TJ Sloan - General Care Projects in Kenya
Choosing Projects Abroad
I have always known that I wanted to help people less fortunate than myself, but every time an opportunity came up to help overseas, I seemed to ‘chicken out’. I was too nervous to travel all that way and take myself right out of my comfort zone. If I had any idea of how much fun I was going to have volunteering with Projects Abroad, I would have volunteered overseas long before now!
With every January comes a new year. We make all our new year resolutions and decide what we are going to do differently this year by reflecting on the one that has just passed. So, as usual I started to think about how I could make 2013 a unique and special year in my life. I had millions of ideas buzzing through my head regarding what to do, but one thing in particular hit me in a flash. 2013 was going to be the year that I volunteered overseas, whether I liked it or not!
After spending several hours on the Projects Abroad website, leafing through their brochure and having lengthy discussions with my parents, it was decided. My destination was to be Kenya and I would go for 4 and a half weeks.
Traveling to Kenya
My departure date for Kenya arrived very quickly once I had finished my summer exams. My mom and sister accompanied me to the airport in Belfast; where I was due to depart for London for my onward flights to Dubai and then Nairobi. I was very surprised by how relaxed and calm I was, waiting with my family at the airport before my departure to Africa. At that point in time I don’t think the enormity of what I was about to do had hit me. As I said goodbye to my family, my mom was an emotional wreck. I think it was because this was my first ever trip away from home, outside of Europe without my family. As I turned away from them and walked towards security, I knew I was on my own now, but not for long!
About 20 hours, 3 flights and 3 stopovers later, I had arrived in Kenya. I was greeted by Lucy, one of the Projects Abroad staff, at Nairobi Airport. A taxi drive later, we were at the guesthouse in Nairobi, my home for my first night in Africa. After some rice and a good night’s sleep, we made the 3 hour journey north to a town called Nakuru. The hustle and bustle of busy Nairobi soon turned into open country, with farm animals roaming the land freely, people busy working in small villages and of course the ‘safari’ animals, which I had only ever seen in books, zoos and on television.
My first impressions
We arrived in Nakuru and I was quickly introduced to everyone. My first impressions of Nakuru were very positive. It is a really nice town and not nearly as crowded as Nairobi, which was good for me as I am from a small town in Northern Ireland. My home town has a population of about 72,000 in comparison to millions of people in Nairobi and around 300,000 in Nakuru! All the volunteers live with Kenyan host families so, after my town induction, I was driven to my host family’s house. It was about a 10 minute walk from Nakuru town centre.
My host family
The accommodation was quite similar to back home. I had my own bedroom, fully equipped with a mosquito net. The only difference to home is that the showers in Kenya are basically wet rooms, so that took some getting used to. After unpacking, I got acquainted with my host family: Lea, George, Lydia and their house maid, Benta. We all got along well together and had good laughs during my time staying with them. Several hours later, I met my house mate and fellow volunteer, Jérôme. He was doing a Sports project at the local soccer stadium.
My Care project
My project was at a school for street children, about 3 km from where I was living. On my first day at work, a member of Projects Abroad staff showed me how to take the matatu (minibus) to my placement. As the matatu headed towards the school, the surroundings changed dramatically. The affluent area of Nakuru quickly turned to slums, poverty I had only ever seen before on television. It was surreal seeing it for the first time in person!
We arrived at my placement and I was introduced to the local staff and shown around the school. Mentally, that first day was very hard for me. The school was completely different to any school that the other volunteers and I are used to at home. It was very basic, with blackboards, a few posters stuck on brick walls and no electricity for lighting. I don’t think any of the teachers there would be using interactive whiteboards.
As the days passed, I started to settle in and got along really well with the staff and volunteers. I became good friends with Lea, from France, who was also volunteering with Projects Abroad. It was good to have others to talk to during the school day. I knew it was going to take time to get used to my new surroundings, but I also knew I was capable of doing it. As time went on, I grew very fond of the school and the people in it. I loathed the thought of leaving them all, especially knowing that a lot of the kids only ever get fed when they are at school. The amazing thing is, they are so grateful for what they do have even though it is literally nothing! The majority of things they get, even their clothes, are donations. I can tell you here and now, I felt very ashamed for a while just thinking of all that I take for granted at home. We have so much in the western world and don’t even realize it! That is why Kenya was so humbling. The people there care about the things in life that actually matter, like getting fed and just surviving from one day to the next!
Traveling in Kenya at the weekends
During the week we all worked at our various placements, but at the weekends we got to travel around Kenya and do the touristy things, like going on safari or going to see massive freshwater lakes. My highlight was going on safari in the Maasai Mara for 3 days. A few volunteers and I spent 2 nights in one of the Safari Lodges close to the park itself. During the 3 days, we went out on an afternoon game drive (the 1st day), an all-day game drive (the 2nd day) and on the last day we went out on an early morning game drive to see the animals hunting. We saw many of the well known animals including zebra, giraffe, lions, elephants, cheetahs, wildebeest, buffalo, rhinos and leopards. I am sure the list goes on and on, but that is all I can think of at the moment. The laughs and memories of the trip will stay with me forever, as of course will the rest of my time in Kenya!
My overall experience
Projects Abroad have an extremely good support network and help you get to know the other volunteers, many of whom you eventually become friends with. Everyone gets issued with a cheap phone to stay in touch with one another and their family back home. Projects Abroad staff in Nakuru also ran socials, during which the volunteers can meet up, chat and just get to know each other. While I was there, socials consisted of playing soccer, having cooking lessons, playing pool at the local bar and playing games with local kids in the Nakuru area. I am sure they do loads of other things I am not even aware of! It was so great to meet not just Kenyans, but people from all over the world including countries such as France, England, Holland, Portugal, Belgium, Norway, Cyprus, Japan, Canada and the U.S. I am sure there are volunteers from loads of other places I don’t know of. This is why Projects Abroad is such a fantastic organization to volunteer with. You don’t just meet people from your home country, but from all over the world. You gain knowledge and experience of their culture too.
There are some experiences in life that change you as a person forever. My journey to Kenya in the summer of 2013 was most certainly one of those experiences. To anyone thinking of volunteering overseas with Projects Abroad, grab the opportunity with both hands and just go for it! Believe me, you will have no regrets!
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