Alumni Spotlight: Matthias Quaas


Matthias Quaas is a 35-year old German from Berlin who currently lives in Cagliari, Sardinia, Italy. He is a teacher of languages and a freelance translator. He likes reading, music, films and writing as well as football. He volunteered with KVCDP in Kenya from 13 January 2014 - 24 January 2014.

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

I decided to volunteer in Kenya because I had planned a trip to West Africa this January and I wanted to see first-hand how the Kenyan people live, what Kenyan culture and tradition feels like and which attitude towards life exists, rather than being told by guide books or tour operators.

I had never been before to Africa. Having done a lot of research in the Internet, I had finally found KVCDP, which sounded promising.

Instead of going through a lot of forms and questionnaires, which European-based organisation like to demand from you, I was chatting via email with the project’s coordinator right away, who answered patiently all my questions.

Once all formalities were settled, I was sitting on a plane to Nairobi. I felt excited and having arrived at Jomo Kenyatta Airport, one of the staff of the organisation picked me up as agreed upon.

After a short, but informative meeting with the project’s coordinator in Nairobi, I was on my way to Wagusu. There, I met Wilfred, the day care center manager, who welcomed me warmly and I realised right away I had made the right choice.

Thanks to KVCDP, I learned more about Kenya in the next two weeks than I could have hoped for.

What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?

Spending two weeks in Wagusu, I was touched many times. I think the authenticity made this experience unique and special. The journey was very authentic. Travelling by bus and then by boda boda was very particular.

The accommodation was genuine. Set above Lake Victoria with an amazing view, the facilities were very basic, but it gave me a feeling of how people live there.

Also the first day in the center was very touching. We were welcomed by the women's group in a very traditional way, including speeches, dances and food.

Most of all, the children were special. Spending every day with them gave me the opportunity to see how little is necessary to enjoy life.

They, but also every one else in the community made me rethink my life and life in general. Which things have value, which have not. What is important, what is not. How much do I need to be happy. My answer today is, I don't need much.

So, it was the people in Wagusu that have made my experience very special.

Do you feel like you made a significant impact on the local community? Why or why not?

I think I have not made a significant impact on the local community in Wagusu.

Their way of living may not be perfect in my European-dazzled eyes and in many ways I can think of possible improvements, however, the community has found a way to live in balance with their surroundings.

I was not there to teach them but to learn about their way of living and to exchange ideas. Concerning some hygiene issues, I commented on the status quo and made suggestions to improve the situation.

But it's really up to the community what they do with these ideas. I hope playing with the children and participating in the community activities made an impact in that moment, because I did enjoy it very much.

But to make a significant impact I think I would have to be involved more and stayed longer.

Tell me about one person you met.

Margaret is a beautiful person and stayed with me in the center during my time being there. She is a member of the Wagusu community and has a husband and several children.

She lives in the village, but takes very good care of the volunteers during their time in the center. She cooks, cleans, always smiles and is very interested in having a chat with you.

For two weeks Margaret was preparing tasty and local dishes for me and shared these meals with us in the evening. Here we had time to exchange ideas and learn from each other.

I learned that she is a very good mother, teaching her children to be independent. I also learned that her husband is one of the goldminers in the town and that they have been living in the community for a long time.

She is friendly and her dancing skills really impressed me. I think she is a very wise person, who can teach you lot about Kenya, if you want to listen.

On my day of departure she walked a long way to greet me and say good-bye, even though it was Saturday and early in the morning. Margaret's friendliness, unselfishness and hospitality is something I will remember and I appreciate a lot.

How has this experience impacted your future?

What I have learned most of all is that everything, big or small, has a value. Having seen children being so happy with having close to nothing, really made me rethink my life and life in general.

I want to learn to be happier with less and help those who have less than me. I have started to talk and write about my experience a lot trying to share my experience with others.

Also, I have started to work voluntarily once a week. I teach in a language school for free and I enjoy it very much. Like in Kenya, a smile is more valuable than money.