My first full day in Kenya was a real baptism by fire. It started very positively as Mama Lucy, having decided to embark upon a one-woman mission to fatten me up to make me “big, like a Kikuyu woman”, fed me pancakes and lovely milky tea. After dropping the 7th Day Adventists at church, we headed to the butchers in a very busy Mtwapa. There are no pavements, let alone parking spaces, so I very quickly realised that merely getting out of the GLO van was a potentially dangerous move. The butchers wasn’t as bad as I had imagined, but I was somewhat troubled to read a price list including “dog bones” and, more worryingly, “dog mince”. As Mama Lucy’s shopping list simply said “meat” I was a little fearful! (After 2 weeks, I built up the courage to ask Mama Lucy which animal I had been eating, and was much relieved to be told it was cow!) And so on to the main attraction.
I had agreed to a trip to Kongowea market, an experience that would strike fear into the heart of the bravest of men. I was forewarned that I would probably have people shouting “mzungu” at me, but not about the arm grabbing, proposals of marriage and declarations of love, nor of the men pleading “give me job”. I decided the best course of action was to smile or laugh, and never allow Mama Lucy to get more than half an inch away from me. She looked after me brilliantly, but I was pretty happy when she said we were done, and we headed off to the supermarket. Tusky’s was a much more familiar set up; bright, clean and air conditioned, but they did check the underside of the van for bombs at the gate and wanded us to see if we were carrying weapons at the entrance. So not exactly like nipping to Tesco. After lunch, there was educational play and a chance to meet some more of the children who were all very happy to come over, introduce themselves and chat. Precious and Rachel showed me their impressive skipping skills, then sang and danced for me. In the evening I was able to help some of the older children with some reading, and was happy to show them pictures of real life castles and snow on my phone; words which had come up during the story.
I decided that for my first Sunday in Kenya I would accompany Mama Lucy and the Keogh house brigade to church, which was a colourful and cheerful affair. I loved all the singing and the rainbow of bright Sunday best outfits on show. In the afternoon we watched all the best soaps that Kenyan TV has to offer (my particular favourite being the one set in a high school populated by “teenagers” who are clearly no younger than 35), and the girls all patiently had their hair braided in readiness for the new school week.
I was nervous to start teaching at the school because it’s such a slick operation there. Mr Pius asked which subjects I would be happy to teach, but when my timetable arrived I was somewhat terrified to discover my first lesson would be PE. I announced this to friends on facebook and the hilarity which ensued summed up why this was maybe not my strong suit! I absolutely needn’t have worried, because the children and St Mary’s & St Bernadette’s school are, to put it simply, an absolute delight.
As a teacher of secondary school pupils, I was just overwhelmed by their enthusiasm, interest and above all sheer love of learning. Over the course of my time at the GLO I also taught arts and crafts, computing and English, and was given the very great honour of teaching French to Standard 7 & 8. There are so many of these children that for their lessons they brought their chairs across to the Learning Centre at the orphanage; the only space with a blackboard big enough to accommodate them all. I imagine everyone has that moment during their time at the GLO where something just really goes to their heart and my French lessons with Standard 7 & 8 provided that moment for me. It didn’t matter that French isn’t part of their curriculum, nor indeed a particularly useful subject for them to learn. They just absorbed it all, notebooks in hand, and kept asking for more. In one hour I covered what would take me days in my normal teaching life, and their joyful singing of ‘Frère Jacques’ brought tears to my eyes. To teach these children was such a privilege; their Friday assembly, complete with demonstrations by the Scouts and ceremonial raising of the flag, is a fitting way to see just how lucky these children are to have a place at St Mary’s & St Bernadette’s. The staff are fantastic, dedicated people, and the messages of respectful behaviour and hard work are ever present. These children have big ambitions and dreams for their lives, and to have contributed to that in any small way is a real honour.
In the orphanage itself, a real highlight for me was the time spent with the children after dinner, helping with homework, reading and writing, and teaching them a few craft skills which they seemed to really enjoy. We made boxes out of paper and did some paper cutting to create decorative flowers, and Mama Lucy was happy to see the older children taking part in creative activities. I was also able to teach some French to the children in Keogh House, and they promised me that they will keep practising! The orphanage computer room also gave the older children and Mama Lucy herself a chance to learn how to use the internet, and particularly email, so that they can keep in touch with volunteers.
In exchange, Mama Lucy taught me to cook ugali, machicha and chapattis, and it was good fun sitting at the back of the houses, chatting with the mamas and aunties, and seeing just how hard they work every day. They just don’t stop for one minute but were great fun to talk to and were so welcoming and friendly.
It’s really good to get out and see other parts of town whilst working at the GLO. In particular, visiting the feeding station and the local slum of Bangladesh brought home the immense challenges faced by the people of Kenya every day. It’s hard to see how anything will get any better for these people, but the children are always smiling and just want to come and say hello.
It made me realise that the children I had met at the orphanage and school are so lucky to have these brilliant facilities, and I think the children themselves know it too. They do not need prompting to tell you how much they appreciate the opportunities they have been given. A trip to the beach and movie night (The Lion King, what else!) were great ways to bring simple pleasures to the children and they were so excited. They just love to talk with the volunteers and make the most of the time with all the visitors they meet.
It’s so hard to put into words what you feel when you look back on your stay at the GLO. I can honestly say it was an absolute privilege to meet such wonderful, smiling, caring people. Life isn’t easy out there, even for the children who have been lucky enough to secure places at the orphanage or school, but they dream big and they are optimistic about the future. To be part of their life, even for a few weeks, is a humbling and enriching experience. Mary and Kevin are doing such a great job and changing the lives of these children for the better. I am so grateful for the chance they gave me to be just a small part of the GLO family and it is my sincerest hope to go back out there again and spend more time with these fantastic children and staff. Asante sana to everyone and I hope to see you all again soon.