Abigail Baxter - Nursing School Elective in Kenya
As a second year nursing student in England I had to choose a four week elective placement. Once I began looking into the options available, I was gripped with the idea of nursing in a developing country, specifically Kenya. The volunteer opportunities that Projects Abroad offers stuck out to me, I was able to gain the experience I needed for my university course, stay with a host family to fully immerse myself in another culture as well as visit a wide range of tourist attractions!
Arriving in Kenya
An emotional family goodbye and two flights later I arrived at Jomo Kenyatta airport, the change in climate and culture was immediately obvious as I made my way through arrivals and finally met the Projects Abroad staff. I soon realized that I was going to have to adjust to Kenyan life and embrace something completely different. We made our way through the crazy traffic in Nairobi and after a bit of a wait we started the almost four hour journey in the matatu (minibus) to Nanyuki. Between catching up on sleep and taking in my new surroundings I started to feel unsure about whether traveling to a developing country on my own was the right idea! Now I know, this was the best decision I ever made.
When we arrived in Nanyuki I was able to use the Wi-Fi at the local Projects Abroad office to contact home and let them know I had arrived safely. Here, I also met the staff members who would become my friends during my stay. We then took the short journey to my home away from home, to meet my host family. As it was early evening, after introductions and an exchange of gifts I had brought from home, we sat down for my first taste of Kenyan food. The food that my host family provided during my stay in Kenya was on the whole delicious although very different to the food we have in the UK. Now that I am home, I would do anything for a Kenyan cooked chapati and beans. The meal we had in the evening and the time we spent together as a family at night became a real comfort in an country that was so different. I cannot thank my host family enough for making me feel so welcome. They really made me feel as though their home was my home and when it came to it, I really did not want to leave.
My Nursing Elective placement
Although it was not planned, I worked at four different placements as well as attended some medical outreach days whilst I was in Kenya.
My first placement was at a disabled children’s home. After my town induction I was shown how to get to my placement, which was about a 30 minute journey away. Initially I was very nervous to travel all this way on my own but it soon became less daunting and part of everyday normality. The children here had a range of conditions, and the facilities and treatment of the children was something that I had to get used to. I was able to learn a lot about the rehabilitation of children with conditions such as cerebral palsy where resources are limited. I also played and interacted with the children who were just happy to share their day with me!
At the local general hospital I spent time shadowing nurses and completed observations, medication rounds, ward rounds and admissions on the paediatric ward. Again, this differed massively to what I have been taught about nursing in the UK and I learnt so much about myself as a nurse and how different nursing is in a developing country. There were children who were admitted due to a range of illnesses, some of which were less common in the UK.
I worked at a different hospital as well and had the opportunity to assist the nurses in the HIV clinic. This was one of the most interesting placements as HIV is something I had very little knowledge on due to its lack of prevalence in the UK. The nurses were very helpful and took the time to explain things to me in great detail. This was particularly useful when most of the patients spoke little English.
I asked to visit a specific placement which focuses on the care and needs of orphaned babies. Another volunteer had been there and I wanted to go. Projects Abroad were more than happy to organize for me to visit for a couple of days. Here, I played an active role in looking after the babies who needed bathing, playing, feeding and changing. As the babies could not speak this ensured that there was no language barrier, making it much easier to engage and have fun! If I were to go back to Kenya to volunteer with Projects Abroad I would ask to work at here, I loved it!
I was apprehensive to arrive in Kenya with no weekend activities planned, however I soon realized that this was the best and easiest way. Projects Abroad was very good at providing contact details and suggesting things to do during our time off. When you meet with other volunteers in Kenya you can easily and quickly book activities to fill your time as well as attending the socials organized by Projects Abroad. My first three weekends, I spent time with the other volunteers. We visited Ol Pejeta Conservancy on safari and Mt. Kenya animal orphanage, cooked with members of the Maasai and Kikuyu tribes, visited the Thomson waterfalls, and went to the local pool. On my last weekend, all of the other volunteers had gone home so I organized a visit to Nairobi to see the elephant orphanage, giraffe centre and the Maasai market. I hired a driver through Projects Abroad contacts and felt very safe even though I was on my own.
Words cannot describe how amazing my adventure in Kenya was, I could talk about it for hours. I gained the most amazing experience and memories. I’m so glad that I got the chance to fall in love with Africa and I am sure I will visit again.