First tell us a little about yourself and your trip.
Ryan: I volunteered in Kenya from May-June 2007 (4 weeks) and I’m from Winterset, Iowa. I am currently traveling/working in Asia but will be living in Australia starting in May. I work for a non-profit called Global Playground that funds school building projects in developing countries and then engages those schools and the schools in the US with cross-cultural learning activities. I’m 24.
Why did you decide to volunteer with Village Volunteers in Kenya?
Ryan: I decided to volunteer with Village Volunteers after my freshmen year of college because I wanted to have an experience in the developing world to truly understand the realities of the world. I did a lot of research to find a program for around a month. Many of the organizations that I first looked at seemed more like a business trying to run me through a set model and itinerary. When I found Village Volunteers, I found something different. I applied online and the next morning I had a voice mail message from the executive director wanting to speak to me about the program. Over the next two weeks, she and I spoke for nearly an hour on two occasions about what program would be best for me and what I wanted out of the experience. That effort made my experience much more personalized and is a reason I was able to have the amazing experience I did.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Ryan: I wanted to have a very diverse experience to learn as much about the developing world and specifically about Kenya as I could. As a result, I did many different tasks over the month in Kenya. I visited health clinics, I visited community development projects, and spent a week teaching in an all girls high school. Some days I would just follow Emmanuel, my host around as he campaigned for parliament. Other days I would visit with locals or his relatives and ask questions about their histories and lives. I learned about the multiple ethnic groups in the area, what daily life is like, how the education and health systems work, and many other topics. Every day was full of learning and experiencing daily life in rural Kenya.
What made this volunteer experience unique and special?
Ryan: The personal touch made this experience so unique. I didn’t feel like a number. I was able to spend a month with Emmanuel, a Maasai man who is changing his community by helping set up community development projects and building schools. He is such an inspirational man and I learned more from him about international development in a month than I felt like I did in a year of college. I was able to see the real life, the real struggles, and the real joy of Kenya. My experience with other programs is more about getting money from the volunteer, giving you a feeling like you made the world a better place, and giving you a packaged experience. Village Volunteers is more personalized, it’s about learning about the world and from the people at these projects, and is hands down the best model of a volunteer program I have experienced as it has a small foot print on the local community.
Also, the opportunity to go on safari with Emmanuel was amazing as he is such a skilled guide. He uses the money from the safaris to help build schools for the Maasai who have a historically low literacy rate compared to the rest of the country.
How has this experience helped you grow personally and professionally?
Ryan: My time in Kenya has impacted my current life. I went from a 19 year old college student curious about the world to a 24 year old working for an NGO who come May will have traveled to 6 continents. It opened my eyes to the world and the nature of international development and that locals can develop their own communities if they are given access to proper resources. I may not be as interested in international development and the rest of the world had I not had the experience I did with Emmanuel.
On top of that, I may not have the hope I do about the world had I not met such an amazing man like Emmaneul. Even five years after my experience, I still exchange emails with Emmanuel and still email and call Shana, the executive director. No other volunteer program has the alumni community that Village Volunteers does. I know now that my efforts in the field of international development will closely model that of the model of Village Volunteers in empowering locals to improve their own communities.