Note: If you found this blog by searching for a volunteer project in Kenya, do not go to Watoto Wa Baraka, or Blessed Children, or Nyumbani Kwetu. He keeps changing the name now but it sits north of Thika in the villages of Mithini and Makuyu. The director steals money from the project and staff also broke a child’s leg.
I’ve had to take a few days to contemplate this post. Two years ago, I volunteered for an orphanage in Kenya and decided to return on my around the world trip. I had anxieties about whether or not the second time around would be better, worse, or just different. And if the truth be told, I’m not really sure how I would categorize it. So here’s a rough breakdown.
On the whole I wouldn’t consider this visit necessarily better. I have really wonderful memories from my first trip of staff, children, and awesome volunteers, and all of that has changed. But I can say the new volunteer accommodations are much better! Although the old rooms still exist, and I started out there, I was able to upgrade to the brighter, bigger, cleaner, rooms. The orphanage also cooks off of biogas now and has a tap. No more pulling water from the well- a huge relief! The orphanage houses more children now, which is a great thing. I also met a volunteer who I might travel with in the future! And lastly, I started my first microlending project on this visit, which gave purpose to my visit and made my volunteer work a success.
This is a bit of a touchy subject. Since posting about Watoto Wa Baraka on my website, I’ve had prospective volunteers contact me with specific questions. I want to be as honest as possible, without influencing their opinions too much. Although I terribly miss people that I met the first time around, I can say it was more disappointing to see lack of overall improvement in infrastructure and organization. Trying to get answers on certain issues is like pulling teeth, and I felt bad going directly to the accountant and other workers to get answers. Two years have passed since my first visit and though from the outside the organization looks drastically better, I still think fundamental things need to be improved. It’s stressful to see some basic needs of some of our sponsor children being overlooked. This is not due to ill intentions by any means, but more to do with a pyramidal management structure. The workers who know the most about their specific job have little power in decision-making. I also wish the orphanage would implement a different model of caretaking. Kids who live at the orphanage have all of their living needs met, but I’m not so sure about emotional needs.
Yes, I’ve mentioned here and in previous posts. The people are different, the grounds are different, and even the volunteer work is different. There is now a sign-up sheet for what activities you will participate in (a nice organizational tool for volunteers). On my first trip I implemented a newsletter (which seems to have been forgotten about as of a few months ago), developed child records, and volunteered at a local private school doing visual aids for teachers. I felt like I made a difference, even if only slightly. This time, school was out during my visit, so I did more work around the orphanage: laundry, kitchen work, etc. It wasn’t as fulfilling, because I felt like if I weren’t there, someone else would do my work. I didn’t feel all that needed. At least at the school, if I didn’t help do visual aids, I’m not sure that they would have been done at all. And even the newsletter had a pretty good run, until recently.
So how do I sum it up? I’m glad I went back. I’ve kept in touch with John and his brothers through old-fashioned snail mail since I met them in 2008. They’re like family to me, and I know will continue to keep in touch. This is one situation where I feel like I’m making a huge difference in someone’s life. Let’s face it: I was born a very lucky girl, got a great education, and have plenty of opportunities at my fingertips. A little bit of money and a lot of love and encouragement are going a long way for these boys. On my final visit with them last week to check up on their Video Show, John handed me a letter as I boarded the matatu to leave. One of the most endearing and touching things I’ve ever read, he goes beyond his usual gratitude and kind words to let me know how I’ve affected his future. I have no doubt that he’ll go to university, but he’s now looking at doing something to help orphans like himself when he graduates. I couldn’t be happier!