Gap year student Zara Compton recently spent seven and a half months in Kilimatinde, Tanzania.
Setting out planning to work as a teaching assistant, she ended up taking on the main responsibility for a nursery school class as well as doing extracurricular activities within the primary school and revision, cookery and building relationships with secondary school students.
Zara had always wanted to do a gap year. She remembers going to Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor with her family and being captivated by anyone who spoke about mission:
“Danger and adventure and no sense of direction. I’m like, I love it. That’s what I’m going to do after my A-levels.”
When the time came, Zara found Church Mission Society’s gap year structure looked like just what she was after.
When an opportunity in Kilimatinde came up, she was ready to sign up.
Soon enough, she was in interviews at the CMS offices in Oxford, and had a chance to briefly meet mission partners Festo and Grace Kanungha who she was going out to work with.
So, how much long-term impact can one person can make in seven and a half months?
One thing Zara hopes made a lasting impact is her encouragement around students’ academic progress.
In a school culture where encouragement is not necessarily a priority, Zara’s obvious excitement and positive reinforcement around students getting things right and being ready to move on to the next thing is something she hopes they won’t soon forget.
Zara says the best thing about her gap year was the connections she made with people.
Spending most of her time outside the house, she built very strong relationships with students and teachers, the family living next door and people in the village.
She felt nationalities and cultural differences faded into the background as they built true friendships.
“I got involved in a community and I didn’t see people for their names or their financial situation or whatever. I saw them for who they were and their qualities and the times we’ve shared together.”
She has come away having learned new things about herself and felt God has taken her places she wouldn’t have gone otherwise. “And that’s challenging and difficult. But it’s also amazing.”
So, what’s Zara’s advice to anyone considering a gap year with CMS or a gap year in Tanzania specifically?
“I’d say go for it.”