I had wanted to volunteer in Africa since I first heard of the Peace Corp in the 1960’s. At last, in 2011, my husband and I had the resources, the time and the good fortune to have a connection to Karimu. We were so excited about the opportunity to travel and the promise of a life-changing experience. We were well prepared, by a dear friend who had made the trip several years earlier, for what the day-to-day activities might entail. However, we were not prepared for the respect for elders ingrained in their culture.

In the U.S. we were about to retire from careers in the tech industry, where gray hair is a signal that your knowledge and work skills are becoming obsolete. In Tanzania, my husband was automatically respected because of his gray, almost white, hair like the snow on top of Kilimanjaro. On arrival in the village, the male elders clearly communicated a welcoming attitude even though we did not speak or understand more than a few words of Swahili. For me it was pure joy to see the respect extended to my husband just because he had lived long and possessed wisdom from a life full of valued experience.

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Elders are highly respected by everyone in the community for their wisdom and life experience

Besides doing construction work at Ufani Primary School we enjoyed every opportunity to get to know the villagers and their culture. We have been invited to their homes, we’ve sung and danced together with different groups of community members. While walking to the Lutheran Church with 18-year old Naomi, one of our translators, she told me of her daily affirmations of gratitude toward her god and all the elders who had made her good fortune possible.

That conversation and the respect felt from the villagers served as motivation to recognize myself as an elder. I finished my work career and used all my accumulated skills in my new career as volunteer and philanthropist. As of now, we have returned to our village 2 more times. Not only to continue working on Karimu projects and visit our old friends, but to celebrate our elder status.