Tag Archives: Kimuka

Project Samson – Making a Change

Johnny (L) helps Knut and our hosts push our broken down matatu…

To balance out my last but one post, one of my fellow volunteers Johnny, came away with different feelings about his time in Kenya. He’s a carpenter, so had plenty to do round the school, and had had a month living in the village as the only volunteer so had had the chance to get to know our hosts much better. Here’s his take on his time in the village, and our attempt to raise enough money to enable Samson, one of the most inspiring teachers at Kimuka Primary School to finish his teaching degree, helping him stamp out caning and improve the kids’ learning and future.

(If you are interested in helping out, please read on, we still have a small amount of money left to raise. If you would like to help, details are at the end of this post. No obligation though, please do read on even if you cannot spare anything, I hope you’ll find it an interesting situation regardless!).

Johnny & Samson with the first aid equipment the proceeds of the Chicken Project has bought for the school

Johnny says:

As you are all probably aware I have spent the last 9 weeks doing volunteer work in Kenya at Kimuka Primary School. My time here as been one of the most amazing experiences of my life, being able to help out those less fortunate and meeting some of the most inspiring people that I have ever come across, has filled me with enthusiasm and energy. It is definitely the most satisfying work I have ever done.

During my time here I have been able to see first hand how the school operates and also what areas the school needs help with. Often when looking through problems within an institution, it’s best to start from the top down. Here, the Head Teacher (Joshua), has unfortunately like many of the Maasai men, let alcohol take control of his life. As a result he is rarely present at school (especially when there are volunteers present to pick up the slack). If he is at school, he is drunk. His behaviour is no doubt affecting the school, especially the kids. There is a lack of trust between the Head Teacher and his staff and also with the kids. The most frustrating aspect of this is seeing a perfect replacement stuck working underneath him.

Teacher Samson is an amazing teacher. One who shows unyielding passion for his job. Always going above and beyond for the children, to ensure that they can have any opportunity available to them. He is in charge of all the school projects i.e ‘The Chicken Coup’, ‘The Rabbit enclosure’ and tree planting around the school [which give the kids responsibility, self respect, and teach them non-academic skills]. These tasks are carried out with great care and organisation, and always match his high standards.

Samson does all of this despite having to pick up the majority of the work left by the Head teacher’s absence. He has spoken to me directly about his personal dreams for the school. Listening to him talk about it, you can feel his enthusiasm, passion and drive to help improve the quality of the children’s lives.

I suggested, or rather demanded that he put his hand up to take over as Head Teacher, telling him he would be perfect for the role. He explained to me that it wasn’t as simple as applying to the school board and putting his case forward. Strangely the current Head Teacher is adored and well respected within the community here. As far as I could work out this is because:

- A. He is a local Maasai man, one of ‘them’, which Samson is not.
- B. Despite the fact he is a drunk, the school is performing the best in the area.

So in the eyes of the local community members, despite how much he drinks, they see it as not a major problem, he is seen to be achieving good results so why change?

In reality, the school is only performing better than the other schools, not necessarily achieving high marks. Many children struggle with basic English and Maths. The room for improvement is huge! In Kenya, strong education is not just important but essential. If the children want to live a life above the poverty line, a solid education is the key. That is why it is so important to have strong leadership and a strong team at the school, so it can grow, and help the children really achieve something for their futures so they can make decisions, if they wish, that will lead their communities out of poverty.

Samson shows the kids how to mix chicken feed

In order to stand a chance of persuading the school board that he is the man to lead the community’s teachers into more efficient ways of working, Samson needs to complete his teaching degree (most teachers in Kenya need only a certificate in teaching to work at primary level). He has already learned valuable skills and methods which he is putting into practice, the pupils regard him highly and parents bring him gifts of valuable goats and traditional jewellery. I have seen him teach and he has a genuine talent for connecting with the kids and engaging them all, not just the brightest or his favourites, and they all trust him.

But his money for the degree fees and required residentials has run out, the small credit limit the government allow teachers has been reached, and if he can’t complete his final year he will have to take up to between 2 and 3 years out until he can get a new loan before continuing with his course. Which leaves Kimuka’s kids being looked after by a drunken Maasai Head who is, along with many of his colleagues, pro-caning and uninterested in what the kids learn, only in the grades they get (and all too often those are achieved by copying or memorising, without understanding of any of the concepts, through fear of caning upon asking a question).

As Samson is not a village elder, nor even a Maasai, he is going to have to show the school board he has ambition and qualifications, how valuable he is to the school – and what would happen if he left. Of course if that happened, all the projects would stop, it would leave only one other teacher who doesn’t teach through the use of caning, and grades would undoubtedly drop as there is no-one else there to fill in for the head. Finishing his degree is his best chance of sealing his ambition to make Kimuka a great rural flagship school and help his beloved kids make a future for themselves.

Johnny has made a brilliant fundraising effort, and he has nearly all of the £850/AUS$1300 Samson needs to complete his course. At the time of writing, we still have £165/AUS$250 to go. If you would like to help and can spare some cash, however little, then please email me on ellyoracle AT gmail DOT com and I will send you details.

Thanks for reading!

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Virtuous Volunteering..?

Well I’ve been a bit rubbish at keeping this blog up to date again. Sorry. I’ve got a fair bit of Africa to catch up on, but I guess so much happened while I was there in such unexpected contexts, it’s taken me a while to process it all properly in a way that I can explain succinctly and coherently.

So here goes with the next chapter in my Kenyan volunteering diary, and my attempt to answer my Auntie Pauline’s questions about asked me what sorts of people volunteer where I was, and what exactly my role was at the Primary School. Unfortunately it’s not very straightforward, but here goes…

First of all the volunteers. When I arrived at Kimuka Primary School, there were already 5 other volunteers there, 3 on gap years before starting university (aged 19-22) and 2 (aged 26) were on a career break wanting to try something different and help others at the same time. We were all from Westernised nations – UK, Canada, Scandinavia, Australia & the US. It seems that retirement- or near-retirement age volunteers came there quite often too from similar sorts of countries, and in fact towards the end of my stay an older American chap arrived with my charity to live in a much more remote part of Maasailand whose school had only just opened and had absolutely no resources.

Kimuka Volunteers at our leaving party

Kimuka was however relatively well off with good facilities, provided by the volunteer programme, and only 20 minutes by matatu to the nearest town with water and food supplies and an internet connection. One of my fellow volunteers was a carpenter, so spent his time doing invaluable repairs and knocking up things like desks and doors. The rest of us at Kimuka were either here for teaching experience to add to their CV, or were there for similar reasons to me – to help and be useful while seeing how other cultures live.

When we arrived, I for one assumed that the charity would have looked at my skills that I’d told them about and placed me where I would be of most use,  or that there would be some sort of programme in place to enable the community to make use of volunteers.  Perhaps as a teaching assistant for kids who are struggling with their lessons, and the teachers would explain what they wanted me to do while they led the class.  First rookie mistake.

The School Office

With a small charity like the one I went with where volunteers do not arrive regularly, and where they do not have to stay for a minimum period of say 3 or 4 months to enable continuity, it’s really hard for there to be a set programme of work for them. For instance, one volunteer might want to be a teaching assistant in Maths, but they might only stay for 4 weeks, and there might not be another for a year, making it hard to structure lessons around one day having a volunteer who wants to do a task, and one day not.

So the easiest way for the charity and teachers to deal with volunteers is ask us what we want to do. Which is hard when you have just arrived in a completely unfamiliar environment, very aware that you have no idea about cultural and practical differences, and that you don’t want to suggest anything that’s unsustainable. And that in turn makes conversations very circular:

“Tell us why did you came to Kenya?”

“Well, I wanted to come and help you and do things that you will find useful”

“That’s wonderful, tell us what you would like to do!”

“Well what do you need? I can teach and interview people and write about culture and give healthcare advice and I know lots about Western medicines, but I can’t speak Swahili or Maasai”.

“That’s great! Anything. Tell us what you want to do”

“What do you need me to do? I don’t really know what the practicalities are. This is a very different way of living to the one I’m used to”

“Whatever you want! We want you to enjoy your time here! We are so grateful to you for coming, we want you to be happy. All you have to do is say how you want to spend your time”

“Umm….”

It became obvious that I was going to have to second guess what the people of Kimuka needed, and try and match that with things that I was able to help with, if I was going to come away feeling like I’d made a difference. This is I think mainly because there is so little context and perspective as to why volunteers come to poor nations like Kenya, and little understanding that there might be other ways to do things – only that they can get (usually much needed) new things by hosting volunteers.

But perhaps that’s an obvious situation to find yourself in when you sit back and think about the context yourself. The people that I went to live with were poor. The majority of people in the community had never visited a city and had never travelled further than the next village. They have no electricity for television (I came home with a newfound respect for TV news and documentaries), and no money to buy books or newspapers (even if they did, there is little daylight to read them in as it takes all day to see to the more essential tasks of tending the cattle and feeding the family).

Heather teaches Class 5 maths

So initially, while we tried to work out what exactly was going on, we all ended up watching teachers teach class, helping them with marking, or filling in for them if they wanted some free time (or in the headmaster’s case, if they were drunk in the pub). Which was fine if that’s what you wanted, and in fact one of the other volunteers found teaching so rewarding, she started to consider she might want to become a teacher instead of studying law, which she’d never have thought about otherwise.

But for me, this didn’t feel right. I hadn’t moved out of my flat and travelled halfway across the world just to give some school teachers a break. We eventually persuaded the school to draw up a list of things they needed, and while they were all useful things for the school, they all involved either buying supplies or having specialist skills like being an electrician. To spend money wasn’t why I’d come – although I was happy to do so, I could have sent that over via my bank without travelling such a long way and giving up so much. Perhaps naively I hadn’t really considered just how poor the community would be – we really do take a lot for granted in the West, like the fact that to complete schoolwork you need a pen, which costs money kids just don’t have – but the first I knew of these specific requests was a week after I arrived and I had no opportunity to fundraise, or approach companies for sponsorship for some of the bigger asks.

Chicken feed – Volunteer-funded Chicken Project

But in the end I managed to find out some useful information by chatting to people – not easy when there are so many volunteers in one place all asking the same sorts of questions, and when you can only ask probing questions when people are in the mood to answer.

It was from one of these discussions that I ended up setting up a relationship discussion groupfor the kids to try and address the problem of drop outs due to pregnancy. It was a shame I didn’t get to run more of them and build up more of a relationship with the kids, or run enough to make it routinely acceptable to talk about relationships and try and get away from the painfully patriarchal way of raising in disciplining kids which is prevalent in rural Kenya – but it was a start and probably the thing I’m most proud of doing while I was there.

Teachers & Volunteers

The other thing that I did that I felt was useful was the decision to pay for certain things for a couple of individuals who I know will value the gesture and use it well. One of them has vowed to start a teachers’ league against caning, and to link with other teachers who have training in non-violent methods of discipline to visit schools to provide seminars to teachers who find it hard to let go of the cane. Use of the cane was a major source of conflict between pro- and anti-caners at the school and it would be wonderful to be able to remove the fear that causes teachers (by their own admission) to use the cane, and the fear that it induces in the kids.

I found it important for my own self-respect though not to feel like my time and money was being taken for granted, so I kept all that quiet and declined all requests for significant amounts of money until I knew people were asking because of a genuine need, with a plan for using it wisely, and not because they saw a pot of money that they wanted a piece of. Not that I blame people for asking, they are far poorer than we can understand without visiting, and their only experience of Westerners is that of visitors (or “volunteers”) coming to donate money or gadgets. There’s a real feeling that there is a generation of Africans growing up thinking that all white people have unlimited amounts of unwanted cash and things, and all they want to do with it is go on a home stay African village holiday and give stuff to the locals.

Kimuka School

It’s a shame that, other than two people I met who understood how to listen to the foreign visitors’ perspectives, this won’t change without that insight and perspective, and that you can’t really get that without things like reading and discussion and travel and TV –  and that those in turn only come with the money to fund an education that allows you to get a good enough job to access such luxuries. The challenge I guess is working out how to help people out of poverty sustainably, with a mutual understanding of each others’ motivations and constraints. From other conversations I’ve had, I’ve no doubt that this is being done by NGOs and bigger organisations like VSO, and some smaller organisations with Western organisational input, but I found from my trip that realistically the amount of good that can be done in a month’s visit to a comparatively well-resourced community school is limited to the your hands-on skills and how much money you’ve been able to raise in advance to fund projects and buying of equipment.

Part of me wishes I’d gone expecting it to be nothing more than a “home-stay” holiday, then I’d have been able to relax and get stuck in with living the way my hosts did, exploring another culture without the pressure to be sitting in the school at certain times despite having nothing to d0 there. Whichever way you look at it though, I’ve met some brilliant characters, encountered genuine passion for the community and the charity’s projects, and seen some breathtaking sights – an eye opening experience if you like, one which I’ve learnt more than I could ever have imagined from, and one which I’ll never forget.

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Elly is playing at Virginia’s House

Chickens!

So I thought you might like to see where I’m staying while I’m in Maasailand. Our host is the wonderful Virginia Turasha, head of the Maasai Education and Advocacy for Change (MEAC) charity I’m here with – by “our”, I mean myself, and fellow volunteers Canadian Heather (my roomy for my stay here), Norwegian Knut, and Swedish Ewelina. Also living with us in the house are Virginia’s partner Daniel, her sister-in-law Nancy and her extremely well behaved one-month-old Joel, and Virginia’s teenage son Peter, who happens to be a pupil at Kimuka primary.Daniel, Virginia and me (in my new Maasai Kanga)

Kimuka’s houses are single storey and mostly made from wooden frames and corrugated iron. They’re dry, warm (unsurprising in 30 degree C heat), cosy and welcoming, and protect us from the gusty winds that flick up the dust across the plains below the Ngong Hills. The kitchen, a separate building, is made with traditional methods (mud and cow dung) which makes it a bit safer to do all the cooking on the open fire inside. Even if it is impossible to see what you’re cooking with all the smoke!

Knut tries his hand at cooking Maasai style

At Virginia’s, we’re lucky enough to have solar panels which are enough to power a dim bulb for a couple of hours in the evenings (the sun sets around 6.30 each evening) – but even though the government hooked Kimuka up to the National Grid last year, no-one has been able to afford to link up to it so far, so that’s as much electricity as we have. Once that runs out, out come the oil lamps and battery powered torches (essential for trips to the outside toilet at the end of the garden after dark). The radio, also powered by batteries, keeps us company during the day and evenings, and Peter makes sure he treats us to as much Beanie Man and reggae as possible. Batteries are fortunately readily available in Ngong (the nearest town) and it costs 20 Ksh (15p sterling) to charge your phone at one of the many phone charging shops there.

Evening time in the house

Washing is an interesting task, and with no running water, it’s probably best described as festival style. We have two huge tanks which collect rainwater, and you help yourself to washing and cooking water using a bucket on a string and decanting into a plastic bucket of choice.

I like big butts…

As it’s not rained for nearly 4 weeks now, we ran out last week, but again Virginia has been to the water-shop and bought 4 gigantic barrels which should see us through until the rainy season starts in around 4-6 weeks. Clothes washing is done in 2 buckets out in the garden (one with soap in, one for rinsing), and bathing washing is done in the “shower room” where you can stand in your bucket (it’s a nice wide and shallow one) and splosh and scrub as much as you like. It’s not heated, but you don’t really need it to be here. And there are always wetwipes for when you can’t be bothered.

The shower room

The toilet is also festival like, at the end of the garden away from the house, and if you’ve ever been to Water Aid’s African latrines at Glastonbury festival you’ll know what I mean, but thankfully it’s nowhere near as smelly or full of the mis-aimed streams of wee that result from too much cider in the UK. Squatting over a hole in a concrete floor however can’t be avoided, even at the school, although it’s not been too hard to get used to. And the MEAC office in Ngong has a European style flushing loo, which as you can probably imagine is a bit of a treat. Running water, flushing loos and electricity for everyone is something MEAC hopes for though.

Toilet hut – at the end of the garden

We eat traditionally here as well, with lots of ugali (cornflour based dumpling affair which is a staple in Kenya), beans, cabbage, rice, and meat – and Virginia sometimes treats us to chapatis or eggs as well. Virginia cooks at lunch and at teatime, and it’s always delicious (as a vegetablist I just pick out my bits of meat, Heather being the eager recipient..). Knut and Ewelina have cooked us a vegetable spaghetti bolognese already, and even though Virginia likes using spice in her cooking, she’s not heard of a curry before so I’ll be trying my hand at that next week when I’ve had a chance to go shopping for ingredients.

Peter and Knut jamming outside the kitchen

Virginia and Daniel have their own cows, which are let out of their enclosure at the end of the garden at about 8am, go grazing till about 6pm, and are periodically checked on by Daniel, or Peter after school, in the Maasai pastoral herdsman tradition.

Virginia does the milking

The cows are kept for milk, and for sale – cows are very precious to the Maasai and your own cows are not slaughtered for meat unless it’s for a really special occasion like a wedding. Lesser celebrations require slaughtering of a goat, and Knut is keen to try doing the honours on Monday as we will have a traditional goat-based honouring of the arrival of Nancy’s baby son. Virginia also keeps chickens, who unfortunately aren’t laying at the moment, but they too run the risk of being slaughtered for the pot as a treat (a treat for us, not the chickens obviously). Aside from eggs and meat, chicken antics are always entertaining as far as I’m concerned.

Count the heads!

I have yet to try my hand at milking the cows, but I should have plenty of opportunity as they’re milked morning and night and the thick creamy milk is used to make chai, which the Maasai drink ALL the time. It’s a delicious but calorie laden drink, made with 50/50 boiled up milk and water, with a handful of tealeaves and a shedload of sugar thrown in (none of the spice and guarana that finds their way into UK festival versions). It’s drunk at every opportunity, for breakfast, tea, breaktimes and to welcome visitors, much like in Britain. So I will leave you with Heather’s contribution to the evening chai, despite the cow’s calf having other ideas about the use of the milk – nice work Heather!

Go Heather!

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The Ngong Hills

Kimuka’s main matatu stop

The thing that’s really struck me so far is just how full of personality this part of Kenya is (and I’m sure the rest of it is too) – and that’s not just the kids at school. Firstly, it’s beautiful here. Even our back garden’s lovely:

Chickens helping with the laundry

We’re about 30km south west of Nairobi, just inside Maasailand, on plains filled with Acacia trees and evil thorn bushes that will pierce not just your flip flops but your feet too if you don’t look where you put them.

Kimuka’s giraffes. Well, one of them.

There are herds of giraffe, greedy baboons (who I’ve yet to meet), and small herds of cows and goats which most Maasai own.

Goats!

We are overlooked by the Ngong Hills, where the nearest town, shops of any size, and electricity is. It’s accessible by walking cross country for 6km, or by taking a pikipiki (motorbike taxi) or matatu, an 11km ride across roads made out of large and uneven rocks.

One of the better bits of road in Kimuka

A matatu is something which all the guide books promise is a kind of minibus made for 13 people, but out in rural Maasailand, matatus take the form of Toyota pick up trucks owned by locals who let you jump on the back for 50Ksh (about 35p sterling). Cheap they may be but comfortable they are not, especially when you have 12 other people all crammed in with all their shopping, which also doubles as where you sit, and – well you’ve seen the state of the roads once you get into the countryside.

Maasai matatu

We see a lot of people wrapped up on the matatu in bright kangas (cotton saraong type wraps), or shukas (the tartan blankets you see in the picture above), mainly to keep the dust out of the eyes and clothes as the truck whizzes along. Underneath you won’t find many of the men dressed traditionally, although a lot of the women are – we see them every day in bright red or orange kangas (the traditional colours of the Maasai) and stunning Maasai beadwork. Unfortunately a lot of them don’t like their photos being taken, but here is our delightful school dinner lady who was more than happy to pose for us:

Kimuka Primary’s dinner lady in Maasai dress

Unfortunately for my voyeurism but perhaps fortunately for her, she doesn’t have some of the amazing- yet extremely painful-looking ear decorations that most traditional Maasai sport. Bear in mind that if you see a Maasai with stretched ear lobes, they’ve not actually been stretched as we would do it in the west – they’ve used a knife to cut out a big hole, and it often includes cutting away a decent sized part of the cartilage too. Ouch!

English Premier league football is also all the rage here – games are shown in bars – and it’s not unusual to see someone pottering about their chores in full traditional clothes and beadwork, plus an Arsenal phone pouch slung round their neck, a Manchester United shirt shoved over the rest of their clothes, or a Liverpool or Chelsea woolly hat keeping the sun off.  Yup, even in this heat (which is doesn’t really drop below 30 degrees C). I’ve yet to work out whether these are the most popular clubs due to their sporting prowess, or just because the strips happen to be red to match the Maasai colours…

The wildlife here is stunning, and as I’ve already mentioned there is a herd of at least 20 giraffe that we regularly see grazing on our way home from school (about a 20 minute walk). This is an African Starling, a far cry from the scruffy black European version:

Startling Starling

Starling don’t like his photo taken..

And that’s just the local village birds and animals – I’m going on safari to the Maasai Mara for 2 nights in 2 weeks, and hopefully to some coastal mangroves at Mida Creek, and the Shimba Hills national park for some elephant action later on in my trip. Loving the fact my boyfriend Jamie made me take his spare 300mm zoom lens with me – wildlifetastic!

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Education Maasai style

I’ve been in Kenya a week now, and I’m starting to settle in. Yesterday was my 4th day  volunteering at Kimuka primary school in Maasailand, and even if things are a bit confused as to what we can do so far, the kids are a total delight.

Class 4 at the football match

We have nursery class here, which has kids from age 3-5 depending when their parents can afford uniforms to send them (primary level education in itself is free in Kenya). The youngest, and all the volunteers’ favoutire, is a permasmiling little 3 year old dot with beads in her braided hair, which her parents thankfully refuse to shave (a shaved head for girls and boys is a school uniform requirement).

Permasmiler!

Classes 3 and 4 have already cornered me several times to get me to come to their English classes, always with smiles and enthusiasm. I’ve been invigilating exams for class 5 though so I’ve told them I will try and go later. I’m hoping to see if I can get some semi-regular English revision or conversation classes going as the lack of textbooks and speed of the classes really hamper the kids’ understanding, and they rarely get the time to ask questions.

hometime, with kids

Every single one is inquisitive and even if they’re not confident with their English, they still swarm round you, holding their hands out for you to shake or hold. The shy ones giggle and try and hide when you say hello, the confident ones want to know all about you – age, children, married, brothers, sisters, where you are from. Class 4 have even given me my Maasai name, Naserian, or “one who is beautiful”.

Kimuka Primary School

Getting my camera out is a guarantee of at least 15 kids wanting to see the picture you’ve just taken, and everyone loves the tiny book of photos of home I’ve brought with me. No-one is short of questions or a shy smile for the mzungus, and I like to think that despite the lack of resources, the motto adorning class 5′s wall in wonky 12-year-olds chalk scrawl, sums up the kids’ mood at Kimuka primary – “BRAINS AT WORK”.

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Hello World

This is a rather long-overdue post. Which I blame partly on Christmas and mince pie eating, partly on me doing a fair bit of other writing work in December (I’m putting all my written work on my portfolio now and keeping this blog for posts about travel and other generally cool experiences), and partly on spending time trying to co-ordinate madcap adventures – which I can proudly announce today I have just about finalised!

Reykjavik city centre will have to wait…

Some of you may know that spending 6 months volunteering in Iceland was my original plan for February, but unfortunately there’s been a problem with funding and the place I was promised has fallen through. I’m still hoping to go in May for a 4-6 week stint volunteering but that’s yet to confirm still.

But May’s a long way off right? Yup. Am I going to sit in my flat waiting for May? Nope….

I’m a big fan of slow travel, a concept embodied nicely by the Slow Travel Berlin Website. Take the time to soak in your surroundings, experience the culture and quirks of where you are, find out about what makes it tick, and enjoy yourself. So in this spirit I and my lomography-mad friend Dave are embarking on a 2-week train journey from St Pancras to Istanbul, via Brussels, Vienna, Budapest, Transylvania, Bucharest, and Veliko Tarnovo. Probably. From Budapest onwards we’re going to play exact timings by ear and explore the mystery and uniqueness of Eastern Europe. We plan to keep a photo blog on the trip in addition to my own entries here, although as Dave uses film a lot this may not be practical! I shall post details when I have them of course.

St Pancras to Istanbul. Click through for the original on seat61.com

But 2 weeks won’t keep me occupied for long, so in addition I have applied to live and work with the Maasai people of Kenya for 6 weeks. I will be working teaching kids at primary level and doing some blogging for them to help promote the Maasai culture (although this all could change of course). I’ve been anxious about making plans so different to my original ones, and have been agonising about where I’m going, why I’m going, how long to go for (and whether to keep my flat on or put everything in storage) and who will look after my cats (I’ve found them a fantastic holiday home with my other half Jamie’s best friend and his wife – phew! Their last cat lived on roast chicken though, let’s hope they don’t lose their taste for cheapo biscuits when I get back. At least I know I can always win Tinker over with a bit of broccoli and some cat crack (aka Whiskas Temptations in Salmon flavour…)).

Apparently there are elephants in Kenya

Most of all if I’m honest I’ve no idea what Kenya will be like – while a lot of people I’ve come across have either been to or done voluntary work in Africa, or at least have a burning desire to visit and meet the locals, I’m a bit Africa-naive. It’s always been the northern and baltic countries I’ve been drawn to – Russia, Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Japan. Even central America has had more of a draw to me than Africa has, which is odd because it’s undoubtedly a stunningly beautiful and diverse continent. Perhaps it’s because I had family in Kenya when I was a kid, so even though I never went to visit nor was in much contact with them, it somehow seems not as mysterious, and consequently not as interesting . Or perhaps I’m wary of the legacy that white meddlers from just a few generations ago have left and I’m just not sure what my place would be. Yet.

MEAC volunteer with some of the Maasai

This has been part of the reason I have chosen to volunteer with an organisation run by the Maasai, for the Maasai, called Maasai Education and Advocacy for Change (MEAC) – rather than a Western organisation working with local Africans. The Maasai in particular are an intelligent and proud people with a pastoral heritage who have been marginalised by even their own Kenyan and Tanzanian governments, and denied use of their ancestral lands which have been designated game reserves for tourism. I like an underdog and I think that’s another reason why this particular organisation appealed.

Satellite image of Kimuka in the Ngong region. Click through for the original interactive GoogleMap

So I’m now booked and paid up to go as of today, and I’m starting to feel more confident and excited about my adventures. I think it’ll be a pretty fast learning curve over the next few weeks until I go (I’ve managed to order 11 books and novels on Eastern Europe and Africa which will at least keep me occupied for a while), but I think it’ll be worth it. If anyone has any questions, tips or advice then please feel free to ask and either way it’ll help!

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