“Vicki! Tanzania is your second home, you will come back.” This was what Victoria Brännmark’s friend Chollo said to her just before she travelled back to Sweden after her second stay in Tanzania. It was pure chance, or perhaps it was fate, that led Victoria specifically to Tanzania. Victoria has always been interested in East Africa, and when it was time for her to write her Bachelor thesis, her supervisor at Gothenburg University had a colleague who was in Tanzania, and that was why she ended up going there. The journey proved to be the start of a wonderful adventure.
Victoria Brännmark has now been to Tanzania three times. Her first trip to Tanzania was two years ago, when she travelled to Zanzibar (a group of islands in Tanzania) in order to write her Bachelor thesis in global studies. Over the course of two months, Victoria compiled information and material for her thesis on the relationship between climate change and food production by interviewing people from two agricultural and fishing villages. While Victoria was working on her thesis, she became acquainted with a lot of wonderful people and learned a great deal about the local culture. Tanzania slowly started to become Victoria’s home away from home.
After her two months in Tanzania, Victoria travelled home to Sweden to finish writing her thesis. Once she was home, she felt that she wanted to return to Tanzania. She looked for work experience placements and found a place at one of the ERIKS Development organisation’s local partners, a children’s rights organisation with a focus on children and youths with disabilities. And so the time came for Victoria to return to Tanzania. This time she spent five months in the coastal town of Tanga in the northern part of the country. During her time there, she followed the work of the organisation at both the local and national levels.
As a result of her work experience placement, Victoria came into contact with the Come Together project, which is a collaboration between the ERIKS Development organisation and the Swedish National Association for Persons with Intellectual Disability (FUB) that works to promote everyone’s right to an education. Victoria was asked if she wanted to become a volunteer in the project and she couldn’t say no, since she felt that their work was both relevant and important. Together with Come Together, Victoria returned to Tanzania for the third time.
There are often a lot of preconceptions about what people’s lives are like. It is not uncommon to be presented with stereotyped images of countries in Africa, and aid and development work is often described in terms of theory and statistics. Victoria’s interactions with the people and culture of Tanzania changed this image for her. The figures and tables were replaced by real people with stories of their own. At the same time as Victoria has acquired memories that will be with her for the rest of her life, she has also developed as an individual and has learned a great deal about herself.
– Since my time in Tanzania has primarily been associated with aid and development work, I have also learned how this works, both the challenges and the opportunities. Above all, I learned that development work is about much more than just a project; it is about cross-cultural meetings and relationships and developing an understanding between both people and organisations, says Victoria.
When I ask Victoria for tips about what people should think about when they are about to step out into the big wide world, she talks about the importance of learning the language. You can come a long way with just a few friendly phrases of greeting. In Tanzania, language became the key for Victoria. It helped her to become a part of the local community.
– Without the language I would only have experienced half of what I’ve actually been able to experience. Another tip is to be curious! Talk to people and try to get to know them. Be open and humble and show respect for the people and the cultures that you come into contact with.
What advice would you give to other young people who want to become involved in the same way as you?
– Find something that you think is fun to do. A lot of people might say that getting involved in voluntary work will look good on your CV, but I think it is actually better to do something because it’s fun and because you think it’s important. One piece of advice would be to start studying and/or to get involved in some form of voluntary association or organisation. If getting involved in something feels a bit overwhelming, it’s good to think that even if you can’t do everything, you can do something. Getting involved doesn’t have to mean travelling abroad. You can get just as involved in making society a better place, both locally and globally, right here in Sweden. But first and foremost I think that when you do travel to a place outside Sweden, it is as much about what you learn as it is about what you can contribute. It’s about an exchange between people and cultures.
Since January 2015, Victoria has been a Sida Alumnus and shares her experiences via interactive workshops. One of Sida’s (the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency) missions is to increase awareness about Swedish humanitarian aid, how it works and what it is used for. The Sida Alumni programme constitutes part of this work, and involves getting young adults who have recently been out in the field in a developing country, either on work experience or doing a field study, to pass on their experiences of Sida’s work and aid issues. Up to now, Victoria has held seven workshops of her own as a Sida Alumnus, most recently at the Ådalsskolan upper secondary school in Kramfors.
– The Sida Alumni programme gives me the opportunity to share my experiences from the field and at the same time encourage a discussion about aid and development work, which is something that I think is very important, fun and educational, says Victoria.
Have you been inspired by Victoria’s story? Do you want to get involved yourself? Find out more about the organisations that Victoria has worked with by clicking the links below!
Text: Lucella Bergström