When I started to think about spending some months in Kenya, one of the first things I did was to read through the experiences of previous volunteers. I was hoping to get an idea of how it was like to live there. Which kind of people should I expect to meet, the daily routines, the community, etc.
I specially liked how so many people talked about feeling at home, about the familiar environment and the welcoming attitude!
I went there with an open mind, although in my social circles voluntourism was frowned upon. After the first Skype with the people in Korando, I got a vibe of implication I hadn’t seen in other places my friends had told me about. The fact that everyone was in volunteer terms made me feel even more confident about why Better Me Foundation might be different to those criticized places around the globe.
I can barely remember the first impressions I got 3 months ago. The children were in holidays, and everything was a bit chaotic. They were a bit shy, but came to shake my hand and introduce themselves. In a week or so, when the school started again, I already started finding my place, tasks to keep myself busy and to make something good of my time there.
To be honest, it was not easy! The theater idea involved a lot of frustration and gratification. The first, because of the difficulty of getting a scheduled time to practice. The gratification, because even the simpler games got them laughing like crazy!
At the same time, and together with the cooperation of Elisabeth, another great volunteer, we fight our way to that dreamed schedule. This way, we were finally allowed to have an hour of physical education or creative arts with every class, every week.
I could spend hours bragging about how positive this was for them. To learn about team play through games, about emotions and expressiveness through arts or about self confidence through theater. But it would be nothing compared to everything I learned for myself.
I think that, if you are considering spending some time in Korando, it is important for you to think about who you are, which are your strengths and weaknesses, and who do you want to be after packing your bags and saying your goodbyes. It is the perfect place to challenge yourself and grow.
For me, it was the perfect place and space to push myself even when at the beginning it seems like it is not going to work. Specially at the beginning, when you don’t know the kids and you can just implement new activities by trial and error! Just to think that we tried to teach something as complex as Dodge-ball to class 1 in our first lesson makes me laugh now.
But you keep trying. And find other ways of teaching them. Different games, simpler rules, structured language… and when they finally get it and start laughing (and shouting!), you get that warm feeling in your chest that is impossible to describe.
Specially with the kids staying at the center, you get this warmness continuously. When they have a sad day, but smile a bit to your jokes. Or when they make the best to beat their shyness and ask you for help in english. Or sit by your side to read a book and teach you how to say grasshopper in Luo!
When you get that little troublemaker to juggle. And then you find him patiently teaching his classmates.
Then is when you feel that every headache, every drop of sweat, worth it. Actually, there are times when you need to remind yourself that you are there for them, and not for your own feeling of doing good. Sometimes you need to be “the bad one” that puts limits. The one that deals with the grumpy faces knowing that it will be better in the long run. The good thing is that with children, the “long run” can be just a matter of weeks!
When I sit down to evaluate the experience as a whole, I agree with the past myself that was wondering who would come back from Kenya. I knew it would change me. You learn their names first. And by the time you want to realize, you know more about those kids than about yourself.
I come back to Europe with the conviction that volunteering with this children empowers them. It gives them an extra perspective. They will be children that will be successful in their daily endeavors around Kisumu, while at the same time, they will have the skill to interact with people from many other cultures.
Right now it is just about playing. But when it will be time for them to finish their studies and choose a path in their life, having good team work skills, being able to communicate efficiently both with their peers and with foreigners will make a difference.
I will always keep close to my heart the theater group and their questions. Their endless curiosity about the world out there, about how things are and how they can be. Which is the meaning of culture? Why poverty exists? Can rich people be unhappy?… The kind of questions that, after a discussion, leave you doubting who learned more; if them, or you.