In the summer of 2017 we supported Josh volunteering in Kenya, working in a school as a teaching assistant, and in particular running sports activities in two schools. Please take the time to read Josh’s blog/evaluation report to realise the full extent of what a volunteer placement can look like, if you match opportunity with great attitude. Thank you Josh for the most thorough report on your time in Africa!
“It has been the best experience of my life, and I have had the most amazing time, met so many amazing people, made lovely friends for life and have managed to make a difference to the children and the teachers of bluebells school, which is something I didn’t think I would be able to do. I am now going to continue my involvement in bluebells school while back in England and plan to go back in September 2018.
I just want to say a massive thank you to Steve and outreach international for making this experience of a lifetime possible and their amazing donation to Bluebells school. THANK YOU!!!“
“The application process was very simple, and the questions that are asked enabled me to really think about what I had to offer as well as what I actually wanted to do. It took a bit of time to apply, but there were no questions that seemed pointless and I think it needed to take a bit of time to really make you think is this what you want to do. So overall I have no complaints about the application process and think it’s very important and set out well.
The process was really good. I loved how Steve had spent time to look at my application and it really showed he cared about my application and wanted me to get the most from my trip. Steve allowed me to ask all sorts of questions and we ended up speaking for almost 2 hours about what I wanted to get out of the trip, what he had to offer to meet my desires, what sort of thing I would be getting upto and had lots of knowledge which really helped to place me in the perfect place for me.
Once we had confirmed that I was definitely doing the trip and dates were sorted. I was extremely busy with my final year of university so didn’t have much contact with outreach as I explained to Steve that I would be so busy. This meant there was lots to talk about in my pre-trip briefing but everything was covered. Steve had a slideshow prepared which covered everything and then we had lots of time at the end to chat about any other concerns I had. By the end of the briefing I was as prepared as I could be for the trip and felt completely ready to go.
The in-country coordinator was very helpful when it came to arranging airport pick up, and showing me around when I arrived and helping me to settle in. They were also helpful in giving me ideas of things to do on the weekends and places to visit. I was fortunate that I had very few concerns during my stay, but those I did have the coordinator was able to help with.
The accommodation I stayed in was very nice. It had everything I needed and included aircon, en suite, double bed and fully functioning kitchen and I could not of asked for better accommodation and it was only a 1 minute walk to the beach. It was also very secure. I shared the house with 4 other volunteers and it was plenty big enough to accommodate us all very comfortably.
Meals I cooked for myself, I went to the local vegetable market and to local butchers and fish mongers, and then to a small supermarket to get dry and packet food. My lunch was provided by the schools I volunteered at and was local food, which I enjoyed.
During my stay I felt extremely safe. Not once did I feel unsafe whether it was walking around the area or while staying at my accommodation. Watamu is a very safe area and they are used to tourists and treat you with even more kindness then normal if they know you are a volunteer.
The local people of Watamu have to be the kindest and most welcoming people I’ve met and although they will ask you time and time again if you want a Tuk Tuk/piki (local motorbike/or matatu or whether you want to do a local tour, they do it in a kind way as if they want to look after you rather then just want your business (even though that is actually what they want) and when you say no thank you or Hapana Asante (Swahili) they will leave you alone. But this is to be expected when traveling in Africa.
Because both schools were missing teachers I decided to split my time up between both schools. I was at Blubells Monday & Friday and Tuesday-Thursday at Rainbow school.
I would get a Tuk Tuk from my accommodation to bluebells school and arrive just before 8.
At 8 all the kids had arrived and they had morning assembly. Then between 8.15 and 10.30 they had 2 to 3 lessons depending on how long was needed per lesson. They then had break till 11 where the children had Porridge. They then had another lesson from 11 to 12. At 12 till 1 they had lunch and played football or other playground games.
Between 1 and 2 the younger classes (baby class, KS1, KS2 and KS3, ages 3 to 6) had nap time and the older kids had reading time. I brought colouring pencils and paper with me so they could also spend this time to do some art. Then 2-3 had the final lesson of the day. Between 3-4 on a Monday and Friday they kids played football and this allowed me to coach them.
On a Tuesday Wednesday or Thursday between 3 and 4 they do different activities, for example story club and art club (with limited resources). At 4 they had assembly and then the younger classes went home and the older classes stayed to do independent study or reading.
During break time I would mark the books and play games with the kids if I had time. During lunch I would eat lunch that was provided for me by the school, and then spend time talking to Madame Mwanahamis, finding out more about the school, the short and long term challenges the school faced and learning more about the local culture. I really enjoyed this time and gained lots from it. At 4 after the assembly I would go back to my accommodation and do any lesson plans I needed as well as cooking dinner, and relaxing with the other volunteers who were at the accommodation with me (there were 4 other volunteers)
Before arriving the goals that I had set myself and with outreach international was to introduce lots of sports to the schools and to have a go at teaching some lessons and then see what else I could get involved with within the school.
Due to me ending up teaching fully the goal of teaching lessons was more than met, however I did not get the chance to do as many different sports with the children as I would like. I got to introduce some new playground fun games to them, and some fun throw and catch games, and play lots of football and introduce rounders. But with the amount of time I spent teaching I was not able to do more sports then this.
[Ed. A major activity Josh got involved in was helping develop the market garden that grows tomatoes on the school land, to help pay for teachers and contribute to school costs. Josh’s involvement helped secure funding from Outreach International to expand this significantly. Read ‘A story about tomatoes’ for a full account of how a volunteer can expand their influence and impact in a community project]
Me and Madame Mwanahamis sat down and looked at the fee structure for the school. The amount of money she is charging is not a lot compared to other schools in the area. But the parents still struggle to pay every term, and one reason for this is the people of the Watamu area rely on tourism for their income and so have high and low seasons. It became apparent that in the high seasons most of the parents were able to pay the full wages but in the low season could not pay the full amount. So we had the idea to charge more for the fees in the high season term and less in the low season term. This way it will hopefully help the parents to be able to pay the total fee throughout the year, and thus increase the money coming into the school.
I went to Malindi (nearby bigger town) to buy a lot of teaching resources equipment for the school, with the funding coming from Bushbells clothing [Ed. a local supporting NGO]. The equipment allows the teachers to make new teaching resources for the children, which will help in there education.
Me and Madame Mwanahamis sat down and looked at teachers fees, as it had not been constant each month due to not enough money, but now that the school should have enough for the teachers wages, we looked at a fair wage for the teachers.
During the holidays I arranged to take 13 of the older kids (7 years and older) to the beach for the day. Me and 13 kids went in Tuk Tuks to the beach from the school (about 15 mins away) to the beach. We played in the sea for ages, played football, rugby and played with tennis balls and had biscuits and plenty of water. Ellen who is a very good friend of mine who I met in Watamu is a Yoga instructor and she came and did yoga on the beach with the kids. We had such a fun day and the kids really enjoyed it. The kids don’t get the opportunity to go to the beach very often due to living further away and not being able to afford transport there, so this meant so much to them!
While the kids were on holiday I did some tutoring with 2 boys called Fredrick and Kelvin age 8 and 9 who were struggling with English due to not being able to go to school until the last 2 years when they came to bluebells because their parents could not afford to send them and so missed out on learning the basics when they were younger. For 3 times a week for 3 hours a time for 2 weeks we met at the school and I taught them the basic sounds for reading words, and built them upto being able to sound out and write all the sounds when at the start they only knew a few. The boys did so well and learnt so much and I was so proud of them. They are now able to read much better than before, and I know they will continue to learn and read even more.
There was some funding available to build a small new classroom, so me and Madame Mwanahamis planned how we could make the classroom for the least amount of money, and we managed to do it and it is now built and ready to use in the new term. The classroom is going to be used as an art classroom for a new volunteer who is coming in the middle of September for 8 weeks, which is really exciting.
I got bluebells school and rainbow school head teachers to meet and to talk about how they could do some joint activities together with the kids, once every couple of weeks and more often if it worked out well. These activities vary from sports, debating, art and games. This will mean the children will get to socialise with other children which is important for social skills and the schools will be able to share resources. The schools are a 3 minute walk from each other which is perfect.
On the first day of the new term, which happened to sadly be my last day of my trip, I told the children that some sports equipment had been donated by Rob Stephensons Trust. The children were so excited! When I was getting the equipment out, they were cheering and clapping every time I brought out a piece of equipment from the bag. They wanted to play with everything straight away. Once all the equipment was out we played some rounders. They had never played rounders before so it was lots of fun teaching them how to play and they had lots of fun. Then after rounders the older children played football, and I took the younger children and we had lots of fun walking and talking like different animals, doing fun Yoga, running around, and just being kids. After this we had juice and biscuits and then it was time for the kids to go home.
Don’t be afraid to try and do new things that you have not done before, and just get as stuck into it as much as you can. Anything new you can do with the kids, they will love and will embrace it.
But the biggest bit of advice I can give is to just have fun. You are volunteering with kids, and kids need to have fun. It can feel like you have to try and be serious because you are a teacher/working in the school, but I found they respected me so much more when we just had fun and then when it came to actual learning they listened to me a lot more. And it might seem that the other teachers are looking at you and thinking what is that volunteer doing, but they are actual just interested in a new way of being around children that they may not of seen before, and give it some time and they will learn from you and embrace it. At least that’s what I found happened.
Any project you want to do, bring the equipment to do it. Unfortunately resources are limited and so try and get family and friends back home to donate stuff to take for whatever projects you want to do. If teaching then the children have their own exercise books to write in, but they don’t have any plain paper to do other work on. Printing is possible while you are out there if you wanted to print off work sheets for the kids, but it’s more expensive then doing it in England. So if exercise sheets is what you want to use then bring them with you or be prepared to pay a bit to print them off. The children are not used to using exercise sheets so I’m sure this would be a very good way for them to learn and different way for them to do work so I wish I had some to use.
Bring lots of ideas for time filler games and games to get the kids focused for after break and at the start of the day.
Clothes wise, it depends on what you are doing in the school and while your at Watamu. I spoke to Steve and his recommendations where perfect so I would advise speaking to Steve about this.
I think that the project needs people who are wiling to give anything ago, adapt and be open to helping out in lots of areas from teaching, to working on the tomato farm, to playing games and sports with the children. I think that introducing new things to the school is also very important and any skills you have will benefit both schools massively. Teaching is definitely very important and would love to see qualified teachers or teachers in training going out there and as well as teaching classes, also helping and doing some training with the teachers who are already there would be brilliant.
In the future I would love to see the school gaining electricity from solar panels and a long term goal is to get some computers installed but this is a very long term goal.
I also think there is an opportunity to help the wider community. The idea would be to use the schools tomato farm as a learning centre for local people to come and learn about agriculture and learn how to grow their own vegetables at home to use for their own consumption and then any left over to sell or share with the neighbours.
This idea is already done in other parts of Kenya and has worked very well, and I would love to see it be introduced to the Watamu area. It would require a volunteer who is knowledgeable in agriculture and someone who would be willing to set it up.
At the end of my time volunteering in Kenya I then planned to spend 2 weeks in Tanzania. In this 2 weeks I booked to do a 7 day climb up Mount Kilimanjaro and do a 4 day safari. Both of these I achieved and I had an amazing time doing it.
Mount Kilimanjaro peak (Uhuru) is 5895m high. There are multiple routes you can take up to this peak and I chose the Lomosho route, due to it being 7 days which gave you an acclimatisation day which is very important.
I climbed with an American couple from Idaho, called Ryan and Crystal, who were both very lovely and we had lots of fun together during the climb and in the evening. We ended up doing the climb in 6 days as we came all the way from the summit to the bottom in 1 crazy, long and extremely tiring day. That day we walked for a total of 15 hours which started at 1am as we walked to the summit in the night so we got sunrise at the top. The sunrise was one of the best I’ve ever seen and it alone was worth the effort required to get to the top.
2 days after getting back from mount Kilimanjaro I went on a 4 day safari. The first 2 days we went to Serengeti national park and camped in the park the first night which was awesome. Food was cooked for us by a cook who came with us, and the food was really good. The first day we saw, Buffalo, Zebra, Impala, Thompson Gazelles, Water buck, Giraffes, Eland, Hippos, Jackles, Baboons, Elephants, Cheetah, Lions, Hyena, Vultures, Storks and array of other birds. So yeh the first day we saw pretty much all the varieties of animals in the national park. The second day saw more of these amazing animals, as well as seeing lion cubs close by playing which was incredible to see and they were so cute. On the way back we stopped at a Maasai village and were shown around, and did the welcoming song and the jumping song which was a lot of fun.
The 3rd day I met up with 6 other people who would I would be spending the day with on the safari. We then set of for the Ngorogoro crater, which had been my dream to visit since I did some research about it while I was at school at age 16. I had very high expectations for this place and it did not disappoint.
The view from the top of the crater brim was just breath-taking. We then drove down into the crater which is 15km by 19km, and was just amazed by the amount wide variety of animals all together, it was an incredible site. Felt like I was in the Lion king. The day in Ngorogoro crater had to be up there as one of the best days of my life so far.
The 4th and final day it was just me and Stephanie on the safari. This day we went to Tarangire national park. This park was also beautiful in a different way, and had similar animals to the other parks, not so many lions, but had lots of elephants which were so much bigger then I expected. We had a really good day and spent about 30 mins watching a family of Elephants playing in the mud, and there were 2 extremely cute and funny baby elephants. The day ended and we headed back to Moshi were we were staying.
The safari experience was definitely worth every penny. Being able to see all these animals which you see on documentaries like Planet earth in the flesh is an experience I will never forget. And I also met some lovely people which always adds to an experience.
Once I got back from Safari I had 2 days in Moshi. I went on a coffee tour which was really interesting and met up with some of the people I met on safari. I then flew back to Kenya and spent my last 2 days of my trip back in Watamu.
This is when I spent the last day with the children at Bluebells school playing sports and having lots of fun”.
For more information on the project Josh went on, read the project page teaching in Kenya
And for more information on the market garden initiative that Josh helped set up see ‘A story about tomatoes’