Erin Pins - General Teaching Projects in Kenya
Ever since I was young, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. I strived to help others and have always wanted to do my part to make a change in this world. These days, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in fast-paced society and not be able to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I wanted to spend some time this summer doing something out of the ordinary, something that would benefit others. After many in-depth Google searches, I stumbled across an organisation called Projects Abroad, and the rest is history.
When I first started telling my friends and family about my commitment to travel across the globe and teach in Kenya, the first question I was always asked was, “why did you choose Kenya?” The thing is, I have no simple answer to that question. My best friend and I wanted to volunteer together, so we needed a country that had both English Teaching and Occupational Therapy Projects. I also wanted to go somewhere where my help would be most needed.
While scrolling through the list of countries that we could volunteer in, something about Kenya stood out to me. I saw the word and instantly knew that was where I wanted to go. This experience won’t be just an internship/volunteer project to you, no matter how hard you only focus on your work. The people, the culture, and the overall atmosphere will suck you in and before you know it, you’ll be trying to extend your stay.
The one thing I will begin by saying is that culture shock is real. When you jump into an entirely new culture on a completely different continent, it may overwhelm you at first. My biggest advice is to submerge yourself in it. It may be difficult and frightening, but in the end, you will be glad you did.
Arriving in Kenya
My friend and I were picked up at the airport by Peter, a Projects Abroad staff member based in Kenya. We journeyed a few hours away from the airport to our home for the next four weeks, Nanyuki. The arrival process was a bit overwhelming, simply because I was hit with the realisation that I was thousands of miles away from anything I had ever known.
The volunteer coordinators, however, are lifesavers. They became my friends and my family during my time abroad. It is their main goal to make sure volunteers are comfortable and able to have the best experience possible. After meeting the volunteer coordinators, exchanging our money, meeting the other volunteers, having a town induction and meeting our host family, I started to feel a lot more comfortable in my new temporary home.
My Teaching placement
I was placed in a school called The Fountains, which had children ranging from two years old all the way to around 10 years old. The class I taught was made up of children aged two to four who were still beginning to learn English. This came with many challenges, such as difficulty communicating, since they were too young to understand that I didn’t speak their native language. These kinds of challenges, however, made me push myself to think outside of the box and find different ways to communicate.
From Monday to Friday, I worked with the same group of children on their alphabet, numbers, writing skills and nursery rhymes. I was fortunate enough to be placed with an amazing teacher who has a very strong passion for what she does. On the first day, I observed how she runs her classroom, then I started to work with students who needed a little extra help. When there was down time, I wrote the lessons for the next day in the students’ work books since they didn’t have printed work like we do back in the States.
In the end, I think they taught me more than I taught them. This group of children had, for the most part, never seen an iPhone, used a school computer, used mechanical pencils, or even had balls to play with at recess. But even though they didn’t have many material things, they were truly happy children. They were just happy to be there with their friends, learning and playing. I think there’s so many people out there (including myself) who could learn from children such as these and I’m glad Projects Abroad was able to give me this opportunity!
One thing I really enjoyed was the fact that Projects Abroad always keeps you busy. They organise a ton of optional activities that you can do with the other volunteers and it really helps you connect with the community. We made lunch for an orphanage, had a sports day with the children in the community, participated in a medical outreach, taught kids in the slums how to wash their hands and brush their teeth, and so much more. The activities were all very eye-opening and they were wonderful experiences.
My host family
I was fortunate enough to also be placed with the most wonderful host family. They had four children, whose ages ranged from one to seven years old, so we were always kept on our toes! My host family made breakfast for the other volunteers and me every morning before work, packed us a lunch, then prepared a traditional dinner for us at night. The food was very different from what I’m used to, but I recommend you keep open-minded and try everything!
There was always a market nearby to get snacks if we didn’t like a certain meal we were given, which was very convenient. Before we left, we decided to bring a little bit of America to Kenya and we made our favourite meal for our host family. We went shopping at the local market and got our ingredients, then we were given permission to take over the kitchen for the night. I would highly recommend doing this before you leave, because the family loved it!
We had a very nice bedroom that had its own bathroom attached to it. After we came home from work, we usually played with the children until we were all tuckered out and ready for bed. We brought some things from home for them, such as glow sticks, tie dye, and bubbles, that they really enjoyed. They even showed us some of their favourite card games. Before bed, we were able to watch movies on Netflix or call our parents on FaceTime because of the Wi-Fi.
My free time
Easily one of the best parts about this experience was meeting so many volunteers from many different walks of life. We met people from different states in America, from the UK, Holland, Canada, Taiwan, New Zealand, and many more places. We all quickly became friends and still keep in touch to this day. When you have friends to go on all of your weekend adventures with, it makes the experience that much better. There were 10 of us in total and together we went on a weekend-long safari, visited an animal orphanage, had weekend lunches, and spent time at coffee shops and even a couple of bars here and there. It definitely wouldn’t have been as much fun without the other volunteers.
No matter if you want to do constant adventures like hiking and safaris, or constant relaxing like sitting by the pool and drinking a nice cold milkshake after a long day of work, there are endless opportunities in Kenya for any of those things.