In the summer of 2017, Caroline Kim, Kathryn Chan, and Zoe Wilson, travelled to Tanzania to take part in the two week long Round Square Big Build trip. The project brought together 50 students from around the world to construct and improve facilities for a school in a rural community on the slopes of Mt. Kilimanjaro called Marangu. In the end, we built a classroom and a kitchen, improved the flooring of another classroom, painted the walls and surfaces of toilet blocks and classrooms, built a garden, and sanded down new desks. We also spent a morning teaching English to students in another nearby school where the teachers were vastly outnumbered by students. Not only were we there to build and teach, we also interacted with the community and spent two days exploring Tanzania’s rich culture and diverse landscape. We had the opportunity to go on a wonderful safari at Arusha National Park, visited a waterfall and also learnt about the history of Kilimanjaro’s Chagga people and their caves.
Apart from all the opportunities that we were given, we also had time to make opportunities for ourselves. Being surrounded by 47 other students that we didn’t know, and leaders whom we’d never met, forced us to quickly break out of our comfort zones and eventually form lifelong relationships with many of these people. Being thrown into such a new environment with no idea of what to expect, we clung onto each other and supported one another throughout whatever obstacles we faced. Spending two weeks in a new place didn’t prove to be easy, but struggling through those times genuinely made the bonds that we created stronger than anything we’ve ever felt before. Whether these obstacles were facing the cold and wet climate of the mountainside, or working through muscle pains and cramps, or even just hiking up to our worksite each morning, the constant sense of community made us feel included and comfortable all the time.
Caroline: "The two weeks that I spent on this trip in Tanzania were definitely some of the best weeks of my entire life. I didn’t realise how much two weeks could change my perspective on life and how concrete my values and goals could become. Being around such amazing people with a vast range of personalities day and night made the trip so much fun and the amount of determination within the group truly shocked me. I formed some really close friendships, which I honestly reckon will last forever, with some incredible people from around the world. It was incredible to see how passionate and determined everyone was and how united we all were with a shared goal to make a difference in the community and the world; physically seeing what we built was inspiring and made me realise how beautiful the world could be if everyone donated a little bit of their time and effort. I learnt a lot about myself and about the world that I wouldn’t have learnt through anything else because although we were working most mornings and afternoons, we also had a lot of time for individual reflection and introspection. It was just an amazing experience like no other, being in such a beautiful country with beautiful people and I, to this day, miss the trip so much!"
Kathryn: "It’s strange to think that in only two short weeks we were able to build such strong relationships with people we had never met. Camping and being disconnected from the world forced us to talk to each other and once we became fast friends the days flew by. Prior to this trip I didn’t anticipate making such great friends and it was incredible to meet so many like-minded people from all over the world that had been brought together by our passion for service. The constant energy and excitement was electric and being in that kind of atmosphere was very inspiring. The amount that we accomplished in two weeks - both socially and physically - was more than I could have ever imagined. Not only were we able to form strong friendships, we were also immersed in Tanzania’s rich culture and beautiful environment. The local people welcomed us with open arms and the people of Marangu were just as happy to see us on the last day as they were on the first. I learned so much on this trip and it just goes to show that we are all capable of making a positive difference no matter how big or small.
Zoe: "I think that everyone on the trip realised just how unique the experience was going to be very early on so not only were we surrounded by an equally invested and eager group of students from all over the world, but we all knew how special those two weeks were going to be and didn’t want to take a second for granted. It sounds cliche to say that it changed the way I look at things, but when you spend all day every day in such a breathtaking landscape and listening to stories from the Moving Mountains supervisors about how the NGO has changed their lives, it would have been impossible to not be deeply affected. Being away from all technology and social media definitely played a role in the extent to which I could appreciate the trip as a whole and allowed me to gain some much needed perspective. The amount of tears on the last Sunday afternoon as the inevitable goodbyes were said, was a sure testament to the close bonds we had created in such a short amount of time. I hope to return to East Africa next summer after I graduate and work with the Moving Mountains crew again and couldn’t recommend the Round Square service projects more to future participants!
If you’re interested in reading more about our wonderful experience, you can read a published article by Round Square here and a blog written by the students of the project with many more photos. We're all so grateful for the opportunities that we have been afforded in our lives and this is one of the most incredible opportunities we've ever experienced!