Just do it.
If you are considering volunteering abroad and can’t make up your mind I would definitely say – do it!
I left for Kenya because I wanted to gain experience in something new and unique. To see another world. To learn about a different way of life. To use my educational background in development work. I was looking for something different – and I got it. I knew Kenya would be a big adjustment. After living in Dublin and Washington DC for significant periods of time I was expecting this to be quiet a different living experience. I was not wrong.
Coming from a rural area in Ireland I found myself at times living in a bubble of boredom and repetition. When I told my friends and family I was going to volunteering in Kenya, I had some mixed responses. The majority were very supportive and encouraging. But my favourite part was seeing the people who couldn’t get their head around a decision like this! Some mouths would drop. Look’s of astonishment. I found this really amusing to be honest! But sure ya get that.
I am now about to leave for home and I would really encourage others to take the same journey. It was tough in many aspects but rewarding.
Let me try and put in perspective the difference in culture. One example I can think of is when I was in DC, I passed the Pope in convoy of security vehicles for his visit in September 2015. Literally twenty yards from me. There must have been at least 50+ motorcycles, SUVs and other security personnel. While in Nairobi I had a different “pinch-myself” moment; one day I drove through a slum on the back of a motorbike. I saw two kids no more than ten years old – both on the back of a twelve-foot camel, strolling through the middle of the street… Okay, the Pope is great and all but you just don’t get that on Penn Avenue…
Kenyans’ are very welcoming. Many colleagues offered to show me around the city and see the sights. You can have a chat with anybody in the street or on the bus – a bit similar to Ireland in that sense. Okay, in the Maasai Market some might try to charge you ten times the price because I am a Mzungu but they are trying to make a good business, right? Time to haggle.
After almost six months I have made some very good friends through this placement and you would too if you decided to go.
I wrote about Kenya’s the countryside before. Volcanoes, the great rift valley, the cradle of mankind, all the wildlife you could want thrown into one country lying on the equator. Its gas because when I get home I know I will still get questions about why you would want to come here!!
In relation to the work that has been done I am very happy. In September HAART ran an online crowdfunding campaign for the first time to sustain the running of the only shelter for victims of human trafficking in Kenya. In a three-week period we raised $6,505.00 from approximately 79 people all over the world. Not bad for the first time I think. The next goal for HAART is to buy a piece of land and build a shelter rather than renting. But land is a tricky subject in Kenya. Additionally, it may be difficult to find a funder who can make it possible but it is something HAART is working towards. The organisation is positive and hopeful.
One of my favourite aspects of working with HAART was developing the HAART Kenya YouTube channel which you can view here. The idea was to make human trafficking more relatable to young people in Nairobi and further abroad. Myself and two other colleagues scripted, planned, directed and shot the videos – which was a really enjoyable experience. We got to speak with people in the street about different aspects relating to trafficking. Did you know Ashton Kutcher, David Beckham and Ivanka Trump and others have all advocated on the issue of trafficking? See the short video we made about it here.
Aside from my work with HAART my timing being in Kenya made things more interesting. Election period meant a little more time off and unrelated to politics I got to feed a white endangered Rhino, drove right past wild elephants and monkeys and got within ten feet of Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya’s President).
But one moment which was exciting for me happened on the Monday before the second election. October 23rd. Work’ was calming down in the lead up to the election. I decided to leave the office a little early. While I was waiting for my bus I noticed a truck passing me by. But it was a little different to the others. The driver and passenger were in full camouflage. Once it had passed me it was clear it was military. The back open with about twelve army officers, camouflage armed with AK47’s. It was a bit odd as I hadn’t seen this before but didn’t make much of it. However, about one minute later I heard a siren and a motorbike squad passed. Signalling everyone to clear the way. Now I was starting to realize something big was happening. In the next ten minutes I estimate about forty to fifty SUVs, trucks and motorbikes raced past me, music pumping and people waving in awe. Both sides of the road taken up for the President. His red sleeve of the Jubilee party waved out to the people right as he was about ten feet from me. It brought huge excitement to the people who were around me. It was unexpected in what I assume was one of the last PR stunts before the election on the Thursday.
While there were positive experiences throughout I’m not going to lie; the first couple of weeks were difficult. Moving to any new city is a stressful experience. But I had some good people who showed me the ropes. No bus schedule, running water could be gone for three days, power out in the office. Have you ever had a bucket shower? These were some things which I was not used to. But again, this makes the experience real of living overseas very real.
But there were more concerning things going on than running water. Probably the one thing that stands out to me was when I was coming back to our office from a visit to our shelter. Our driver had received a call that he was to pick up a victim at another local NGO who was a partner of ours. For some reason I was expecting to see somebody else. But after waiting about twenty minutes in the car I saw a young girl walking toward the car carrying a schoolbag on her back. I am not great at judging how old children are but I would estimate she was between the ages of seven and ten. I said hello and tried to smile at her but I got nothing. That was not a good moment. I didn’t ask questions about her situation. It was moment clarity of the problem of human trafficking.
On the plus side I have to say HAART is a great organisation after spending six months volunteering there. It’s a diverse team made up of volunteers, academics, researchers and professionals from all over the world; Kenya, France, Canada, Germany, Argentina, Poland, USA, Denmark and now Ireland. I hope the team will keep doing the work which they are doing in the future.
You just never know what you might see.
Kenya and Ireland have a lot in common too. From the lush farmland and greenery to the missionaries who left Ireland years ago to help people in poverty. We can’t forget about the British imperial influence on both countries for centuries. Ireland and Kenya have very interesting histories and are more similar than I once thought.
I do plan on travelling and working abroad in the developing world in the future. To use a cliché – it does open your eyes. Appreciation of quality life in Ireland? Of course. Great memories and experiences? Definitely. But if your still thinking about going I would urge you to, if not for six months even one month can be valuable to you and the organisation.
I was also lucky in the sense that politically, I experienced something unprecedented in Africa; a Presidential election was annulled. As a result I got to experience this first hand a second election within six months.
Kenya is made up of many tribes and it was fascinating to hear different arguments yet politically, there are many problems.
The world has many issues at the moment ranging from climate change, the refugee crisis and threat of nuclear war. Exploring some of these issues first hand can be an amazing experience and it was for me. If you do decide to go volunteering abroad you just never know what you might see.