Earlier this year I found myself at the GLO, quite by accident- or was it? I believe things happen for a reason. A friend posted asking for donations in lieu of presents for his birthday, curious about who he was supporting I looked on the GLO webpage- I found myself checking out the criteria for volunteers- and after checking that I had enough annual leave left, I had a supportive and explanatory conversation with Mary Maguire one of the GLO founders, so within a week I’d booked a flight, and arrived nervous at midnight, but got a welcoming sight of Eliud with my name clearly on a GLO sign. Even more surprising was the Aunty of my house had stayed up (and this was 2 am) to welcome me with a flask of Ginger tea, Aunty had to get up again at 5am to help the house children get ready for school.
The accommodation at the GLO is not 4* but the sheets were fresh, the room was clean and I soon fell asleep. The bathroom facilities are clean and basic and more than adequate. Towels can be provided if you don’t bring your own. No doubt you’ll share the bathroom with the odd frog or lizard, but that’s all part of living in the open and in the countryside- consider it like Glamping! So, don’t expect an endless supply of hot water. The utilities here are Rural so expect the water to not be there occasionally when you turn the tap on, or a power cut every now and then- but it’s never be for long enough to be an issue. After Breakfast the following morning I was giving a Tour of the GLO and the School next door. I was surprised at how well the whole place is kept, gardens well tended, and the Aunty’s seem to be forever cleaning – often being helped by one of the older children in each house. That afternoon I sat with Valentine to make a plan of how best I could use my time here.
I am a Yoga teacher and have an interest in Learning Difficulties so I was keen to share my passion of working with both. Everyone seemed to love Yoga and I easily adapted some poses and exercises to be more applicable to children and the teachers. I was welcomed in every class room with warmth and politeness, and beaming smiley faces. The children were particular excited as Mama Mary and Papa Kevin were due a visit to finalise the 10 year anniversary of opening the first house- there are now 5 proving a safe secure and homely environment for up to around 60 children. My days were busy, spent in the classroom or on the sports field, but I found the time to accompany the Aunties on their weekly visit to the local Market.
These ladies work hard, there is never a spare moment, all the food is bought after exciting haggling in the market for the best deals (every penny is watched on how it’s spent) Each afternoon the Aunties start to prepare a home cooked meal- now it’s nothing like we’d have back in the UK, but this food is prepared with love and care, from fresh produce so my advice for anyone coming here is to put aside what the food might look like, because it won’t have vegetables bought from Sainsbury’s, much of the produce is grown on the GLO farm- you can’t get fresher- and not GM! You’ll be sharing a table with children who have never been to a MaccyD or KFC or possibly ever eaten out. There’s a saying – when in Rome! It’s likely your stay will be a short one so if it’s not to your taste, don’t turn your nose up! it’s good honest home cooked and typical Kenyan fare. The Aunties actually go out of there way to give you the best piece of Fish or meat- even going without themselves.
The evenings are spent helping the older children with homework – thank God for Siri and a really good internet connection!! They children are really dedicated to completing their homework – I found it very hard!! And their questions are endless! Having said that to be able to spend time with them and their books and finding out what they wanted to be when they grow up- so we’ll have a Brain Surgeon, a Train Driver, a Shopworker, Pilot, Seamstress and a Hairdresser- funny not one said a WAG or a Footballer, but hey do clearly love sport and being outdoors. My advice is to make sure you have your trainers to run on a makeshift football pitch, to put a few tunes together for an impromptu disco. The absolutely love dancing so brush up on your footwork and take a wireless speaker and your iPod or similar. Other advice if you are thinking of volunteering? Crack on and jump in, everyone is busy, and has their chores so if you see something needing doing, do it! even if it’s helping to fold the endless amount of laundry- all hand washed! don’t wait to be asked to do something – it won’t happen they are all too polite.
Really engage with the children especially the children with Special Needs they are sometimes overlooked for the cuter kids- but engagement with these kids is rewarding, and helps them learn to interact with new faces, teaching them social skills. Organise a DISCO you’ll be a huge hit with children! Go to Church – I’m not religious but joining them in all their BEST clothes you’ll hearing the singing and seeing proper Kenyan village and Town life. Spend some time seeing the work the resident OT Winifred, she does wonders with the less able children.
Get Stella and the Transition Teenagers to give you a tour of the local area at a weekend- a great insight to village life. Get involved in the classrooms the older children like to hear about life outside of Kenya particularly in the Social Sciences classes- I also learnt a few things. One of the best things about School is tea break – they have the best Chai ever!! and the teachers bring in local snacks that they love to share.
If you do get the opportunity to visit the GLO, you’ll leave with a huge smile on your face and a happy heart- after a few Goodbye tears are shed, a truly wonderful experience in a well run caring organisation from Mercy in the office, the Headmaster who I hope to have converted to having some Yoga on the time table, Winifred the OT, the boundless energy of Valentine, the teachers, and especially the Aunties
So, lastly what to take, basically an open accepting mind, no need for your best clothes, so short’s, t-shirts and trainers. leave your clothes if they are surplus, they will be recycled! Interactive games – I took a giant parachute which the children loved running under. Old CD’s, or DVD’s for the disco’s or maybe a film night. Oh, and remember the Aunties, their hands are forever in washing up water- and the soaps they use are quite harsh, the laundry they must use some sort of bleach to get the whites as clean as they do. They send their money to their own homes so leaving a tube of Hand cream or a body lotion, a small mirror, a used lipstick the teenage girls are allowed on a Sunday for Church. A purse, handbag from a charity shop, these small gifts really mean a lot to them. So, go and enjoy, enrich your life I for certain intend to go back!
Kate Harrington Volunteer Feb 2018