IHF in Kenya: Compassion – Give it. Receive it.

By Diewertje “Dee” Kersten, Volunteer from The Netherlands, IHF Nakuru Children’s Home Center.

 When I started volunteering  a month ago in Nakuru at IHF’s Children’s Home, I wasn’t sure what to expect, what I would see or who I would meet. In my short time, I already know more, and I feel compelled to share my experience so far with others.

 Coming from The Netherlands, without experience traveling to, or visiting, a country on the African continent, becoming a volunteer in Kenya was exciting for me! Finally, I got to do what I had dreamed about for so long, going to the African continent and volunteering with an NGO (non-governmental organisation).

Maybe you’re wondering why I had dreamed about it for so long. I have always felt strongly about helping others. I also  saw how good our social system is set up in The Netherlands and believed it would be more worthwhile to help those living in countries where there is no such social system. Also, being raised as the last of four children, I also know what it means to share things, to help and receive help, and to do things with others. My parents have given my siblings and I the best example they could give in caring for others. I am grateful for this and I decided to use my ability and voice to help others and to share the experience with many.

 While preparing for my trip, I heard different stories about Kenya some positive and others challenging. So far it has been both for me too! Let me explain why: Kenya is a country that sometimes seem well developed. There is running water, toilets, wifi and data connections, electricity, a school system, many people seem to work and earn money. However, These facilities and all the working Kenyans are just one part of Kenya. There are still rural areas and many tribes in Kenya have remained intact.

 Many of the children here in the Nakuru Children’s Home, come from the East Pokot area and have a great opportunity to build a better future. I get to be a part of that and share my culture and knowledge with them, while they share theirs with me. Anyone who volunteers with IHF will notice that the children are eager to exchange cultures, it makes them happy to tell stories about their culture; for instance, how they keep cattle. They are also curious and ask questions like, “What it is like to live in The Netherlands?” It makes me happy to share this with them, and so the circle is complete. The children and I share some happiness in that way. Humor, laughter and happiness are such good ways to make working hard for an IHF Education Center or Children’s Home easier.

 This month at the Nakuru Center we have seen a few changes: new volunteers, which mean new schedules, and sometimes different ways of handling things with the children. Every person has his or her own way and that requires some adapting to from both the children and the volunteers. However, everyone is very capable and willing to do adapt to help each other out. For example, the children will tell me and other volunteers how things were done before, or even suggest ways we can do something better.

 Now that the children are used to going to school again, after their holiday break in December, they have gotten more used to the schedule of going to school, doing homework, eating dinner, and then preparing for school the next day before bed. This means everyone has a bit more time to do fun things on the weekends! For example, we had a Valentine’s party on Sunday 11th February. The room was festively decorated, and we had some music and dancing. The girls really enjoy dancing, but some of the younger boys are really good too. Kate, a short-term volunteer from Switzerland organised a game similar to “Who’ll take the chair” (musical chairs) and of course there were treats, like cookies and chocolate from the volunteers. We all had good fun.

 Before the Valentine’s party, we all worked on some improvements projects around the center. The Children’s Home now has a frame painted around the chalkboards, there’s a tree painted mural on which we will hang pictures of the children, like a family tree. We are also planning on repainting the study room. It is very exciting to see these improvements and the children being joyful about it!

On other days we may have music on and they do a dance competition. It is really lovely to see them sharing activities and stories together and it reminds me of when I was young and living with my siblings and parents.

 I am still getting to know each of the children, so during the nights after homework, and on the weekends, I play games, draw, or talk with them. This way I learn what they would like to accomplish and what is important to them. By sharing my own story of studying hard and working I hope I am able to encourage them to not give up even when things aren’t easy.

 I learn from them too! They teach me about what they do in school, or they teach me how to make a chapati, which is a flatbread that many Kenyans like and eat often.

The children sometimes have fun when I do things differently than what they are used to do. It starts a good conversation that way too. For instance, when I treated the children with some birthday cake for my birthday, I told them about how we celebrate birthdays at home and they started singing for me.

I am certain that these children will have that same compassion when they are finished with their education as I have now. I know they will find a way to use their knowledge and skills to help others find humor, laughter, happiness, and a way to share that with even more people. So that it will continue affecting others in their lives and hopefully it will encourage those people to do the same. Because everyone deserves joy and has the responsibility to both receive and spread compassion.