|"Working with students in Tanzania" Copyright © Hostel Hoff, All Rights Reserved
Tanzania's Hostel Hoff: An Interview with Amanda Natai
What do David Hasselhoff, Tanzania and chocolate have in common? No, this is not the introduction to a very bad joke. It is a reminder that travel should be fun. Travel should grab your imagination, lift your spirit and transport you to another world.
Unfortunately, losing the awe-stuck feeling travel volunteering offers is a hazard when you frequently pen stories from deep inside the bowels of the topic. Research has recently left me mired knee-deep in the Thai wildlife raids, mountainous hikes in Tanzania's volunteer visa fees, and the Cambodia orphanage controversy. Tunnel vision, with a negative focus eventually risks skewing the travel reader's attitude as well. Thus, for this issue of The VolunTourist I have chosen to err on the side of whimsy and elected to feature Hostel Hoff in Tanzania. This decision was based in large part on the founder's love of chocolate. After all, why not have some fun with it all?
A Few Simple Rules for staying at Hostel Hoff:
"Firstly, you must bring a poster, picture, postcard or something that either represents where you are coming from or is just plain funky. Secondly, I would like you to bring your favourite book or DVD and add it to the collection. Thirdly, and very important, you must bring chocolate. Except if you are American, because, let's face it, American chocolate sucks. But you can buy it in Amsterdam on your way through!
You can only stay at the Hostel Hoff if you truly love the Hoff. If you don’t know who the Hoff is, please return to the 90’s and watch some Baywatch reruns."
Several projects have landed me on the Hostel Hoff website over the past six months, but it was not until I noticed the above requirements to stay at their Moshi Town accommodations that I knew I needed to interview the cofounder, Amanda Natai:
What first brought you to Tanzania?
"We have always had tremendous support from the local community. Many of the projects we work with would not have survived if it wasn’t for the work our volunteers have done. The local community understands and appreciates this. In a community which has a high unemployment rate, Hostel Hoff also employ’s only local staff, many of which have large families to support. "
I first came to Tanzania in 2007 as a volunteer through one of the larger international volunteer organizations. The following year I decided to return; however, I didn’t want to pay the large sums to volunteer, especially when I realized that none of the funds paid actually go into helping the local community. This is where the idea of Hostel Hoff came about.
What is Hostel Hoff?
Hostel Hoff offers low cost volunteering opportunities. You pay a small amount for your hostel accommodation which includes breakfast, dinner and laundry daily. We then organize a volunteering placement for you and this is free of charge. We also provide all pre arrival and in country support, including airport pick-up, town orientation, volunteer visa organization and helping you with anything you need.
Are the Hoff accommodations only for volunteers or are there accommodations for the average traveler too?
Hostel Hoff is open to any traveler (not just volunteers) however we do have a minimum 1 month stay. Our hostel is dorm rooms (2-6 people) or we have a few double and twin private rooms available. When full, we have a maximum of 23 people in the hostel and this is spread over 7 rooms.
How do you find the organizations you support and how do you decide they are viable - worth supporting?
Hostel Hoff has now been running for nearly 5 years, during this time we have gained a lot of experience with projects and which projects are most viable and in desperate need of volunteers. We currently work with approximately 15 different projects which range from schools, orphanages, women’s groups, medical centres, community development projects and centres for children with disabilities. Upon inquiry, we provide a full list of these projects and ask volunteers to decide what they would be interested in.
What has the response of the Moshi Town community been to your work?
We have always had tremendous support from the local community. Many of the projects we work with would not have survived if it wasn’t for the work our volunteers have done. The local community understands and appreciates this. In a community which has a high unemployment rate, Hostel Hoff also employ’s only local staff, many of which have large families to support.
How long does the average volunteer stay?
We have a minimum 1 month stay and that is to ensure every volunteer is valuable to the project they volunteer with. We often have volunteers staying 8-12 months and many volunteers who come, decide to extend once here. The average length of time is probably 2 ½ - 3 months.
|"School children greet voluntourists in Tanzania" Copyright © Hostel Hoff, All Rights Reserved
What is the average age of participants?
We have volunteers who range in age from 18 years old to over 60 years old. The average would be mid 20’s. The most important thing is that you have a passion for helping others - your age does not matter.
What is your most popular volunteer project you work with?
The Tanzanian Children’s Concern school is one of our most popular projects. Here, volunteers are used to help tutor primary school students. They have qualified teachers however there are always children who may be falling behind and need some one on one tuition. The school is 70% fee paying whilst the other 30% are free placements to children in the village who would otherwise, not be able to afford school. Hostel Hoff [also runs its own charity called Path To Africa (www.pathtoafrica.org)] and Path To Africa are major supporters of the school.
What is your vision for the future of Hostel Hoff?
"Like all of the NGO’s here, we were furious with the government decision to increase the volunteer visa fee to USD$550. Along with many other organizations we have put our complaints to the government and are doing our best to make them realize how this is affecting on the ground projects and their country's citizens. We can only hope that volunteers see the work we are doing and can find the funds to afford this. Many volunteers have done some extra fundraising to cover the visa fee and we can help with providing fundraising ideas/letter etc."
Every month we strive to provide an excellent volunteer opportunity wherever you're coming from and ensure that valuable assistance is being given to the projects. We hope to continue with this, constantly improving and watching the projects grow. Through our charity, Path To Africa we are also building a Children’s Centre. Our vision is to have this completed which will then provide a safe home environment for at least 60 orphaned and vulnerable children from the local village. This Children’s Centre is largely funded by Hostel Hoff.
Please share your thoughts about Tanzania's Visa fee increase and the reactions of both NGOs and volunteers.
Like all of the NGO’s here, we were furious with the government decision to increase the volunteer visa fee to USD$550. Along with many other organizations we have put our complaints to the government and are doing our best to make them realize how this is affecting on the ground projects and their country's citizens. We can only hope that volunteers see the work we are doing and can find the funds to afford this. Many volunteers have done some extra fundraising to cover the visa fee and we can help with providing fundraising ideas/letter etc.
What are some of the most popular places for volunteers to visit on their days off - the touristy stuff and local flavour?
We are located on the foothills of Mt Kilimanjaro (the highest mountain in Africa). There are so many options for activities on the weekend. Doing an African safari is definitely top on the list - visiting parks like the famous Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater. For something more active, you can climb Mt Kilimanjaro. Want to relax by the beach, take a long weekend to Zanzibar. For shorter day trips you can visit local waterfalls, hot springs, coffee tours or cultural visits.
Have any of the stars of Baywatch ever been there and did they bring chocolate?
Unfortunately, David Hasselhoff has never been fortunate enough to visit our hostel. We keep him in our hearts with DVD copies of Baywatch and posters on the wall. If anyone knows him personally, please ask him to visit us J. He can even have a free stay.
What is the most important attribute a volunteer coming to Hostel Hoff should have?
All you need to be a good volunteer is a passion to help those in need. A fun and friendly attitude is also always welcome in a hostel environment.
What is the most important thing a volunteer can expect to take away from their time participating in give-back travel in Tanzania?
The realization and appreciation for the lives we have and the knowledge that you can easily help those who are not as fortunate as us.
Is there anything else about volunteering, Hostel Hoff or Tanzania you would like to share with VolunTourist Readers?
Volunteering in Tanzania is an experience you will never forget. Not only are you giving an amazing support to local projects, you are visiting a hugely diverse country which has many activities to enjoy. The Tanzanian people will welcome you with open arms and you will leave feeling like Tanzania is your second home.
Learn more about Hostel Hoff at: http://www.hostelhoff.com/index.html
|Nola Lee Kelsey, Author, Blogger, The Voluntary Traveler
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I hope you enjoyed my latest Supply Chain column for The VolunTourist Newsletter. I look forward to introducing readers to many more unique voluntourism opportunities in the future, including more firsthand experiences. If you have any questions or comments, please send them to The VolunTourist Newsletter or email me directly at: Nola(at)NolaKelsey.com
Happy travels everyone!
Nola Lee Kelsey
Owner, Dog's Eye View Media
Rapid City, SD USA/Chiang Mai, Thailand
Nola Lee Kelsey is a freelance journalist and the author of multiple books on voluntourism, including 700 Places to Volunteer Before You Die: A Traveler's Guide and the Animal Addict's Guide to Global Volunteer Travel.
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