Located between the Equator and the Tropic of Capricorn, Zanzibar is a picture-perfect holiday destination, a luxury Indian Ocean island especially popular with honeymooners.
The vast majority of Westerners heading to Zanzibar are tourists, seeking to relax, unwind and soak up the sun.
Others come to do some good, to offer whatever help they can in a community whose bracing poverty often hides behind the hotel curtains. Kirstie Trup and Katie Gee were excited about volunteering through i-to-i Travel, paying up to £1,500 for the trip.
Plenty of people with intentions similar to those of the two north London Jewish teenagers have returned from Zanzibar with nothing more than wonderful memories. Katie and Kirstie, both from Hampstead Garden Suburb, will have read about these adventures, with past participants talking about “an absolutely awesome experience”.
In the first few days, the girls went online to share their experiences, with Katie posting a picture of her hole-in-the-floor toilet and tweeting: “Last night there was a gecko in Kirstie’s bed!”
The girls were based in Stone Town, the cultural centre of Zanzibar and a Unesco World Heritage Site, known for its narrow alleys, bustling bazaars, mosques and extravagant houses, where Denis Mayemba, headmaster of St Monica’s School where the two worked, said: “The children enjoyed playing with the girls at netball, on the see-saw or swimming in the break. The girls were fantastic.”
Kirstie and Katie will not have been oblivious to the cultural sensitivities. They will have met a local team, who will have talked to them and others about the dos and don’ts of Zanzibar and about how to stay safe.
The girls will have known that they were ‘Mzungu’ (Westerners). They will have known the significance of Ramadan for this majority-Muslim island and will have shown the necessary respect. But while being sensitive, they will not have felt scared.
Volunteering in the world’s most remote corners is nothing new to the Jewish community, and Muslim countries often feature on teenagers’ agenda – think of Indonesia, for example, or Kosovo.
That is what the girls will have felt about their trip and experience before men on mopeds threw battery acid at them.
Local leaders in Zanzibar echoed the London Jewish community’s “state of shock” at the news of the acid attack. Phillip Memguti, a chaplain in Stone Town, said: “Why? Why? They came here to help us. What kind of message does it send? We hope and pray that the girls recover and that the men who did this are caught and punished.”
Bishop Michael Hrfidh added: “We were so sorry to hear the news. We pray that they may recover and we pray for their families. We are all with them at this difficult time.”
Mayemba explained how he had to break the news of the attack at the school. “Everyone was crying,” he said. “Teachers and children – they all had tears in their eyes, and all anybody could do was ask me why. I had no answer for them.”
Mary Makolo, a teacher with whom both Katie and Kirstie worked, said: “They were really nice girls. They taught the children English and played with them. We have been trying to send them a message. We pray to God they may recover soon.” Pupil Mary Said, 11, had a similar message: “Everybody here is very upset. We hope the girls get well soon.”
The girls’ families confirmed that, until the at- tack, they enjoyed their volunteering experience.
Kirstie’s father Marc Trup told the Jewish News: “She had a fantastic time in Zanzibar and speaks highly of the charity. She loved her time there and bears no malice. She just wants to know why this was done.”