I had an amazing experience. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to volunteer, have learned much, and hope to have made at least a tiny difference with some students somewhere along the way. It was so much fun to see the children jump up and down in sheer excitement when they realized that they were going to get to use coloring pencils and run around squealing trying to catch the bubbles that we blew for them out in the school yard. (Bubbles are a great alternative ‘treat’ to bring instead of candies.) I met many wonderful people along the way, saw some amazing scenery, and learned a lot about some of the different tribes in Kenya and the country in general.
I have used the evaluation questionnaire as a guideline and have elaborated on some aspects that I hope can help AVIF with its future volunteers (and I think I ramble on about some other things).
Firstly, I was originally assigned to volunteer at the NABUUR project at Menengai Village. We were informed that we would be: helping to build the barns (that they had recently received funding for), assisting at the local school, bring solar cookers, as well as teaching the recipients of the cookers how to use them. However, when Nick, Charlie, Autumn, and I arrived in Menengai we quickly realized that our situation wasn’t panning out as we had expected…..
…When we began considering moving onto new placements, we contacted Sharon and she put us in touch with the liason for Glad Toto. Nick and Charlie decided to go to Mercy Home and Autumn and I joined Andrea and Kerianne at Glad Toto. Glad Toto was started by the local women’s organization as a school for orphans, partial orphans (one deceased parent), and children who could not afford the government school fees. As I understand the setup, there are fees for Glad Toto but they are minimal, the pupils are not required to buy the books and uniforms if they do not have the resources to obtain them, and I think students may miss paying fees when they can’t afford to. Thus, the school is lacking in resources (the grade 1 class gathers under a large tree), the teachers use pupils workbooks instead of teaching manuals, and the board cannot afford to hire accredited teachers. The teachers greeted us with open arms and each day we were assigned different classes to go to and different subjects to teach. The previous week, Andrea and Kerianne asked if they could have some sort of timetable so they could prepare some sort of lesson plan the night before. When we finally did receive a timetable, it was never really followed. I think that each morning, the teachers who are there (many were absent often for funerals) meet and decide who will go to which class. They then decide what subject they will teach for that period, open the book to a page and begin to teach. However, since they do not have the proper manuals and have not been through teacher training, they usually just read the assignment to the class with minimal explanation….
Most people in Uhanya speak Luo, as that is the most common tribe in the area. One teacher (George) spoke some English, and the others spoke very little. Even though the language of instruction in Kenya is meant to be English, the teachers and students all spoke Luo. The teachers offered to translate for us, but after awhile we realized that the teachers couldn’t entirely understand us … and thus translating becomes a little tricky. A couple of high school students and a recent high school graduate did come to the school with us some days and volunteered their time to translate for us. Their English was very good and they were also very helpful in explaining how the school functioned, local Luo customs, and acted as our liason with the teachers for the most part. We were all very grateful to these three women and they helped us a lot in adjusting to life in the village. Another lady we met, Elizabeth, taught at the public school (Rapogi) that is just a couple minutes from Glad Toto. She was shocked that the teachers did not have proper lesson books and kindly offered to loan us some extra students’ books from her public school. I think that the students at the public schools are receiving a good education, but the teachers are just overwhelmed with so many students per class. (One class that I helped out with at the primary school near Mercy Home had 60 students in one grade!!!) I would suggest that future volunteers in Uhanya could help out with creative arts/physical education at Glad Toto and perhaps some of other subjects at Rapogi. Both Elizabeth and Andrew (another teacher at Rapogi) were very kind and I think they could be good contacts if you choose to pursue this.
Learning from my own experience at Glad Toto, I would tell future volunteers to spend a couple days playing games with the children. Many of the students are very shy and nervous about speaking English to a native English speaker. We (Andrea, Kerianne, Autumn and I) would stand at the front of the class, ask a question, and nobody would speak up to answer! Once we changed our strategy (to focus on games and creative arts), we found that the children were more at ease and a little more willing to talk to us in a more relaxed (play) setting. Games like “duck, duck, goose” and “hot potato” were a hit with the kids in the field. Even soccer/football (bring an air pump if you bring a deflated ball) and frisbee allowed the pupils to relax and open up. Once the children are more at ease, then move onto the english, math, and science lessons. In hindsight, I think this strategy is probably common knowledge for most teachers, but for non-teachers it is useful to know in advance.
…..As for the orientation, the Gracia was very nice and it was great to meet the other volunteers over a couple days. However, I think more detailed information should have been provided to warrant a 3 day stay. For example, many of the volunteers are not trained teachers and it would have been beneficial to be given some teaching aids (lesson samples and examples) for primary and secondary classes. Also, all Kenyan government schools are supposed to follow a national curriculum. If the volunteers could have a copy of this prior to arriving in Kenya, they could bring learning materials/lessons/books that supplement the classes that they will be teaching. Many of us found that the high school students were learning material (ie., organic chemistry) that we were not introduced to until college courses.
The volunteer handbook was useful. A couple items that I brought that were invaluable were a pocket knife [Ed-possibly won’t be allowed to fly with such an item ??], plenty of mosquito repellent, a rain jacket/poncho, and plastic flipflops (for showering in less than appealing bathrooms and trekking through some seriously muddy roads). Also, Lonely Planet has a very good list of what medications you should take with you. …Some volunteers came without basics (such as Panadol or fever/pain relivever) and I think it is essential that volunteers come prepared especially when living in rural areas! There were also some volunteers who travelled without any sort of travel/medical insurance – luckily no one was seriously ill or injured, but it seems quite risky to be travelling anywhere in Africa without insurance. (I know that AVIF did strongly urge that volunteers purchase insurance and that volunteers must decide for themselves in the end.)
….As many of the volunteers were students, they should be advised to bring their student ID with them if they would like to receive a student rate (usually half price) at any of the National Parks, Reserves, or Museums. Officially, the student discount applies only to school groups that have booked in advance but once we explained that we were travelling as volunteers and trying to see some of the country we were able to get the student price all but once. (As they say, everything is negotiable in Kenya!)
….I would also suggest that when possible, volunteers bring cash donations and then buy the supplies they need once they arrive. You can purchase almost anything in most of the cities (unless you are keen on specific teaching aids) and waiting to buy things in Kenya will be: easier for your travels, help the local economy, and most importantly you can better assess what that school/orphanage needs most.
…I think that in general, volunteers can become quite frustrated at points and also dealt differently with the cultural differences of being in a country that is quite different from [home]. I know that I was frustrated at times too, but I really made a conscious effort to keep positive and focus on what we could do instead of only on what was wrong. …..it is very easy to get used to everything happening on time and as it was planned. In developing countries though, I would say that sometimes things do not happen according to the original plan and rarely do they happen on time. I think that most of the older volunteers were more at ease with this adjustment than some of the younger ones. When travelling to places with different cultural norms, I think you have to learn to adapt a little and realize that YOU are a visitor and YOU have chosen to be someplace that is different.
…volunteers really need to expect to be out of their comfort zone and when in these situations they must take a deep breath and remind themselves that if they wanted everything to be like home, they should have stayed home!
..I hope this mini novel will help out for the groups that go next year!