Inspiring Futures – Nakuru Children’s Project in Kenya
Nakuru Children’s Project is an inspiring charity set up by ex-Changing Worlds volunteers, Rebecca, Zoe, and Annemarieke with the aim of improving education and relieving poverty for children in Nakuru, Kenya. The girls joined Changing Worlds on a volunteer teaching project in Nakuru in 2009 and, after falling in love with the children and the country decided to dedicate their time and effort to continue supporting this wonderful cause. Below we speak to the girls about their experience volunteering and the fantastic work of the charity.
Which Changing Worlds Project did you originally volunteer on and why did you originally decide to volunteer with Changing Worlds?
We first travelled to Kenya as teaching volunteers in 2009. Placed in a local government-run primary school, we instantly fell in love with the children we were teaching. They learnt in mud classrooms, with eighty children to one teacher, and approximately one in five kids didn’t eat more than one meal a day. Despite this, they were the most generous, loving and optimistic people we had ever met. They inspired us from the beginning.
We decided to volunteer with Changing Worlds largely because it was a non-profit organization. None of us liked the idea of a tourist company profiting from our desire to help, and it was brilliant knowing that the money we spent on the trip was going to the right places. It was also a small, very approachable organization that really gave us a lot of personal support, from the moment we signed up until we were working out in Kenya.
As a non-native English speaker Annie liked the idea of going with a UK-based organisation so as to be able to speak English 24/7. This was a huge benefit in teaching English!
Tell us about your charity, the Nakuru Children's Project. How does the work of the charity support the local community in Nakuru, Kenya?
We work in very close partnership with the primary school we volunteered at, where we run a free lunch programme, build classrooms and sponsor children to attend secondary school. All of these programmes are aimed at relieving poverty and improving education for children in the community.
Our food programme feeds 200 children every day, and for many of whom it’s the only meal they’ll eat. We give them a big, hot, nutritious lunch that helps them grow and learn happily and healthily. It also attracts children to stay in school, keeping them away from child labour, or running away to the streets to beg for food. We buy all our food from local farmers, and needy parents where possible, meaning all the money is invested back into the local community. We also employ three mothers as cooks, who were all previously unemployed and desperately struggling. Their employment means that they can rely on a good income to support their families with dignity.
We’ve constructed 6 classrooms to date, helping over 1000 children get a better education. More classrooms have meant children can move out of dangerous mud classes. These classrooms were cramped, dirty and risked their safety every time they came to school. We’ve also been able to split up large classes, allowing kids to learn in classes of 40, rather than 80, children. This has had an enormous impact on the quality of education and meant our primary school has soared to be one of the best performing public schools in the area!
Finally, our sponsorship programme pays the fees for children who otherwise couldn’t afford to go to secondary school. This is a very personal programme where we keep a very close eye on the kids. We know their dreams, hopes, favourite subjects, worst subjects, family lives, and support them to do the best they can. This has unimaginable benefits for the child’s future: staying in school means a child has the chance to break free from the cycle of poverty. When children are forced out of school it ends in heartbreaking situations. We know children who have been pregnant and living on the streets at 15-years-old, addicted to drugs or alcohol, slaving away on a farm for pennies of pay, or selling themselves just to put food on the table. To give a child a path out of this kind of life is so transformative: our 43 sponsored children are so full of determination, hope, and want to grow up to help their community. Several children have even told us their sponsor has saved their life.
It’s important to note that we couldn’t do any of the work we do without our on-ground, Kenyan, project managers. Like us, they volunteer their time to queue in the bank when 43 sets of school fees have to be paid (not a pleasant experience in Kenya!) and do the weekly shopping for the feeding programme. The love they have for the children is and has always been their driving force. We are so happy to share this passion with them as it’s gotten us and the school where we are today.
How do you think your experience volunteering has contributed to the amazing work that the Nakuru Children’s Project does now?
If we had never volunteered, Nakuru Children’s Project wouldn’t have existed. We spent 6 months with our kids: teaching them, learning their games, watching them laugh as they tried to teach us their language, making us small gifts from anything they could find. We were inspired by their hope, and their hard work, and the hard work of the teachers at the school we volunteered at. Even now when we go back to manage our projects, we spend as long as possible volunteering as teachers so that we stay in touch with the kids and community we’re helping. Everything we’ve achieved has been through a partnership, and through a close relationship with the community. We want to know the names of the children we’re helping, to visit their families for a cup of tea, to be friends, teachers, sisters, mothers and daughters to them. We never want to just be the mzungu (white person in Swahili) who strolls in, decides what a community needs without consulting them, and leaves again. And it’s working: because our projects are led by the community and we mostly just provide the finances, it’s having an incredible impact.
What would you say to someone thinking about volunteering overseas?
Do it. Volunteering completely changed our lives for the better. We forged life-long friendships with each other and with Kenyan friends, and we had the time of our lives doing it. We were given a very wise piece of advice before we left the UK: an ex-volunteer told us “it will be more difficult to leave Kenya than it was to leave England”. We didn’t believe him at the time because we were 18-years-old, scared of missing our family and friends and thinking that six months seems an incredibly long time to spend in a country you’ve never even visited before. But the Kenyan community and our wonderful host mother took us in as one of their own and it was incredibly difficult to leave again.
The most important thing to remember is that what you put into the experience is what you’ll get back out. Take advantage of all opportunities, and remember what you’re there to do: help. If helping doesn’t look like you think it should, suck up your fears and do it anyway. Listen to the local community about what they really need. Be open: try to learn local ways and adapt. Don’t judge anything immediately because it’s different. Don’t listen to the travel advice telling you not to eat fruits off the street and venture off to places not described in guide books – they’re usually the best! Make friends with local people, chat to them and learn from them. Don’t do anything that’s taking a job away from a local person. Do your research, because there’s a lot of dodgy projects out there, and a lot of amazing ones. Finally, enjoy yourself and make the most of it – we’d love to relive it!