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NIU professor’s Tanzania trip brings help to village

DeKALB – Kurt Thurmaier’s trip to Tanzania this year is going to be a little more special than previous ones.

The Northern Illinois University professor has frequently visited the village of Nyegina, Tanzania, which is in the northern part of the country near Lake Victoria. Thurmaier said his efforts to enhance a school in the village began when he and his wife visited Tanzania for their 25th wedding anniversary.

“We came away exhausted, but really challenged to help,” said Thurmaier, who co-founded the Tanzanian Development Support organization in 2008 with his wife, Jeanine. Thurmaier said he is looking forward to going back this year for his 30th anniversary.

Thurmaier is looking for volunteers for this year’s trip, which will leave the U.S. on July 4 and return July 20. The deadline to register is March 15.

The village and its schools have sparse amenities, Thurmaier said. The girls’ dormitory that Thurmaier and his cadre of students and volunteers built were the first buildings in the village to feature showers and toilets.

“We stood side-by-side to pass bricks and concrete to build the floor of the dormitory,” Thurmaier said.

The dormitory, Thurmaier said, was built in “one of the poorest districts in one of the poorest countries in the world.” It opened in spring 2012, which allowed the school to have an advanced high school, in addition to a regular high school. The two types of high schools are features of the British school system, Thurmaier said.

“I bring NIU students to this place so they can understand that they may live in one of the wealthiest countries, but there are others who need help,” Thurmaier said.

When he arrives with his group in July, he hopes to use the $60,000 he has raised to lay the foundation for a library that will serve both the primary and secondary schools in the village.

Volunteers also will take an overnight safari in Serengeti National Park during the Great Wildebeest Migration, in which hundreds of thousands of animals migrate from the area to the Kenyan border.

The trip costs $1,500, which includes the safari trip, meals, lodging and in-country transportation. Thurmaier added that every person is given a fundraising challenge of $1,000. That money pays for the library, not their trip.

One fundraiser they are working on will involve American students carrying buckets of water, in addition to going to class. Thurmaier said Tanzanian students carry the buckets for their village.

“It’s to get a sense of what kids [in Tanzania] have to do besides go to school,” Thurmaier said.

Students at NIU can choose to go to Tanzania either through the TDS volunteer program or through the university. Thurmaier said NIU students who want credit need to take the trip through the university.

Course work will have to be completed as well. The university trip lasts from June 27 to July 27 and costs $3,495.

Volunteering in Tanzania

The deadline for community members to sign up for the Tanzania trip is March 15. The trip is from July 4 to July 20. It costs $1,500, which includes the safari trip, meals and in-country transportation. Airfare costs are extra.

For more information on this trip, go to Tanzania Development Support's website at in the travel programs section. Questions can also be directed to Brandi Smith at or Kurt Thurmaier at

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