Monday, August 24, 2015

Volunteering in Kenya!

So, finally…we went to the school to volunteer. Well, I thought to volunteer, but I’m not sure the schools knew what we were there for!

In his email and website, Justus said he had a program with about 50 kids that he taught photography to. In actuality, he splits his time between two organizations.

One is a school, grades K-8 run by a director, Ms. Emily. She started the school herself, and only funds the school through student tuition.

She has about 200 students, some paying and some are homeless students or very poor that she drags in off the street to educate. she really believes that all children need help if we can give it. She also doesn’t turn away children if their parents can’t pay or are late with payments. We took a tour of her very small campus and the kids sang for us and all of them (yes, all 200!) introduced themselves by name.
Looking at the children in the school almost broke my heart. So many had huge holes in their clothes and shoes. I mean their whole arm and elbow out, gapping holes in the knees. One boys shoes, the whole front toe section was missing and his foot was out. But they were so clean! And I remark on this because I looked like a rag-a-muffin! There are only dirt roads in this town and the bottom of my pants legs and shoes were covered in red dirt and sludge! They stood there, in rows from littlest to biggest, singing songs about how happy they are with Jesus and how Jesus has saved their lives, and it was everything I could do not to burst into tears.


After the introductions, we went back to Ms. Emily’s office and she talked a lot about how you have to help children and do whatever you can for them. I don’t know, call me cynical, but it seemed like she was prepping to ask me for money! Which I barely have enough of for this trip so I ain’t coughing up much more!

I was expecting to into the classrooms, but after talking in her office, it was 5pm and the kids started to go home and then we also left.

A woman who heard I was going to Kenya messaged me that she had a ton of brand new reading books that her school wasn’t going to use any more and that she would love to donate to my trip. I was just too busy running around and to lazy before I left to meet her and go pick them up. I feel like such an a_ _. I keep thinking how needed those books are here and how very grateful those kids would be to have them. Sigh …

The second part of his program is a bit different. The woman is sort of like foster care. She collects children from various places, some are given to her from the authorities, and she is responsible for their daily up keep and food clothes, etc. There were about 29 kids in this little complex.

The first time we went to her home, the kids all filed into the room, shook our hands, and then gave us their names and said they were born again. Then they recited a completely sad poem about having no food or shelter or water and what could they do. I was smiling at first but after hearing the words I was like, a smile is completely inappropriate at this point! 

Then they each recited a verse from the bible. Then we all sat there staring at each other. I was like, I don’t know what the heck is going on so I’m not saying anything! Justus was looking at his phone, the lady was staring straight ahead. Finally I started to blather on about loving Kenya and I don’t know what else I said. Then we sat for a longer bit, with small elements of conversation thrown in. Finally, I stood up and said it’s been real, peace out! (not literally!) And we left.

I’m supposed to work in the school 3 days a week and in the foster care 2 days. None of the women have ever had a volunteer before so they don’t know what to expect and neither do I! Tonight Justus was saying they are very excited and the expectation level ls high. Then he said that I am to further the kids along in all of their reading, writing, and English speaking. Then he said I am to assist the current teacher in the classroom. Then he said I am to teach the students lessons on my own. When I asked him which I was supposed to do, he said, yea, yea. Sooooo, I guess we’ll see what the day brings!

We scheduled to return to the foster care home at 4:30 the next afternoon.  So today Justus came and took us to eat at his sister Caroline’s house around 2:45. We were supposed to be at the school at 4:30. He didn’t come back to pick us up until 5! He was so lackadaisical aobut it! I really hate being late but I didn’t say anything this time.

We walked the 10 minutes to Ms. Rose’s school (which, btw, is not her name! Justus didn’t even know her name and now I can’t remember it! That should have been the first sign to me that he really had never worked with these people before even though he told me he had been doing this for 3 years!). We sat in the same room we did when we first visited there. And sat, and sat. Then 2 kids came in and shook our hands and sat down. We sat some more. More kids came in and shook our hands and the first kids left. We sat some more. New kids came in and shook our hnads….. you get the picture.

Finally, my impatient self had had enough. I went outside where all the kids were and just walked around. I saw a little girl, about 6, with a notebook and pencil doing her homework. So I sat with her and helped her write her numbers up to 50 for about 15 minutes. While we worked, other kids surrounded us and some helped out. I caught Justus taking some pictures and I thought, he’s going to put this up on his website and act like he’s really doing something! Then I just stood around talking to the kids. Asking them about school and then I told them to ask me some questions. They were really shy and sweet. Then we were sitting down and the kids came out with huge bowls of beans and corn for us to eat. The corn here is really hard, like the corn in S. Korea and doesn’t taste great, so I was dismayed at this huge bowl of food! They gave one to Ajenai and I said we could share. Then they gave a bowl to Justus and his friend as well. I asked Justus if we were eating their dinner, and he said no, but I know we ate there food! I felt terrible! And no one else was eating, the kids were just running around and then watching us eat!

After that, Ms. Rose came back, and we went into the little room again. For like 5 minutes. Justus spoke in swahilli for a bit and then he asked me to say something. I was like, say something about what?! And he said about how today went.

I just looked at him. This dude is real slick. How today went? What, me stepping outside, helping 1 child with her homework and then just asking the others questions for an hour and a half? I wondered what he said to Ms. Rose. Did he tell her we really did something?! I said, today was fine. Then they talked some more about me and the kids supposed “schedule”. He already told me we would be coming to Ms. Rose’s Wednesday and Friday. But obviously he hadn’t cleared that with her. She said Sunday. And he looked at me and said, Sunday ok? Knowing full well he told me I would have weekends off. Since I’m not planning on being here Sunday I said, sure.

So yesterday, we were at Ms. Emily’s school. I already said how all the grade levels sang Christian songs for us and then they went back to their classrooms. Then there was a lot of sitting around in Ms. Emily’s office. After about 20 minutes of her saying she’s trying to take a trip with the kids next week, but they all can’t go cus she doesn’t have enough money…I stood up and said, ok, what about us going into the classrooms. And she looked surprised and said right now? I said yup! And she said let her go speak to her teachers. Justus took this opportunity to mysteriously disappear.

I ended up going into a grade 8 math lesson and Ajenai went into a grade 4 english lesson. They were doing algebra which I am completely rusty on. I vaguely remember that I’m searching for x, but that’s about it! The teacher was young and totally nervous that I was in there. I have to say, I enjoyed freaking him out a bit! Hey, I get my kicks where I can! There were about 6 students and they had 3 books between them. The teacher read the problem (ugh, algebra and word problems!) and then he did them on the board and just asked the kids if they understood. Of course they said a desultory, yes, and he went on to the next problem. After he did 2 he asked me to teach. I said ok. I assigned 2 kids each 1 problem to solve and then had them write the answer on the board 1 at a time as they only had 1 tiny sliver of chalk! Then I had the students explain how they arrived at their answer. The teacher said, wow, I have learned something of your methods that I will use already, thank you. I just smiled prettily as I preened my tail feathers!

Then class was over, and we went back into the office to sit some more. Sigh, I have no idea what the heck Justus expects us to do! Then after another 30 minutes of talking with Ms. Emily, where she made me again feel horrible because her school has no money, she offered to walk me and the kid home. And she walked us all the way to our place, came in, took off her shoes and coat and stayed about 30 minutes! Talking the whole time while offering to wash our dishes! I’m definitely learning something about Kenyan hospitality!

I’m not exactly sure how this experience will unfold, but I’m considering going to a hotel for the weekend. And maybe, bowing out. Ajenai is having a hard time roughing it in our humble abode, and I’m not sure what the volunteering is going to shape up to look like…hmmmm. We shall see what’s next!

*Note: I have to say internet was really spotty in Kenya, I've taken this blog posts from my journal this summer, but now I'm back in the UAE!


  1. Great post! Such an awesome experience!!

  2. I'm sorry to hear things aren't going as you thought they would. To bad that aren't taking you up on all that you know. That sitting around doing nothing would drive me crazy.

  3. This just really made me so sad. I deel sad for the kids, the lack of resources, the lack of finances, the lack of structure. I'm sure that the one on one time you spent with the girl and the time you spent teaching was meaningfuk to the kids and perhaps even the algebra teacher.

  4. You sure have some patience because OMG. lol It's sad to hear about how those kids barely have, but I love that they are making the effort to be in school. If these people want volunteers, they need to know how to do it. Nobody would want to work with them if they keep operating like that. I sure wouldn't want to be sitting around doing nothing. I would feel bad for eating their food too. This is some story. lol

  5. Wow... it's awesome that you were able to take this trip and have this experience. It definitely opens my eyes even more to the fact that there are so many children out there in need.

  6. I hate that this hasn't gone as planned. But if you can make difference to even one person that is a good thing. And the poverty is just hearbtreaking.

  7. Although it's not what you expected try to make the most of every moment. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Oh this is so sad! I'm happy that you did go and I hope you find a way to really give to these kids in some way. It saddens me to see kids doing without.

  9. This all sounded weird and haphazard. I hope it all worked out in the end.

  10. Wow. I can understand your frustration and the challenge of adapting to the conditions but good on you for taking it on.

  11. The children are beautiful! What a blessing to be able to visit East Africa and have such an impactful experience.

  12. What an awesome way to experience a new culture, and to appreciate what you have...