At the end of August 2022, Gaia Cagnacci (midwife) and I (Emma D’Andrea, social worker) with the programme offered by the Ministry of Foreign Affair and International Cooperation started our trip to Kenya, staying in the St.Camillus Mission Hospital in Karungu.
The following day we met many people and soon learnt that we had to remember the names of each one. Here in Karungu once you meet someone, they expect you to greet them and mention their name or they will start asking you, “You forgot my name?” “What am I called ?”.
Gaia and I still struggle with this but we are slowly improving, pole pole (slowly slowly) as the locals would say in Kiswahili.
We settled in easily, though the environment definitely is not what we are used to at home. Gaia in the hospital is getting used to different medical practices but is learning and contributing greatly to the maternity ward, exchanging her knowledge of what she learnt in Italy.
I was assigned an office in the Dala Kiye Children Welfare Home where I help with administrative duties, Project management and day to day tasks required.
In the Dala Kiye center there are 6 small houses – Tai, Twiga, Simba, Tembo, Kiboko e Cheetah – like the animals found in Kenya – each having space for 10 children and 2 mothers, alternating their shifts every two weeks. Kiboko house is supported by the Camillian Association Madian based in Turin, Italy, which has greatly contributed to supporting the building’s costs.
In addition to that, I play games with the children after school ends in the afternoon, and help them with their homework. One of the most interesting activities I did so far was to find out the various future aspirations of the children. One of the girls aspires to be a pilot because of the inferior number of women pilots to that of males, one of the boys wants to become a journalist, discover the world and inform the community of what is happening. It was refreshing to see they had great ambitions. I hope to learn more about them individually, encouraging them to study and be kind.
The children are teaching me a lot, from Swahili words to some political/historical facts they cover in school. The warmth in their smiles brightens my days. Sometimes it is me giving energy to them, putting on some music and dancing, telling interesting facts and motivating them to study and pursue their dreams. Other times they make me laugh by playing games or making funny jokes, it’s a give and take. They find my British English accent, being myself bilingual, funny and annoying at times as they cannot comprehend the way I pronounce some words.
Walking from the main hospital compound where our accommodation is located to the orphanage still feels everyday like I am having a Déjà vu, like I have already been there numerous times, probably due to my online research and pictures I received from previous volunteers. I still remember how scared I felt the first time, meeting all those children and understanding their life and personal backgrounds. To my surprise it took me little time to learn how everything works, their timetable, education curriculum, enrolment of new children when the older ones finish their studies etc…
There is much to learn and contribute, I am looking forward to the next year and to see what progress has been made.
The children are teaching me a lot, from Swahili words to some political/historical facts they cover in school. The warmth in their smiles brightens my days. Sometimes it is me giving energy to them, putting on some music and dancing, telling interesting facts and motivating them to study and pursue their dreams , other times they make me laugh by playing games or making funny jokes, it’s a give and take. They find my British accent funny and annoying at times as they cannot comprehend some words and the way I am pronouncing. I feel the same way many times, asking them to repeat what they are trying to tell me. They laugh a lot when I speak and I do not understand why, they find my British English accent, being myself bilingual, funny and annoying at times as they cannot comprehend the way I pronounce some words, other times they laugh because someone sneezes and I say “ Bless you”, not something people say here. Everyday is a lesson.
In the middle of September they had half term holidays and of course for those in their final years, with exams approaching it was not such a fun holiday. I scheduled classes for them, reinforcing and teaching them English grammar, writing compositions, studying mathematics, and social studies.
The week went by fast, my class was exhausted but satisfied with their new learning. I see the benefits of that time spent with them, understanding more their personalities and their goals in life. Talking to each one of my students asking them about school, how teachers teach and learning about their plans for the future. It was a very draining week but worthwhile. We celebrated the end of the week by going swimming in the lake with all the other children, making sure no hippos were around.. Everyone was swimming, splashing water and enjoying the heat of the sun. I think the children will keep these memories always in a special place, simple and happy days.
And, this brings me to a phrase I would like to share: “There need not be a reason to be happy.” Those kids, despite their poor circumstances and limited resources, are able to be happy every single day. All those reasons that we think are problems did not make them any less happy. This spirit is something I cherish and I hope to learn from them.
Lastly, I hope the volunteers of this year 2022/2023 and the future ones will learn that “nothing is taught; everything is learned”. Every experience is enriching, only if we take the time to notice and take all that it has to offer with an open heart and a soulful smile, just like those kids. So, let us all try to smile a little more often, be hopeful, and learn from every experience that life has to offer.