Volunteer Service Trips Improve the Health of our Students and Campus

Red Sweater Project is lucky to have partners and friends all over the world who visit campus and volunteer their time and energy to help the Mungere community succeed.

For the second year in a row, Pacific University College of Optometry students and instructors visited Mungere over the December break to provide pathology and eyeglasses for more than 170 students and community members. They spent the day on campus offering eye exams, prevention education and corrective wear to those in need. They even gifted all of our Mungere students and villagers with sunglasses to protect their eyes from the harsh sun. “We have found that close to 30% of the patients we see are blind in one or both eyes and most of this is due to UV related eye conditions,” said optometry student Andy Mackner. Because most of these diseases are preventable, “it is important that we bring education and awareness of the need for protecting their eyes from sunlight and conditions like cataracts and macular degeneration.”

Their visits serve to provide much needed care for the community as well as offer the university students a unique learning experience. “We continue our work in Tanzania due to the tremendous unmet needs in the country. The rate of blindness in Tanzania is astonishingly high from many causes, most of which can be prevented with education,” said instructor Dr. Craig Bowen from Tualatin, Oregon. “We believe in the work that the school does. It is estimated that as much as 80% of the learning a child does occurs through their eyes. Our work should augment that being done at the school.”

There is no eye doctor within 100km of the school so students and families have little access to this kind of quality health care. The university’s visits have become invaluable for the community’s health and are also important to volunteers. “It has been an incredible experience to say the least,” said Andy. “While volunteering, we experienced the drive and motivation that this group of students has for their education. It hasn’t just changed my life though, it has changed the life of our 13 other team members who visited the school and are now more likely to continue to give back throughout their lives.”

In February, Red Sweater Project also welcomed a group of alumni from Willamette University and Occidental College. As the Mungere student body grows, so does the need to increase the capacity of the campus composting toilets. Working alongside local staff and contractors, volunteers moved cinder blocks, unloaded sand and built a foundation to support the addition of two more toilet tanks. There are now enough tanks to successfully store and convert liquids into nitrogen-rich fertilizer, helping the garden grow while reducing campus waste. The visitors also planted fruit trees all over campus. Once the trees begin producing, student lunches will include mangos, avocados, lemons, oranges and passion fruit.

Sustainability is a big goal at Mungere and the work being done on campus is spreading throughout the community. The group joined Form IV graduate Amina Ramadhani, 19, on a tour of her home made of mud and sticks, where she showed them the composting toilet she designed and constructed herself. “I was so impressed. You looked at her mother and she had so much pride. On her own she built a composting toilet. I thought to myself, she could be an engineer, and then she told us she wants to become president,” said Betsy Reifsnider from Sacramento, California.

Red Sweater Project aims to provide volunteers with enriching experiences they can bring home with them. After four days working on campus and spending time with students, the alumni group shared their positive impressions. Sandy Miller from Orange, California was amazed at the difference between the teenagers here and those back at home. “These kids help each other and they help us. They smile at me. These kids seem so open. High school is not an automatic here and giving them a place to go to school is so important.”

The visitors agreed that the most surprising and inspiring takeaway was how successfully the organization was integrating into the community, rather than just showing up and doing things the Western way. “Red Sweater Project is changing the world. This is how you change the world — what’s happening here. Being respectful of the culture and learning from the people rather than creating a power relationship,” said Betsy. “People come to Tanzania and say how amazing the wildlife is, but after just one day of working and meeting students I thought to myself, if I had to go home tomorrow, this one day would have been worth the entire trip.”

Have an idea for a service project or want to find out more about volunteering at Mungere? Contact volunteer@redsweaterproject.org to discuss how you can help!