Volunteer & Internship

Interessted in Volunteership?

Are you interested in a challenging topic and looking for the appropriate working environment within the scope of your diploma thesis, your practical semester or your internship? Then you should talk to us. Please let us know your concrete ideas.

Utengule Estate offers internship positions to motivated people, who wish to spend 3 – 5 months at the farm. Internships are usually planned between May and September during the coffee harvest. The intern help with certain functions during harvest, but may also support or supervise sustainability projects, such as renovation of village school buildings. Typically candidates have a background in agriculture or construction or take a special interest in coffee. Furthermore interns must be hands-on, practical people, speak English and have a driving license.

Songwa Internship 2015

We have made our selection.
A young and dynamic Pau Valverde Molina of Barcelona will be travelling to the Songwa Estates plantation in late May and, once settled on the farm, will put his skills and determination to work.

From an early age, Pau has been technically inclined and in his free time, designs his own gadgets, sometimes having to do with the coffee sector.

A few years ago, Pau, like many young baristas before him, was literally picked up off his feet through his collaboration with a small specialty coffee roaster in Barcelona. By combining his innate technical skills and overwhelming passion for coffee, he is the ideal candidate to coordinate, in collaboration with the local community, the demolition and rebuild of the school building for the Muvwa Primary School, bringing new space, boundless light, and delight to the 327 children who attend the school, as well as pride to the school’s local community, in this gorgeous, albeit remote valley in southwest Tanzania.

We wish Pau success and look forward to receiving the good news and photos of progress being made during his 3-month stay on the Songwa plantation.

"Learning does not always have to mean reading books"

Experience: Pirmin Schwizer

Internship at the Utengule and Songwa Estate

Learning doesn’t always have to mean reading books and laboriously memorizing the material, although admittedly sometimes you can’t avoid it. However it is possible to organize study in an entirely different way. For example, I went on a trip to Africa. I wrote my thesis for my degree in agricultural economics at the technical college for the Utengule and Songwa Estate in Tanzania. I remember being happy that my journey from Dar es Salaam airport had been mainly organized by Thomas Plattner, a Swiss living locally, because the organized CHAOS of the main city of Tanzania completely overwhelmed me. I did, however, manage to acclimatize myself to the Tanzanian “temperament” to some degree during the bus journey to Mbeya.

The farm manager at Songwa at that time was Swiss. Although this didn’t help me much in learning Swahili, the overall atmosphere was always good. I quickly got to know the Tanzanian mentality. All of a sudden my Swiss watch was surplus to requirements. I was also amazed at how easily you could get used to power outages. I was always able to look forward to an exciting day. I helped pick the coffee cherries, wandered through the coffee fields or watched the pulping of the harvested coffee. My thesis also began taking shape after several difficult starts.

The transportation of the harvest was a real adventure at times. Even our experienced driver was not always prepared for the local “roads.” That meant we were once forced to leave the truck overnight in a ditch. The proverb “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it” became my mantra. The next morning we were able to return to the truck with renewed strength and a tractor. In general the traffic in Africa impressed me time and time again. Shopping in the city of Mbeya was always an experience. Haggling over prices was a challenge even for the farm manager. We were seldom able to cross off all items on the shopping list, either due to time restrictions or because the goods weren’t available.

In between shifts on the farm I devoted myself to my thesis. Many a time I drank a delicious espresso to keep my morale up. My coffee consumption increased multifold, which also allowed me to develop my skills as a barista. I also had the opportunity to take part in the coffee tour at the Songwa Estate. Thomas Plattner was able to impart his knowledge about coffee with a great deal of pleasure and enthusiasm.

Weekend excursions provided insight into the beauty of Tanzania and rounded off the experiences on the farm. Over time I also gained ideas for my thesis and was able to complete it in time before we left. Prior to my return to Switzerland I visited the farm’s own roasting plant and gained insight into the entire coffee-making process of the Utengule and the Songwa Estate. After a short detour to the island of Zanzibar, I flew back to organized Switzerland. During the three months in Africa I learned a great deal in addition to that which was required for my thesis and the trip was definitely worth the experience.

Sometimes learning is easier than you think. 2010, Pirmin Schwizer

"Every little job there can be an adventure, and I had plenty of them"

Experience: Christian Rojas

Setting up the School in Mbeya

Planning to visit Africa I realise how big the budget should be and everything to be a tourist for a couple of weeks, not really the best way to know a place. I have lived in many countries over the world and I believe that you don´t really know a place until you live and work there, you have to become a local, doing so you get to know the customs form the same people and how the system in a whole works. So I had the idea of doing volunteering  but I was not sure how can I help with my technical background, and when I hear about the internship in Utengule and how suite my experience with no much thinking I apply for it.

Been that my first destination in the African continent I had no idea what to expect, how is going to be the living or how to prepare my self. Neither I wanted to ask, I knew that with good predisposition it will be a good experience anyway, so everything was pretty much a surprise until I got there. If well Utengule is close to Mbeya, the capital of the province, is still quite deep inside the country in a rural area where farming is the main activity, the cultural level is low and there are whole villages with no access to water and electricity. But living in the coffee plantation, I hade more commodities than I expect.

I went there at the end of the rainy season, at that moment the vegetation was still green and in the 13 hours trip from Dar Es Salaam to Mbeya I hade the chance to see the amazing and diverse landscapes of the country and you always have the possibility of go down the bus and take pictures every time this break. with a few free storm months ahead that was the perfect time for construction, and also the busiest and most interesting time in the plantation, the harvest season.

Ones in the farm, I hade one of my many tour where I learn everything about the growing, harvesting and processing of coffee. I visited the schools and the local hardware shop to star planning and prepare a budget, the project consist in the reconditioning of a wing in 2 schools neighbouring the plantation, of which the conditions are very basics, brick construction stick with mud, no foundation, no floor, no carpentry, no plaster and tin roof.

I basically spend my mornings between the schools and the suppliers, doing logistic and control and in the evenings helping in the plantation. I was told that if well the projects are easy, manage the logistic in the local condition will be challenging. That sound logic been that is a remote area with no electricity or water, but there was more waiting for me. Like be able to achieve the deadlines with the local speed of work, and specially because the workers were organize and pay by the village. A famous phrase that I will always remember is "Pole kwa kazi" or sorry for the work.

Undoubtedly the life in there is very different of what I was use to, from a professional and personal point of view, and many thing that you may take for granted are not. That can make every little daily job a whole challenge and adventure. Just to get supplies in the city, you should first get there avoiding all the cars, trucks full of people, bikes, kids and cattle, paying the local police to let you continue and arriving to the city which is a jungle itself. Wherever you are you will be clearly a foreigner, and in a way a celebrity for that, always the kids will come running, waving and screaming "mzungu", Kiswahili for White man. so ones there you have to find a shop with the things you need and avoid to be rip off for been a foreigner, you will need to check the quality and expiration of everything (if you need 200 wooden board you may get to them after rejecting one by one another 400 of them), and as a plus they should be able to give you a receipt, also the prices should be bargaining and if you don`t have transport of is not enough you can pay for a tractor or truck to deliver it, this will come with a bunch of guys to upload and download it. Due the devaluation of the currency and the local earnings, all the materials are quite expensive so everything have to be control for YOU, when is buy, deliver, stored, and use. Not need to mention that this should be done in Kiswahili, or you can do as I did, using your celebrity status to keep someone who speak English close when shopping.

So as I say, every little job there can be an adventure, and I had plenty of them. I never knew what new surplices the day will bring, but I knew it will be full of excitements.

In the villages the houses are mainly made of bricks and mad, cement is expensive and not amply  use for the locals "Fundis" or builders, so is good to have some knowledge of how to work it, along with construction techniques and use of tools. The fact that the work have to be done in conjunct with the villages leaders make the planning a bit tricky and is really important to be pushing the advances everyday to reach the conclusion of the project on time, which was hard to achieve. but is worth to mention that Tanzanian are very respectful people.

I took a few days to travel for myself before returning home, giving me the chance to do a safari, be in Dar Es Salaam and visit the amazing Zanzibar Island. The four months that I spend there were enough to change my view of Africa, and give me incredible stories. Is a unique life experience that with no much thinking I could repeat.

If you are planning to go you can see my personal website with more photos of the trip and projects at https://picasaweb.google.com/101863443723017286700 and if you have questions my e-mail is cristianrojas@gmail.com.

Best of luck,
Cristian Rojas.