When you think of Africa, you’re probably thinking of Kenya (or The Lion King). Simba’s kingdom is home to numerous national parks and reserves, and a landscape so diverse you can gaze upon its grandeur of snow-capped peaks, parched deserts, and tropical beaches for days. Not only is Kenya a tantalizing mixture of rare wildlife and picturesque scenery, it is a place for bold and daring volunteers to embrace their inner dauntless. To those ready to shine a light in the dark shadows of elephants’ graveyards, it’s time to volunteer in Kenya.
Volunteer opportunities in Kenya are plentiful in both metropolitan and rural areas. Cities usually offer more placements options and a greater variety of organizations, but if you're interested in nature, explore volunteer programs in the savannahs and deltas.
Volunteers who choose Nairobi will find they truly have the power to make a difference. Over half of the population resides in slums, meaning that there are many social and economic problems challenging the local people. A number of NGOs and nonprofits with a foothold in Nairobi work closely with local community members to develop projects and programs that have the ability to make lasting changes in a variety of social spheres. When you need a break from saving the world, you can enjoy a safari at Nairobi National Park or rugby match at the Impala grounds. After working up an appetite, head to the Carnivore for dinner you will never forget!
Mombasa also suffers from its fair share of social problems, making room for a plethora of volunteer opportunities. On a sunny note, this city is lodged along the lush, palm-fringed coastline of the Indian Ocean, offering a laid-back beach vibe that is swimming with fun activities! Spend your free time exploring the beaches or snorkeling and diving in one of the protected marine parks and reserves.
For those looking to get out of the city and experience the beauty of a savannah sunset, the rural areas of Kenya offer many volunteer opportunities as well. Kenya’s many conservancies bring tourism together with community development and wildlife conservation in a near-perfect marriage. If you’re interested in environmental or wildlife sciences, be sure to give the plains and rural areas a look. After a hard day of volunteering in Kenya, jump on a piki piki and ride off into the sunset. Kenya is home to some of the most spectacular wildlife and national parks in the world that are just begging to be awed.
Volunteer Opportunities in Kenya
Kenya offers many different ways for those who are interested in lending a helping hand to get involved. To begin your search for volunteer opportunities in Kenya, think about what kind of adventure is calling you.
There are an abundance of volunteer organizations in Kenya that offer conservation and wildlife research placements, where volunteers can hang with the Maasai Mara and participate in lion and wildlife research. Fearless volunteers will help monitor the movements of the prides, interactions between lions and villages, and help map game drive routes (we’re not lion to ya!). The aim of most environmental projects in Kenya is to educate the community on the importance of eco-friendliness, which may include raising awareness about conservation issues in schools or communities, joining village cleanups or building projects, assisting with waste disposal, or promoting water sustainability.
The Kenyan school system faces many challenges, including limited resources, overcrowding, and lack of qualified teachers. These tribulations create a high demand for teaching volunteers. Preparing for the challenge of working in schools with very limited materials and resources will make it clear that volunteering in Kenya as a teacher is one of the most rewarding placements available.
Kenya's population is hugely affected by the struggles of HIV/AIDS and other serious health issues, which breeds countless possibilities to impact the lives of locals and gain valuable experience through healthcare volunteering. Volunteers are encouraged to get involved in health education outreach programs that give back to the community as well as teach volunteers about the health challenges Kenyan communities face.
Costs & Affordability
How many bobs does it take to feed a giraffe? Only about 500 at the Giraffe Center in Nairobi. Wait, what?! Investigate, convert, and find out that life in this wildlife paradise is actually a lot more affordable than the big numbers lead you to think.
The Kenyan currency, the Kenyan Shilling (aka. the bob), is still quite weak compared to the U.S. dollar and the Euro ($1 = 100 bobs). As a result, volunteering in Kenya tends to be very affordable for travelers from Western countries. For example, if you decide to treat yo’ self to a fancy meal and taxi ride, you’re looking at parting with the Kenyan equivalent of a crisp twenty dollar bill.
Volunteer organizations in Kenya typically charge volunteers a set amount in fees; but what’s included will vary from program to program. Most volunteer opportunities in Kenya will include accommodation, meals, insurance, and, of course, a sense of purpose. Visas, vaccinations, and flight fares are usually left up to volunteers to cover.
Accommodation & Visas
Specifics of accommodation and bureaucratic procedures tend to vary by program and volunteer, but most volunteers will find plenty of guidance with both of these items. Mentally prepare yourself for some new designs and procedures, and then jump into the whole process of volunteering abroad.
Kenya is a developing country, and so many Western luxuries, such as hot water, AC, and Wi-Fi, may not always be available. If you can keep an open mind and learn to adjust to some unusual or inconvenient situations, the laughter and growing experiences will flow freely as you volunteer in Kenya. Learn to carry around toilet paper, stock up on bug spray, and don’t automatically associate refrigerators with cold water. Living without luxuries isn’t actually taking away anything, but adding to your experience. #challengeaccepted
The type of accommodation you have will largely depend on where you are volunteering in Kenya. If you are placed in one of Kenya’s major cities, you will most likely live in a shared house or dorm-style hostel. If you are all about that wilderness life, your housing situation will likely involve a homestay, which will provide you with a great opportunity to fully integrate into Kenyan culture. Swahili and English double as the official languages (can we get a hakuna matata?) of Kenya, so a language barrier won’t be a huge concern. However, in rural areas, chances are the community will also have its own language or dialect.
Entering Kenya is straightforward, particularly at international airports. Single-entry visas are typically available upon arrival for most nationalities and are valid for three months (this gives you a good excuse to hop the border for a mini vacay to Tanzania when it’s time to renew). For more information on visas, check out GoAbroad’s Kenyan Embassy Directory.
Benefits & Challenges
Daily Eats. One of the things that some people find hard to digest is the traditional cuisine of Kenya. Kenyan food is meant to fill a person up, not necessarily to be gourmet or delicious. Ugali, a Kenyan staple, is like a giant dough ball that you will carry around like a food baby. While you may not be “wowed” by the typical Kenyan meal, you definitely won’t go hungry, and each meal will be very cheap and affordable.
Career Advantage. With universal unemployment problems, a resume with international experience will give you an unquestionably competitive edge over other applicants for future jobs; it is an experience that tells of a person’s intelligence, flexibility, openness, and decision-making skills. When an interviewer sees that you opted for life with bugs and lions in Kenya, instead of croissants and cute little scooters, you will undoubtedly set the bar high for all other candidates.
Be the Change. Considering the nation’s social issues, including poverty, crime, and social inequality, Kenyan citizens have their work cut out for them as they attempt to progress and develop their country, and their lives. Those who put in the time and effort needed to initiate positive change are a rare breed, and greatly needed for progress to happen.
Be awed by the intense beauty offered by the Kenyan countryside and the people who inhabit it. Volunteering in Kenya will be a two-way street. Having the opportunity to be a positive influence in someone else’s life is a gift; embrace this gift, shine light in the darkness, and receive the light as it is reflected back onto you.