I suppose I'll start at the beginning:
I read through the program website and decided it looked like a good fit for me. I was interested in the teaching program, and the description only said schools were closed through December, so I figured I would be ok to apply for 4 weeks starting November 1. I was accepted and happily went straight to the facebook group to seek advice from former volunteers. When I mentioned what program I was doing, an alumni told me she was pretty sure the school term (and thus the teaching program) ended in October, so I sent an email to IVHQ asking why I would have been accepted to start in November if this was the case and clearly stating that I didn't want to be on the Childcare program and wanted to be on Women's Education if not teaching. I was told not to worry, the school term didn't end until November 18 and after that I could definitely be put on the Women's Education project. Excited to be a part of both, I told all my friends and family this was the plan. When I arrived in country, however, I was informed the schools closed in October and sent straight to the childcare program. I would have complained, but I didn't want to lose all the time it would have taken to switch programs and had been placed with only one other volunteer (who was really cool). Because they explained they always put at least two volunteers in each placement at a time, I knew that if I moved, she would have to as well so I didn't want to put that on her.
The orphanage we went to was delightful; the staff and kids were friendly and they cared about making the best life they could for the kids living in the facility. The in-country partner organization had us pay for our lunches while we were volunteering there and had generally poor communication. We were frequently kept late or called on the weekend by the manager asking where we were because they had no idea what hours we were supposed to be there. Additionally, there wasn't really much for us to do at the orphanage. There was already a schedule laid out for cooking and cleaning by the staff and kids, they didn't have any scheduled activities for us to help with, so we spent most days at the orphanage sitting around and casually playing with the kids who didn't have anything better to do. Partially because we had nothing to do there and because he insisted we needed to 'learn something,' the manager of the program used most of the days to take us away from the orphanage on field trips, without the kids, at our own expense. These trips included things like visiting farms or sewage treatment plants, watching him shop at the market, and promoting his book at a local school which was out of session. For the most part, these trips were interesting, but very quickly became expensive and took away from time we should have been spending with the kids.
The accommodations provided were nice upon first impressions, but unfortunately involved a number of security breaches which made them unsafe and at times uncomfortable. We were not allowed bring outdoor shoes inside (I was once scolded by the house manager for putting a pair of flip-flops I had worn beside my suitcase in my bedroom) so we had to leave them outside the front door. One night, another volunteer's new hiking boots were stolen by a neighbour. The program does not provide volunteers with their own keys to the house, not even for a deposit, so if we were going to be home before the house mom, she would leave the keys in the kitchen window within easy reach of anyone outside, giving the neighbours multiple opportunities to enter the house. Finally, and worst of all, the house manager frequently allowed her boyfriend, who I later learned was unapproved by the program and had not completed a record check like everyone else, to be in the house, often overnight, occasionally sleeping in the same room as me and another volunteer. She did not ask us if we were comfortable with the situation at any point. Because the other volunteers seemed so ok with it and it was so frequent, I assumed the boyfriend had already been approved by the program. I didn't complain because I didn't want to seem like a princess compared to the others and was afraid I would be treated poorly by the house manager if I said anything to the program about something the other volunteers were fine with. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have said something the first time I woke up to find a man who was not a volunteer in my room, however there were many steps the program could have taken to prevent this ever happening.
Not surprisingly, I was robbed while staying there, and the program staff were the opposite of supportive. My trip involved 1 month volunteering in Kenya and then I was heading to South Africa, France, and England, so I had a stash of currencies for these countries totaling over $300USD hidden in separate baggies inside a pocket of a purse in the bottom of my suitcase in my bedroom. I noticed as I was packing to leave Kenya that the vast majority of the money (all paper bills worth over $5 USD) had been stolen, and the thief had left the small bills and coins. I knew it had been within the last couple of weeks because I had checked on my stash that much time before. I first told the other two IVHQ volunteers about this and one of them said she had also noticed about $80USD worth of Kenyan shillings gone missing from her stuff, but she had blamed herself for probably misplacing it at the time. I then reported it to the house manager and the staff member listed to 'call in case of emergencies' and neither offered any sympathy or support whatsoever. Both accused me of misplacing the money, even though I proved it hadn't been misplaced by emptying my entire suitcase in front of everyone in the house and explaining that only the paper money was missing, not the coins. The house mom gave me weak excuses as to why it couldn't have been her boyfriend, asked me not to tell the program he had been staying there (and mentioned that he had lost his job two weeks before so was relying on her for money), and later accused me of lying about being robbed. The staff member I reported it to said he would contact the manager of the other volunteer program which had volunteers staying in the same house and the general manager, but he never contacted either of these people on the issue. I was told that if I suspected other volunteers of taking the money, I had to confront them myself, so I was put into the incredibly uncomfortable position of asking my friends if they would be willing to empty their suitcases the same way I had done. All of the other volunteers and the house mom willingly subjected themselves to this, but I was unable to search the boyfriend because he didn't have a bag in the house. I flew to South Africa that same night so I was unable to take any more action in Kenya. When I arrived in South Africa, I contacted the general manager about the situation and it was the first he was hearing of it (because no one had reported it to him) but he promised me they would take action. Weeks later, I emailed again asking for follow-up information on what had been done to investigate the theft or resolve the security breaches, and the only thing they could tell me was that they were 'recruiting a new host family for next year'. In response, I sent a list of steps I believed they could have taken to make their accommodations more secure and offer more support to volunteers, but received no response for this email.
Orientation was short. It wasn't exactly bad, but it wasn't great either. It included them telling us a little bit about our placements, teaching us about the safari company they recommend (which I never got to try because the phone numbers and email they gave us didn't work so I had to go with another company) and then dropping us off at our homestays.
In short, I do not recommend this program as a safe or effective volunteer program. However, dealing with the staff at IVHQ was just fine, the program fees (if you choose the right country) are reasonable, and I do recommend IVHQ as a good way to explore a new country if you have no prior connections in that corner of the world.
Thanks for reading and I hope that if you do choose to volunteer with IVHQ or IVHQ-Kenya, you experience is much better than mine was!