travel

Volunteering in Kenya

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others

Gandhi

My trip to Kenya was an experience I will never forget and it has inspired my passion of volunteering to this day. What I am sharing here is from my own personal experience in the hopes that it might encourage someone else to try a similar thing and explore out of their comfort zone!

The Basics

This was my first ever time volunteering abroad and the first time I went to Africa. So as you can imagine I was quite nervous! I went with an organisation called African Adventures who work in disadvantaged areas to improve the lives of those living in poverty. If you are interested in volunteering for an amazing cause such as this one, I really could not recommend a better or more trusted company to go with. We were offered so much support leading up to and during our trip including fundraising advice and they always made sure were were safe throughout our time in Nakuru, Kenya. They also provide food and transport on the trip and are so reliable. African Adventures will make sure you have the best experience possible and I would highly recommend finding out more about them. More information can be found on their website.

My journey began in the UK, flying from London Gatwick to Nairobi. The flight had a change after about two hours where we swapped planes in Frankfurt and then continued the journey for the remaining eight hours. For flights of this length it is definitely best to bring things to entertain yourself with, whether that be a book or music or watching films on the plane. I was lucky enough to be travelling with friends so I found it fairly easy to entertain myself on the flight, although we were definitely getting on each other’s nerves a little bit by the end of it!

Landing in Nairobi we were picked up by trusted members of the African Adventures team- big shout out to Fred who drove us pretty much everywhere the entire trip! And we quickly learned at this point that in Kenya people do not stick to a set time schedule. I cannot express this enough that if you do decide to visit Kenya don’t be surprised if everything is running a bit later than planned- this is not them being rude or disorganised this is simply a cultural difference. Secondly, the driving in Kenya is a lot faster and more dangerous than anything I am used to in the UK! Speed limits can be slightly ignored and overtaking is common at absolutely any opportunity! There was also a mixture of cars that I travelled in- some with a working seatbelt and others without but this was all part of the experience, and I always arrived in one piece after every journey so I have no complaints!

We stayed the first night in a hotel in the centre of Nairobi that African Adventures had helped to organise for us before setting off in the morning for a three hour drive to Nakuru. Once there, we had finished the bulk of our travelling and only had a short ten minute car journey to volunteering each day.

The Project

My time in Kenya was all about one thing to me: making a difference. I still remember the first day I stepped foot in Hadassah Chaddy Mission School as if it was yesterday. I had not met anyone in the school before and yet the first thing that happened was that I was engulfed in hugs from the children who had all run over, welcoming us to their school. It makes me emotional to think about it as I write this as I have never had a warmer welcome in all my life anywhere else. Pastor Geoffrey who runs the school, warmly welcomed us into his office as if we were old friends and we began to discuss our role here and what we could do to help.  We were informed by Geoffrey that many of the children here had tough lives, for example there were girls as young as 15 who were already mothers and children who were HIV positive. Many of them would eat their only meal that day at lunch time, provided by the school. Hearing this, it may be natural to assume that perhaps these children would be unhappy or wishing for more, but this was not the case. I was extremely humbled to see their gratitude for what they had and I have never met such a hard working group of people before in my life. The work that Geoffrey does for the school is truly inspiring.

I started off in the nursery area of the school. These children were so young and could not speak any English and yet it didn’t matter in the slightest. They immediately began to play games with us and practice their counting both in English and Swahili and were sad to stop even when it was break time!

As the week progressed, I also taught in other classrooms such as class 2, 4 and 5 where they enjoyed hearing stories, singing songs and practicing their English. I have to say that these children spoke English pretty much perfectly and I found it immensely impressive. But what impressed me the most of all was their kindness. Many of them were writing in books that they had to go back to the start of and write under or over what they had already written because of the lack of paper. And yet I received dozens of drawings and letters which I have kept every single one of to this day. I am known for being quite a chatterbox but here I was completely speechless, I didn’t know what to say. I was so touched by their kind words and their generosity, it blew me away. I was speechless again when class 2 made us rings and bracelets out of beads and gave them to us as a thank you present. I treasure everything from this trip, both the memories and the gifts and will be forever grateful to these children.

The teachers in this school were heroes to say the least. They were fantastic at their jobs despite the classrooms being made out of corrugated iron (scorching hot in the heat!) and the lack of resources. It was clear to me that these kids had some great role models teaching them and I was thrilled to hear the girls talking about wanting to become teachers and doctors after they left school!

We played games with them, sang songs,  learnt some Swahili and played football to name just a few things! The day we brought in the football was a standout moment for me. Every child I could see started cheering and ran to play with it with more excitement than I have ever seen in my life over one football. It was like a stampede on the playground! When I thought of school playgrounds at home and the football there, it really put things in perspective for me.

When I wasn’t working with the kids, I was working on the school, trying to make their environment as pleasant as possible. The area in Nakuru, near Rift Valley,  is a slum area with 45% of the population living in poverty, surviving on 80p per day or less. This made us all the more determined to work as hard as we could and we did manage to paint all of the classrooms and fix the guttering in the school to improve their environment to work in.

I also worked in the kitchen preparing some food which was either a kind of porridge which was extremely filling or a type of stew- both were very tasty! There was not one child who didn’t clean their plate and for the majority of them, this was all they would eat that day.

To help support the school and the local community, we had packed our cases with as many donations as possible which included a lot of school resources. We also purchased items that had been made by the parents of the children at the school if we were interested in getting some souvenirs. In my case, I bought a hand made giraffe carved out of wood which sits on my desk now at home. It’s a really good idea to buy your souvenirs from the parents at the school as it definitely helps to support the community.

Of course our experience sadly came to an end when we approached ‘Party Day’ to celebrate our time at Chaddy Mission School. This involved saying our goodbyes and collecting certificates in assembly. We bought in biscuits and orange juice to celebrate, which the kids were thrilled about as having a biscuit is not a regular occasion for the majority of them. It was a bittersweet day as we were having so much fun and yet we knew that we would be leaving at the end of it.  I hated saying goodbye to the wonderful people I had met on this trip, knowing I would be in what seems like a completely different world to them when I returned home. I found myself actually feeling slightly sickened on the way back to the airport. Just an hour away from these children were thriving businesses, McDonald’s restaurants and large shopping centres, yet back in Nakuru people were living in mud huts and struggling to feed themselves. I hated it and from then on I saw the world completely differently and I still do.

Sights to See

Working at the school of course doesn’t include weekends and there are some fantastic sights of natural beauty to see in Nakuru. The National Park is a must see, particularly with the safaris which show the animals in their natural habitat- I never thought I would see a giraffe in the wild! Word of warning: the monkeys are very confident which we soon realised when one jumped into our truck! To find out more visit the Lake Nakuru National Park website.

Thompson falls is another of my favourite spots where you can experience the waterfall up close and walk the nature trail through the gorge where you may be able to spot some monkeys roaming around freely. Nearby there were also Massai Mara tribesmen in traditional outfits which was a great cultural experience- although I will say that they may offer a picture with you and then charge you afterwards- I learnt that the hard way!

Another fantastic thing to do in Nakuru is go to Church. Kenya is a majority Christian country, with most people attending Church on a Sunday. I went to Church whilst there and I really had no idea what to expect- particularly as I am not a religious person myself. However this was an incredibly fun day with singing and dancing for around an hour, following those who were on stage with microphones! The atmosphere was so positive and lively and I would definitely encourage going for this amazing experience.

Whilst in Kenya I think visiting the Equator Line is a must see! You can even witness the water test in which spinning water around in a cup will move in the opposite direction, depending on which side you are standing. On the Northern hemisphere, it moves clockwise and in the Southern hemisphere, it moves anticlockwise. On the equator it sort of goes straight down which is pretty cool to see, though I don’t understand it myself! You can even get a certificate afterwards and check out the spectacular views nearby from Subukia Rift Valley viewing point.

Further out of Nakuru, and perhaps my favourite sight overall was the Giraffe Sanctuary. These giraffes are in fantastic care and you even have the chance to feed and stroke them and if you’re feeling particularly brave you can give them a kiss! Beware their tongues are incredibly long, slimy and a kind of purple colour! The visit here was a very memorable experience that I hold close to my heart which is why it is the picture I chose to include at the very start of this blog. Definitely have a look at their website, they look after the giraffes so well and it is a fantastic day out and a personal favourite of mine!

Overall Top 10 Tips

  • Start fundraising as soon as you can– I paid around £2000 for the whole trip including flights, food, accommodation, transfers and sightseeing.
  • Respect the culture particularly as a female traveller and cover your shoulders and knees at all times. But also remember it can get very warm so wear loose and light clothing.
  • Make sure you get all your necessary injections including Hep A, B, Typhoid, Cholera etc and take malaria tablets leading up to the trip. It’s also good to make sure you are staying somewhere with a mosquito net.
  • Do not drink the tap water– it doesn’t taste nice but also gives you a bad stomach (take my word for it!)
  • Be aware that the toilets are holes in the ground (except at hotels) so even large shopping malls will have cubicles with a hole inside that flushes water around you – you just have to squat over it!
  • Don’t carry large amounts of money with you or walk by yourself as a tourist.
  • Be aware that the word Mzungu is basically referring to you as being foreign and may affect the way that people treat you- in my case I was praised for my pale white skin (some areas are more traditional than others)
  • Be prepared to have emotional moments or hear sad stories
  • Be aware that others who have not experienced this type of thing may not fully understand why it was so emotional when you return!
  • Throw yourself into every opportunity you can and enjoy it! It will be so rewarding!

Keeping in Touch

So as I have mentioned, I was struck by the children I met at  Chaddy Mission School and in awe of their work ethic and gratitude. I never heard anyone complain about anything my entire time there but something did stick with me. A lovely young girl who I had grown quite close to had said “I wish I had a teddy bear but they’re just too expensive”. I thought back to my childhood and the mountains of teddy bears and toys that I had played with that cluttered my room and spread all over the house. I did not remember a time where I had not been able to have a toy that I wanted and all this girl was dreaming of was one. When I returned home I immediately boxed up all of the teddy bears and toys that were sitting in the attic unused for years with a message and pictures for my friends back in Nakuru and began collecting more items for school supplies. When it was full I posted it all the way to Chaddy Mission School as a thank you to those there for making my time so incredible. I later received a thank you video on Instagram from the children that Geoffrey had sent me- thank you for allowing me to keep in touch with them! Donations are still greatly appreciated and you can also sponsor a child if you go to their website. They are always looking for more volunteers or any donations that you can give and I can assure you it is well worth the money and it really does go to the right place, they are a very deserving cause.

A message to Chaddy Mission School

My time at Chaddy Mission School taught me so much. I am a better person for visiting there (as cliche as that sounds) and I genuinely have a new appreciation for my life at home.  I appreciate the things that we take for granted such as running water, I am motivated to work as hard as I possibly can like the children I met at the school and I am thankful for what I have in my life. I would like to personally thank every single person at Chaddy Mission School for making my experience beyond perfect and exceeding all my expectations. Also thank you to African Adventures who made it all possible. Thank you to both for inspiring me and thank you for what you do. I would advise anyone considering doing something like this to never pass up the opportunity. Even if you are nervous there are so many great companies that keep you completely safe and it becomes no more dangerous than being in a big city at home! You won’t regret it and you will most likely find that the people you meet on this trip will end up helping you as well as you trying to help them!

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my blog! Stay tuned for more travels and adventures to come! XOX

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