The following extracts are from volunteer Kathy’s report following her 2 month placement at Gede House – a school for children with special needs.
My son, Joe, and I decided to volunteer for different projects in Kenya this year and we were lucky
enough to come across People and Places through our search for potential placements. Joe worked at Sita Community Snake Farm on a conservation placement and I volunteered at Gede Special School. The whole process and experience was very well supported and organised with friendly, professional and personal one to one guidance. For me, as a teacher, it was important to know that we were being ‘screened’ appropriately and that we were expected to go through a proper application procedure, complete with references and disclosure checks. Not only did this reassure me of the organisation’s ethics but also gave me a genuine sense of trust and confidence that the projects would match up to expectations and would suit our individual skills and vocational interests.
Having been to Kenya many times, we were just excited to be back and to get ‘stuck in’ to the work.
When Joe and I signed up to volunteer in Kenya, neither of us dreamed that Turtle Bay Beach Club would be hosting us during our stay. It is a place we know very well, having been there on holiday many times! Joe went first when he was only a year old; he learnt to swim there and we have, over the years, made friends with many people at, or through, this beautiful hotel.
It was absolutely serendipitous that we discovered the Gede Small Home project through People and Places and then, ended up returning to a place we love so dearly. The incredible team of staff made our time in Watamu even better as volunteers, not just as holiday makers. We could not have asked for a better person to support us with our community work than Ken, Turtle Bay’s conservation and community officer.
He was absolutely brilliant in terms of looking after us and ensuring that every aspect of the placement worked smoothly, from checking our packed lunches were on time, to sorting out our daily ‘tuktuk’ journeys.
We had a day to relax and get over the journey and then Ken organised an orientation tour of the area and of the places where Joe and I would be working which was really helpful, especially for me to meet the Headteacher, Madame Karo, prior to starting at the school.
The school is situated right next to the Primary School but has its own area, buildings and staff team. There are classrooms for the Hearing Impaired children and separate classes for those children who suffer from cerebral palsy and other physical disabilities. I spent the first few days observing different groups and working in both areas with the aim, and advice from Mme Karo, to ‘find where my heart settled’.
It settled on Class 2, working alongside Madame Peris, and during the next two months I worked closely with Adam, Asma, Sylivia and Furaha … lessons including English, Maths, RS, Social Studies, Science and, at times, tried to deliver some Kiswahili despite the fact I speak very little!
It didn’t take long to feel infected by the incredible joie de vivre and resilience of all the children I came into contact with. It is easy to write words such as ‘humbling’, ‘inspiring’, ‘life changing’ but harder to convey their true weight and meaning.
My experience with the children and staff at Gede was all these.
One of the things I was most proud of achieving whilst out there, and one which I contributed my project money to (as well as the money from a flood of donations from friends and family) was getting a uniform made for every child at the school who needed one.These uniforms were made to measure for each child by the wonderful Mama Willy and her team.
The uniforms were designed particularly with no zips, buttons or hooks, for ease of use by the children who cannot use such things. The girls had dresses and the boys had elasticated shorts and football style shirts so they could manage basic functions (like going to the toilet) either independently or with much less help.
The staff at the school all made me incredibly welcome and accepted me fully into their routines, their classrooms and their lives. I am proud to call many of them my friends now and have pledged to go back as soon as I can afford to. I know I am just one of those who want to try and make a small difference to these children’s lives. I feel absolutely privileged to have worked there. My letter of appreciation from Madame Karo is very special and one in which she says: “I hope you will find the time to come back and see the seeds of creativity and innovation which you have sown in the minds of the learners, which will have grown to maturity”.
I aim to do just that.