Early in 2017 we sent marketing manager Elyse to Kenya, to use her commercial skills to help some of the enterprises and co-operatives working there. Keen to take a career break and do something grass-roots, this volunteer opportunity provided Elyse with a chance to set her own agenda and get involved in those projects where she felt she could make a difference. And ‘wow’, what a difference she made!
Read the project page K14 for more information about this volunteering opportunity suited to those with professional skills. But do first read Elyse’s review below, to understand how it worked out for her, and to enjoy the fabulous photos Elyse took.
“When I first contacted Outreach, even though my sister had volunteered with Outreach before, I wasn’t very sure how the whole process was gonna be. They emailed me back very quickly to schedule an interview and so it started.
The first interview was to get to know me, understand my interests, my background and my reason for applying for that specific project. They made sure they had all the information about me before going into detail about the projects. Due to this I ended up choosing a whole different project then the one I initially chose but it was a project where I could really put my skills to use and make the most of my experience.
So yes, Outreach definitely successfully understood what was best for me even before me realising it.
Outreach was very helpful and all the information provided really helped to prepare for the trip. With a trip to a whole different country and culture, being too prepared is never enough. Whenever I needed anything or had any questions they were very quick to answer. Everything that was needed such as vaccinations, insurance, what to pack, etc.
Even though you are never actually prepared until you get to the specific place – the reality once you arrive might be completely different, which in my case it was.
Shiru (local Outreach coordinator) was always available and ready to help. She definitely made the settling in process a lot easier and I can say with confidence that we became very good friends aswell.
I started of with a small cottage and it was fine. Little things such as not being completely clean, insufficient cooking supplies and simply not being very comfortable made it quite hard at first. But after a few weeks I just got used to it. The night guards at this place were lovely!! Titto the night guard taught me swahili every night and Alex was always there if I needed anything during the day.
After a couple of months I moved to a different house – shared accommodation but with my own room. This place is closer to the main road, house is in very good condition, kitchen is well equipped, Whitney does the cleaning three times a week and Rondo takes care of the day to day things related to the house.
I never felt unsafe or at risk. Watamu became a home for me.
To be very honest, there is no typical day. I started off with 7 different community projects and throughout my time and getting to know them better I “created” my own project and role having their needs into account. After a few weeks I started selecting the ones where I could use my skills the most and that would benefit most from my helpful. After a bit I chose only to help out the Wajimida Jigger Campaign with the shoe distribution and the Neem Dreams (their income generator) regarding product development, brand development and sales development.
Here they joke about Kenyan time which means people are never on time. So keeping a timetable isn’t really an option. Some days we would start at 9 and just keep working non stop till 4; other days we would start at 10 and work until 3 for example; or even some days I would just work from home/research around town.
I took on the challenge of developing a whole new soap range – specific soaps to get into the hotels; specific soaps to be sold in store; and specific soaps for a gift box to be sold in store. Also improved their production process; new suppliers; new work materials options; created more awareness within the community; increased their sales.
I absolutely fell in love with the people I worked with. Everyday I would learn something new from them and be surprised about how kind, incredible their lives and stories are. They became my family.
I think preparation wise everything gets covered by Outreach before hand. When getting here the best advice I can give is to care and get involved (but not too much). The locals will stop treating you like a simple tourist and embrace you within the community. Being humble and keeping people with their own worth will help the whole settling in process. This place will definitely react a lot better and the settling in will be better if the person is calm and grounded.
Also, if you want to learn swahili, asking people what a certain word or phrase means and then writing it down will help a lot.
Tips: Best place for chapates and Mandazes is the one next to the entrance of KWS by Turtle Bay. Best duka for fruit and vegetables are the two opposite Blue Marmalade right before the Silverstone School. Robert is the best tuk tuk driver. Gladys at Safaricom will help you set up a phone number and a internet stick if you need one. Definitely get MPESA – it will make your life so much easier because you don’t have to carry around big sums of money.
I feel like, the same way I did, they stepped out of their comfort zone. Apart from the getting more sales, expanding their business and improving their business processes . Everything I did was in their best interest and I hope they got to learn from me like I learned so much from them aswell as widen their horizons a little bit more.
This experience is definitely not for everyone – I had the best time of my life but its because I created my own opportunity after I got here. People that expect to have everything figured out or students that come just for the fun of it I can honestly say its not for them.
I grabbed this opportunity because it was a gap when I got here and it’s what I do – product development. Now there isn’t this gap anymore. So what is needed really depends on how the groups will develop moving forward. Only then can they say what they need and what gap needs to be filled.
It’s been the experience of a lifetime and Watamu has turned out to be more than just a passing through place but it became a home for me”.