Jessica Ann Kocan - Care & Community in Kenya
I love to travel and when my family and I went to Africa for the first time three months prior to my Projects Abroad trip, I fell in love with the continent. I was amazed by the beauty of countries we visited, which were Kenya and Tanzania. The people were incredibly friendly and very welcoming. I knew that I had to go back to Africa soon, but this time to volunteer.
I had always been interested in volunteering abroad, as travelling had opened my eyes to see what is really out there in the world. I decided to look up organisations that would allow me to go on such a mission with the best safety and care while on my trip. My parents weren’t very certain at first about letting me go on my own at the age of 17 to Africa, but after reading through continuous satisfactory reviews for Projects Abroad, we were certain that this organisation was the perfect choice for my trip.
The Projects Abroad offices in New York and Kenya were both extremely helpful in reassuring my parents about safety with emails and phone calls from the Kenyan office.
Arriving in Kenya
Upon my arrival to Nairobi, Kenya, I was greeted by two members of the Projects Abroad staff. They were very friendly, took my bags and led me to a minivan were there was a driver and two other volunteers who had also recently landed at the airport. We then drove to a guest house were we spent the night before our three hour drive to Nakuru.
In Nakuru, we arrived at the house of our host mother, Miriam. Miriam had a beautiful five bedroom home that was gated and she was very kind. Her housemaid, Lynette, was also very caring and assisted us with anything that we needed.
Lynette cooked meals for us daily and during dinner Miriam would be very interested in talking to us about our days. We even watched an episode of Ellen DeGeneres in the living room one night after dinner and shared a good laugh. I truly felt at home and comfortable at Miriam’s.
Care & Community Placement
As part of our project, we were picked up every morning during the weekday to be driven to a local school called Rownaken. When we first arrived at the school, we were greeted by the students who ranged from ages four to eight. There were about five classrooms in use and one classroom was in particularly bad condition, which we were going to renovate.
The floor was damaged so badly that the principal explained to us that many kids had sprained their ankles. The walls were covered with faded pictures of shapes and animals, and the windows were uneven squares, bordered with dried cement.
It became our project to revive the classroom and turn it into a safe, vibrant environment. We got to work right away and started sanding down the walls to get rid of the old, faded paint. The children came out to play for recess when we were taking our break. I immediately saw how much our work was being appreciated when the children ran up to us and began to dust our clothes off after sanding.
One little girl in particular ran up to me and exclaimed, “Teacher, eye!” I didn’t understand what she meant, but I watched her as she pulled her sleeve over her tiny finger and gently wiped away the dust from beneath my eyes. I felt a surge of emotions rush throughout my body and I felt something that very few people ever have the chance to experience — a form of divine humanity.
In the afternoons we’d go to various childcare centres. At the care centres the sound of children’s laughter filled my ears as I swung and twirled the kids in the air. I distinctly remember the little girl that wrapped herself around my leg and wouldn’t let me go. Although she only came up to my thigh, the love I felt emanating from her tiny body showed me how simple love is.
At Kardesh-Ber-Nea, a baby orphanage, each baby had a heart-breaking story. Having the opportunity to play with the babies was special because every ounce of love shown to them was returned three times over.
Back at Rownaken, the classroom was taking shape. We had levelled the floor with cement and plastered the holes in the walls. Painting came next and after a long, eight hours of labour the walls were filled with colourful decorations such as letters, shapes, and a globe that I had painted with children of various colours holding hands and peace signs.
When the day came to unveil the classroom, the students of Rownaken jumped up and down with joy for five minutes straight. Seeing how the work of our project was appreciated meant so much more than any trophy, or award ever could have. It was the love and joy of the children, as well as the gratitude of the teachers and principal, that have made my volunteer experience in Kenya my greatest achievement.
Aside from working, we also got to enjoy the country. On the weekends we visited Lake Baringo and Lake Nakuru. We also got a chance to go on a safari at Nakuru’s National Park and we enjoyed watching the wildlife. Of course there was also enough time to get souvenirs and visit local markets.
I was more than satisfied with my experience with Projects Abroad and I would certainly recommend it to anyone who is interested in seeing the world in a different light. My two weeks in Nakuru were exciting and adventurous and I’ve created new friendships that I will never forget.
I’ve learned that some of life’s best lessons cannot be taught — they must be experienced. I will never forget my experience and I am grateful to Projects Abroad for guiding me every step of the way.
Jessica Ann Kocan
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.