Updated: Jul 27, 2019
It is beautiful being able to give back and having the resources to help other people. It may not be at the level I would like but the love you put into it is also what matters. I feel it is my responsibility to return my gratitude for all that I have been blessed with my entire life. While volunteering in Kenya, the happiness I felt knowing I helped another human being hasn’t left me. It's a unique feeling and the joy and happiness that is going on all around is one of the greatest feelings in life.
I’m finally getting around to writing this blog post because I’ve been so busy lately. Life happens right? I dove right into work as soon as I got back from Africa, and the time difference and jet lag was really effing me up. Then I escaped to Mexico…so a month later (SORRY!) I give you my volunteer experience.
First off I’ll tell you why I chose Africa. I may get a few eye rolls here but hey I’m all about being honest. I remember being 14 or 15 years old in high school, late, late at night just crying on the couch. And this you guys is HUGE. For me to cry was unheard of, I would not cry for ANYTHING (Nowadays its a whole nother story… lets just say I cried while watching Hoda and KathyLee this morning)…. but back then I would joke I was a robot. Cut to me bawling on my couch at 3 am because Miss Oprah released her 20th anniversary DVD collection of all those highlights on her triumphant show. I’m binge watching it and the South Africa Christmas episode comes on. You should youtube it, its incredible!! I remember thinking I want to go to Africa and donate my time and be just like Oprah! (Told you, eye roll!) So that episode has stuck with me all these years, in the back of my mind, as something I wanted to do but I never really thought I would. 2015 for me was all about just doing the things I’ve always wanted to do. They say Life’s too short, right? So instead of always wishing and hoping I will, I just did. Like this blog for instance, my youtube channel and booking my first volunteer trip to Africa.
I chose Kenya because I remember studying the Maasai tribe in one of my fashion classes in college and that kinda sparked my interest, also Kenya being known to be one of the great places for safaris, and okay fine the flamingo shots at Nakuru Lake on Pinterest sold me as well (although I went when they were NOT in season. FlamingNO! Wah!) So that’s what brought me to Africa for those who are curious.
I booked my trip through IVHQ, which I researched a bunch and I noticed they had an expansive list of countries where you can volunteer. I lurked on Facebook and Instagram.. through past and present volunteers clicking through hashtags and geotags, everything. I went Sherlock Holmes on their ass, so yes I would recommend going through IVHQ. I definitely will plan another trip through them. Its pretty inexpensive in comparison to other volunteer programs and my experience was fine. I think its more up to you as an individual because they aren’t going to coddle you and have things organized for you, except for your necessities and a few excursion type activities. Of course every IVHQ program in each country differs, so I can only speak for Kenya.
The time I spent volunteering in Kenya was not the feeling of I’M CHANGING THE WORLD in the slightest nor did I have Oprah’s resources to live out my high school dream but in a sense the children and women I was working with impacted me more than I did them. It was such a humbling experience and it really puts everything into perspective. As Americans we have everything within arms reach, and never as a child did I have to worry about being hungry. I was complaining to the internet about my $400 haircut I had just gotten a day before taking off to Africa and then you feel like "what am I thinking?" So much energy and money put into something as empty as a haircut, a big WTF is all that consumed my mind. The guilt was too hard to swallow as I walked through the Kibera Slums, the second largest slum in the world. Google it.
My plane into Nairobi landed on a Thursday around 11 am and I was in the slums by 2pm. Culture shock would be putting it lightly. I’m going to be real for a second. I honestly thought I wasn’t going to last the next 3 and half weeks I was meant to be there. It was ALOT to digest, especially being alone, nearly 10,000 miles away from everything you know. It was a 15 min walk from where I was staying for the night and all I could think was, nope you’re kidding yourself. You’re not going to make it. Who do you think you are? No. No. No. Its these kind of fears and negativity that tricks us into giving up and failing. I literally had to coach myself and say “Amy stop being bougie, you can do this!” LOL I was truly uncomfortable for maybe the first time in my life….and then we arrive at the school where some volunteers were teaching and the kids are zestfully saying “Hi, how are you?” with such excitement, and it just changed everything. They are so warm and welcoming and all they want to do is play and engage with you… hold your hand, touch your skin, touch your hair, talk to you. I knew I could do this, and I knew I would feel incredible through it all.
On Monday I was finally taken to where I would spend my next 3 weeks volunteering: Living Positive Mlolongo (LPM) , go ahead and give em a like on Facebook, where I was met with the most incredible women working so hard for their community. Their selflessness and hard work is admirable. I love these women and have truly made life-long friendships. They gave me an insider's look at what they do as social workers everyday. We visited countless homes, checking up on women affected with HIV, which in Mlolongo, is actually many. It is why LPM was started in the first place. Mlolongo is a town where truck drivers have to stop to weigh their freight along Mombasa Rd. (The long road that connects the ports in Mombasa all the way to Nairobi). Where you find truck stops hubs like this, you usually find high prostitution. America is no different take Oklahoma City for instance. So the need in Mlolongo for an organization like LPM is vital.
MY DAY TO DAY:
I usually started my mornings teaching at Tumaini a small school in the Kicheko slum, then I grabbed lunch, (fresh mango juice always!) and finished my day walking through the slums doing home visits. When my day ended, I sometimes felt this sense of heaviness, like I’m not doing enough, I can’t do anything, you just feel defeated and hopeless because there is so much that needs to be done to progress. I would lay in my bunk and text home during the hours that Los Angeles was finally awake and discuss with my friends and family. My mom and sister were extremely touched as I was relaying how the need for food and school supplies is so high. They were generous to offer some donations. So between the three of us we were able to help out, even if it was just a small dent. My mom and I bought food to feed 50 families, and my sister and I were able to supply the classes with notebooks, pencils, sharpeners and erasers.
If anyone is looking to volunteer, I would highly recommend it. I only spent 3 weeks in Kenya, which if I could’ve extended it an extra week I probably would have. I would say 3-4 weeks is perfect, and if you can do longer more power to you! Anything less you’re still adjusting and getting used to everything so it's a little more difficult to get the ball going right off the bat. Plus you’re going to want to sight see for sure, so it ends up eating some of those volunteer days.
I always feel that video is such a powerful tool so here is a better idea of how I spent my days volunteering. Let me know in the comments below if you’re inspired to spend some time abroad volunteering your time. I hope you will because the experience is so rewarding. It was my most favorite trip ever! Don't forget to subscribe!
* Sidenote: I didn’t film everything because I wanted to be respectful of everyone’s space and privacy but hey also if you decide on Kenya, you should have your own first looks and experiences, don’t want to spoil it all!
Be sure to check out what I did on my days while I wasn’t volunteering here.