For this month’s Travel Tale, our Marketing Officer, Rosie, writes about her trip to Kenya, where she witnessed the work she writes about every day in action! Read her story below…
Journey to Nakuru
With my suitcase packed and my passport at the ready, I arrived at Heathrow airport four weeks ago to catch my flight to Nairobi. I felt a little nervous, but I was also excited to have the opportunity to see our partner projects in Nakuru for myself, and to meet my colleagues in Kenya who work so hard to deliver the best experiences possible for our volunteers.
After an uneventful journey, and accompanied by a group of 50 volunteers from Priestlands School who had been on my flight, I arrived at Jomo Kenyatta airport. Leah, Fred and Ken – our in-country staff – were waiting to greet us when we exited the arrivals terminal, and, before we knew it, we were on our way to Nakuru.
As we drove along the wide expanse of highway that connects Nairobi to Nakuru, I was struck by the stark contrast between rich and poor. On one side of the road, palatial houses surrounded by lush green lawns were hemmed in by huge gates. On the other, hundreds of small huts made from corrugated iron sheets leaned haphazardly together, stretching far into the distance.
The road gradually became bumpier and dustier as we left Nairobi and passed through small towns with single-storey buildings dotted along the roadside. Although small, these towns offered everything you could think of, from hotels to electronic stores, hair salons, groceries, restaurants, and butchers. We attracted a fair bit of attention as we drove through; Ken informed me that the local people weren’t used to seeing mzungus in their town!
As we drew nearer to Nakuru, we climbed high into the hills of the Great Rift Valley, providing us with some spectacular views of the green and mountainous landscape that surrounds Nakuru. The Great Rift Valley was formed as a result of tectonic activity that took place around 25 million years ago, and stretches all the way from Mozambique to Lebanon. It is almost impossible to comprehend the size and age of this fascinating natural phenomenon, and seeing it from such a height certainly made me feel small!
After a few hours’ drive, we arrived at Jarika County Lodge in Nakuru. The hotel is on a street just off the main road, and the complex is safe and peaceful, surrounded by high walls, with security guards on the front gate at all times. My room was clean and tidy, with a comfortable bed, a mosquito net, and an en-suite with a warm shower and a Western-style toilet. After a delicious dinner of rice and vegetables, I headed to bed, ready to explore more of Kenya in the morning.
Rift Valley Adventure Day
The next day, I was up early, ready to join Chichester College on their Rift Valley Adventure Day. This is a popular adventure activity with many of our groups, and I was excited to experience it for myself.
The day started at the entrance gates to Lake Nakuru National Park, where we boarded our safari vans, complete with pop-up roof to give us the best possible view of the park’s breath-taking wildlife. As we drove into the park, we could see giraffes walking gracefully amongst the trees, zebras trotting along the roadside, and warthogs running through the grass. We also saw monkeys, buffalo, impalas, and rhino as we drove towards Lake Nakuru itself, where pink flamingos could be seen delicately picking their way through the shallow waters.
The highlight of the safari was undoubtedly a young male lion that was spotted resting in the shade of a tree, right next to the road. Despite every safari van in the vicinity racing to take a look, he was extremely relaxed, and even took the opportunity to plod sedately along the road, allowing us to follow him for a while. Seeing a lion in the wild, and at such close proximity, is something I’ll never forget!
After Lake Nakuru National Park, we drove towards the Equator, stopping off en route at a tea and coffee plantation to learn how tea leaves and coffee beans are grown, harvested, and sold. The employees who pick the tea leaves are paid according to the weight of their harvest, and the speeds at which they can pick them is something that has to be seen to be believed!
At the Equator, we ended the day with a simple experiment designed to demonstrate the Earth’s gravitational pull in action. In the Northern hemisphere, water draining from a funnel spun in a clockwise direction, while in the Southern hemisphere, it drained in an anti-clockwise direction. When the same experiment was repeated directly on the Equator line, the water drained straight down, without any spinning motion! After some obligatory photos at the Equator sign, it was time to get back in the vans and head back to Nakuru.
I spent the rest of the week visiting our partner projects in Nakuru, some of which we have supported for years, and some of which we have only just started working with. What struck me the most was the contrast between our newer partner schools and those we have worked with for a long period of time. It was humbling to see the progress that our volunteers have made at our more established partner projects, with new classrooms, kitchens, and toilets having been constructed. It also made me hopeful that, with time, our newer partner projects will receive the same level of support, and can grow and develop their own facilities in the same way.
I spent my first day with Heartlands High School, who were volunteering at West End Destiny Academy. We partnered with West End Destiny Academy in 2018, and our volunteers have already made significant progress at the school by helping to construct new toilets. It was Heartlands’ final project day, and they spent the morning finishing their building work, teaching, and painting the children’s faces with face paint (which they loved!). In the afternoon, they wrapped up their trip with a farewell ceremony, and the volunteers gave some moving speeches about their time at West End Destiny Academy and what they had learned through the experience. The thoughtfulness of the volunteers was so touching – they had gone to considerable effort to make each child a necklace with their name on as a leaving gift. They also gave each child a set of colouring pencils, and donated clothes and learning resources to the school. After some emotional goodbyes it was sadly time to leave, but it was a lovely way to start my week of visiting our partner projects.
The next day began with visiting the homes of some of the students who attend Mama Kerry School, where students from St. Edmund’s Girls’ School were volunteering. We visited two homes, both of which consisted of one room that was used as a kitchen, bedroom, and lounge, and was shared by around six people. This was an eye-opening experience for many of the volunteers from St. Edmund’s, and the visits sparked some interesting discussions about life in the UK and the things we so often take for granted. I am sure it is an experience that will stay with them for a long time.
In the afternoon, we returned to Mama Kerry School, and the volunteers continued decorating the exterior walls of some of the school buildings with bright, colourful images of giraffes, elephants, and monkeys. They also donated new cooking pots and mugs to the school, making it easier for the kitchen staff to provide a daily meal to the school’s 136 children. Finally, the volunteers donated footballs, skipping ropes, bubbles, colouring pencils, and story books to the school, which the children at Mama Kerry absolutely loved. It was obvious that the children were desperate to learn from the way they sat quietly at the edge of the playground, reading their books. The patience and care with which the St. Edmund’s students helped them with their reading was lovely to see.
I spent the following day at Jubilee Academy and Bygrace School, two of our partner projects which are located across the street from each other. At Jubilee Academy, volunteers from Priestlands School were hard at work constructing a secure fence around the perimeter of the site to keep the children safe throughout the school day. At Bygrace School, another group of volunteers from Priestlands assisted with teaching and cementing the floors of two new classrooms which are currently under construction.
We first partnered with Jubilee Academy in 2013, and our volunteers have made significant progress at the school, which now has nine permanent brick-built classrooms and two large playgrounds for its 190 students. In contrast, Bygrace School, which we partnered with in 2018, has just three, tin-built classrooms for its 110 students, and is in desperate need of more classroom space. While the contrast between the two was stark, it was also inspiring, as Jubilee is an excellent example of what can be achieved through long-term, meaningful support.
The next morning, I joined The Romsey School as they visited the homes of students who attend Chaddy Mission School. As we walked through the local community, Pastor Geoffrey, the founder of Chaddy Mission, explained that many of the children’s parents suffer from alcoholism, unemployment, or illness; some of the children’s parents are simply absent. Again, this was an eye-opening experience for the volunteers, and reinforced just how important Chaddy Mission School – which provides two meals a day and a free education – is to the local community. In the afternoon, we returned to the school, where some of the volunteers did a fantastic job of painting a new classroom. The rest of the group spent time playing with the children; it was clear that they craved the interaction and affection that the volunteers provided, and while some wanted to play football, others were very content to sit and have a cuddle with their favourite mzungu.
My final day in Kenya was spent visiting The Walk Centre, which is now recognised as African Adventures’ flagship partner project. The progress that has been made at the school is absolutely astounding. The construction of a new, permanent, two-storey primary school, with the capacity to educate over 300 children, is an amazing achievement. The importance of The Walk Centre to the local community was evident through the fact that, despite it being the weekend, it was packed full of children who came to the school to receive a nutritious meal and have a safe place to play.
Across the road from The Walk Centre is the entrance to the Hilton dumpsite, where many of the children who attend The Walk Centre live in slum areas. Fred, our Kenya Co-ordinator, took me to visit the dumpsite in the afternoon, so that I could learn more about the home lives of some of The Walk’s students. As we walked around the area, Fred explained that many of the people who live there spend their time scavenging in the rubbish for things to sell, such as metal or plastic. We also met a group of women who have set up a co-operative that makes jewellery and bags out of recycled plastic; our volunteers can then buy these when they visit the Hilton slum area.
The impact of The Walk Centre was clearly demonstrated when Fred took me to visit the childhood home of Eric Mwangi, who used to live at the dumpsite. Eric attended The Walk Centre as a child, and, thanks to the education and support he received there, went on to graduate from Laikipia University with a degree in Community Development. He now lives in Nairobi, where he works for an international charity that supports children living in poverty. This is a fantastic example of how education can change lives and alleviate poverty, and demonstrated to me the incredible things that our partner projects, with the support of African Adventures and our volunteers, can achieve.
An unforgettable experience
All too quickly my week in Kenya was at an end, and I soon found myself travelling back to Nairobi for the long journey home. I gained so much from the experience, from getting to know our volunteers, to meeting the in-country teams, visiting our partner projects, and of course spending time with the energetic, joyful, and sweet-natured children who attend them. Travelling to Kenya has definitely made me feel more connected to the work I do in our UK office, and the experience is something that will stay with me for a very long time.
Kwaheri for now!