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Stir grad challenges herself to change the world in Zambia

The former Stirling student reflects on her life-changing experience as a VSO volunteer.

A GRADUATE from the University of Stirling is reflecting on her time volunteering overseas.

Tanaka Musakambeva, 26, who has a Masters in International Conflict and Co-operation from Stirling university, spent three months in Zambia’s Samfya district earlier this year with Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO).

Being born and raised in Zimbabwe until she was a teenager, Tanaka understands first hand the effects of poverty in a developing country.

She said: “I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to pursue my higher education in Scotland.

“As a result, I made the conscious decision that I want to work within international development and fight against poverty in impoverished countries.”

TanakaBrig
Tanaka spent three months at her project in Zambia. Credit: Tanaka Musakambeva

In Zambia it is currently estimated that around a third of of teenage women and girls are either pregnant, or have already given birth at least once.

The bulk of work that Tanaka did in Zambia involved educating young people about sexual health, including preventing STIs and HIV.

And staying with a young host family, she became accustomed to day-to-day life in Zambia, including getting up early, heating up bath water and cooking ‘nshima’, a local delicacy.

She taught and led a variety of different sessions to both small and large groups.

A particular highlight, she explains, was a session she led at Samfya Primary School with the visually and hearing impaired.

“I think that session made me realise that VSO’s mission of leaving no one behind is a strong pillar.”

VSO volunteers from the UK get paired up with national volunteers from Zambia.

Although she was nervous at first, Tanaka’s partner, Mulemba, became like a sister to her, guiding her every step of the way.

At times, Tanaka admits that it was emotionally heavy and traumatic witnessing the effects of poverty first-hand.

She said: “There were many vulnerable teenagers within the community who had dropped out of school as a result of pregnancy.

“And it was difficult to watch the impact of HIV on families up close.”

Despite this, she was amazed that the communities had so much joy and love in their hearts.

While in Zambia, Tanaka was part of the ‘media committee’, meaning that she was in charge of updating the rest of the world on their work through social media.

She also ran a JustGiving page, which resulted in raising enough money to buy resources to renovate a youth friendly space in the town, where local youngsters could get together.

On her return back to Stirling, Tanaka is continuing to volunteer in her spare time.

Last week, she signed up to be an independent age volunteer, where she will be having a chat and visiting an older person regularly.

Tanaka said: “My time in Samfya was a unique journey and a most rewarding experience.

“It has left me with a keen sense of purpose while opening my eyes to burning issues to do with life and the world we live in.

“To say that this has been a life changing experience is an understatement.

“I never thought I would’ve learned so much about myself, and those who are in need the most.”

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