UAE volunteer group lights up solar-powered Zanzibar school

Over the five-day Eid break they built five classrooms and a playground, as well as installing a solar power system

A group of volunteers from the UAE are celebrating the success of their Eid volunteer mission in Zanzibar.

The Fathers And Kids Camping group normally spends weekends exploring the UAE's deserts, but over the Eid break they travelled to the small fishing village of Kizimkazi to expand the 'Seeds of Light' school.

More than 60 adults and children teamed up with 50 people in Zanzibar to build five classrooms, bathrooms and a playground, and install a solar power system.

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Our kids get to switch off from technology, enjoy some good exercise, all while having a positive impact on the communities they're visiting

The project was funded by people and businesses in the UAE. They donated more than Dh500,000 ($136,000) to the Tanzanian charity CR Hope Foundation, which runs the school.

"We nearly achieved everything we wanted," said organiser Vahid Fotuhi, 45, who is also the founder of the Middle East Solar Industry Association.

"We are all bruised and exhausted, but so proud of what we achieved. The five classrooms are 80 per cent complete, and the castle playground is finished, and larger than most homes in the area.

"We also completed the solar PV system, making Seeds of Light the first school in Zanzibar to have 24-hour power access."

Over five days, the group laid 5,000 bricks, each weighing 20kg, with adults and children working alongside the local Maasai tribesmen.

Twenty-eight children, aged three to 16, were involved in the project, Mr Fotuhi said.

"Working side by side, we got to learn a lot about the Maasai way of life and their customs.

"The kids were especially excited about their weapons. They carried a seme, a short sword with a double-edged blade used for clearing brush, cutting meat and peeling fruit.

"They also sported a rungu, which is a wooden club used for hunting and defending against lions."

A general contractor will install the doors, windows and ceiling over the next eight weeks to complete the build.

The largest climbing frame in Zanzibar

The crowning glory was the climbing frame, which was designed by Nina and Kai Schakat, the co-founders of The Rock Shack Dubai, who took part in the project with their two children.

"Every child deserves a playground and unfortunately, the Seeds of Light school lacked this vital ingredient," said Mr Fotuhi, who grew up in Canada and has lived in the UAE since 2007.

"They asked us if we could help and we jumped at the opportunity.

"In true Dubai fashion, we decided to build the biggest playground in all of Zanzibar."

The two-storey castle includes a slide, see-saw, swing, suspension bridge, climbing wall, monkey bars, ramp with pull-up rope and climbing net, and will be used every weekday by the school's 120 pupils.

The newly installed solar power system, complete with battery storage, will enable the school to operate a computer lab and offer night-time literacy classes to parents and children.

Pupils and teachers will also not have to worry about power outages, which happen regularly in Africa.

The next adventure

The Zanzibar trip was the Father And Kids Camping group's fifth philanthropic project in as many years.

Their first international trip took them to Zambia, when 18 families worked with charity Mothers Without Borders to add four classrooms and a solar-powered computer lab to Carol Zulu Primary School.

They have also helped provide clean drinking water to a community in eastern Kenya and volunteered with Classic Catering and the UAE Food Bank to deliver 30,000 warm meals to blue-collar workers in Dubai who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.

The aim of each outreach project is two-fold, explained Mr Fotuhi.

"As parents, all we want for our children is to be happy and to have a positive impact. These overseas expeditions achieve both targets," he said.

"Our kids get to switch off from technology, enjoy some good exercise, all while having a positive impact on the communities they're visiting."

A trip to Uganda is next on the list, but the projects are now getting so popular Mr Fotuhi is considering setting up a dedicated platform to organise more of them each year.

"This way, more UAE families and host communities would be able to benefit from our unique formula of impact travel," he said.

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