Charlotte Loose - Social Worker in Kenya
A story about my stay in Kenya as a professional volunteer.
I would like to tell about my experiences in Kenya as a professional volunteer. I chose to work at an orphanage for four weeks from June to July. I just arrived home after an instructive and exciting stay for a month in a town called Nakuru.
The idea of volunteering has been circulating around my head for several years. To be able to do something for others makes sense to me. In September, 2011, I went to an information meeting with Projects Abroad in Copenhagen. Here I took the decision that I would go and do some humanitarian work in summer 2012. For this I chose Kenya.
In Denmark I work in Dragør municipality as a family counsellor and Marte Meo therapist. I have much experience working with children and their families.
There were some preparations that needed to be done before I could start on my trip. It was very important for me to reflect on what it was I expected to gain from my experiences as a volunteer in Kenya and I could help as a professional volunteer in my profession as a Marte Meo therapist. You do not know quite what to expect, but it's good to be prepared and keep an open mind. The purpose of being a volunteer was for me to introduce the Marte Meo method to the local staff by showing video clips from courses in Denmark and see how they received this information. I hoped that it might be used productively within the orphanage. I also wanted to be a part of the children's everyday life along with the staff, and use my experience and professionalism from related work and development in Denmark. I also had thoughts about whether Kenya knew about ADHD issues. ADHD is increasing in Denmark, but why? I hoped to gain a better understanding about ADHD through my stay in Kenya and at the same time experience a cultural exchange. It is an important starting point to learn from each other.
At home I tried to prepare myself for this adventure; I read a lot about Kenya's culture, history, nature and geography. In addition, I tried to find sponsors who would donate toys and tools for the project and for the children to enjoy. I would like to give a big thanks to Lego and Penol, who sponsored gifts for the children and helped create a lot of joy and creativity among the children.
The plane took off from Paris towards Nairobi and 8 hours in the air waited ahead. In the plane I sat next to a man from America, who would carry out volunteer work in Ghana. He would live with the same family as he did last year. I thought it was nice to talk to someone else who mentally was in the place as I was. When the flight landed, he turned to me and said ”I do not think this is the last time you come here”. Subsequently I believe that he was right.
Already upon my arrival in Nairobi I sensed that everything was different; there was a myriad of people, colours, smells, chaos and heat. We were welcomed by two wonderful employees from the Project Abroad office in Kenya, and were taken to a guest house for the night - welcome to Kenya. I just had to get used to guards, fences and barbed wire!
The next day I enjoyed the trip to Nakuru, which is filled with magnificent scenery.
Inge Lise and I would be staying with our host mum, Rose, who works in a bank. The orphanage was nearby. I experienced the beautiful scenery over Nakuru Lake every morning when I walked to the orphanage Heaven of Hope. I often used my time going to and from the orphanage to have conversations with the local people who either dig ditches, cut stones to build, the local men, women and schoolchildren. I've got a great insight into how people in Kenya live and about their everyday work. Their warmth, openness and interest to learn about whom I am and what I do in Denmark made a great impression on me.
I encountered a lot of poverty during my stay, but I also experience some perseverance, determination, power and a smile that told me it all would turn out just fine.
Sometimes it seemed meaningless to me that they lived in those miserable conditions.
In my spare time I used a lot of time in the community where I lived and worked. I was very interested in gaining an insight into the daily life of the people in Kenya. I visited the family of Marta (Marta was Roses housekeeper) who lived in the country about one hour drive from Nakuru. Their hospitality touched my heart. Their world was completely different from mine. Their living conditions where very simple. The house was a simple tree contstruction. There were no water, light or toilet and the kitchen consisted of an open fireplace and two pots.
And naturally I had to see the sceneries in Kenya. I went with Projects Abroad on a three days trip to Massai Mara to see the wild animal – a magnificent expedition.
I worked in an orphanage called Haven of hope in Naka in Nakuru for a month with my colleague Ingelise. The orphanage had 42 children and 4 employees. The orphanage was three years old and was started by four young people who wanted to make a difference for these children by creating a home for them. And they succeeded. I experienced a warmth and trust when I entered the orphanage. The staff knew that I respected their culture and brought with me knowledge about how children grow and develop. They already knew how I worked with children in Denmark, particularly children who were very emotional due to challenging life experiences. This made it really easy for me to work as a professional volunteer. The staff wanted to know more about how children developed and what they could do in different situations. The children came from very different backgrounds. Some had been abandoned or removed from their parents. Others had been sexually abused or had HIV/AIDS. I spend my days at Haven of Hope together with 14 children from the age of 0-5.
Before I went to Kenya I thought ”How can I make a difference in just one month?”. I must say I am surprised about just how much one can do in one month. The most important thing for me has been the process. How I could communicate the children’s development and how they could use in their everyday work. Also how I could get the Marte Meo method incorporated into the work of the staff without being disrespectful and see how the tools of Marte Meo can be used by the staff. It was important for me to use the methods of Marte Meo to show them how I work with the relationship between the children and the adults to create healthy development. And I succeeded.
I worked with a little boy called Paul. He was one and a half years old. He was very sad, emotional and passive. I filmed the Marte Mao process as I utilized it and I disseminated to the staff what I did to create this positive development. The purpose was to show the staff that children, who are emotionally affected, can develop positively by supporting them in a certain way. I used myself in the process. I had the greatest experience when Paul one day looked at me with a big smile and light in the big brown eyes; this melted my heart. The staff could even notice a change with the little boy, and at the end of the course the staff could even practice Marte Mao and support Paul’s development. Along the way we had various talks about how the staff could support children with inappropriate behaviour. The staff learned that positive attention and language development activities in small groups all helped to stimulate the children's creativity and concentration.
It has been a great experience for me, and I would like to do it again. I have learned a lot from being in Kenya. I have learned how good the children are at playing and I have seen how they help each other like a big family. Children can play with nothing. I have seen how everyday life is with fixed routines for children, which gives them a sense of security and predictability despite poverty.
I got an email from the orphanage last week. They told me that Paul is still developing positively - what more could I wish for? If you have further questions about my trip to Kenya, I have a blog, which describes my experiences in more detail.
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.