They came with open hearts and a sense of adventure and they left forever changed.

Traveling to Tanzania, our group of volunteers participated in a weeklong project at a dilapidated school for AIDS orphans in the tiny village of Mbgala, just outside Dar Es Salaam.

Started in 2001 by retired school teacher Fatuma Gwao, the Bibi Jann School and Children’s Care Trust is responding to the Aids crisis in Tanzania, where almost 1 million children have been orphaned due to the epidemic.  Relying on charitable contributions, the school provides scholarships and medical care to orphans of Mbagala.  The “bibi to bibi” or grandmother to grandmother program offers support to 25 local  grandmothers who are caring for 75 orphaned grandchildren – often on less than $1 a day.  Fatuma herself cares for three orphaned girls.

Working in the dusty courtyard of the Bibi Jann school, they sanded and painted classrooms, built desks, installed a fresh water filtration system and set up clean-burning stoves for the “bibis”, grandmothers in the village who care for the children and the school.

They worked alongside local carpenters who guided them in building the desks.  They painted alongside teachers and neighbors from the village.  They met the children of the school and shared songs and laughter.  And each day at lunchtime, the bibis prepared a traditional meal for the women and they were welcomed into Fatuma’s cement block and dirt floor home.

Although each of the women had traveled extensively in her life, this trip was a cultural immersion and exchange far beyond any they’d ever experienced.  During this unforgettable week, lifelong friendships were forged and personal transformations occurred.  They experienced how very different life was for the people of Mbgala and yet how very similar they were to the people there.

Webisodic content from the trip received two Telly Awards, including the Silver People’s Choice Award, Telly’s highest honor voted on by the internet community.   An Emmy-nominated half hour documentary of the experience aired on public television.

Voluntour Partner: Roadmonkey Adventure Philanthropy