(By Christopher Rothera)
Hi, I’m Chris; I’m 19 years old and a Gap Year student. With the help of Volunteer Vacations, I travelled to Kenya, to a remote town two hours north of Nairobi called Gilgil, to teach and coach sport at Secondary School for 6 weeks. This unbelievable experience that I have had is one that will never be forgotten, and one that I MUST do again, and soon. It has, in no small way, changed who I am. For the six weeks I was there I have taught over 100 secondary students English Language, I have coached a Rugby team from scratch which performed amazingly at a district level school rugby tournament, against teams with many years of experience, I have explored many areas within Kenya, I experienced the real hardships that many of these students go through day to day, I was accepted into the local tribe with my very own Kenyan Name; Kimani Were, (the ceremony included me slaughtering, skinning, preparing and serving a goat!) and really experienced the local life to the fullest!
I flew out early in the morning on the 21st of February 2011, my bags fully packed, absolutely no idea what I was about to be thrown into and spent the next nine hours watching the scenes change outside my plane window. It was dark when I landed, and it wasn’t long before I had my bags and was greeted by Mr. Mwangi, Headmaster of Ngecho Secondary, and the man I would be living with for the next 6 weeks. Mr. Mwangi is a genuinely fantastic man, great sense of Humour, very open, and clearly important within his community. This will be the man that future Volunteer Vacationists will be working with. When we arrived after a two hour drive at his home, I was told I had the morning off to get over any jetlag and a car was arranged to take me to the school the next afternoon. Very excited, but knackered all the same, I was shown my room, small, but comfortable, with its own mosquito net.
The next morning, I had a shower, (the shower was a large bucket with water from an outside tap), there was a drought when I arrived and there were rolling electricity cuts every day, I got changed into my teaching gear and waited for the man who would take me to Ngecho. His name is David ‘Tash’ Gitau, he’s in his early thirties and is a class man. He came to be my friend since day one. After a 15 minuit drive I was dropped off at the school, and I went straight to Mr. Mwangi’s office to find out what I would be doing for the next 6 weeks. He showed me to the teachers’ common room, and was introduced to the whole staff; I tried my hardest to remember every name in those few minuits! They were all very nice and extremely welcoming, telling me about themselves and asking me many, MANY questions about me. I was then given my very own desk and given a timetable of the lessons I would be teaching; 12 lessons a week, two classes, 1 hour each lesson and 4 Sports sessions a week, one and a half hours each session. Thankfully my first lesson started the next day, so I had the rest of the afternoon to talk to the staff, generally get my bearings and most importantly, plan my first week’s lessons! I had an explore of the school, and had accidently chosen the afternoon break period to do so, and was immediately speaking to student after student, all wanting to know who I was, If I was the new teacher, if they could touch my hair, what I would be doing and many others that I can’t remember. That night, Mr. Mwangi took me to his local bar and we had a few drinks together, and was introduced to many, many more people as well, many Mr. Mwangi’s close friends, and talked about anything and everything.
My first week was an unbelievable experience. I was right and royally thrown into the thick of things. Wake up time was quarter to six. Lovely breakfasts cooked by Mr. Mwangi’s outstanding wife, a cold bucket shower, then changed and out of the house to get to work by quarter past seven at the very latest! Mr. Mwangi is the big cheese, so he is there early every day to run the school. Now, every Monday morning and Friday morning, The school has an assembly outside, with the school scouts raising the Kenyan flag, the national anthem, prayers and hymns, speeches from the head boy and girl, then speeches from various teachers, and of course, Mr. Mwangi Himself. The first Assembly that I was at, Mr. Mwangi introduced me to the whole school, which was fantastic, then bade me come forward and talk to the students. A bit shakily at first I admit, I told them about myself, explained why I was there, how unbelievably excited I was to be there, and how grateful I was to staff and students alike for showing me such an amazing welcome. I won’t forget my very first lessons with my classes. I walked in, over 50 students in each class, and there was a very audible ‘yes’ coming from the students as they realized I would be their teacher. It was a little embarrassing but quite cool too, I definitely got the feeling they were excited about me being their new English teacher, not because of any talent I might have, but because I was the young muzungo ‘white guy’, with strange British accent. Teaching was fantastic. My every word was listened to, my every order was followed, and the more of an accent I put on, the more they enjoyed it seemed! The students were very disciplined, eager to learn, even more eager for me to tell them stories, and the whole experience of standing next to the chalk-board and going through the days lesson, setting homework’s, answering questions, and talking to the students is something I will never forget.
Coaching rugby was something I had really looked forward to ever since signing up with Volunteer Vacations; it’s one of my favourite sports, and I had 20 students of my own to train. Bliss. Their captain, a young man called Yusif, was energetic, extremely keen, and even better; clearly talented. We trained in the field next to the school, a dusty, rocky patch of earth, bumpy and hilly, but this is their sports field, and it’s what we used. I had brought over many supplies from England; balls, coaching equipment, whistles etc. So I began the first day by splitting the boys into two and having them practice passing and tackling. (30 seconds later I realized how much work they needed!!). But, after four weeks, I had turned these boys into a fully functioning team; I am so proud of them, and so happy that I got to do this. As a contribution to the school’s sports team, I invested in a rugby team uniform for the entire team. They looked bloody incredible. They competed in a district level rugby tournament at Gilgil High boys. Against teams with years more experience, and they came bang in the middle of the entire tournament. An Incredible Achievement! After the event, I treated the team, the athletics team, and the scouts to 15 Kilograms of Nyama Choma, (the local barbequed meet, absolutely delicious), which I loved, because I could see that the students really appreciated it and better, really liked a big meal after so much sport! The incredible thing about Kenya is, is that I could get over 40 students more than enough food for around Fourty Pounds.
In my third week, I had my graduation into the local tribe, including the slaughtering of the goat, which is their passage into manhood. I won’t go into the gory details, as I have a video that does it all for me! In my fifth week, I travelled down to Mombassa, the city on the Indian Ocean, to have two days of touristy style holiday. I spent it on the beach, with a cold beer in hand, or touring the ancient city. The six weeks went by far too fast, the entire experience was life changing. One thing I noted once I had returned home was how emotionally and physically drained I was; my trip was not without its downsides. Most and foremost of which, was the poverty that I witnessed, child labour, child beggars, and some fairly disturbing third world slums. If I were to explain every single experience I had, you would be reading a novel. The only way to truly understand is to experience everything yourself. I recommend pursuing a volunteer trip; you won’t come back the way that you left.
For more details on this volunteer placement (and others sports coaching/teaching/working in care homes in South Africa or teaching in primary schools and boys orphange in Udaipur, India or helping with sewing in the women’s empowerment programme in Jaipur, India and teaching the kids before they go to work, check out http://www.volunteervacations.co.uk or send us an email on firstname.lastname@example.org. 01483 203405/01483 331551 or 07833 208 158