Volunteer in Kenya – True friendships by Justin from the U.S.

Well, looks like my time here at the Korando Center is coming to an end as I get ready to catch a flight home in four days, after having spent the past six months on this fascinating continent. While the first five months studying at the University of Cape town in South Africa were an entirely new and eye-opening experience on their own, my last month, which I had the privilege of spending at the small Korando Education Center located a few kilometers outside Kenya’s third largest city, Kisumu, profoundly affected me in ways I could never have foreseen.

Up the hill - True friendships - by Justin from the U.S.

Normally volunteers who arrive at the Center do so while the kids here are in school, helping the teachers and students in the classroom while organizing events and planning activities for them outside of the classroom setting as well. The setting I was exposed to was slightly different, however, as the kids had already been out of school and a few weeks into their extended break by the time I jumped out of the somehow functioning van which Torsten and Simon so kindly picked me up in. For that reason many of the kids had already left the Center’s premises, many returning home as far as coastal Mombasa and others staying nearby to weed, herd, and tend the crops of Mama’s farm on the shores of Lake Victoria, relatively closer to the Ugandan border, which Simon and I visited on my fourth day here. As a result, I found myself contributing more to the immediate projects that Cheap Impact was focused on, mainly involving the construction of the Dome House and the gathering of personal stories from the children that we would in turn use to create a visible link between the donors we were targeting and the children they were helping. A number of children remained at the school though, as it was as close to a permanent home as it would get for many of them, and they were joined on a daily basis by a few other kids who lived nearby. With a smaller group of kids it naturally became possible for me to connect with a lot of them on a more personal basis, but the unexpected part of my stay in my opinion was the number of true friendships I developed with the kids, wherein I did my best to tell them about my life and they reciprocated by showing me theirs.

Volunteer in Kenya

Remembering the events of that first day is difficult as the memories have become almost hazy, clouded by the anticipation and nervous uncertainty I felt upon arrival that has in some ways blurred my recollection of  the various introductions and first impressions I had with Mama Dolfine and the kids. As the days passed my uncertainty was replaced with a sense of happiness and comfort that only grew as I settled into a routine, starting the mornings with breakfast and then chores involving whatever needed to be done, be it weeding, sanding and cleaning the Dome House, or shoveling rocks and branches that lay strewn across the construction site.

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Fun time :)

Fun time 🙂

The afternoons were always something to look forward to following the more grueling tasks of the morning, often centering around pickup soccer games with whatever form of ball we could find. By the time my final week had rolled around, I decided the boys could benefit the most from a ball that wasn’t flat, torn, or consisting of a number of plastic bags pressed together in the shape of a ball and bound tightly together with string. The ball I got them I found at Tuskys supermarket for a whopping 2,500 Kenyan shillings (about 25 dollars), which came with a personal guarantee from one of the cashiers describing it as the finest ball in Kenya, hand-stitched in Nairobi and impossible to break. Although I had my initial doubts, the ball has become a reliable source of fun, already having survived five plus days with a single tear – not to mention the joy I got from the looks on the kids’ faces when I handed it to them.

Volunteer in Kenya

I’ve probably improved my game more here than at any point during my competitive youth career in the states, playing barefoot on a variety of rough surfaces so as to not give myself an unfair advantage, which I must say was a harsh reality check at first. Needless to say they ran circles around me as I lumbered around like a wounded animal, paranoid of even the smallest pebbles as I pretended not to feel them, believing my tough stance would impress them. A couple of the boys are brilliant players and I found myself tasting dirt with my mouth more often than my feet during the numerous failed attempts I made at dislodging the ball from them, which definitely negated any kind of tough Mzungu (white person in Swahili) stance I was trying to portray.

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Football with the kids and cows

Football with the kids and cows

I’ll never forget the reactions I received from the kids living in the area, some simply staring at me in shock and others grinning from ear to ear at the sight of my unfamiliar skin tone. Touching their hands or making eye contact with them often sent them into a frenzy of excitement as they either hid behind their siblings and friends or came closer hoping to pinch my skin to make sure it wasn’t a costume. However, not all the reactions were happy ones I have to add. One little girl who apparently had never seen a Mzungu before started crying almost as soon as she saw me, and they most definitely were not tears of joy. As I tried approaching her, extending my hand toward hers in a sign of friendship she only screamed louder so I decided to back away and let her come to me when she felt comfortable enough. That plan backfired as she took off into the bushes, still screaming and utterly terrified. I’m kind of hoping this remains the worst female rejection I experience in the near future.

First guitar lesson - Volunteer in Kenya

I know I will miss the kids a lot, with their boundless energy and the copious amount of joy they exude each and every day that never failed to brighten my day. With the Dome House almost complete and the new boy’s dormitory taking a steady shape, I am truly excited for what Torsten, Simon, Lawrence, and everyone else is doing not only for the center but ultimately the lives of the kids as the place has quite simply been given new life. The attention that this strange looking banana colored space station is sure to bring to the center will be so vital in keeping the Korando Education Center boat afloat. There is simply not enough money to provide food and shelter for 31 permanent residents at the center, a free education for 200 + kids with more than 10 teachers, and pay for the high school and college kids’ fees. The money has to come to keep this amazing program going, and that is why I am truly thankful for what Cheap Impact has done and will continue to do for a school/orphanage/child home that so desperately needs help. I will try my best to do my part now, getting the aprons and bags around to people back home, but I think the way the center will truly continue to prosper is if more volunteers keep coming. Experiencing what life is like here at Korando and then going home to tell friends and loved ones about the experience will inspire and fascinate them, making them dream that maybe they could be the next ones to come here and live in the Dome House. I look forward to seeing what comes of this in a year’s time or so, but for now let’s just leave it at “I’ll be back.”

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December 20, 2015

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