Global Volunteers’ Reaching Children’s Potential (RCP) Program benefits from a range of carefully nurtured partnerships in the USA and Tanzania. Two such partners are the University of Central Missouri (UCM), which facilitates scholarships for 12 students each year to participate on one of our service programs, and Rise Against Hunger (RAH) which supplies the fortified meals we ship to mothers and children in participating villages. With the added assistance of our Tanzanian staff, (and the good fortune of optimal timing), we leveraged both partnerships to demonstrate the difference every volunteer can make. Months before their departure, the students packed meals headed to Tanzania stateside – so they could hand-deliver them on site to RCP parents as a team. Read on to learn about their stunning experience as nutrition advocates in the village of Ipalamwa.
A customized meal-packing and delivering journey from Missouri to Tanzania enabled UCM students to witness first-hand the power of partnerships. After the container of meals they prepared were shipped across the Atlantic to Tanzania, and carried overland from the port of Dar es Salaam, the meals made their way to Iringa and up the mountainous final trip to Ipalamwa. The waiting students enthusiastically unpacked and prepared to distribute the packages to mothers over the two-week service program.
A Journey of Care and Compassion
Months earlier in Lees Summit, Missouri, the students learned about the villagers who would receive the meals they spent an afternoon packing at a specially scheduled event. After filling plastic bags with rice, freeze-dried vegetables, soy protein, and a micro-nutrients packet, and packing them together in boxes, they shrink-wrapped and loaded the boxes onto the trucks that would carry them to the freight containers bound for a nearly 9,000-mile voyage across the ocean to their final destination. Envisioning the eventual impact of their effort – starting with an afternoon of filling bags – the students were eager to eventually meet and serve the families the RAH meals would feed.
“Being able to help package the RAH meals was really awesome… you kind of think about it, you’re like yeah, this is going to help feed people, but then you really see the need first-hand, it’s really powerful and impacting on you. You know the people appreciate it so much.”
Stephanie, UCM Nursing Student
When the UCM group arrived in-country, unloaded the semi-truckload of meals and packed them in the RCP storage building, the magnitude of their contribution became clear. During home visits with the families, the students helped prepare the meals and watched how the children happily received them. Learning how completely the balanced nutrition would strengthen toddlers’ bodies and brains was an overwhelming recognition for some. “Being able to help package the RAH meals was really awesome,” remarked one student. “You kind of think about it, you’re like yeah, this is going to help feed people, but then you really see the need first-hand, it’s really powerful and impacting on you. You know the people appreciate it so much.”
Fortified meals are the central element in stabilizing children’s nutrition through the RCP Program, and are distributed throughout the five villages of the Ukwega Ward. Families who participate in the program and attend workshops, are provided handwashing stations and garden boxes to reduce infection and optimize health, and are supplied the fortified meals for all pregnant family members and children under age 2. Furthermore, through Global Volunteers’ partnership with RAH, students are also fed a nutrient-rich meal before school, at lunchtime, and before returning home.These three nutritious meals replace the usual one meal, primarily made of corn meal, prepared before the RAH meals became available.
The students observed how meals such as the ones they packed in Lees Summit not only fill empty bellies, but also improve children’s learning. They heard from parents, teachers, and RCP staff how school performance had improved and school attendance increased since the fortified rice meals became available at the schools. One student reported her personal experience “connected the dots” between their work months before and what they witnessed through satisfied smiles in classrooms and homes. “All this was packed in one small plastic bag: hope and promise, smiles and laughter, determination and focus, progress and potential, success,” she reflected.
“Especially, I think, given the context of being able to pack them in the first place before we got here. I mean, yeah, it’s impactful. It hits you right in the feels.”
Ryan, UCM Secondary Education Student
UCM Professor and Faculty Group Coordinator Dr. HenryWambuii characterized the “packing/distribution” element of the service program “experiential learning at its best.” Whether students serve in the classrooms, at the clinic, or on parent workshops or home visits, he said, “they got a taste of the struggles and hardships RCP families overcome each day with limited resources. They were painted the picture before arriving, but they were in the picture while serving. The power in partnerships developed right before their eyes.”
“It hits you right in the ‘feels,’” said Ryan, a UCM student. “Especially, I think, given the context of being able to pack them in the first place before we got here. I mean, yeah, it’s impactful.”
The group’s student coordinator concluded, “This place has changed my life.” The needs are great, she asserted, and the communities are “ready with open arms and hearts” to engage volunteers in meaningful ways on projects that help them help their children reach their fullest potential. “I hope hundreds more students have the opportunity to contribute in this way – and to see the difference one individual truly can make.” UCM’s next Tanzania service program is in May 2023.
“There are so many stories I’m excited to share…This place has changed my life. There’s opportunity for everyone here whether it is teaching, social work or health.”
Jordan, UCM Nursing Student
Work to end hunger and childhood stunting in the Ukwega Ward. Serve on an upcoming RCP Program. We welcome your support and power in partnership!