Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

Rebecca Tate

Last summer, Rebecca Tate ’12 volunteered for a Tanzanian organization run by an American pediatrician, Irving Williams, and his wife Elvira. Dr. Williams is the uncle of Russell Williams, associate professor of economics, who suggested the agency to Tate.

Daunting task. Adventures in Health Education and Agricultural Development (AHEAD) is a small nonprofit that works to improve the health, education, and empowerment of people in Tanzania. As a volunteer, I taught English in the AHEAD school in a village called Kisarawe. I am a math major with no experience teaching English, so the task was daunting at first, but I slowly figured it out. I also taught a class on HIV/AIDS to the entire student body.

Life lessons. Tanzanians are very good at experiencing the richness of life in the moment. When you converse with a Tanzanian, they look you in the eyes, eager to hear what you have to say. They invited me into their homes with open arms and smiling hearts. Real, honest human connections are continuously made in Tanzania, and this open, inviting spirit brings to fruition what it truly means to be human.

Medical ambitions. I went to Tanzania bracing myself to see the harsh realities of poverty. There definitely is poverty, and devastatingly harsh realities as a consequence. But for the most part, the people were OK. Life is simpler, but they have strong family connections and an amazing way of looking out for each other. They aren’t suffering from a lack of skyscrapers or refrigerators or computers, but they are suffering from not having access to modern medicine. Children there are still dying from preventable diseases such as measles and dysentery. The experience made me realize how important health and wellness are in society, and it strengthened my inclination toward perusing a career in medicine.

Dual passions. A young man named Samuel came to me with some math questions. I was impressed by the complexity of the mathematics he was studying. He spoke somewhat broken English, but we easily communicated by writing equations down on paper…. I dance with the Wheaton Dance Company, and in Tanzania I was practicing ballet one day when several of the little girls came and looked in through the window. I invited them to come dance with me, and before I knew it, I was teaching a daily ballet class.  My passions for mathematics and dance quickly helped me break down the language barrier. These two disciplines are largely the same in every language.