Monday, October 26, 2009

Improving links with KVDA, Kenya - Summer 2004

I have wanted go to sub-Saharan Africa for as long as I can remember, so it was with no small amount of excitement that I packed my bags, ready to say goodbye to grey winter days in Brighton to spend Christmas in the sunny climes of Kenya. Having done my best to forget all the most important things at home, as well as nearly leave my purse and tickets in the taxi on the way to the airport, I finally bordered the plane for Nairobi, stopping off at almost every conceivable destination along the way.

The aim of the visit was to increase North/South co-operation with KVDA, our Kenyan partner organisation, to gain a better understanding of the realities of volunteer projects in the country and to discuss ways of increasing the number of Kenyan volunteers coming to participate in projects in the UK. A number of meetings were organised to discuss these issues and the rest of the time was spent travelling around the country visiting short and long term projects that were taking place at the time. I was also invited to spend Christmas at the family of the president of the organisation, an incredible opportunity to experience a rural Kenyan Christmas, complete with a 6 hours African carol service, actually a lot more fun than it sounds.

For me, this was a perfect way to see and visit a country, being invited into communities, having the chance to meet and talk to local people and of course, to meet international and local volunteers all involved in community projects. Long chats on buses and at people’s homes, as well as the inevitable sharing of newspapers that happened on every journey, meant that I really managed to gain an insight into the country, the problems it is facing and the potential solutions.

At a time in which the global situation is making it more difficult to carry out international volunteer activities in the country, I was really impressed by the scope and range of the activities taking place, and the commitment of all KVDA members to continuing intercultural exchange and community development. The perceived terrorist threats within the country and the subsequent travel warnings issued by a number of countries in the West, meant that the number of international volunteers participating in KVDA projects dropped dramatically. This not only affected the projects themselves but the functioning of the organisation who, without any state or additional funding, rely on the fees paid by the international volunteers to support their activities.

One of the highlights of my stay was the three days spent at a short-term project which saw 35 local and international volunteers working together to make 3000 bricks and construct a classroom for a secondary school in a rural region in western Kenya. However it was also much more than this - the opportunity to learn about each other’s countries and cultures and the location for much laughter and many friendships to be formed. Particularly during the mud flights that were an essential part of the brick-making process and the evenings spent huddled around the campfire, talking and counting shooting stars.

It is obviously impossible to sum up an experience like this in a few words, in the three short weeks that I was there, I gained and learnt so much. I got to meet amazing people who I will continue to keep in touch with, experience the fantastic hospitality of Kenyans, learn to make bricks, experience a Kenyan Christmas, travel on matatus, see zebras, ostriches and warthogs, develop a taste for ugali and sukuma wiki, and generally just soak up the beauty and diversity of the country and its people. I am now just planning when I will be able to return!

Helen Bartlett

Click here for pictures of projects in Kenya

Click here for a country profile of Kenya

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