Alumni Spotlight: Laura Erdman

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad with IVHQ in Kenya?

Volunteering in Kenya with IVHQ

Laura: To answer why I decided to volunteer with IVHQ in Kenya, I must first tell you why I decided to volunteer with IVHQ. Before embarking on this adventure I did my research. I looked up dozens of volunteer organizations and emailed most of them. Between the reviews I read online, as well as my personal experience with IVHQ I can tell you they are one of the best out there!

Not only do they have unbeatable prices, but also they were THE best as far as customer service. Of all of the organizations I emailed they were the only one to not only email me back with a personal response (as opposed to the dozens of automated replies I received) but also responded within a timely manner. This is a huge deal when you are looking at spending thousands of dollars to donate your time in a foreign country! I wanted to be sure that the organization legitimate, and also valued my experience with them!

Once I decided on IVHQ, deciding where to go was easy. I am not sure why exactly, but Kenya just called out to me. I remember looking at the world map they have on their website and my mouse hovering over Kenya and it was decided. I knew that was where I wanted to go. Reading the reviews for the program there, as well as talking with volunteers via Facebook only made my excitement grow! I could hardly wait until my trip!

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Laura: My day to day life was not that of the typical IVHQ volunteer. I say this because during the majority of my time volunteering I lived at the volunteer house in Nairobi where I saw many people come and go, and I promise you we all had very different experiences. The most important factor in the experience was the person’s attitude. Volunteering anywhere is what you make of it, and that is especially true when you are in an unfamiliar setting. I am one of those people who like to get involved in everything, therefore during my time in Kenya I helped out with several projects. My main program was a food distribution program in Kibera. This was a project that had been started just a few weeks before I arrived so it was still in the early organization phase. This meant that I spent time not only in Kibera working with other volunteers, but also time with the Fadhili staff helping to shape the project into what it has become.

Working closely with the staff was a wonderful gift! It allowed me to get involved with many other projects that were going on during my time in Kenya such as several medical camps, as well as a food aid relief mission to Ludwar which was most defiantly the best week of my life.

So, to answer your question, I don’t know that I could describe my typical day. Each day varied depending on what project I was helping with. I will say that one thing that was regular was that we had tea with our host “sisters” every morning before all the volunteers parted ways to work on our respective projects! (a routine that I have kept now that I am home..the day just doesn’t seem complete without a cup of tea in the morning) After morning tea I would take a nice walk to the office to either meet a group to go to Kibera with, or work on other miscellaneous projects that were in the works.

As I said earlier there is a huge amount of flexibility surrounding these projects. You are paying to be there, so they strive to make the experience the best it can be. Volunteers are allowed to change placements every two weeks, so if you are truly not happy where you are, they will find a fit for you. Though I cannot imagine someone not being happy with their placement, I traveled to many different projects and I loved every one of them!

How has this experience impacted your future?

Laura: The experiences that I had with IVHQ this summer affected me not only personally, but also professionally. In June I will be starting Physician Assistant School, something that I am certain would not be happening without my time in Kenya. I say this not for the typical thought of “volunteering looks good on a resume”, but because this trip prepared me for grad school in a way that nothing else could have. The experiences I had at the medical camps and at the clinic in Kajiado reminded me of why I want to be a healthcare provider, as well as gave me wonderful experience working with a medically disadvantaged population! During my undergraduate degree, I entertained the idea of becoming involved with Doctors Without Borders, or something similar after I attained my masters degree and after my experience in Kenya I am certain that is in my future! My time in Kenya was something I originally thought of as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but now I realize was the beginning-of-a-lifetime opportunity – and I am thankful for it everyday!