It’s About Sharing
At the age of 69, I decided that it was now or never. If I wanted to see and experience a bit of the world. I could have gone on an organised tourist trip somewhere but that did not seem to fit the bill. I have, for many years, been interested in East Africa and seen many films about the country, but there was something missing. Films, whether on television or YouTube can only give you the visual images; what I really wanted was to experience and feel the country. With that in mind, I decided to explore the possibility of voluntary work and that led me to Projects Abroad.
Arriving in Kenya
Having decided to take the plunge, I signed up for a Teaching Project in Nanyuki, Kenya. I primarily taught children aged between six and eleven. The process was quite simple and I just followed the guidance on the Projects Abroad website. I arrived at Nairobi Airport late at night and met a staff member who officially welcomed me to Kenya. From there it was a short journey to the hotel for an overnight stay.
Early the next morning we were off by matutu and I had my first experience on the roads of Kenya as we headed out to Nanyuki. Everything happened so smoothly, I hardly realised that my luggage was transferred to a taxi as soon as we arrived. There followed an induction which I found helpful before being taken to the bank to get cash and then a change of SIM card for my mobile phone. The day shot past and soon I was at the house that was to be my home for the duration of my stay.
The accommodation, a detached house in a gated compound was great. There, I was introduced to my host mother and was made to feel very welcome. Throughout my stay, I felt welcome and we even went out together for a meal and to the animal orphanage.
Volunteering during the school holidays
As I arrived when the schools were on holiday, I did not go straight to my assigned project, but rather to a home for children, which was close to my house. There, I had my first experience of working with children who had to be occupied during the school holiday. It was a lovely introduction to life in Kenya and I found myself sharing my life with them. The children were examples of perpetual motion, which was great to watch. Even after leaving to start at my project, I did make two further visits there: once for a Projects Abroad community day where the message of the day was handwashing and teeth cleaning. The other occasion was an informal drop-in with other volunteers, which the children appreciated.
My Teaching Project
My time had come to join my Teaching Project and that was a very different experience. It was there that I really started to get to grips with teaching children. After an initial induction with a group of children who came from the local community, I found myself teaching English with the younger classes and doing social studies with the older children. Fortunately, there are recognised textbooks and these were easy to work from. The children were delightful, always attentive and interested in learning. They also decided that my hearing aids needed examining, so I lost them for a few minutes while they inspected them. Perhaps some of this inquisitiveness was because I was probably the oldest teacher they had ever had. I may even have been the oldest person that they had known given the backgrounds of many of them. Every day was a joy even if the weather was not always as good as it could have been.
One of the things I was able to do during the lessons was to expand on the information in the textbooks, drawing from my knowledge of the subject or experiences. Here I particularly remember Nelson Mandela who featured in different yearbooks. There, I was able to expand by telling the children how his treatment was viewed outside Africa and the demonstrations that took place in his support.
When it came for me to leave, the children overwhelmed me with their desire to thank me for my efforts. It was a humbling experience and I remember one child (aged 8-9) asking me to pack her in my suitcase and take her back to England.
Teaching was not the only thing I did. The community days working with the other volunteers were always eye-opening. On one day, we were planting 200 hundred trees in the grounds of another school (followed by lessons in teeth brushing). We also worked at a medical outreach and helped professionals with basic primary care. We measured height, weight and blood pressure, and dispensed prescriptions as per the pharmacist’s instructions. That day we saw 98 patients, a far larger number than normally attended. This also brought back the reality of life in Kenya because one of the patients who we tested was HIV positive. Voluntary work is not just about giving; it is about sharing, whether this is with the local staff or children, through teaching or interacting with other volunteers.
Interacting with other volunteers and staff
I would like to mention the Projects Abroad staff who were so friendly and helpful to me and the other volunteers throughout our time abroad. At the time of my visit there seemed to be volunteers from all over the world and we all brought different life experiences to our social get-together’s after work; usually at Gerry’s Bar which is strategically located about 100 metres from the office. Denmark, Finland, The Netherlands, Italy, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were all represented. It felt like we were the United Nations sharing common ideas and ideals. It was great.
Free time in Kenya
During my stay, there was an opportunity to spend one weekend at Samburu National Park to the north of Nanyuki. A weekend safari is expensive but it was well worth it. Four of us set out for the experience, which also included a visit to a Maasai Village. I will always remember that weekend. I have many great photographs from that weekend.
One Saturday we drove all the way to the Thompson Falls, which was breath taking. In my remaining downtime over weekends, I would usually take a walk, back either into the town or just as along the road. It was good just to walk and look at the plants, trees and the occasional passers-by sometimes with their cattle. There were times when I really felt part of Kenya and not just a visitor.
It is very difficult, to sum up all the memories and feelings about the trip. However, if you were to ask me whether I would want to do it again, the answer would be YES. The support and organisation were so professional. If you are reasonably fit, age should not be a barrier to doing something worthwhile and will leave you and those you work with, lasting memories.