Known for its vast wilderness, Tanzania overlooks the Indian Ocean from the East Coast of Africa. It is home to Africa’s highest mountain, Kilimanjaro, as well as 47.4 million people. For six months, it also was home to Ryan Conrad ’09.
Conrad spent August 2014 to February 2015 living and working in Tanzania’s southern region near the Mozambique border. It was only his second time outside the United States, the first being a spring break trip to Mexico during his senior year at PDS.
“I wanted to do something challenging, something I had never done before, so going to Africa was going to be a whole new process for me — mentally, physically and spiritually,” he said. “I wanted to challenge and strengthen my faith and put myself in a position where I had to process tough things.”
The experience was made possible through a volunteer service program of his alma mater, Belmont Abbey College, through which graduates can spend six to eight months at a Benedictine monastery in a developing country, participating in that community’s monastic life and supporting its work.
Conrad and another Belmont Abbey grad worked through Ndanda Abbey, which placed them in a nearby village to teach computer classes to 12- to 18-year-olds at Ndanda Secondary School.
“We taught computer programs such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. We thought this would be a tool they could use as they further their education at universities in the area,” said Conrad.
Teaching computer classes in Tanzania called for patience. For the first two months, Conrad had to teach the courses using a blackboard before acquiring a lab with 24 computers for 51 students per class.
“This was not the easiest situation to control as most students had never used a computer before,” said Conrad, who devised a study hall system so the students could take turns using the devices.
The other issue they ran into daily was electricity, or lack thereof.
“Our lab was on the side of the school that did not have solar power, so whenever power went out we had to get creative,” said Conrad.
Conrad also coached sports, mainly basketball.
“I was excited to have the opportunity to share my love of basketball with the students and Ndanda Abbey,” said Conrad. “The basketball court became a place where students and I could share cultures, talk about classes, learn team dynamics and just have fun playing a sport we all loved.”
Sharing and Growing
Conrad also spent a month working on a farm as well as at an orphanage that was home to 21 children, ranging in ages from 2 months to 2 years old.
“I have never done any mission work like this before. So to say this was a whole new experience to me is an understatement,” he admitted. “But the time we spent in the orphanage was an amazing experience.”
Despite the hardships and challenges, such social responsibility work is important, said Conrad, because while you might not change the world, it is still “a way to share what you have learned over the course of your life with others.”
He credits PDS with preparing him for such a trip and undertaking.
“I will forever be grateful to Providence Day for showing me that character is important,” said Conrad. PDS taught him “that being your own person is okay — you are unique and it is important to show everyone around you what makes you special.”
Conrad said he strives every day to be the best person he can. “Without the mentorship of teachers, coaches and administration at Providence Day, I would not have realized the importance of this and would not have been able to share the importance of striving to be your best person to others.”
Not only did he develop close friendships with those with whom he worked and taught, but said the experience pushed him beyond his comfort zone and made him realize what was important in life.
“We get so caught up in our own personal lives that we forget to take a moment and reflect on what is going on around us,” he said. “My mission trip and social work brought life and the purpose of life full circle for me.”
Before he returned to Charlotte to work in the commercial real estate industry with RJS Properties, Conrad and fellow missionaries took a detour up Mount Kilimanjaro, a dormant volcano that rises approximately 19,341 feet above sea level.
The arduous climb took a total of six days.
“The hike was incredible. It is hard to explain the emotions going through your head at the top because it is such an intense experience,” he said.
It is one of many from his trip that will shape Conrad for years to come.
“I believe that I learned more than what I taught in Africa,” he said. “The memories, friendships, struggles, joy I endured will forever shape the person I am going to become.”
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