February 2014 – TOGS Service Project: Kenya 2014


By Stephanie Yap Abadin and Mirka Szarycz

On the first of February 2014, after months of preparation our group of 11 Tangara Old Girls left on a plane bound for Nairobi, Kenya for the annual TOGS Service Project. It feels like yesterday that overexcited children and the dusty dry season air in Kenya surrounded us. This overview of our experiences in Kenya will hopefully give you an insight to what it is like to volunteer in a third world country. Our first moments stepping off the plane after 24 hours of travel were marked by many of us stopping to take a big breath of the Kenyan air, followed by remarks ‘Hey it kinda feels like Sydney?!’. That was soon to change! On our first drive from the airport, we witnessed the aftermath of a horrific accident, and noticeably, the road conditions were far from the safety we have in Australia. Dusty, bumpy roads were sided with people walking or waiting for buses, and the scenery was much to how most of us had imagined it. As expected, we received many stares from onlookers who often yelled ‘WAZUNGU!’, meaning ‘white people’. As a clan of 11 Australian girls, we stood out like a sore thumb.

Upon arrival in Kenya we met the two amazing people, without whom we would not have had the opportunity to go on this trip: Joanne and Samuel Mak’aneyngo. From the airpot we headed to Sam’s family home, where we would be staying, just outside Nairobi in Kitengela. After a night’s stay we headed the following morning to Nakuru, a large city to the north west of Nairobi.

A 6 hour drive out of Nairobi was Nakuru, situated in the Great Rift Valley and is one of the fastest growing towns in East Africa. This population growth was largely the result of the 2007/2008 post election violence, which saw an influx of thousands of Kenyans into Nakuru escaping the violence. As a result one of the main issues Nakuru faces is overpopulation and hence, underemployment. Consequently a lack of proper housing and sanitation has become a major struggle within the population. Such compounded poverty has led to a high number of abandoned and neglected children in Nakuru who often end up as beggars on the streets or simply survive through theft. Consequently, Nakuru has a high abundance of orphanages. Kardesh-Ber-Nea, where we would be spending the next was one of the few that takes in disabled children. 

Our main project in our weeks stay at Nakuru was to help out at the Kardesh-Ber-Nea orphanage. After meeting the 7 children at the orphanage and their caretakers we got to work on building a quail coop. We alternated between working on the quail coop and getting to know and taking care of the children.

The quail coop was constructed over 2 days, with each of the girls assisting in various roles. This project has been completed with hopes to create a means of subsistent income for the orphanage, which will cover the costs of food, some school fees, and other necessities. Building techniques were very basic, and labour intensive. From transporting the dirt, mixing in the cement, making the cement, laying the bricks (more like HUGE stones), fixing a burst pipe, sawing, hammering and spending 6 hours on the road to pick-up 200 baby quails. It was educational being a part of the building process. Noticeably, they didn’t use a cement-mixer (but luckily we had Tina who was our very own mixer) and tools were very basic, but innovative. 

The ages of the children varied from approximately 2 years to 12. Each child had their own extremely sad story about how they ended up at Kardesh-Ber-Nea, but we could see they were in a home where they were treated with love and care and each child showed us over the duration of the trip how much of a blessing they are in this world. We were treated like family here, and could see how happy the kids were, calling Mama Regina ‘Mum’, and looking out for each other.

During our stay in Nakuru, we had the wonderful opportunity to attend a Kenyan wedding and visit Hells Gate National Park (the inspiration for the setting of The Lion King) with the children. The scenery at Hell’s Gate was breathtaking, as we rode our bicycles through the wide open space, and saw zebras, giraffes, warthogs, antelopes for the first time. It was surreal! We arrived just in time to take a tour through the gorge to The Devil’s Lair

With the money fundraised by TOGS we were able to provide supplies for the babies. We sponsored Ramsay and Precious to go to school! And here they are in their new school uniforms last week!!  

After an incredible week, full of emotional experiences we said goodbyes to our new family at Kardesh-Ber-Nea, and headed for the ‘up country’ rural area of Ndhiwa. Ndhiwa is a settlement located close to Homa Bay, Lake Victoria, in the Nyanza Province. Here we visited five local schools. We donated a computer to each school, tutoring the students on how to operate the computers and the various programs within it. We also donated various classroom materials such as exercise books, pencils, pens, but most importantly, our time. In this way we assisted the teachers by tutoring the students in maths, English and biology. One of the most touching experiences however was the mentoring program we ran at each school. Here we addressed, and were informed about the very basic problems that the female and male students face in those poor areas of Kenya. As we split into groups of males and females we were shocked to discover how the students were lacking basic sanitation needs, and knowledge about their own bodies. It really made us take a look at our own problems in comparison to theirs. After all the hard work we decided to end our trip with a flare of African tourism. Between the 11 of us we visited an open zoo, Bomas of Kenya (a cultural, dancing, musical, and tribal show), went on a safari in the Masai Mara National Park, and visited the Maasi Markets in Nairobi. All of these experiences were unforgettable.

Generally it can be said that every one of us took home one or more emotional experiences that we will hold in our hearts forever. But overall we least expected the trip to be so emotionally taxing. Initially it seemed that it would be more physically exhausting then emotional. But after only a day or two in Kenya this changed for all of us, especially after the testimonies we heard during our mentoring programs at the secondary schools in Ndihwa, and at the orphanage. There really can’t be much more said about our experience in Kenya, because most of it really can’t be understood unless you go there yourself. But overall when you see the stark poverty the people you meet are living in in Kenya, and compare it to their happy, smiling faces… you really start questioning yourself and how grateful you have been for what you have in life. To demonstrate this with a simple example, one of the girls instinctively turned on a tap to wash her hands and was so excited to see the tiniest trickle of water come from the taps nozzle. After being detached from flowing water for 2 weeks in Kenya, we were so grateful to gain even a few drops of water from a tap. We would never get so excited if that happened in Sydney, in fact it would be a disaster not to have flowing water from a tap. To think that we take so much for granted, as in this scenario, demonstrates the great difference between living conditions, health, education and simple family life between Australia and Kenya.
On behalf of all of the girls who went on this trip we want to say that it was definitely an experience we will never forget! We would also like to thank TOGS for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and all your support, as well as everyone who partook in this project through your donations, prayers and words of encouragement.