but the underlying system itself is outdated and not efficient.

Pupils are mostly trained on repeating, but not to apply their knowledge. It is often the case that they recite a sentence, without knowing the meaning of it at all. As a result, it is hard for them to do conversation in English.

Nevertheless, they all are eager to learn and very interest to interact with you. Usually classes end at 1 o’clock, followed by a small break, as almost all teachers visit the mosque during noon. After teaching the pupils in forenoon, I gave computer classes to teachers and interested villagers in the afternoon.

It is very inspiring; but somehow sad, if a villager in his sixties, benefiting from the pre-revolution school system, talks to you in perfect English. You see, post-revolution students (now grownups) can barely speak English – a sign of the decline in the level of education since the revolution of 1964.

Whereas the focus within the English classes was to “tell” easy and entertaining stories to the children (e.g. introducing 3 new words every class), the focus of the computer class was practical usage. We started with very basic knowledge, e.g. “how must the external devices (keyboard, etc.) be plugged in? “ At the end of my visit, almost all villagers were able to make basis use of Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.


I left Zanzibar with the impression having gained a deeper understanding of the way of living and culture which I would have never have experienced, if I went there as a tourist. In addition, I am convinced having made a (little) difference, although I also experienced how hard and exhausting it can be to be a teacher.

 I would like to express my honest gratitude to Hassan Jaffer and Dr. Feroz Jafferji, who did not only gave me the chance to volunteer in well-being and comfort, but also gave me an insight into Zanzibari life!

If you have any questions please do not hesitate to contact Hassan Jaffer or me directly. You can Skype me (stephan50002) or drop me an e-mail (s-rohrmoser@web.de).

Travel remarks

I have been free to arrange own arrival and departure times with the Zanzibar Help Foundation; only time of the year it is not possible to volunteer at the Zanzibar Help Foundation is Ramadan. In preparation, roughly 6 to 4 weeks prior to your trip, you should consult a vaccinator.

I have not felt unsecure or “in danger”, when volunteering in Zanzibar (e.g. the house is located right next to the police station).

Nevertheless, one should always remember that the income per inhabitant per day is around $1 to $2; and the island suffers from structural problems. Therefore, like in Africa in general, one should follow some guidelines: Do not wear jewelry, make use of unofficial taxis or carry large amounts of cash with you.

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