Kate McAteer - Care & Community in Kenya
This summer, I volunteered on a High School Special Care & Community Project in Nanyuki, Kenya for two weeks. I have always wanted to volunteer abroad to experience a new culture and work with local people in order to fully learn and understand what life is like in a developing country.
Arriving in Kenya
Our flight (my sister and I) arrived in Nairobi at around 5am; by the time we got through customs and received our bags, it was 6am. We were met by a staff member from Projects Abroad who had a sign for us and was also wearing a Projects Abroad t-shirt, which was very helpful considering we could barely stay awake! After we left the airport, we went straight to the hotel in Nairobi where we stayed for a few hours before we left for Nanyuki.
The drive to Nanyuki took approximately four hours, which was a very different experience to a car journey at home! When we arrived, we went directly to our host house, where we got to know one another. Only four of us had arrived at this stage; we met with Josephine, our host mum, ate dinner and went to bed for an early night, as we were all exhausted. The next day we went to an introduction and briefing at the Projects Abroad office in the centre of Nanyuki. We were told what we would be doing, who we would be working with, where we would be working, and who would be our leader.
We also got a tour of the town and got Kenyan sim cards so we could phone home. By this time, everyone in our house had arrived; six girls and one boy, talk about outnumbered! We were all from different parts of the world; Ireland, France, the Netherlands, Italy, and Switzerland. Initially, it was quiet with a lot of awkward silences, but after an episode of glee and a few movies, we were all friends.
My Care & Community placement
On our first day in Nanyuki (after the briefing and tour), we went to the Furaha Foundation, a local home for orphans. Our trip to the orphanage was eye opening. The children were absolutely beautiful, inside and out; they made my heart warm. It was a fantastic first impression of the people of Kenya as they were so happy and kind, even though they didn’t have a lot of material things. It made me realise how lucky I am and made me so much more grateful for everything I have.
The next day, we went to the school Happy Kids, where we would be building a gazeebo each morning from 9am until 1pm, Monday to Friday. We first met with the principal of the school and introduced ourselves, then we played with younger children. “Mama Kenya” was so kind; she always gave us fresh mandazi, which she would bake each morning. I can honestly say they were one of the best parts of the trip and made the endless digging worth it! The work was difficult during the first few days, as it was mostly digging and laying down wood. It felt as though I was digging to the centre of the earth! Although, it was well worth it when we got to play with the children during their break times. The smiles on their little faces are something I will never forget.
My free time
Each afternoon after lunch, we had an activity. On our first day, we had a Swahili lesson where we learnt key words and phrases in Swahili, and we even learnt a song! Even now, I still find myself saying “asante”, which means thank you. On our second day, we went back to Happy Kids, where we played games and did some colouring with the children. One of the more cultural experiences we had was an evening in Mama Kenya, where we each wore the Kenyan flag, played games, and did Kenyan dances to traditional Kenyan music.
On Friday, the day of our safari, we went to the Cedar Mall where we stocked up on sweets, chocolate, biscuits, popcorn, and fizzy drinks just to make sure we didn’t get hungry! We also treated ourselves to some hard-earned KFC! The following week, we had a dancing competition and also a football competition at the Furaha Foundation, which was really fun and it was also lovely to meet up with the children again.
The weekend trip
On Saturday, we had an early start and went on a safari! We went to the Ol Pajeta Conservatory, which lies on the equator. We saw all types of animals from zebras to giraffes to elephants. It was incredible. The views, the animals, the company, and the weather all made for a perfect day; it was like being in the Lion King (except we didn’t see any lions)! On Sunday, we went to the Maasai Village and learned about the Maasai people and their lifestyle, which was an interesting experience. We also went to the animal orphanage where we saw everything from cheetahs to gorillas, which was a fun way to spend the afternoon.
On our last night in Nanyuki, we all went out for dinner to a beautiful restaurant with our host mum, Josephine, who was absolutely amazing. She made us feel welcome from the moment we got there and always made sure we were okay. Her cooking was incredible and my personal favourite was chapatti. It was phenomenal; we all loved it so much we had it on two different nights!
On our final day, we handed the gazeebo over to the principal and thanked them for their hospitality and for the wonderful experience we’d had. Likewise, they thanked us for the work we’d done and they told us we would always be welcome at Happy Kids. It was very sad leaving the children, but knowing that we had made a huge difference to their lives made us slightly more content. We said our goodbyes to our friends before leaving for Nairobi that evening. It was heart breaking leaving my friends but we still keep in touch and plan on meeting up in a few weeks. We then sadly left for Nairobi and arrived at the hotel where we stayed overnight before the early start for our flight home.
My time in Kenya was an experience I will never forget. I have made lifelong friends and I know I will always have a warm welcome and a place to stay when I go to Nanyuki. If you are considering a volunteering trip with Projects Abroad, I would highly recommend it as you will not regret it!
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.