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My life-affirming volunteer experience in Kenya

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Published: October 16, 2018

“Humbled, inspired and awestruck”. Seven intrepid and compassionate Sociology students and their lecturer, Drew Dalton, recently took part in a life-affirming volunteering project in Ndhiwa in western Kenya. The group worked with Team Kenya, a UK-based organisation that supports the education of girls, the empowerment of women and the transformation of communities. The trip had a profound and inspirational effect on our students and their outlook on life…

Team Kenya group photo with children

“Throughout my Social Sciences degree, I became increasingly interested in global issues, human rights and gender equality, leading me to write my dissertation on Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya and the involvement of international development organisations. I wanted to put some of my research into action so when the opportunity arose, I jumped at it. Travelling to a developing nation to do some voluntary work has always been a goal of mine and this opportunity seemed ideal.

giraffe in the wild

A boat ride on Lake Victoria and seeing wild animals in a safari park were definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me. I saw things I thought I never would like the image of giraffes, zebras and black rhinos only feet away from our car. I saw hippopotamus surface and watched people play, bathe and wash clothes in the lake. I swear I saw a crocodile but no one else believed me even though I had binoculars (thinking about it now, it may have been a large log!). The safari trip was followed by the best fish and chips I have ever eaten (who says the English make the best fish and chips) and we sat surrounded by the beautiful scenery of Lake Victoria in the blazing sun. These are things most people only dream of and I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to experience this.” Jodie Weatherston, BSc (Hons) Sociology.

girls holding cameras

“I was given a unique opportunity to volunteer with Team Kenya in Ndhiwa. By helping to research the success of their gender-based violence project, I could help to ensure that women and girls will live in a safer world in the future.

The children and girls that are part of Team Kenya were amazing. We met some of them going to secondary school and became very good friends with them. They'd come to our accommodation and we'd to talk with them, do activities and learn more about their lives. They were brilliant girls with big dreams and goals and seemed so strong and passionate. Even though they don’t have basic supplies, they were so dedicated to their goals and studies. They all wanted to succeed in different sectors and some of them also wanted to do jobs that only men did. I was inspired so much by these young girls.” Anastasia Vasili, BSc (Hons) Sociology.

Team Kenya group photo

“I wanted to take part with the trip because I felt this was a once in a life time opportunity, allowing me to live as a local and not as a tourist for once. I wanted to see how Team Kenya are implementing their ethos into schools and communities. My initial feelings were of anticipation - leaving family behind is always difficult, and jetting off with eight strangers was a big a challenge. I was worried I wouldn’t feel part of the team or I was too old but I was totally wrong.

The children would come and shout "mzungu" and shake our hands. Their smiling faces will stay with me forever. They were very inquisitive about my tattoos and at one point I had about 20 children rubbing my arm, trying to see if the tattoos came off. The food was delicious, cooked fresh every meal time, and with little meat I enjoyed the vegetarian food. Banana curry was fantastic especially with rice and mandazi.

One person who stood out was Lensa. She was working, studying and bringing up a young family. She also looked after older children and provided a safe house for them. She made bricks, by hand, to sell so she would eventually have enough money to build her own house for her family. She made us all so welcome in her house the night we visited her. For someone who has so little, she gave us so much.” Christopher Chicken, BSc (Hons) Health and Social Care.

school children in class in kenya

“A moment I will not forget is when I had the opportunity to teach a primary school class. With Drew as my teaching assistant, we taught a lesson about Rights and Responsibilities. I was so nervous but I know I am great with children. A particularly embarrassing moment was when I decided to start the lesson with an icebreaker. The children would often sing and perform to us to make us feel welcome so I felt we should do the same. I started to sing “If you’re happy and you know it” with the help of Drew. Until he realised that none of the children either understood what we were doing or just thought we were crazy, Drew decided to leave me to it. So, there I am, on my own in a classroom full of 50 pupils singing “If you’re happy know it” with absolutely no participation from anyone, traumatising!

However as embarrassing this may have been, I couldn’t help but think this time last year I was very unhappy, making ends meet in a poorly paid job, now I am at University, leaving my foundation year with a 2:1 and singing in front of a class in rural Kenya with no regrets. I am forever grateful for all of the experiences.“ Emma Marie Duffy, BSc (Hons) Sociology with Integrated Foundation Year.

child in kenya

“A highlight of this trip for me was when some of the girls from the girls support group came to the eco-camp. We had the opportunity to interview them for their case studies and sit and speak to them about what it means to be a girl in Kenya. I enjoyed the bond we all had between us. There were eight of us who travelled together and shared this experience and we created a really lovely friendship. I hope to stay good friends with the people I travelled with and hope this experience had a similar impact on everyone as it did on me.

I was very inspired by a young girl named Zuleah. Zuleah is 16 years old and came from a very difficult background but was still very determined to do well in her studies. Her career aspirations are to become a transport and communication engineer to make her community safer for her family.“ Lauren Smith, BSc (Hons) Sociology.

Watch Drew and the group enjoying an afternoon in Lake Victoria, playing games with the inspirational girls and take a tour of their accommodation.

"There was a significant amount of work involved in preparing for the trip. I fundraised by asking friends and family for donations via a Justgiving page. I also organised a group cake sale and raffle through the Students' Union which was a great success. To prepare for the training we would deliver to the Team Kenya staff, I worked with the rest of the group and Drew to learn more about what was involved in Social Sciences research and more specifically focus groups and research interviews. This was an entirely new field for me so it was a great experience to learn more about this, to the point where I could help to train others.

To be able to meet local children and experience real classroom situations was eye opening and has changed my view on the world and how I raise my own child. The thing I will remember most from the trip is being completely humbled, inspired and awestruck by the local people.” Suzanne Butler, BSc (Hons) Sociology with Integrated Foundation Year.

school children in kenya

"I faced many challenges throughout the trip whether it was sleeping in a hut, showering in ice cold water or the toilets which didn’t flush! However, it really made me think how fortunate I am to live where I live and for the opportunities I have.

My advice for anyone considering this experience would be go for it! Not only was the trip the most memorable and worthwhile experience of my life, it can change your whole perspective. This experience has now led me to work closely alongside Team Kenya to develop an ‘International Development Work’ Society at the University of Sunderland where I hope to engage other students in such opportunities. International Development work is something I will be engaged in now throughout my career as I hope to make a difference to the world we live in!" Emily Darby, BSc (Hons) Social Sciences: Criminology.

Ndhiwa community engagement wall

Bradley French, Project, Fundraising & Marketing Manager for Team Kenya explains, “Team Kenya involves entire communities in Western Kenya in gender equality, so that girls and women in rural Kenya can create their own bright futures. We work with local primary schools, and the whole community that surrounds them to tackle the barriers that prevent girls from accessing quality education.

In Ndhiwa, 75% of children attend primary school but only 15% progress on to secondary school, and very few of these are girls. Girls in Ndhiwa have fewer educational opportunities than boys due to deeply entrenched traditional attitudes. However, our holistic approach has led to significant improvement. For example, at Arina Primary School there were no girls completing primary education when we began partnering with the school four years ago. Last year, more than half of the students graduating were girls and, this year, it is expected that over 60% of girls will graduate.

As a small organisation, with just two members of staff, we rely heavily on volunteer support. In Ndhiwa, we work with a partner organisation, Ndhiwa Community Development & Empowerment Project (NCEDP). The group provided exceptional training sessions to NCEDP staff on the use of research methods, such as focus groups, interviews and questionnaires. We have already seen a positive impact as a result of the training. The group spent the remainder of their time in Ndhiwa immersing themselves in the local community and engaging with our partner schools. As well as volunteering, the group also collectively raised over £3,700 for Team Kenya’s work in Ndhiwa!

We are very thankful to Drew, Chris, Emily, Suzanne, Emma, Anastasia, Jodie and Lauren for the significant impact they had.”

Team Kenya group photo

Topic: Course

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