Volunteering in Kenya
April 14, 2012
I loved Kenya. Now I understand why others admire this country too. Our journey started on March 23, 2012. A group of us (Ashley, John, Matt) travelled from Toronto to Nairobi, Kenya, to start the first leg of our trip. It was a whirlwind volunteer tour with visits to Kakamega rainforest, the Great Rift Valley, the Indian ocean, rural as well as urban Kenya, and included several monkey sightings and a chance to eat some rare delicacies (oh, crocodile maybe?). But most importantly, we were there to support the efforts of Project Macfrica, setting up a new computer lab for orphans in Kimbilio village, Kamakuywa - a joint project with our friends at Agape in Action. We also visited an elementary school in Machakos village (dropping off a new computer and printer), and visited the Open Arms International village in Eldoret to check on their progress since the inception of their first computer lab (set up in 2010) and to drop off a couple of new computers as well.
Even though one of our main goals was to set up a new computer lab, teach the children (and some adults) how to use computers, etc., I couldn’t help but be captivated by Kenyan life. The things you notice...
Kenyans are very welcoming and friendly – having traveled quite a bit, Kenyans really made an impression on me, being some of the most hospitable people I have ever met. With “polite rules” posted everywhere, it’s not surprising how hospitable they are. They are friendly regardless of issues such as crippling unemployment rates and huge economic disparities. I was just a casual observer of the poverty, having driven through the slums and only once attending a feeding program in an Eldoret slum where we helped feed a portion of the 150 children in attendance. One day we ate at a popular restaurant in Nairobi (“Carnivore”), where the driver reminded us that only 1-2% of the population could afford to eat at such a restaurant. And that a waitress in a regular restaurant earns about $0.85 per day. The effects of hardship were most apparent when I heard the story of one of the babies at Open Arms. Just two days old, he was strangled and left for dead in the river. Street kids found him floating down the river and brought him to the police. Now he is at Open Arms where he is thriving with the wonderful care and outpouring of love he receives in his new home. Knowing his story and having held him in my arms, it affirmed to me that every life counts.
What else unfolded in Kenya?
English and Swahili are the official languages of Kenya. Although not very successful, I tried to pick up some words in Swahili, a mix of Arabic and Bantu language. A Machakos teacher kindly taught us the basics (at the time, my vocabularly consisted of “hakuna matata” (no worries) from The Lion King). Later on in Kimbilio village, you should have heard my version of Amazing Grace in Swahili (yikes!).
I experienced the power of a magnetic hill in Machakos. I observed water running up the hill and giggled watching a grown man feel the force of his truck being pulled up the hill while his hands were held up high above the steering wheel (“look at me mom”).
I had some other fun experiences like randomly walking through a music video on the way to a waterfall in Eldoret. At one point, they asked me to join in on the video shoot but I declined - it seemed disrespectful given the hiking look I was sporting at the time in contrast to the care they took with their own appearance.
Ok, the following insight might seem random but I can’t help but mention this one point. They have much better cell phone reception and networks than we do here in Canada. Much cheaper too (do I sound bitter?). This was exemplified everywhere, but most poignantly by our tour guide at the Kakamega rainforest, who was making calls and just chatting away at the top of the rainforest canopy.
On our journey, we met some very special people. We met Rachel and David, the founders of Open Arms International who ooze kindness. They run a ‘village’ that sits on 52 acres of rural land overlooking a beautiful river (see below) – the village includes several homes that house over 60 orphans and their own school. What I loved most about Open Arms is their model and system of operation – each home has a set of parents (husband and wife) who raise their own children as well as an additional 15 or so orphans. Each family has their own separate home that is very clean and organized. My favourite was the baby house where “moms” were raising around 8 babies when we were there – these babies are later integrated into the other Open Arms villlage homes.
We also met Justus and Annette (one of the sweetest women I have ever met; see above photo of Annette and her son in the new computer lab), a couple that originally took in more than 60 kids on their own personal income, becoming official guardians for the orphans. Even though some of the children were sleeping outside, and they didn't have enough food for everyone, and couldn't afford to send them all to school, they simply said they didn't have the heart to turn them away. "Where would they go?", Justus said. Eventually, they partnered with and received financial support from a great charitable organization, Agape in Action. Agape in Action means ‘love in action’ and that was certainly apparent in Kimbilio village. Over 110 kids later, they continue their hard work, ensuring that all of the children go to school, eat well, and have a stable life. Where do we fit in? We dropped off the computers to them, set them up, and provided brief tutorials. But somehow I feel that this was the easy part. Local ownership is key. Computers in hand, the locals will be the ones to spear head this project on the ground, to see it through and make it work.
Even though our visit to Kenya was short lived, I will have memories to last me a life time. That’s the beauty of volunteering. You feel like you’re helping others, but you end up growing as a person along the way.
Asante sana (thank you very much),
Founder, Charity Republic
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