I originally left home thinking I was going to come teach in Kenya for four weeks. The trip was not only about coming to work with the children, but also about challenging myself to do something out of my comfort zone. While the flight out here was somewhat nerve wrecking, I unexpectedly felt very calm and comfortable from the beginning. I found this extremely odd, as I am not one to travel half way across the world on my own. Since the first day I arrived in Kenya, now four weeks ago, I have never once been scared of being out here on my own, and that to me was a huge accomplishment.
I quickly met some of the volunteers I’d be working with for the next four weeks and thankfully found three other girls with whom I became good friends. The ‘base house’ I am living in has anywhere from 8 to 22 people living in it at any given week. Then the staff, anywhere from 5-10 at a time, live in another house nearby. The first thing I noticed was there are very few Americans. Since I’ve been here I have come across only 3 other people from the states. The majority of people volunteering on this program (which incorporates many different projects: community, forest, and marine) are from England, Ireland, Sweden, Germany, and Australia. I quickly found out I was not only going to begin learning about the Kenyan culture, but most definitely European culture as well. The number of things the English people say that I completely don’t understand is incredible and hilarious at the same time. Sadly they are rubbing off on me though, phrases like “I couldn’t be bothered to…” “Biscuits…” “Knackered” “pussy-footed” (My ‘boss’s’ favorite – and no that one is not rubbing off on me).
So life at the house here is tight, but there is always something interesting going on as well. Here on the mainland base, we do have electricity, we use water from a well to clean, and then we bring in water in Jerry’s that we purify and then can drink. There are three bedrooms, each smaller than a walk in closet, with 3-4 bunk beds in them. You learn quickly, you have more space under your mosquito net and you’re farther from bugs on the top bunk, but at the same time it is drastically cooler on the bottom bunk. Then there is a kitchen (even smaller than a walk in closet), and then a decent sized living area with old mattresses on the ground for seats. The accommodations are very simple but absolutely fine.
The community program here in Coastal Kenya (I’m about 5 minutes form the Indian Ocean!) is really neat and productive. We work with four schools in total. There is one public primary school, with classes up to 50 students. Then there are 2 private primary schools, with classes up to 8 students. Then we occasionally work with the secondary school, which doesn’t teach academic subjects, more just practical life lessons. Within the GVI community project most of our time goes to working with the three primary schools. We are based right in the middle of Shimoni Village, on the southern coast of Kenya and only about 30 minutes away from Tanzania. The majority of the people are Muslim, but Christianity is also present in this area. Largely due to the Muslim presence, education is not regarded very highly in the village. GVI teaches primarily English, but some Maths (European & African way of saying Math), to the higher standards (grades) in the primary schools.
I’d estimate about 70 percent of GVI’s focus within the project is on the schools, but we also spend a considerable amount of time working with specific local run groups in the community. For instance, we regularly meet with the Women’s Group to discuss current issues within the village. Just recently, they have expressed the need to make more money for the family, and the group has started designing jewelry which is sold in the village shops. While the community involvement is really interesting, I have definitely enjoyed my work with the schools the most.
The first class I taught on my own was relatively daunting. It was at Shimoni Primary and therefore had about 40, rather disobedient, students. While it was tough to start the class going, by about five minutes in I was loving every second of it. The children in the village do know a considerable amount of English. It is actually a school rule to never speak Swahili inside the classroom, although it is often done. While I was definitely teaching a different population than I would at home, I found that the teaching was rather similar. There are still the shyer girls, unruly boys, and a few exceptionally bright students. Somehow I was able to just not stress and put everything I had into my first lesson, and it definitely paid off. I was able to teach the topic, pay attention to the students to see when my English was not comprehended, incorporate games and activities, and most importantly I learned from the students too. If I heard something in Swahili I didn’t know, I’d have the class teach me. If I pronounced something awfully wrong, I’d have them say it aloud slower so I could understand. I think by being open to learning and making a fool of myself, the children were then able to open up in the classroom as well. I left that first class feeling ridiculously happy and proud of myself, it was absolutely amazing.
From then on I loved every second I had with the children, whether it be in the classroom or throughout the village. Within just a few days I would be walking in the village and have children running up to me “Madame Nikki, Madame Nikki!” which quickly became shortened to “Nik, Nik!” It is the most amazing feeling to walk through the village and have the children know me. Overtime, even the adults in the village began knowing who I was. I began feeling more and more a part of the village here.
After my second week in Shimoni I started thinking there was no way I could leave after only four weeks. I was so involved with the community and I felt like I could do so much more here. Then about half way through week three the head of community had me meet with her where she introduced the possibility of me receiving a scholarship to stay in Shimoni until December as community staff. I spent days trying to figure out if this was even possible, and eventually after a lot of planning I brought it up to my parents. Their immediate reaction was absolutely no. Overtime I was able to show them how important the work I’m doing here is, and how much I am learning and growing at the same time. Once the scholarship was announced official, my parents did decide to support me in staying in Shimoni! From there on it was logistics and more logistics. There were so many things I had to take care of at home, but eventually everything worked out perfectly.
So! This way-to-long-blog is how I got to today; sitting in the base house in Shimoni when at home GMU just started their first day of classes. I will be in training for the next two weeks, and then I am officially staff here. I will either be based on the mainland in the Shimoni village (where I’ve been volunteering) or I will be based on the island in Mkwiro village. Everyone is pretty certain I’ll be placed on the island but I won’t officially know until two Saturdays from now. As staff I will still be teaching and working with the community, I will just oversee all of the planning, organization, and time tables as well. Being that I am obsessed with these three things – I’m definitely looking forward to this new role. I am so excited to be staying here until December, some things are a little overwhelming, but at the end of the day I know this is where I should be J.