Student group to return to Tanzania

In May, Biology Without Borders will volunteer in a small town.

Emily Mongan


 A group of nine students from the University of Minnesota’s Biology Without Borders  will travel to Tanzania this May for service and volunteering projects in the impoverished town of Bukoba.

Bukoba, located on the shores of Lake Victoria, is a growing, yet poverty-stricken town that has experienced its share of war and conflict due to its geographical situation near both Uganda and Rwanda.

From May 17 until June 27, students will volunteer in the community at schools, orphanages and hospitals while staying in a local home. BWB has made the journey to Tanzania twice before as part of its yearly service trip abroad.

BWB’s service work in Tanzania began when the group’s founder, Anh Tran, led a small group of students there in 2007 at the end of the club’s inaugural year.

Surbhi Singhal, a genetics senior and current president of BWB, said Tran spoke with a contact in Tanzania to see if there was interest in having a student group come to volunteer and “from then on, BWB has been sending students to that same town.”

This year, the students going on the trip have been involved with fundraising and donation events to fund their work and the materials they’ll take to Bukoba.

Students will work on establishing a computer lab at the Bukoba Secondary School. The project involves collecting laptop computers from the community to help students learn basic computer skills. In order to move on past high school, students in Tanzania must fulfill a computer-training requirement.

“They actually didn’t have any computers, so to fulfill the computer-training requirement [the teachers] would just draw pictures of computers and teach [the students] how to use them,” said Carly Dahl, a neuroscience sophomore and local volunteer coordinator for BWB.

BWB will contribute about 30 computers to the school, provided in part by the University’s Office of Information Technology.

Other planned service projects focus on bringing aid and education to individuals suffering from disease-related stigma in their community, including establishing a community center at an area leper colony and supplying clothes and sunscreen to an albino orphanage.

“We’ll be bringing a lot of long-sleeved shirts, sunscreen and sunglasses for the kids to use,” Dahl said of the orphanage.

“We’ll try to educate them how to use it, because they usually don’t know. They’re pretty stigmatized in their community because of their albinism.”

BWB not only gives students an opportunity to travel abroad and volunteer but also to have an impact in the Twin Cities area through charities like People Serving People and the Ronald McDonald House.

“I was really interested in the international volunteering and the opportunities that it offered,” Dahl said. “But also it was a great way to get involved around Minneapolis.”

Genetics senior and BWB member Quentin Knutson explained that BWB’s mission to give back to the community initially drew him to the group.

“What drew me to Biology Without Borders was just the idea of breaking out of your comfort zone and give back to society in a positive way,” Knutson said.

“I really liked how we have a university that shows people outside of our university that we really care.”

BWB will be accepting donations of laptops, clothing and sunscreen to distribute at the Bukoba community until the end of the semester.