A volunteer’s story – Gill James in Kenya

Volunteering in Kenya – Gill James her story

How on earth did I find myself volunteering for a community project in Kenya…..? To be honest, all it took was a phone call from my son suggesting a bit of mother & son bonding time and I was hooked!

We left London on July 29th 2013 for the most amazing experience either of us could have ever imagined. Arriving in Kenya after a long journey, we finally reached our family who we were to stay with for two weeks. John, Grace and their son Joseph were the perfect hosts; nothing was too much trouble and we soon slotted into family life.

We got hands-on with tending the animals or just helping out around the family home. We also got involved in community work by planting crops and removing stones and boulders from the track to make the area more accessible for transport.

The people are so warm and friendly but their daily life is tough and they truly need all the support that we can give them. Since returning home, I’ve stayed in touch with the project co-ordinator and I’m now fund-raising for the community. I’ll definitely be returning in the future – my Masai family and the whole community need our help.

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Gill helps milk the family cow.

Arriving in Kenya

We chose Kenya because it’s a country that I’ve always wanted to visit – but I knew that what I would experience would be so much more than a holiday. I’ve never visited Africa before and this was my first experience as a volunteer at the age of 59! ??On our first day, we arrived in Olasiti in the early hours of the morning after a long flight from Heathrow to Nairobi via Cairo.

We were met by one of the co-ordinators Paul and a taxi – we needed plenty of room as I’d brought clothes for the local children so it was an interesting journey with 4 of us squashed into the car with six pieces of luggage!

We arrived at the home of our host family to find refreshments of chai and chapattis – along with a welcoming committee of dogs, a cat and several chickens who had managed to squeeze under the front door! We were tired and a little overwhelmed at first but it was nice to meet the volunteers who had finished their stay and were leaving as we were arriving.

After dinner, John took us out to see the surrounding area, meeting other families along the way and to drop by the school. By then it was 34 hours since we had left home so it was time for dinner and a rest before we could get stuck in the next day!

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Spending time with the family.

Village life

I can honestly say that every aspect of the villagers’ lives and the way they live was a surprise and regardless of what you see and read about, there is nothing quite like experiencing their unique lifestyle first-hand. The children are wonderful – so warm and they just want to be close to you the whole time.

We thought we would ask how we could help out so we started with some gardening – clearing the ground and planting tomatoes. We also cleared the track to make a smoother surface for trucks; repaired some fences and played games with the children.

My son became a Masai farmer as John had trusted him to take cattle up into the hills while he had to travel into town on occasion. He also helped John with different aspects of farm life including rounding up goats and sheep – one evening he returned with a newborn baby goat in his arms!

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Gill helping in the fields.

Challenges faced by the Maasai community

The challenges faced by the community are tough. There is no public transport so it’s at least a 5 mile walk to town and back again. There’s no mains electricity or water so the women and girls take barrels to a standpipe to fill and walk them back to the village (they’re very heavy!) It’s also pitch dark from around 7pm until 6am the next morning.

The community has little money so without help from volunteers, they can’t improve their lives. With our help, they can develop solar-powered electricity and running water to each house. There’s no local chemist or health centre and the villagers would need to raise £3500 to build one so that the government can send a mobile nurse for vaccination programs and health checks. Sadly, some people have died due to lack of medical care and around 30 orphaned children are living and sleeping on mud floors with no blankets – all due to lack of funds.

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Last night leaving ceremony, saying goodbye.

Saying goodbye

At the end of our trip, it felt a little strange to be leaving! On our last evening, we and the other volunteers were treated to a wonderful leaving ceremony. Our Masai family presented us with gifts of bead work and the community presented me with a traditional Masai wrap and my son was given a Masai blanket. We wanted to stay and help as much as we could but we knew we had to go home. At least when we got back, we knew that we could continue to help raise money for the village and stay in touch with our generous hosts.

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Great shot taken by Jill on safari.

Gill’s highlights

It’s true to say that the living conditions were basic and a world away from what we were used to. But we had such a wonderful trip and even headed off on safari during our free time – we were lucky to see all the animals we expected plus a whole lot more! Lions, cheetahs, rhino, elephants, wild buffalo, hippo and in August it was the amazing wildebeest migration!

We also loved the incredible sunsets and sunrises over the Masai Mara. I’m looking forward to returning to Kenya and to my lovely host family again soon to see how they’re getting on and find out how we can help them improve their lives.

 

If you would also like to get involved with the Kenya cultural volunteer programme like Gill did and have one of the best experiences of your life Read about volunteering in Kenya.

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