Why did you decide to volunteer with Volunteering Solutions in Kenya?
Divya: I wanted to volunteer abroad to get exposure to health care and understand a culture very different from my own. Volunteering Solutions had a very flexible program which was customizable to my schedule. I could start and end as my schedule allowed which made it very easy for me to make arrangements with school and work. Moreover, they matched me up with a site that suited my interests and qualifications which was very useful. The price of the program also made it a very affordable experience. Totally worth every penny!
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Divya: I was placed in a government hospital right outside of Nairobi. I would wake up at 7am and eat breakfast. Then get on the matatu (the bus) and head over to the hospital. The hospital has several different departments. The first week I was there, I spent most of my time in the dental clinic assisting the dentists. This included handing instruments, suctioning, preparing solutions, fillings, preparing syringes, and of course observing oral surgeries. This was a good ice breaker for me as I am generally squeamish with blood.
I also wanted to learn about the culture while I was there so the second week I went on a safari trip to Massai Mara and Lake Nakuru where I got to see the nature and wildlife which is so dear to Kenyan culture. I strongly recommend visiting the Massai tribe while there. The fact that they drink blood for breakfast and are a functional and harmonious polygamous society is enough of a reason to learn more about them!
The last week I was there I spent a lot of time in the hospital. I got to see live births (along with still births ), hysterectomies, cyserians, tumor removals, orthopedic surgeries, and others. Being in the injection room (equivalent to an Emergency Room) I also got to see really cool cases and give injections.
During the evenings we had dinner at the volunteer house. We were generally exhausted at the end of the day so we hung out at night with the other volunteers playing games or just talking. Fell asleep every night below the most beautiful night sky and awoke the next day to roosters in the morning.
What made this experience unique and special?
Divya: It is never where you are or what you do that makes something fun, it is always about who you are with. I came by myself to Kenya but I guess I got particularly lucky with the people I came across during my time there. My stay at the volunteer house was an eye opener; eating Kenyan food, going grocery shopping at the local market, learning a little bit of Swahili, etc.The other volunteers were amazing people from all over the world (Singapore, London, Germany, Egypt, Canada, US, India, Dubai, China, Holland, etc) and really provided me with a lot of different cultural perspectives!
The country coordinator was also really accommodating to our needs and interests, recommending and showing us places that we were interested in learning more about (we got to see the elephant orphanage and tour the kibera slum in addition to volunteering).
Lastly, my interactions with the locals were phenomenal. Most people (including myself before I went on this trip) have this idea that Africa is a really dangerous place but I have found it to be the absolute opposite. In Kenya locals show you the way if you are lost, strangers chimed in while I was bargaining to make sure I wasn’t cheated, and everyone is generally friendly. I made some really good friends while I was there.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Divya: My biggest accomplishment on this trip was overcoming my fear of blood. As a future medical professional it was critical for me to get used to a bloody gory environment. During my first surgery I was five seconds away from fainting, but now I can watch and even assist surgeries comfortably. Being in Kenya also made me aware of the global health problems that exist. In the future, I want to get involved with global public health initiatives.
I have also had such a rich cultural immersion. The great thing about Kenya is that most people speak both English and Swahili so we were able to have in depth conversations with the locals about their life, their challenges, their strengths, etc. It was fantastic.