Did I enjoy teaching?
This is a hilariously unanswerable question. I loved working with the children - they were like my adopted Kenyan babies. I got to know their little quirks so well, and getting to do extra curricular lessons with them was immensely rewarding as I was genuinely able to focus on them individually to ensure their progress. It was difficult to communicate with them much of the time, as at the tender age of 6, most Kenyans don't speak fluent English. But they were so keen, and friendly and fascinated with me that this didn't stand in the way of me forming quite strong attachments to a lot of them… I would love to go back again, especially to see the same children and see how they've progressed!
To be honest, I didn't receive any training from the school to help me teach my kids, and neither were any of the other volunteers who were assigned to older years. I taught Standard 1 in primary school, a grade generally made up of 6 year olds. In the Kenyan school system, children should have already been through three years of nursery school before starting Standard 1. Unfortunately, nursery school is not free in Kenya, whereas primary school is. Therefore many, many poor children are sent straight into Standard 1 where they are massively behind all of the other children, don't understand most of the lessons, and are caned for being slow (yes, it's supposed to be illegal in Kenya, yes it still happens).
Watching a caning never gets easier. I struggled massively with the punishment of the children, because my main role was really as a teaching assistant and the teacher used to discipline the children. However, if the teacher ever went away for a morning, the children knew that I wouldn't cane them and were absolutely impossible to control.
The school had very few supplies, and was often vandalised by youths from the local community. As a result of this, the classrooms (mostly quite crude stone and cement buildings) were barren and horrible little places to be, certainly nothing like the opulence of typical Western primary schools. It gave me an enormous amount of satisfaction to be able to buy my classroom a padlock to keep the vandals out. After that, I was able to create posters to stick up on all of the walls, full of the knowledge that they had been learning over the term. The classroom was so bright by the time we'd finished!
The one thing I definitely regretted not bringing with me was more basic stationery. And by basic, I don't even mean colourful card from WHSmith, I mean packets of cheap-o bog standard pencils from poundland or the Works. In Kenya, even things like that cost a ridiculous amount compared to the price of living. I would have taken packets of boring pencils and sharpeners (another big shortage) and rubbers. The kids go through them at a ridiculous rate - losing them, leaving them at home, trading them, breaking them, I would have taken packets and packets if I'd have known. OH, and while I'm thinking about it, the one most valuable thing I took was my digital camera. They go crazy for cameras, and are fascinated by the ability to look back on themselves on the LCD screens!
I love travelling and meeting new people, and I would always encourage people to see as many places as possible. But I'm not sure I would recommend going on this programme - at the end of the day, considering how cheap accommodation is out there (etc) I'm not convinced it was worth the hundreds of pounds I ended up paying.
The only thing that I really struggled with whilst in Mombasa was the food. We were (understandably) fed pretty much the same food every day whilst we were there, and unfortunately this was usually very over-cooked chewy beef. I was sick for a period of time, and afterwards just could not face going back to the beef. I ended up losing quite a lot of weight because of this, but most of the volunteers I stayed with actually had no issues at all. Eating outside of the house where we were living was fine for food, Mombasa has a massive Italian scene so there's spaghetti and pizza everywhere you go, as well as the more traditional Kenyan fare (have had massive love for pilau rice since leaving).
Mostly I felt quite safe whilst there, but I don't think I would have been as comfortable if I hadn't had fellow western volunteers to back me up. As a white person, you genuinely do stick out like a sore thumb wherever you go in Mombasa, and sometimes it can get a little too much. I only felt unsafe a few times - a) when I walked home late at night with some friends, and we were followed by a drunk man in a car and b) when we went on a bus journey to Lamu and armed guards boarded the bus to search for illegals. However, nothing bad came of the situations.
The programme totally revitalized me. Before I went, I had serious doubts that I could ever enter a career working with children because I'd had a number of negative experiences with young family. However, being there, even when the children and I didn't understand each other half the time, was one of the happiest times of my life! I loved them, and I know now that with a bit of work on my patience (haha) that I could definitely one day work in a school or tutoring environment.
Cheesy as it is, the programme reminded me that life is not perfect, but that people can be wonderful and inspiring and amazing. It doesn't matter where you are - there is still this connection that binds us all together as humans, and it was fantastic to experience it.