Australian teacher volunteers in Africa with family

For nearly 18 months Garry Dagg, his partner Gaia and their four children lived in Tanzania, where Garry volunteered as a teacher trainer on the Australian Volunteers Program. Since returning to Australia, Garry reflects on the incredible impact the experience has had on his family.

My role was to train teachers in more creative ways that could unleash the torrent of talent that Tanzania holds. It is a land of smiles and wildlife. ‘Karibu’ is the word that followed us everywhere: 'welcome'.

The rituals of getting from sunrise to sundown consumed our lives and Gaia’s images capture the heart, the toil and the land that became our home.

Garry and children riding bikes on an open plain in Massai
Garry Dagg and his children ride bikes on an open plain in Massai. Photo: Gaia Boranga

Having left behind our perfect life in Dunsborough, it took a long time to adjust to our new, chaotic and colourful way of being.

For Matteo, who had lived half his life in Tanzania, celebrity was the only world he had known. His family nickname of ‘Matoto’ means baby in Swahili, so everywhere he went, everyone called his name.

Two people tending to animals in Massai
Two farmers tend to animals in Massai, Tanzania. Photo: Gaia Boranga

At two years old the beasts of human imagination belong not in books or screens for him, but in real life. Telling Matteo a lion is coming for him when he misbehaves has a lot less resonance here in Western Australia.

With his open eyes and mind he assimilated more than any of us and his mannerisms became as Tanzanian as they were Australian.

Four children with an elephant in the background
Garry and Gaia Dagg’s four children pose for a photo as an elephant wanders in the background. Photo: Gaia Boranga

Oscar, who turned five in Tanzania, also gained cult status amongst the hordes of men who hang out on motorbikes, gaze over their cows, hold up trees and stand watch over the world. His whole body would slump down with his head when ‘Oscar, Mambo'* was shouted out.

'Poa’ he would acknowledge with a wave, then check out the market stall for sweet bananas or new footballs for sale amongst the mounds of vegetables and used clothes. His Aussie drawl returned quickly enough as did his slide into anonymity as another blonde-haired kid.

*Common greetings in Tanzania.

A lion lying in a dry grassy field
A lion in the dry grass in Tanzania. Photo: Gaia Boranga

Our number two, Elisa, walks the world to her own beat. Undemanding, her dominion lies in the magic of childhood.

Elisa learnt to breathe in deep and let moments pass. The impermanence of all things is hard to grasp but perhaps she was taught it in the oldest continent of all.

In Tanzania you are known by the name of your firstborn so, for a year and a half, Gaia was Mama Ilaria and I was Baba Ilaria — much to Ilaria’s delight. At nine years old things were easier for her to comprehend.

Elisa waist deep in water watching zebras drink
Elisa watches Zebras play at the water’s edge. Photo: Gaia Boranga

She has, like the siblings she leads, carried water on her head, been charged by a baby chimp and learnt that the colour of your skin plays no part in the content of your character.

We have all watched a country unfold from the windshield of our minivan, seen lions mate for an hour and laughed with local kids.

Garry and Gaias daughter with girls in Tanzania
Garry Dagg and Gaia Boranga's daughter walks with friends in Tanzania. Photo: Gaia Boranga

The other word that followed us around was ‘mzungu’: 'white person'. For that year and a half, we learnt what it is like to live as the other. Our four children found that in Africa, the birthplace of humanity, everything could be both strange and familiar at the same time.

But when it was time to return home we realised that the place had snuck inside us. While the splash of my own work in Tanzania will be slow to ripple out, it means we have a chance to think about the imprint the land left on our four children.

Garry and Gaia arms around each other
Garry Dagg and Gaia Boranga on assignment in Tanzania. Supplied: Gaia Boranga

Garry Dagg was a volunteer teacher trainer at the Jaffery Academy in Arusha, north-eastern Tanzania, from November 2016 to January 2018, accompanied by his partner Gaia Boranga and their four children.  

The Australian Volunteers Program values the contributions and experiences of diverse participants. Families of all compositions are encouraged to consider volunteering overseas. Read our Family and Couples Guide to find out more.