Ella Capek - 2014 Program Participant

New Beginnings special needs school in Kenya

The special needs school "New Beginnings", where I conducted musical activities.

What inspired you to volunteer abroad?

I've always wanted to explore this world more and it had been my dream to volunteer abroad for a few years before I actually did it. The bigger question for me was: "Why not?".

What about IVHQ made you select one of their programs? 

I chose IVHQ for a bunch of reasons. Their commitment to keeping both the volunteers and the beneficiaries safe and looked after, the quality and legitimacy of the programs offered, the variety of destinations and fields of work, and something that I couldn't find with other programs I looked into, their affordability.

What was your favorite part about volunteering in Kenya?

I was placed in Nairobi and worked in the slum of Kibera. I loved the authenticity of the neighborhood and its community feel. It allowed me to have a very authentic look into the lives of the locals and it really opened my eyes to see how people were actually living there. The volunteer accommodation was about 10 minutes walk from Kibera in a “nicer” neighborhood. I loved that it was close to my volunteer placement but allowed me to have easy access to the more modern amenities that I'm used to (i.e. 20 mins walk from a mall).

What makes IVHQ’s program in Nairobi unique? 

I loved that I could incorporate my passion for music into the volunteer work and that I could work on a couple of different projects throughout my stay. There was flexibility for me to give in a way that made sense to me, as well as in the way it was needed.

Volunteer in Kenya teaching music

Me teaching a tune on the keyboard to approximately 15 kids.

How supported did you feel during your program? 

Pre-departure, my program coordinator was very supportive and beside me every step of the way. He checked up on me often to make sure that I had accomplished the necessary tasks and requirements and reminded me of what I had left to do. Every time I had a question, he responded immediately (or overnight, because of the time difference) and always let me know that he was available if I needed anything else. In-country, the partner organization was very accommodating and supportive. They were always on hand and available by phone if I needed and stopped by every so often (either at the placements or the accommodation) to check that everything was okay.

What is one thing you wish you could change about your program?

I only wish that I signed up for longer. Other than that, I was very pleased and wouldn't change a thing.

Describe what a typical day was like for you in Nairobi. 

I would usually wake up around 7:30 a.m. and go down to have breakfast. Breakfast was always ready by then and usually consisted of breads, spreads, fruit, and tea and coffee. Sometimes we'd also get mandazzis or left-over chapattis (yum!). After breakfast, I'd go back up to get ready and would usually be out by 8:30 a.m.

Between 8:30 and 8:45 a.m. I'd arrive at my placement. I assisted with school work at a special needs school and would conduct musical activities for the kids when lessons were completed. At this particular school, the school day was only during the mornings so by 12:30 p.m., we locked up the school and helped some of the kids get home. There are many different placements in Kibera and usually we all made our way to the women's empowerment placement for the rest of the day. We'd have a lunch of Ugali and scuma at the placement (for most of us it's a second lunch!) and assist them with their work.

We'd all leave together from the placement anywhere between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., depending on what the plans were for the rest of the day. After placement, we'd go back to the accommodation and either relax, go to the nearby mall, do laundry (we washed by hand), or simply socialize with each other. In the evenings we'd be free to do whatever we wanted and sometimes we'd go with our local friend to a Kiberan bar to hear music and dance.

What did you enjoy doing on your freetime most?

I loved socializing with the other volunteers and our host mamas, going on excursions and documenting my experiences in a travel journal. There are loads of excursions to choose from and they're a lot of fun. I went to the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphange, Giraffe Center, Nairobi City Park, and went on a three day Safari in Maasai Mara National Park, which was absolutely amazing. These are just some of the highlights that I got to experience and there were so many awesome activities and experiences to choose from.

A street in the slum of Kibera in Kenya

A street in the slum of Kibera.

Can you explain your accommodation a bit more?

From my understanding, most volunteer accommodations in Kenya with IVHQ are homestays, but I stayed in a volunteer house with two host mamas looking after us. It's a dormitory-style accommodation and it's actually the accommodation that volunteers stay in pre-orientation. Because of this I got to meet so many people and that's probably what I liked best about it. I had loads of awesome conversations with really interesting people, some of which I consider good friends and I'm still in touch with today.

Now that you're home, how would you say your experiences in Kenya have impacted you? 

It gave me a completely new perspective on the world. We all have very different cultures and backgrounds but we ultimately want the same things, to survive and be happy. It opened up my eyes to so many different understandings and realities, and I hope to continue exploring our differences and similarities with further travel (and volunteer travel) in the future. It made me more aware of the world I live in and the lives of others in different parts of the world.