Lancashire volunteer evacuated from Tanzania due to Covid-19: 'We got a call saying "get out of there"'
Charlotte Frost was in a remote village in central Tanzania when she got the phone call. "My dad had been texting me saying 'this Covid-19 thing is kicking off' and I was like 'oh, chill out'," recalls Charlotte. "Then we got a phone call on a Friday saying 'right, you're leaving on Monday, get out of there'."
Working as a team leader on a Raleigh International Citizen Service (ICS) programme in the East African country, Charlotte and her group of 13 volunteers between the ages of 18 and 23 were none the wiser with regards to the coronavirus sweeping through Europe. Focused on carrying out their entrepreneurship and business-building programme, they had to be quickly evacuated in mid-March having only arrived around seven weeks prior.
"We'd left the UK just after Christmas when everything was open and so, initially, our reaction was annoyance at not being able to finish the job we'd come out to do," explains Charlotte, from Barnoldswick in Pendle. "We only managed about three or four weeks of the programme and had started to make friends and be welcomed into people's homes for chips mayai, which is a Tanzanian chips omelette. We were really integrating.
"It was so hectic and getting from the village to catch a flight in the capital Dar es Salaam was an issue in itself," adds Charlotte, 24. "It's a huge country, so our village, Iringa, was about nine-and-a-half hours away from the training centre in Morogoro, which was another six-and-a-half hours away from Dar es Salaam."
According to Charlotte, while the UK government was reacting to the virus' deadly hold on places such as Italy and Spain with initial preventative measures, the Tanzanian government viewed the issue as more of an European one. "We were told to be careful as the locals might be fearful of you giving them the virus," she says.
"On top of that, as team leader I had to deal with the Tanzanian volunteers, who were confused as to why we had to leave the country all of a sudden. They'd left their homes for three months to further their personal development with the aim of getting a better job, and now they can't complete the programme. It's had a bigger impact on them than on us."
A former West Craven High School student who went on to study law at the University of York, Charlotte took part in a similar three-month charity stint in Nepal last year, helping to improve water and sanitation provision in the town of Salghari and she is now realising the importance of such work.
"This whole situation has made me appreciate what myself and others did in Nepal and on other wash projects, because it's probably saved so many lives through educating people on the importance of hygiene and hand-washing," she says. "The knock-on impact of not being able to continue programmes in the near future will really hit people and we've no idea when we can go back out again."
Since her 35-hour trip back to the UK via Doha in Qatar, Charlotte has been getting involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, writing to Lancashire's Police and Crime Commissioner and Pendle MP Andrew Stephenson as well as schools in the area about teaching more about black history as part of the history syllabus. Also volunteering with the Citizen's Advice Bureau, she is due to start work with a homelessness charity in Skipton soon.
On top of that, her plans to undertake a Master's in law and technology at the University of Edinburgh have been shelved and she has got a job at Tesco and is due to start one of their graduate schemes later this year.
"I was looking forward to the work in Tanzania it so much beforehand," she said. " It's frustrating that it's going to be a long time before these charities are going to be able to get back out there and support people."