Jack Mullen - 2014 Program Participant

Volunteer in Kenya with local host sister

Jack’s host sister, Tenneh.

What made you decide to volunteer abroad?

Going in, I hoped to use this as an opportunity to share as much of my personal experience and knowledge, and to learn all I could from those I was volunteering with. And boy did I learn!

What were your housing arrangements like in Kenya? What was your favorite part? 

I lived with the Founder and Director of the Performing Arts Abroad program in Kenya that I was working with, and his wife and two-year-old daughter, Tenneh. Their daughter was my favorite part. She was just the cutest girl you could imagine, and while she was afraid of me at first, she quickly took to calling me “jack iangu” which means “my Jack”. 

What was a typical day like for you as a volunteer in Kenya? 

There wasn't really such a thing as a typical day in Kenya. Each day was a totally different experience. On weekdays I’d go all around from teaching theater workshops, to feeding kids at an orphanage, to teaching elementary English in the slums. Then, on the weekends, there was time for all sorts of adventures: going to waterfalls, wandering aimlessly through remote hills and savannah, and even going into a Masai village. Every day was different and carried a whole new set of experiences.

Volunteer in Masai Shuka at Paradise Lost in Kenya

Jack dressed in a Masai Shuka in a place called Paradise Lost after falling in the water.

What was the most memorable experience you had in Kenya?

Well it’s kind of embarrassing really…we were at the base of this beautiful waterfall and I saw a vine hanging from a tree at the top of the waterfall. I figured I’d seen it work in plenty of movies, so I might as well give it a try. It worked for three solid swings, but then the fourth when I decided to do it over the water, sure enough the vine snapped and down I fell into the water that I wasn’t supposed to touch. So, one of the friends I was with gave me this traditional Masai garment and I took off all my clothes and spent the rest of the day dressed as a Masai.

What was the biggest challenge you faced while volunteering abroad?

I entered the PAA Theater Volunteering program with pretty distinct plans of what I was going to do as far as workshops to make it a decent challenge for the people I’d be working with.  But, everyone completely blew my expectations out of the water. I had to constantly be pulling things out of my sleeve and thinking on my feet to keep everyone challenged. 

Volunteer feeding children at an orphanage in Kenya

Since there is no option for infant food in the orphanage, the food has to be mashed up by hand and fed to the youngest children.

What advice would you give to others who are interested in volunteering in Kenya? 

Two things: First, don’t go into your volunteering experience with any sort of expectations, take everything as it comes because that way you will have a lot more fun in your first week. Secondly, don't be afraid to make friends and ask them to take you places. The coolest parts of my time in Kenya were the adventures that I had with locals that I befriended. It was so cool to experience the Kenyan culture from the perspective of people my age who grew up in it. 

If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be? 

I would have gone for three months instead of one. It felt like just as I was getting in a groove it was time to go.

What makes Kenya such a great place for theater?

Kenyans simply do not hold themselves back. It’s as though they have no fear! They jump into everything they do with every last bit of themselves and that is something to be respected.