US park humanitarian's journey leads to Tanzanian mountain top

27Apr 2019
Correpondent
The Guardian
 US park humanitarian's journey leads to Tanzanian mountain top

TRAVELING thousands of miles over land and ocean to the highlands of Tanzania, Lexington Park resident Teresa Quinliven confirmed that — yes, it takes a village.

She joined a team of volunteers in November and December last year helping local mothers in a tiny agricultural community at the end of a mountain road give their children a healthy start in life.

In an internet search, Quinliven learned about the unique program, “Reaching Children’s Potential,” in Tanzania’s Iringa District that teaches mothers simple strategies for vastly improving their families’ well-being, according to a release from the nonprofit organization Global Volunteers. Quinliven said local project leaders engaged her team for two weeks on classroom teaching, parent workshops, home visits, childcare, nutrition education and various labor projects.

A flight test engineer at the Department of Defense, Quinliven used her skills to help repair a diesel generator and taught math in the secondary school. The generator repair work was a surprise when she arrived.

“On the first day, I was asked if I had any experience with generators,” Quinliven said with a chuckle. “It certainly wasn’t what I was planning to do. But, the generators had been breaking down, and because they’re used extensively as the primary source to run the facility, I let them know I’d try to help,” she said.

“I identified the need for a preventative maintenance program. ... I had the oil changed and radiator fluid filled on the diesel engine. It’s a developing health center, and I’m grateful I was able to contribute this way to it,” she asserted.

Most days, she taught a classroom of over 80 kindergarten students. They were rambunctious, friendly and eager to learn.

“They’d run up to me on my walk to class to just hold my hand — sometimes ten of them at the same time,” she said. “They’re full of life and love, and excited I was there to teach them basic English words for shapes and colors. We sang songs and played games, in English, outside on the soccer field.”

The program is sustained year-around through Global Volunteers, a nonprofit, nonsectarian development assistance organization in special consultative status with the United Nations, according to the release.

Founded in 1984, Global Volunteers is a pioneer in engaging short-term volunteers in community-based, long-term comprehensive development projects worldwide. The organization began a development partnership with community leaders in the Iringa District in 1986, and has mobilized more than 200 volunteer teams consecutively to eight villages since then.

Major funding in 2017 and 2018 enabled the organization to construct a state-of-the-art health center, including a medical clinic providing infant and maternal care, labor and delivery, and routine family medicine, the centerpiece of the RCP initiative.

Quinliven said the opportunity to contribute her skills to a groundbreaking local project was a major incentive for choosing to serve with Global Volunteers. By volunteering in one community, she said she experienced “the true culture and daily rhythm” of Tanzanian life while helping local leaders advance their vision for self-sufficiency.

Quinliven was startled to learn that in this area of Tanzania, up to 50 percent of children are physically and cognitively stunted — a condition that is fully preventable with simple interventions that the RCP program teaches.

The truth is that through proper nutrition, protection from infectious disease and early childhood stimulation, stunting can be prevented, she said.

But these interventions must begin in utero, and continue over the critical 1,000 days up to children’s second birthday, or the damage can be permanent. When stunting is eliminated, children can learn at an appropriate rate, and can reach their full potential to become a contributing member of society.

“I feel like I made a difference to the children and mothers by sharing my skills, and learning about their lives. This was the best volunteer experience I’ve ever participated in. I would definitely like to return just to teach and be with those children,” she said.

Quinliven said the volunteer team had time away from the work projects on the weekend for a safari at the nearby Ruaha National Park and to enjoy the area cultural and historical features.

Global Volunteers invites people of all ages and backgrounds to serve in this unique way — to give back and make a genuine difference by working with and learning from and about local people in their community. Over three decades, the organization has established more than 100 long-term development partnerships with community organizations on six continents.

Volunteers provide labor and financial resources to local projects to help children and women thrive. Short-term volunteers are the “infinitely renewable resource” keeping support and energy flowing into the communities, according to Global Volunteers President and CEO Bud Philbrook.

The fixed tax-deductible service program contribution each volunteer pays covers three meals each day, community lodging, local transportation, medical and emergency evacuation insurance, a trained team leader and project materials. Airfare and visas are extra.