Uhunda village, 7km from Usenge, Bondo District, Nyanza Province,
Western Kenya. Summer 2007
The community of Uhunda is about a 30 minute walk from the main road
from Kisumu that carries on to Osieko. The community has its own beach
on Lake Victoria, called Honge, which is about a 5 minute walk from the
school itself, which provides stunning views over the lake. This beach
is the lifeblood for the community, which relies on the fishing trade,
mainly catching tilapia, Nile perch and omena (or daga). There are
wooden boats lined up on the beach and it is well worth asking one of
the fishermen to take you out for a trip; it is interesting to see the
various fishing methods and the views are fantastic.
Nyanza province is dominated by the tribe Luo. They are one of the
largest tribal grouping in Kenya and along with Kakuyu hold many of the
most influential positions in the state. They speak their own language,
as so many of the Kenyan tribes do, which is very different to Swahili.
Sharon can provide a helpful list of common words and the people are
appreciative and often amused by any attempt to converse in their
mother-tongue. Having said this, you will not need to speak it to teach
in the school. Even the small children in the orphan centre and nursery
learn some English and latterly all lessons are given in it. Even exams
are set in English, so it is helpful for the children to speak to you in
English. This will at least help them become more confident speaking it
and will provide a good reason for them to do so.
The people are extremely generous and they will bring you presents from
their shambas (their small allotments) or whatever they can afford:
fish, fruits, milk. It is very difficult to turn down these gifts, even
though you may feel bad accepting them. But they will be very pleased to
give them. We were made so welcome that we really felt that we had an
African home and even an African mama in Priscah.
As with any small, rural community, everyone knows everyone. They have
large extended families and so people are always round each other's
houses. The Luos are polygamists and it is still common for men to have
more than one wife. Traditionally the man lives in a house in the middle
and provides separate houses around him for each of his wives. As you
can imagine, this can lead to huge families and you will find brothers
(strictly half-brothers) who could be father and son.
We are 'muzungus', or white Europeans. The kids shout it and wave as you
walk past. Some of them had never seen white people before and were
either terrified or fascinated by us. This was made amusingly clear when
we went to visit a community project up the road in a very rural area.
Soraya saw a particularly cute little boy and went over to him with
hands outstretched, cooing. His smile was immediately replaced by
blood-curdling dread; he ran away as quickly as his little legs could
carry him. Soraya was keen to cheer him up and tried to pick him up
again and the closer she got, the more terrified he became.
In some ways it was quite fun being a muzungu because when we walked
around the village we were greeted by everybody and generally treated as
washed-up z-list celebrities might be at home. But with that comes the
assumption that we are made of money and could, if only we were that way
inclined, solve all of Africa's problems with a swish of our Pound
Stirling. What we have learnt though, and what we were keen to stress
during a 2hr school committee meeting, is that the most pressing
problems of poverty and HIV/Aids cannot be solved instantly by anyone,
or any amount of money. This was a problem of communication and when we
arrived they had been waiting for 4 muzungus (we were two) for a year
and a half. There expectations were out of proportion sadly, but
hopefully in the future they will know what to expect having had us
there for a month. The things that we were most impressed with have been
the community projects which are run, organised, and established by
locals, but which are sometimes funded by charities. There are lots that
try to educate and raise awareness of various issues, and they seem to
me to be making more integral progress than carpet-bomb charity involvement.
I had had no previous teaching experience and was not a little nervous
about the prospect, especially when I met some of the other volunteers
who were professional teachers at home. But the experience was really
satisfying. The fact that muzungus are teaching them is an intriguing
novelty factor for the pupils and they are keen and receptive. They were
extremely shy to begin with and it took a while for them to get them to
put up their hands and say anything they wanted, but it is worth the
effort because it makes the lessons more interesting and stimulating for
the children and for you. You will probably want to buy all the
materials you will need to teach. We ended up travelling to Kisumu every
weekend to pick up various things. The chairman of the beach, Henry, a
very respected man, has a car and is always willing to help with
transport from Usenge if you have heavy things.
Even though we were not able to teach the orphan centre kids the
irregular past tense in English, we could help with their learning by
rote (A is for Apple) and with games and drawing, something which they
seem not to have done before. They were adorable and we both had our
favourites, who we wished we could pack in our bags and take home. I
think they also took something from the relationship and were pleased to
have us with them.
We both thoroughly enjoyed our time in Uhunda, made a lot of real
friends, and learnt a lot about Kenya and Africa. I almost wish I could
vote in the upcoming presidential election because we learnt a great
deal about the politics of the country and came to hold strong views of
I would recommend this experience to anyone. We will definitely go back.
And we feel quite proud to be the first of many people who will go back
and forth in this relationship between Nyayo and AVIF.