We have now come to the end of our two weeks volunteering at the Riruta Shade for Orphan Children, situated in Kawangware on the outskirts of Nairobi. Kawangware is somewhere we will have fantastic memories of, as an extremely happy (and dusty) place. It is also home to some of the most pot-holed roads we’ve ever seen (and we speak as veterans of the roads of Cambodia and Madagascar!) The streets are lined with a proliferation of small, shack-like retail outlets, many of which have names that have caused us to crack a smile, a few favourites are “Merseyside Music Store“, “Tipsy Butchery”, “Wilynily Investments” and one simply named “Chicken Parts”.
We came into volunteering at the orphanage, with no idea what to expect, other than a challenge. Our pre-departure information, listed possible activities for us, ranging from cleaning children and preparing food, to helping the children with their homework and building structures. We also expected to feel extremely sorry for the children, who had been unfortunate enough to end up in such a place. However, despite them having next to nothing and being dressed in little more than rags, their extreme happiness has led to this not being the
On arriving the first day, we were told, by the Chairman of the orphanage, that it was currently school holidays and the mornings were devoted to studying and the afternoons were for physical activity. It quickly became apparent that we were expected to keep the children occupied with these activities while the other staff prepared food and carried out other chores. The first day this involved helping them with their reading, at this point we realised just how little they have in the way of resources, as they have something like half a dozen reading books between thirty, which they seem to read again and again.
The next day we were given the keys to the classroom and it quickly dawned on us that we were expected to teach them. This in itself presented a significant challenge, as the thirty or so children in the room represented the full spectrum of ages and abilities; ranging from 3 to 16 years old and from extremely bright children to those with severe learning difficulties. This combined with our lack of training, experience and preparation, resulted in an interesting morning to say the least! We managed to wing it that
day and have since spent every morning and evening in Cyber Cafes (as they insist on calling them here) downloading teaching resources and producing worksheets.
After a few days and a bit of preparation, the task in hand became a little less stressful and we very much got into the swing of things. We have covered topics such as European Geography and Geometry and they have become big fans of Word Searches and Bingo. Quite when they will utilise their new found knowledge of the precise location of Macedonia, we’re not sure, but hey, it kept them quiet for a bit! One highlight of the day is when we say, “Good Morning” to them and they all quickly stand up and reply in chorus, “Good Morning Teacher Alex and Teacher Sarah!”
Somewhat confusingly, the majority of the children are called either, Mary or Joseph, which no doubt causes all manner of problems when it comes to Nativity Plays! Many of them are mature well beyond their years and seem fairly capable of looking after themselves and each other; there is generally a great atmosphere around the place, with everyone mucking in together. They are also an extremely resourceful
bunch, something demonstrated by the entire afternoon we spent playing various games with avocado stones. Avocados seem to be pretty much the same as Kinder Eggs, a food-based treat and a toy all in one! Other than playing games and acting as human climbing frames, afternoons were spent either washing clothes or dishes.
On our last day (coincidentally Kenyan Independence Day) we decided to treat the kids by cooking them a slap-up meal. This involved ordering 15kg of beef from a local butchery and spending hours chopping vegetables in a hot kitchen. The result was surprisingly tasty and extremely well received, as their normal diet consists of maize and beans.
One enjoyable aspect of these past two weeks has been that we have really felt as though we have lived in Kenya, rather than simply being here as tourists; living in the suburbs (if you can call them that), commuting to work and seeing the same people each day waiting for the Matatu and eating the same simple food as the locals. However, our ethnicity has made it far from possible for us to blend in seamlessly and there is a good amount of staring, as very few
white people visit the areas we have been frequenting. This is especially so with children and as we walk down the street we are followed by a chorus of giggling little voices calling, “How are you?”
All in all, we’ve had a rewarding, if demanding, couple of weeks that we will never forget. Hopefully, we’ll be able to pop in and see our new friends soon, when we pass back through Nairobi, and then continue to support them by raising awareness and money when we return home.
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