In 1971, Charles Crawfurd embarked on a real adventure: to support good management of the Tanzania YMCA and turn it into a sustainable source of income at a time when it was haemorrhaging money.
Charles knows his time in Tanzania gave him skills that lasted throughout his life. He has generously left a gift in his Will to VSO. Here, he tells us why.
Finding my feet
It’s nice to give something back to an organisation that gave me a lot when I started out. That’s why I left a gift in my Will to VSO. I spent four years at hotel and catering college. I didn’t know what I wanted to do so I applied to VSO.
There were virtually no VSO volunteers in Tanzania at that time. I was based in Dar es Salaam, tasked with getting the YMCA up and running to hand it over to a Tanzanian team. I also worked with another hostel in Moshi on the same idea.
Tanzania was a very poor country; it still is. There were things that I had just taken for granted in the UK. I faced endless power cuts and water shortages.
You had to adjust the way you lived to take those into account. You couldn’t just turn a tap on and expect water to be running. That’s hard when you’re running a hostel and you need water for cooking or washing up. So you adapt.
Pretty early on we had to figure out how to stop the hostel from being a drain on central funds. It was clear that we needed to run it like a proper hotel.
Previously, it was designed for Tanzanian travellers who, in reality, couldn’t afford it. We decided to make it inexpensive and aimed at tourists, thus market it to European travellers. It took some persuasion to change the audience, but we succeeded.
That meant going commercial. So I worked to train the staff, who had received no formal training before. We also found someone local very early that we could mentor to take over once I had left.
There was a lot of physical work; the buildings were fairly run down and dirty. It was a baptism of fire for someone like me, straight out of college!
I have no regrets
I felt like I grew up a lot during my placement. All of a sudden I was fending for myself. I became resourceful and I have no regrets.
I hope I contributed to a long-lasting change. I hope that the management continued to see the buildings as an asset rather than a liability, and rethink their approaches.
It could have closed within three months of my being there if they hadn’t agreed to work on changing things. By the time I left, there was a steady turnover of guests. Rooms were kept full and the hotel was paying its way.
I continue to volunteer now in my retirement. It can be very satisfying. VSO is a way to offer your skills and expertise in countries that may not be able to afford them. You’re contributing to something.
I want to feel like I’ve left something to the next generation. That’s why I have left a gift in my Will to VSO, so more people can experience the things that I did. It helped me in life, and I’d like for them to feel the same.
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