Volunteering at an orphanage in Kenya :: Joe Taylor ::

For my experiential placement, I chose to contact Rianna’s Fund; a charity very close to me who have set up orphanages and schools across Kenya, Uganda and India. The charity was set up in memory of a girl being hit by a falling tree in my school when I was younger. I got the chance to visit Kenya and stayed in the remote village of Yala where the charity has an orphanage. This was the first orphanage set up by them and has expanded to accommodating up to 42 children at a time. It also has an on-site primary school which allows the children of the orphanage and the local area to get a good education which is so key to securing a good future. During my time there I got the chance to spend a lot of time in the on-site school in which I both saw and participated in the teaching that went on. The school had the bare essentials to work with, however what they had they used effectively. I also spent time out of school with the children of the orphanage visiting waterfalls, going to the local markets, playing basketball and talking a lot about football. I was able to get some funding for my trip from the Eleanor Peel Fund, without which it would have been much harder to organise

How I feel I benefitted from my experience:

Going to Kenya marked the first time I had ever ventured into Africa or the Southern Hemisphere. This has allowed me to return with a much richer experience of how others across the world live and the cultural differences we have. I have greatly benefitted from my time in Kenya through learning to appreciate what I have. The few belongings everyone had there were basic but enough to keep them entertained and they took so much joy and pride in what they had. Despite being the only white person I saw for three weeks, every single person I met greeted me with a warm smile and offered a handshake. They had an interest in who I was and always chatted to me for a while. Their attitude towards family and friendship was something I’ve never seen before. They always looked out for each other and I loved spending time with everyone that I met.

How they benefitted:

Whilst spending time in the school I was able to give different approaches to teaching that I had picked up from previous placements and time in school. I was also able to independently take on some classes to free up the teachers to complete other work that they needed to do. Outside of school time there were many opportunities to help around the site and I took with me some games, paper, pens and other things for the children to do. If the children were bored they would often come to my room and play games, draw or just come and chat about life in another country. Taking out my phone with its camera was also great, they loved taking photos and videos of each other and showing them to everyone they came across. Whilst I was out there, they also got a chance to do things that they don’t usually do. My hosts particularly were incredibly generous to me whilst I was out there and it was obvious that this was their attitude to everyone. Running an orphanage is not easy but they were always so calm and so on top of everything so simply taking them out for dinner gave them a break from the norm and a bit of a treat. The older children also took me to many different places and took me out more when they would usually have stayed in the grounds of the orphanage.

Differences I saw (culture and adaptations):

One of the differences I saw whilst living in Kenya was the food. I tried a lot of new things and ate a lot of rice and ugali (bready food made with maize flour) but I particularly loved the actual eating experiences. Despite having very little, the family always provided a lot of food for each meal so that if anyone dropped by they could provide them with a meal as well. They also always enjoyed food together, having long discussions together about the day, the children or whatever was happening in the news. Another, less positive, difference was the acceptance of corruption in society. From the top people in government to the policemen linings the streets, corruption and bribery was everywhere. Finally, the difference in time keeping and relaxation was prevalent. They had a very laid back attitude at all times and school lessons would often start later and go on for a bit longer afterwards. This was great to have such a relaxed atmosphere, both in school and out of school, but meant that planning and organising other activities was slightly trickier!

What I learnt:

I learnt many things whilst in Kenya. One of the biggest things was to appreciate what I have. Whatever they had out there, they were so proud of and they took so much care over. Everyone had to collaborate to clean, tidy and make everything look good and when it did they were so proud. I also learnt that, even now, there are still so many areas of the world that don’t have running water, electricity or easy access to medication. It didn’t really hit me until I was out there and, though this village had all of these, the water and electricity would often cut off, sometimes for days at a time. This was a lucky area because the news showed that there are still areas across Kenya which don’t have any of these at all.

What I enjoyed/challenges:

One of the best things about being there was the constant friendship and positivity that everybody greeted each other with. Whenever they greeted, it was with a warm smile, a handshake and usually an encouraging word or story about their day. It was brilliant! They were always willing to share whatever they had and they were so proud of everything they had, keeping everything clean and making sure everything was in working order. There were, however, many challenges as well. The language barrier was often tough and when I was out with people I would often have people come to me asking for money. Because of this it was hard to go out on my own, meaning I had to rely on others around me a lot and had very little independence. Whilst this was often tough, whoever I was with was always very helpful and I would learn so much from them.