On to the next bend

By Ruby Padasay


The author writes about her time as a VSO volunteer in Mpwapwa, Tanzania, from 29 June 29 2013 to 15 June 2015. Mpwapwa is a market town in the Dodoma Region of Tanzania.

I am not the kind who will last at anything for more than two years. I am not the kind who finishes anything I‘ve started. My parents had to make a deal to get me to complete my Bachelor’s Degree. I know the symptoms when I want to quit: I would sleep the whole day at home, pretending that I have a severe headache.

After graduating I worked at a call center for six months and then got bored. I knew I wouldn’t last another six months. I started to review what was happening in my life and decided to go to an assessment day of VSO (Volunteer Service Overseas) in Manila.

Ruby, far left, with other VSO volunteers

Though I had done a series of volunteer works in the Philippines I wasn’t sure about volunteering abroad. I am a person who believes in signs. If accepted I knew it would be for me. If not, it wouldn’t. I did my best during the assessment and really asked for a sign. I went with my cousin to Quiapo Church and prayed that I would make it – and I did.
It was difficult for my family to let me go. I’m not a ‘house person’ and my mom never seems to get used to my leaving home. She worries a lot and whenever she calls tells me that she prays for me to be safe and that God is with me. I have always believed in the strength of prayer, especially of parents.

Ruby in a reflective mood in the Tanzanian countryside

I was in Tanzania when Mom was diagnosed with stage two breast cancer. I cried the whole night. Some friends made long distance calls after hearing about this. One of my closest friends, working in South Africa, called to ask about my decision. I said that I wanted to go home. My friend’s response was, ‘Why did you go to Tanzania in the first place? If you go home, will it change anything?’ I called Mom next day. She said there was no need to go home. Mom’s illness drew here closer to God, strengthened her relationship with my father and brought our family back to the Church. She’s been heroically fighting her illness and I draw a lot of strength from her. Her courage has become my courage here, in this place where I’m my own.

Ruby with Filipino VSO volunteers in Tanzania

My first three months in Tanzania were a period of adjustment. My values, beliefs and upbringing were challenged. Everything seemed to be different. Volunteering made me question many realities in life, made me think about my personal values, made me realize that there are some who have everything but still complain about many things.
Traveling was very difficult. We had to visit three colleges every quarter to train teachers. Bus rides often lasted eight hours. But traveling taught me some lessons. Seeing women wearing high heels while carrying their babies on their backs showed me how strong Tanzanian women are. Sometimes I saw them standing for five hours in crowded buses.

Ruby at a meeting with teachers
Tanzanians are generous. With the little that they have, they would still invite you for dinner! And I have found vendors to be people who would rather earn an honest penny than steal.

Market in Tanzania

For me, the best thing in Tanzania is the people’s respect for religion. There are times when Muslims and Christians pray at the same gathering. On such occasions, in order that everyone has something to eat and that no one is offended, chicken or beef, but not pork, is prepared. In the market you will stalls opposite each other where the owner of one is a Christian and of the other a Muslim. But they call each other ‘Brother’. It always fascinates me how in a place like that where Muslims and Christians are almost in the same number yet they still live in peace.  [Editor’s note: It is estimated that around 35% are Muslim, 30% Christian and that 35@ practice traditional African religions.]

St Paul of the Cross Cathedral, Dodoma [Source: blog of Christina Bahati]

I didn’t know why I considered volunteering back then. I was a lost soul when I was inspired by my graduate school teacher who shared in class on how she was once lost too and finally found her purpose. Maybe this is a gift in itself, my ever wandering spirit always looking for something new. It has become my strength as a volunteer.  No, I do not call it noble, admirable, heroic.

Filipino VSO volunteers and Tanzanina youngsters sharing a light moment

Volunteering is just my way of paying forward the love and generosity that my family and I have received from other people.  
My term in Tanzania is over and now I’m here in Nepal on another mission. When it is time for me to go around the next bend on my journey I will be glad to once again pack my bags.

Since we are travelers and pilgrims in the world, let us ever ponder on the end of the road, that is of our life, for the end of our roadway is our home (St Columban, 8th sermon).

St Martha Catholic Choir, ‘Safari’, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania