Saturday, March 31, 2012

Volunteering Update...

My main premise on coming to Kenya was to volunteer and help in as many ways as I could, and to hopefully broaden my social work skills. I thought I might give you all an update of where I'm at with that :)

I'm still volunteering at Lea Toto, and it has been good. Not always perfect, but good. My day to day activities can usually include:

-Filing Social Work and Medical Forms
-Going on home visits in Kibera, to check and see how our clients are doing (this includes assessing any new needs of the client, any new events going on, checking on their drug adherence, and seeing how their health and schooling is progressing)
-Going to the bank, the school outfitters store, the shoe store, and to various schools to pay school fees and check on quotations for school uniforms
-Visiting any clients who may be in respite, or the hospital
-Filling out per visit forms and writing down everything I've done with the clients
-Handing out vouchers for school uniforms and shoes, sometimes assisting with World Food Program food distribution
-Going to some sort of training (sometimes in Swahili, but still--a good way to broaden my skills and connect with clients)
-Helping out in the pharmacy, packaging Septrin (inhibits growth of viruses in the body--I believe), sometimes administering prescriptions
-Taking tea and bread(if you don't, its considered blasphemy)and sneaking some to sweet little kids

These are some of the things I love love love doing! My favorite thing is to connect with clients, and see when we've made a positive difference for them. Yesterday, I had a woman with a young girl thank me on behalf of the program for the food aid she had recieved, because the family had been going hungry lately. It is good to see a positive change happen for someone.

I heard from a friend that people come to Africa with this fiery compassion and just want to do everything possible--but that after around 3 months, you get a sort of compassion fatigue. It is such a buzz word in the social work field, but I can see what is meant by that statement. For instance, while I should be shocked at what I see in Kibera every day, I have grown used to it. I don't flinch at having to long jump over streams of garbage and sewage, and my first time here I cried when I found out some of the children were HIV+ --but not anymore. Since I see these things daily, they become less of a shock to me. I'm choosing to see this as kind of a blessing though--that because of this level headedness, I may be able to connect with people and help facilitate some manageable change here, no matter how great or small.

I have encountered more struggles this time in Kenya though, both work and non work related. Included are.....

-Feeling as if I cannot connect with my clients and coworkers properly. My manager asked me about this and was very honest in saying that it is likely because I am white and foreign, with the language barrier being significant. Sometimes clients feel nervous to encounter me, and you can't exactly have water cooler talk with your coworkers when they are speaking a language you don't fully understand. My way forward with this is to convey kindness and compassion in any way and to everyone I can, in addition to broadening my language skills.

-Lack of a support network. Man, do I ever appreciate having coffee after work with Michelle, Ann, Angel, and Mauricio last time I was here. It was an excellent way to unwind after encountering whatever in the day. It has been more difficult this time around because I come home straight after work to an empty house (Emmanuel gets home late) and because I have 1 foreign friend to connect with. My goal for this one is to try to meet some more people, either foreign or Kenyan.

-The heat. I'm pretty sure all the mabatis (tin roofs) in Kibera just suck all the heat to that one little area. I lose most of my body weight in sweat daily. Gross, I know. I'm going to invest in some tank tops, shorts, and sandals from Ngara market to help this. Also to be supplemented by ridiculous water intake, sunscreen,and hiding in the shade when possible.

-The thought that I'm not doing enough here. There are days in which the most satisfying part is seeing all the dirt wash off of me and knowing that I am now a clean person (Gross--again--I know.). Sometimes it seems that filing odds and ends and sitting at a desk isn't the best I can be doing, that more assistance could be done if I were down in the deepest part of Kibera, problem solving with clients or something. I know that filing helps, but sometimes I get kind of grumpy that my social work skills aren't exactly being ameliorated that way. I've heard social work is 20% field work/80% paperwork, which is both daunting and comforting. Way forward with this is to do a variety of things at the program and try to stay inspired.

-The bank of Kayla. My Dad always used to joke that I saw him as the bank of Dad. Growing up, I needed food, shelter, field trip money, whatever. Because Dad is Dad (And Dad I am grateful for--thanks, Dad.)Here, there is a stereotype that white=rich. People see my fair skin and ask me to buy them things. In fairness, Canadians do on average make more that Kenyans. But if you know me, you know that I am pretty careful with my money and dislike being taken advantage of (who doesn't?). So sometimes I struggle to figure out who to help with what I have. When I'm downtown usually I'll buy a loaf of bread and give some to people I come across who are begging. Constantly I am asked for school fees, to buy lunch, or 'Mzungu, buy me a sweet!'. I can't help everyone, but I can help some people. My idea for this is to just use my better judgement--know what I am truly able to give, assess who is truly in need and who may be targeting me based on my appearance, and to generally give at my discretion. I think it is everyone's job to look out for others, but also to look out for themselves.

-Dirt. Gross comment #3: Haven't had a proper bath or shower since I got here. I bathe out of a bucket with about 12 litres of water, and just pour it all over myself and lather until I'm acceptably clean. The first thing I will do when I get back to Canada is take a long, hot shower. Then grab Tim Hortons (Steeped Tea, double double), grab my besties, and go watch some Timbits hockey (I highly recommend it--its adorable.)

So yes, life here in Kenya is not always perfect. There are days I feel I haven't done enough or days I feel down. But the good always seems to outweigh the bad, and paying school fees for a young girl, holding a new baby, and seeing a child eat after going without always warms my heart. Getting down and dirty is well worth it. It is part of what makes Kenya so lovely, and what makes me want to spend my time here.

"Go now to make a difference in this perilous and broken world.
May you all hold each human life in the same regard as your own.
May you bring serenity and peace to the lives of others.
May God's Loving Spirit go with you and guide you this day and always.

- Convocation Benediction Given by The Rev. Brian Yealland,
Queen's University, 30 October 2003.


  1. glad to hear you're still keeping afloat! aaaaaand i think pretty much everything is 20% fieldwork, 80% paperwork. probably 10/90 with what i'm wanting to do. meh.

    i will have to visit Vic when you are back. i've decided to stay in Kel for the summer, get some Okanagan heat!

  2. It is great to hear how you are going and how you feel about your experience...I guess that's the point of blogging haa. I can relate to some of the things that you have stated such as being dirty, and people asking you for help. Kayla you are doing a great job and dont you ever forget that. ps. Date asap when you get back!

  3. Idea! We all 3 have a date/ON reunion. Place: Pag's. :)
    I'm glad to hear somebody has experienced that too! It is weird to wipe dirt off your face when it didn't even look that bad to begin with, ha!