Published: January 22nd 2010October 25th 2009
In October, I spent 3 weeks volunteering in Kenya - teaching in a Maasai community school in the Kajiado Province with IVHQ
/Fadhili Helpers. Internet access and speed in Africa was pretty average to say the least, so I have had to wait until I got back home to write my travel blogs and upload photos.
My first weekend in Kenya was volunteering in an IDP (internally displaced people) camp - where people who were forced to flee their homes during the post election violence in Kenya in 2007, now live. I helped put up a fence and we donated food and clothes for them. We played with the children and the families told us their stories of how they were displaced and what there lives are like now. Many have very limited access to basic necessities, like food and education. While others who suffer the effects caused by their traumatic experiences are left with no help. They live in tents made out of shabby pieces of plastic sheeting and old sacks. The Kenyan government is faced with a huge task of resettling the approximately 500,000 Kenyans who were displaced.
After a pretty shocking weekend, I went out to
the Maasailand to start my placement. Myself and another volunteer stayed with a Maasai family - Sammy and Janet, and their adopted teenage children Saitoti and Lilian. We also had another family living behind us - Veronica and her 4 children - Mule, Rampei, Sila, and Ester. The traditional Maasai live in manyattas (clay huts), but our host father lived in a reasonably nice but rustic stone house and we didn't have electricity or running water. The kitchen was a mud hut, and food was cooked on a couple coal fire pots. We ate very basic food every day - mostly rice, beans, cabbage and kale, and occasionally chapati bread.
When we arrived at our placement, the area had not received rain for 3 years. What is normally a green lush area, was now dry, brown, and dusty. Times were bleak! Cows and goats were falling down dead every day and hyenas come out at night and steal the carcasses. A Maasai's family pride is how many animals they own, and they are all dying. The family take the animals to the water bore (3km walk from our house, but up to 10km for others) for water, and the
family needs to buy water for cooking, bathing, and drinking from the town. In the area there are gazelles, antelopes, zebra, ostriches, leopards, hyenas, and cheetahs. There is normally more animals and different kinds around, but they have all moved on in search of water.
After about a week of me being there, the rains came. It started as just a few showers, then one day we got a good downpour of rain, and has rained a little bit every night since. Unfortunately, with the rain came the cold, and many of the cows died as they had no fat to keep them warm. But in the long term, the rains will provide the water and grass that the animals need. The plants responded quick, and I was lucky enough to see the area slowly turning green again, and plants started to grow everywhere.
I was given a Maasai name after 2 weeks, which the family gave me during a naming ceremony. My Maasai name is Nalotuesha
- which means the blessing who bought the rain. From that moment, I was no longer called Mel by anyone, I was always Nalotuesha. Whenever I introduced myself to another Maasai
family, they always beamed when I said my name, and would say - so you were the one who bought the rain! They also gave me a Maasai blessing - for a long, rich life and to have children.
The school I taught in is a primary school for the children in the area. The school is very basic and run down and there were about 8 teachers for 400 students. I taught in the year 2 class, which had 80 students! There are limited teaching resources, no sporting equipment, no extra curricular activities, and the teachers are paid a measly wage. In saying that the teachers are incredibly lazy, often not turning up to school for days, or spend most of the day in the staffroom sleeping. The children on the whole, did not care about their work either and they are all well below what their age level should be at. Many of the children only come for the free lunch (a bean/maize mix) and the opportunity to not have to work all day herding sheep and cattle. Most of them go home after school and work on the farm, having no time to do homework and
turn up tired to school everyday.
Having volunteered before in South America, I came with more realistic expectations of what I could achieve in only 3 weeks. I taught them what I could, made sure their work got marked, but most of all my only major contribution was just making some kids happy, made them laugh, taught them a few songs, and gave them something a bit different and a bit of excitement for 3 weeks. The kids are on the whole pretty happy given their bleak lives. They loved to follow me home (1/2 hour walk), saying "Hello Mzungu (white person)", "How are you", "I am fine".
My free time was spent entertaining the children at the house, walking around the area (including the hills for fantastic views of the Rift Valley), visiting neighbouring manyattas, and going to church with the family. One of the best experiences we had was visiting a local house of a lady who had been sick with meningitis, malaria and TB. After a lengthy stay in hospital, she is now fine, and she held a Maasai ceremony to say thanks to God and to everyone that prayed for her. The ceremony was
loud and colourful with everyone singing and dancing in the traditional Maasai way.
Overall the experience was amazing and rewarding, but frustrating and challenging at the same time. It gave me an insight into life in Kenya that I would have not got otherwise.
There are more photos below