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Siobhán Smith is an IT Specialist from Ireland who has visited Hope Academy in Tanzania as a volunteer. Blair Akilmali is the Founder of Hope Academy, which started in 2006 with just two boys, one girl and one assistant teacher. Below, Siobhán and Blair discuss the volunteer program at Hope Academy and Siobhán's time there.

Blair: What made you decide on volunteering for your annual vacation? Wouldn't time at the beach be more relaxing?

Siobhán: When I was younger, I did the traditional gap-year activities; the Inter-railing, the year in Australia, the island-hopping in Greece. I have never been a candidate for the two-week beach holiday. I'd be bored. Once my career as an IT Specialist had been underway for a decade or so, I noticed that it had become a real challenge to fit meaningful travel into the constraints of the working year.

Blair: How did volunteering help with this challenge?

Siobhán: With Hope Academy it was possible for me to go for as short or as long a time as I wanted. From one week to any number of months. A month-long IT-teaching post with Hope Academy in Tanzania seemed like a really good fit.

'The children were absolutely gorgeous'

Blair: How easy was it to organize your trip?

Siobhán: Hope Academy provided a host family and also organised my airport transfers in Tanzania. All I had to do was pick a date and time and book my flights.

Blair: Did Hope Academy make good use of your skills?

Siobhán: English is an official language in Tanzania and it is critical for the children to learn for their later education and employment. Just being there, being patient with the children and keeping an open mind was clearly useful for them. My IT skills were an added bonus.

Blair: You mentioned earlier that you volunteered for a IT-teaching post. What did you teach?

Siobhán: In the mornings I taught the kindergarten class and, in the afternoons, I taught older children in the local college, which was set up for people who have no money to pay for education.

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Blair: So, did you enjoy teaching in Tanzania?

Siobhán: It was exhilarating, if exhausting. You can work as much or as little as you like and I think in retrospect I took too much on, because by about the third week I was exhausted. The children were absolutely gorgeous, and the Tanzanian people were so friendly.

Blair: Were there any problems?

Siobhán: Indeed, I felt nervous at one point. It was my fault entirely, as when I arrived at the airport I realised I hadn’t asked for a picture of the organiser of the Hope Academy. There were three men waiting at arrivals with my name on a piece of paper, and, just for a second as they bundled me into their car, I did wonder if I was doing the right thing!

Blair: Oh, you definitely did the right thing. Thank you so much for volunteering at Hope Academy, Siobhán. The children loved having you as their teacher.

Siobhán: Thank you. It was a terrific experience, with a great sense of having done something worthwhile.