Our Marketing and Communications Officer, Beth, spent four weeks in Kenya in the summer of 2012. In this week’s blog, she discusses her experience of volunteering abroad, and why she thinks everyone should do it if given the opportunity.
I remember the first time I considered volunteering overseas. It was during a school assembly, surrounded by the equally awed faces of my friends, as we listened to a presentation detailing the ‘experience of a lifetime’ we could have in Kenya the following summer.
Whilst the snazzy PowerPoint, colourful graphics, and inspiring speaker did a stellar job at generating interest, I was still a bit hesitant. Whilst my more outgoing peers eagerly discussed the pros of escaping their parents for a month to see the world, to me it was a big leap. I’d never even been on a plane before – let alone for nine hours, with no family to support me! I took a brochure regardless, on the assumption that I probably wouldn’t even be allowed to go for the expense alone.
To my surprise however, my parents fully supported the idea. “It will be a great opportunity for you,” said my mum, whilst my dad made some suitably terrible joke about me hopefully getting eaten by a lion whilst there. With that, and some words of encouragement from my best friend, it was all systems go. Deposit paid and a huge outstanding balance waiting to be paid off, I began saving.
I didn’t have a job at the time, so every weekend I went out with a bucket, soap, and sponge to wash people’s cars. I have no idea how many cars I washed in total over the course of my fundraising, but I have refused to wash one since. I was never very good at it anyway! All the cash I collected went in an old tin which I kept in my wardrobe, alongside money from Christmas and my birthday, and various group fundraising events which I did with the other volunteers from my school. In what seemed like no time at all, my balance was paid off, I’d had all my jabs, and was ready to go. My family came to say goodbye as I left with to go and experience Kenya.
Arriving at Makongeni camp
Despite being given an itinerary for our stay, I still didn’t really know what to expect. After meeting our trip host at the airport in Kenya, we drove to our first camp – Makongeni. Everybody was so welcoming, and, after having a wander round and meeting some of the locals, we settled in for a much-needed rest before a hard week’s work.
Throughout our stay at Makongeni, we split our time between plastering a local school and finishing building a house for a local disabled fisherman. Both of these were really hard work but actually really fun! The house build in particular was a really unique experience as we used mud as the main material. We had to dig holes in the earth, fill them with water, and make mud with our feet, before scooping it into balls and filling a pre-constructed wooden frame. Once the frame was full and had dried in the sun, we would go back with fresh mud and literally splatter it over the top to seal it in – a very messy stress reliever and an ingenious way of using alternative materials. On the day that the house construction was complete, I was elected as project leader – a terrifying responsibility, but one I was immensely grateful for as we ‘gave’ the completed house over to the family and celebrated with them in the evening.
The following morning we said our goodbyes and travelled down the coast to our next camp in Shimoni. Here we helped out with marine conservation, which was mainly rubbish collection from the beach, and assisted the locals with making some trinkets to sell using flip flops that had washed up on the shore. We also got to explore some of the local slave caves, which was an insightful but incredibly harrowing experience to say the least. The highlight of my time at Shimoni was having the opportunity to learn to scuba dive and become PADI certified. If you ever get the chance, do it! It truly was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had, and I cannot wait to do it again at some point! In no time at all we were packing up to go to Imani, our next camp. I was sad to be moving on from the beautiful scenery at Shimoni but excited to see more of Kenya and get stuck into volunteering.
After a day of travelling we were warmly welcomed into the Imani camp and introduced to Mama Mercy who headed the local women’s group. What a lady! She spoke with us about the sort of work herself and the other women do, providing sex education to the local community, and speaking out for vulnerable women to ensure their needs are met by local government. After hearing her talk, we had a dance with the rest of the women’s group which was a great way to let off some steam and have fun! Our activities at Imani were really varied – from helping create learning resources for a classroom, to farm fencing, and learning to do beadwork with the women’s group. This was all mixed in with some sports coaching and petting the camp dog, Rufus! Although I spent the shortest amount of time at Imani, it had the biggest impact on me emotionally.
Tsavo camp and life after Kenya
Moving onto our final camp in Tsavo was exciting but also quite sad, as I knew my time away was drawing to a close. Having always been a fervent animal lover, I was ridiculously excited to do my final adventure activity, a safari around Tsavo East National Park. This is another thing which I highly recommend you do should you get the chance! My personal highlight was seeing two elephants with their baby – so adorable and really a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
We got the chance to get more acquainted with the elephants later in the week, when we learnt how to make elephant poo paper… it was as gross as it sounds, but strangely satisfying and really interesting. The other project that we spent most of our time on at Tsavo was digging a trench to a local waterhole. Human and wildlife conflict was (and remains) a major problem in Kenya, and the staff told us how when the elephants became desperate for a drink they would break the water pipes leading to the local village. It was hoped that when the rains came later in the year, the trench would flood and fill the waterhole to prevent this from happening.
With the digging and animal/environmental observation work in the evenings, the final week flew by, and suddenly it was time for me and my group to go home. I know how cliché it sounds to say that I came home a different person, but it’s true. The experience of being independent for the first time is something in itself, but my time in Kenya pushed me to become a more confident, compassionate, and courageous person. I often wonder how I would be today had I not gone. It really felt like life had come full circle after I graduated and got my job with African Adventures, and I can’t wait to return to Africa next year with the 2021 Youth Development Programme. If there’s one bit of advice I can give you, it’s to take the leap and do the thing that scares you – you don’t know what you could be missing out on!