Back in Kenya! Plans for the next weeks + opinion on volunteering in general


So I got back home from Kenya on the fifth of august and the goodbyes I had to make where just too much: The teachers and students from the special needs school, the young women of the slums we started teaching, the boys from the football team that have become so special to me and I am proud to call my friends, and my most amazing host family: Anthony, An, Joy, Abby and little Maxwell, that have made me feel like a real part of their family. I could not imagine not living and working there and as much as I was missing my own family at home, I had to leave Nakuru with pain in my heart. That’s why, the day after I got back, I called my host family and told them I was coming back in September. They had asked me before I went back home if I could come back soon because we had so much work to do with the community in the slums, so when I told them I was coming back, I was happy to hear that they were already excited to have me. So I booked my ticket, kept on fundraising, and here I am: sitting on my favourite spot on the couch, with Maxwell on my lap and Joy and Abby by my side.

Before I start talking about the things we have planned for the next weeks, I would like to talk about volunteering in general for a second. I’ve noticed that there is a lot of conversation going on about it and on the question if it’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve experienced both sides. I’ve experienced good volunteering and bad volunteering and I realise that there is in fact a really big problem with volunteering agencies and their intentions. When I went to Bali last year, they overcharged me big time and I could see that my money was definitely not going to the right places. The locals working for the organisation where way underpaid, the schools had no equipment, the construction projects had no materials, and as much as I enjoyed the trip, I did almost nothing useful. I was also dealing with the same problem when I first got to Kenya. I booked with IVHQ, a world-wide volunteering organisation that is known for being the cheapest one in the world. I knew the issue with volunteering organisations before I came to Kenya but being only nineteen years old, I found it too risky to just go to a local project in Kenya and I decided that because this organisation was so cheap, it had to be a fair one. The most important difference between my volunteering in Bali, and in Kenya, was that I was staying in a volunteering house in Bali, and in a host family in Kenya. I was incredibly lucky and got to experience real volunteering because of the host family I was put in. A pastor and his wife that are also community workers in Nakuru and working with the community in the slums. That’s why after the first two days already, I stepped away from the project IVHQ gave me (a beautiful, modern and overemployed orphanage that needed no help at all), and decided to join my host dad in helping the people in the slums and going to the special needs school, where the conditions where not good at all and there was a lack of staff. It was the best decision I could have made and to this very day the only thing I am IVHQ so incredibly grateful for is placing me in Anthony’s family. Anthony started the projects in the slums completely by himself after growing up in a slum and being able to get out of there to build a good life for his own. He is a big inspiration for me and I know with all my heart that every intention he has is good. He also knew that the special needs school (a school for disabled kids) needed a lot of help, being a community worker and having visited the school himself for multiple times. That’s why he send me there in the mornings, and took me with him to the slums in the afternoon. The weeks after, Anthony tried to talk to NVS, the local Kenyan organisation IVHQ is working with, on getting the projects he was doing in the slums and the special school as official projects of NVS in stead of the orphanage where clearly no help is needed. NVS refused and stopped sending volunteers to Anthony and An, which is bad because they are renting a big apartment to be able to place the volunteers. When the income they get from volunteers stops, they are simply losing money. Anthony also told me some stories on when he was still working closer with the organisation and it showed me that volunteering organisations’ intentions are far from as good as they claim to be. It hurts my heart to see how these organisations (maybe I should say companies) take advantage of the good will volunteers have and the tons of money they give, that just goes right to their own account in stead of to the communities the volunteers think they give it to. There was a video that went viral on social media of a woman that explains this problem. If you looked at the comments, they were about as controversial as they could get. Some, who clearly never volunteered in their life, supported the attack she made on volunteering 100% and added some extra bad comments. Others, volunteers that where clearly offended by this video because they probably put in a lot of effort and money in their work, attacked her attack and stayed in denial.

For me, I am in the middle. It’s wrong to attack people who are doing volunteering work nota bene because it’s not their fault that the organisations are messing with them and taking advantage of their intentions. Volunteering is a beautiful thing and to just cut it off and stop doing it on a global level, would give much bigger problems. However, volunteering with these organisations/companies is not a good thing eather, and that’s what the woman in the video was absolutely right about. If you volunteer, find local projects that don’t charge you excessive amounts of money, look up projects that people you know started, and MOST IMPORTANT: spend the money you raised for this purpose yourself. Buy the people food, clothes, water, … and give it to them yourself. Don’t give money to the people working for the organisation because 90% of the time they will use it for the wrong purposes. Money can do weird things to people, no matter how reliable they seem.
The other big problem I have with people volunteering is that too many people do it to build a special, caregiving bond with the kids they are working with. They want to make the experience unforgettable by bonding with the kids as much as they can, which can make children get attached and then get hurt when you leave. You go back to your Westernized privileged life and at some point ‘forget’ about them because you have so many other things going on. They, however, remember you, and they remember how you left them after having such a strong bond with them, giving them serious attachment issues in the future. This part specifically has nothing to do with big organisation, but with the people volunteering themselves. Volunteering is about being selfless and doing the things that need to be done such as fundraising, sponsoring, buying food and water and spending your time on building and assisting local staff with practical tasks so that they have more time to contact with their orphans/students/… themselves. That’s why for me, personally, I’ve learned that working with adolescents and adults is far more productive that working with kids. They can communicate their needs, talk to you about their struggles and make you understand how you can help them financially.
There is sooooooo much help needed in this world. For people to stop volunteering at all would not be the answer, but make the problem worse. However, people should be more sceptical about where they go and practical in what the really need to do to make a difference.

For what I will do these next three weeks, I’ll keep it short since I’ve already written a lot on this last issue.

  • I am completing the making of the special needs equipment such as special spoons, adaptations for pencils, and teaching them how to use straws to drink so that they can drink without help and reduce their drooling.
  • I was able to raise enough money to provide a complete medical camp for the slums (140 families being provided with medication, medical check-up, injections, HIV tests, …), so I will be arranging this together with Anthony, my host dad, before I have to go back. We are meeting with the minister of health of Nakuru to get refunds and sponsoring for this too, so I hope to get all of this done in these next three weeks.
  • Together with An, my host mom, I am continuing to teach the young women in the slums (age 16-25) about sexual health, exercise, coping with stress and medical health every Wednesday and Thursday. I was also able to buy all 40 of them work-out pants for their weekly exercise lesson on Wednesday, which helps them with better physique and it gives them team spirit.
  • Finally: the boys from the football team (age 16-25). I have been with them since the beginning of my experience in Kenya and I am just so proud to call them my friends. I will still be seeing them every day, watching their trainings, supporting them, providing them water after their games and helping Anthony to get them sponsorships to get them a better job and life so that they can leave the slums one day. I was also able to collect a lot of football clothes so that they have better clothes to train with.

So that’s it! In a nutshell. I am so incredibly happy to be back and grateful to see my family again and have them make me feel so welcome. I also really want to thank everyone who already sponsored the projects here in Nakuru. I was already able to do so much because of your contributions and I couldn’t be more grateful!

See you in my next post!



Astrid Bossaerts

Go for it,Robin!!!

Sam (from Bali)

I loved this post. You spoke from the heart and I felt it. I agree with you on how these companies are making huge profits off our good intentions. The term I've come to understand is 'volun-tourism' and how it can be a way for companies to exploit both the volunteer and the less fortunate. Money does change many people and it's just a sad reality of the world we live in.

Good on you for identifying the need directly and supporting it with your heart - truly inspiring. I feel blessed knowing you 💞💐

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