Bronagh Hennessy - Care & Community in Kenya
I’ve seen people I know volunteer in countries all over Africa. Seeing their photos and hearing their stories made me realise that it was something I’d like to do. I said it to some friends and they all agreed that it sounded like a good idea. Unfortunately they were not as keen as I was, and when it came to it they backed out. However I was determined. I then decided I would travel alone.
The reason I chose Projects Abroad was because they offered the 2 Week Specials programme. For me this was perfect as this placement was for people aged 16-19, and at 17 and volunteering alone I wanted to be with people my own age. My parents were worried about me travelling to Africa alone, however the Kenyan office kept in contact with us before I departed through phone calls and emails which gave my parents a sense of security.
Arriving in Nairobi
When I arrived at Nairobi airport I was greeted by four members of the Projects Abroad team who then took me to the guest house where I stayed overnight before heading to Nakuru. I must admit I was a little intimidated by the barbed wire and the guards who stopped us on our way to the guest house, but I got over it.
The next morning, accompanied by a member of the Projects Abroad team, I took a matatu (Kenya’s public transport) to Nakuru where I was introduced to my host mother Miriam, who owned a private hospital in Nakuru. Miriam welcomed me and the four other girls into her home with open arms - she really made us feel comfortable in her home. Lynette, Miriam’s housekeeper prepared us with delicious meals each day. Chipati, an African dish, was a big favourite.
My Care & Community project
As I mentioned I took part in the 2 Week Specials project and this meant that I would be in a group of teenagers aged between 16-19 years old. Unlike ordinary volunteers we were picked up each morning and driven to Ronaken Education Centre where we completed the “community” end of our placement. We were then brought back to our host home for lunch and driven out again to partake in our Care placement. This project also meant we were under supervision from a member of the Project Abroad team anytime we left the house.
When we first arrived in Ronaken, we were given a quick tour of the school. We were introduced to the students who were very excited to see us. We were then shown the classroom, which we would be renovating. There were no doors or windows, just frames, the floor was uneven and full of holes and the paint was chipping off the wall. Needless to say the classroom needed a lot of work. I remember thinking to myself how would we ever finish in just two weeks.
However us five girls put the hard work in - we sanded down the walls, chipped and relayed the floor, inserted windows and a door, and painted and decorated the walls, and managed to get it all done in time. After applying the final touches we went out to the van to get school supplies we had brought for the children.
We heard the children screaming and shouting and we couldn’t help but wonder what was going on. However, we went back into the classroom where we found all the children, and even the head mistress, jumping up and down with happiness. They were all so thankful for the work we had done - the feeling of accomplishment was indescribable.
In relation to the Care placement, we visited Ronaken, Hope Children’s Ministry and Kardesh-ber-nea baby orphanage, where most of the children have had horrific pasts; some left abandoned at the hospital, others by a ditch and some were rescue cases.
All the children at these centres have people to look after them however they do not have anyone to play with so that they could have fun and forget about the different situations they were in, and this is where we came in. We were not there to cook or educate them; our purpose was to engage them in games and activities.
We even held a bit of a sports day in Hope Children’s ministry, where we organised different races like egg and spoon races and sack races - some of the children got very competitive! All the children were fascinated by us and were especially interested in my freckles. When we would drive to our placements children would often chase the van screaming “mazunga, mazunga!”
My two weeks in Kenya was not all work. On the weekend we got to visit Lake Bogoria where we took a boat trip around the lake, seeing crocodiles and visiting an island where a tribal family lived. We also visited a snake farm where I held a snake, and Lake Nakuru National Park, where we went on safari and saw many of different animals such as baboons, zebras, rhinos, buffalo and giraffes!
Kenya has exposed me to many different cultures and showed me how the Kenyan people live. Although being the only Irish girl in a house with four Americans meant it wasn’t only the Kenyan culture I was exposed to. I even celebrated my first Fourth of July with them!
Overall my experience in Kenya is one I will take with me forever. I made many friends from Kenya and America, and I will never forget all the memories. Leaving Nakuru was sad - I’d definitely like to return in the near future, to volunteer and catch up with the friends I made. For me two weeks of Kenya was just not enough!
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.