Volunteering in Kenya was something I always wanted to do, but with no friends keen to share the experience and at only 19 years old I felt I needed some help and support to ensure that I had a well structured and safe trip. Through friends recommendations I came across Africa & Asia Venture (AV) and soon I was on a flight heading for Nairobi together with my group of fellow volunteers.
The project was a 4 month programme starting with an orientation course to cover safety, customs, culture settle in and get to know the rest of the group. We then split into smaller groups and were assinged to the different schools in which we would be working. The volunteer phase was for a whole term in a school and this would be followed by 4 weeks of independent travel time.
We lived in local houses in the schools grounds or nearby, just like any of the other teachers. We didn't get special treatment, we washed our clother by hand, went to the market to buy our food, cooked on a single gas stove, had intermittment eletricity and little running water - it was the most amazing experience as you quickly adapt and realise exctly what it is like to live and how a simple life can be! You become friends with the people in the market and local community, learn the language and gain much more respect for making the effort to integrate, getting a lot more out of hte experience in the process. We were not bused around like a group of tourists or a school trip, but by being in smaller groups really managed to get involved. The other volunteers lived nearby and we were able to meet up at evenings and weekends which was great fun. We were also able to arrange sports fixtures against their schools which became very competative!
I was an assistant teacher in a Secondary school but also helped in the next door primary school. I was helping with English lessons and geography lessons to the junior classes - depending on the class sizes we would teach in pairs or as we grew in confidence by ourselves, particuarly helping with the students who were falling behind at the back of the class by taking them in seperate classes. There was a syllabus to follow and it wasn't daunting, I loved it! It was fun to think up different ways of teaching subjects and bring in games, challenging with the class sizes but hugely rewarding.
I was also in charge of the PE lessons, these were in the timetable but not taught by the teachers as they saw it as a lesson off! As soon as we said the PE lessons would start again the children got so excited, each day we would have from 50 - over 100 kids (depending on how many classes had PE at once) and it went from a choatic hour with just 1 football to playing tag, volleyball, touch rugby, football and lots of other games that needed little or no equipment. This was a big challange for our initiative but soooooo much fun! I also had some hockey sticks so started a hockey team after school. We made the lines for the pitch with sawdust and eventually ended up playing in a local sports tournament - they didn't win but they did score one goal, it was an amazing moment I was so proud!
We helped around the school taking art and drama clubs, some volunteers did music clubs however I stuck to sport! We also painted murals on the bathroom walls to brighten them up - there were so many ways of helping and the time flew by all too quickly! It was great being in one place for so long as you got to know people and really see a difference. It took a while to adjust to the different way of life and I think if I'd only been there a few weeks I would have been leaving just as I was getting into it. There was a lot of variety within the work so I never felt like I was stuck in one place.
Throughout this time the AV in country staff were on hand to help whenever we needed it but were not on top of us the whole time telling us what to do every day. I really liked this as it meant I had to make decisions for myself, we were treated like adults and had to take on responsibility for our work and make things happen. If ever we needed them they were very helpful and had fantastic knowledge and experience - they visited us to check how we were getting on but otherwise you could use them as much or as little as you needed.
After the teaching phase of the project came the travel time. This was a chance to explore the surrounding countries and area further but knowing that the other volunteers would be staying too so you had people to travel with. I white water rafted down the Nile, climbed Mt Kenya, went to Zanzibar and went on Safari - it was amazing and I felt so much more confident travelling, using the transport and ensuring we weren't over charged with tourist rates having been there for 3 months. AV also gave you advice on how to get around, places to stay and were there in support throughout this time if you needed it which was really good.
Going with a group of volunteers was great and particuarly as we would all be there together throughout, people didn't drop in and out for different lengths of time - I made some fantastic friends and it was great fun travelling together afterwards. Most people were in the same vote as me, not knowing any of the rest of the group and I as glad that I hadn't gone with a friend.
Overall it was an amazing experience, a great balance of the different elements and hugely rewarding. At no point did I feel like I was not needed, unwelcomed or unsupported, It wasn't always easy, it was basic and it was challenging but that is what made it so real and a truly unforgettable experience. Thank you AV.