Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya and one of the largest cities in all of Africa, is a fascinating and challenging place to volunteer abroad. Home to the main coordinating headquarters of the United Nations in Africa and the Middle East, there is an undeniable sense of global prominence that pervades the city. Yet, the fact that over half of Nairobi’s population resides in slums means that there are many social and economic problems that challenge the local people. Those who volunteer abroad in Nairobi will find that they truly have the power to make a difference and contribute to or create solutions to the city’s problems.
Volunteering in Nairobi
Along with a regional UN headquarters, there are a large number of international NGOs and nonprofits with a foothold in Nairobi. These organizations work closely with local community members to develop projects and programs that have the ability to make lasting change in a variety of social spheres.
Education is one of the most popular type of volunteering in Nairobi. Teaching English, science, math, or other life skills to underserved locals in Nairobi is a great way to provide them with life-changing knowledge and open their minds to future opportunities. Education volunteer placements in Nairobi are available at any educational level, from teaching young elementary school children to providing language lessons for adults.
Healthcare is another common volunteer placement in Nairobi for international volunteers. Future medical and public health professionals can gain valuable experience by helping to serve impoverished communities which would otherwise lack access to such resources. HIV education, general medical care, and raising community awareness are all examples of tasks you can engage in during a healthcare volunteering in Nairobi.
Volunteers who are interested in environmental volunteering will find plenty of placement opportunities in Nairobi as well. Nicknamed the “Safari Capital of the World,” Nairobi is the only capital city to actually be bordered by a major wildlife reserve (Nairobi National Park). Many local organizations are focused on sustainability and wildlife preservation in order to maintain a considerable “environmentally-friendly nature” to the city.
Life in Nairobi
Founded around the turn of the 20th century, Nairobi is actually quite a modern city. Most of Kenya’s wealthy population lives in the capital city, and the urban core is surrounded by several sprawling suburban communities. While a large percentage of the city’s population still lives in slums, due to poor urban planning, new housing projects are continuously being built to support the city’s burgeoning growth. Nairobi also happens to have the fourth largest economy in all of Africa.
As you would expect in such a regionally important and globally connected city, Nairobi is also extremely diverse. Many of Nairobi’s inhabitants have ancestors from North Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, and there are many different languages spoken throughout the city (although predominantly Swahili and English). Christianity and Islam both hold a significant presence in Nairobi as well.
Nairobi is one of the most popular tourist destinations in East Africa, and this in combination with an international orientation lessen the chances of volunteers feeling like outsiders. Still, those who volunteer in Nairobi can expect a fair dose of culture shock while adapting to the city, especially if they have never traveled to Africa. Life flows differently in Africa, Nairobi included, and adapting to and learning from your surroundings is part of what makes volunteering abroad such a valuable process.
Costs & Affordability
Kenya is a developing country, which means most daily expenses in Nairobi will be very affordable for volunteers from the industrialized world. The most expensive part of volunteering in Nairobi will be paying up front program fees, which typically cover many basic costs, such as housing, meals, and transportation. If your desired volunteer program in Nairobi is out of your price range, you can always try fundraising as a means to help cover the costs of your trip!
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodations may not be as luxurious as some individuals are used to, but nonetheless, volunteers will be made comfortable during their volunteer program in Nairobi. Homestays are the most popular option for most international volunteers, although some volunteer programs in Nairobi will be open to helping volunteers find their own housing in an apartment or flat.
Kenya recently instituted an e-Visa program for most countries outside of Africa, meaning that you can apply for the necessary visa documentation to volunteer in Nairobi over the internet. Usually your volunteer program provider will endorse you for the proper visa, but in the mean time you can find more information through GoAbroad’s Kenyan Embassy Directory.
GoAbroad Insider Tips
Help Be the Change. Considering its social issues, including poverty, crime, and social inequality, locals in Nairobi have their work cut out for them as they attempt to progress and develop their city and lives. Individuals that are ready to volunteer in Nairobi and put in the time and effort needed to initiate positive change are a rare breed, and greatly needed for progress to happen.
Cultural Integration. Nairobi is reflective of the African continent in that it is a melting pot of many different cultures. Shedding your own prejudices and letting the city become your teacher is the key to a happy and rewarding experience volunteering in Nairobi.
The Wild. Not every city can boast a view of lions, giraffes, and rhinoceroses from its downtown streets. Kenya is one of the most popular safari destinations on the continent, and views of Nairobi National Park are more than present amidst Nairobi’s city skyline, which isn’t something you can find in just any city.
Read our comprehensive guide on volunteering abroad in Kenya.