A NYQUEST’er in Kenya: A Volunteer Story

In all truthfulness, I have always been a little skeptical about donating to large charity funds. Where does the money go? Is it really making a difference? Will my donation actually get to the needy or will it just be wasted on countless administrative and “necessary” company fees? From the moment I entered Pimbiniet, a small community located in Kenya’s infamous Maasai Mara, I could immediately see the positive impact Free The Children (FTC) has made. At the very crossroad of the main highway leading from Nairobi and the dirt road that leads into Pimbiniet, there is a medical clinic which is fully funded and operated by FTC. When snaking up the dirt track in our old Toyota 4WD, which could barely handle the freshly gouged out pot holes provided by the recent rains, people were lined up to use one of the many fresh water pumps set up by FTC. When the kids heard the car rumbling up the hill they would run barefoot out of their mud huts shouting “Jumbo”!! (hello) and waving so frantically it was as if a world known celebrity had driven by.


There were about 20 Canadian volunteers, numerous employees for FTC and myself, the one Australian. Our camp was based 100m downhill of Pimbiniet Primary School, the school where we helped build an additional classroom and helped teach various classes. The camp consisted of numerous sleeping tents, small tents set up as toilets and showers and a large tent used as the meals and communal area. The best addition to the camp was the volleyball net that was set up. We spent numerous afternoons in deep Canadian vs Kenyan matches. The local FTC staff always had the edge on the court, but no matter win or lose it was always a good laugh and a great way to wind down after all the teaching and building we did throughout the day.


The school itself was far from anything you would find in Canada or Australia, but what was lacking in quality was definitely made up in spirit and motivation. All the children attending the school live in mud houses with thatched roofs. There is no electricity, plumbing or fresh water. Food is scarce and an education is considered a high privilege.  Even notepads and biros were highly limited in supply, and coloured pencils and markers were seemingly unheard of. Even though the kids lacked what we deem as basic essentials, it did not stop them from being the most humble, caring and most giving kids I have ever had the privilege to meet. It was simply amazing being in a classroom trying to teach a class full or bright-eyed, tremendously energetic kids with a passion to learn like you could not believe. If a question was asked to the class the kids would literally leap out of their chairs in a chance to be chosen to give their answer. If there was an opportunity to write an answer on the chalkboard the class would be on the brink of a riot as everyone wanted the privilege of coming up writing that correct answer.


My most favourite part of the school day was when it was free time. The kids would gather around to play their favourite game “La La Simba” (Sleep Sleep Lion). It is the simplest game where I would pretend to be a sleeping lion. My eyes would be closed and the kids will try to sneak up on me. When they got close I would jump up and roar as loud as I can and chase the kids around and around tickling whoever I could catch. It was a game we would play over and over for hours and never get bored! Of course, I will also never forget the numerous dance parties that sprung up here and there. It would start off with just 1 or 2 volunteers jamming out to some music on a portable speaker. Within minutes groups of kids would be gathering around, then more and more would flock over until the place was overrun!! The kids were a little timid at first, but once that initial shyness was over and the groove was flowing it turned into a true dance fest. Kids would even come running out of their classes, mid class, to join in the fun. It was so successful in bringing everyone together, one big group of Canadian’s, Australian’s and Kenyan’s. Dance is a universal language, anyone can join in and express themselves, and that is exactly what was happening.


Our basic schedule was teaching in the morning and building in the afternoon. The building of the classroom was tough. We had very basic tools and little of them to work with. The ground was dry and rock hard to dig up and the hot, humid afternoon temperatures did not help the process. However, our group had strong determination and an amazing knack for complete cooperation and we accomplished as much as we possibly could in the time we had. It was a great thing to witness such an amazing group of people uniting to complete such a demanding task that benefits a community and culture so different from our own that literally dwells on the other side of the world.


Each evening we would all get together and complete a module set out for us. It would involve games and activities that focus on teaching us about global issues and what we can do as an individual and a group to help overcome these problems. After the module, we would all gather around the campfire and reflect on the day sharing out best highlights. It was always my favourite time listening to the amazing things people did or witnessed that day as it really shed a light on what we were actually doing and the positive changes we were making.


My most truly memorable moment was when I was walking back to our camp after a long afternoon of building. School had just finished and I was walking on my own as the other volunteers had gone ahead. One of the grade 2 students who was walking behind me raced up and grabbed my hand and held it while we walked downhill. Being so young he did not speak any English, but I knew holding my hand was his way of saying “thank you”. I looked down at him and smiled, which was my way of saying “you’re welcome”. I had never felt so enlightened in my life. The power of simple gestures can be the most moving experiences of all.


FTC has projects such as the one I was involved in all over the world, including South America, India, the African continent and many more locations. The organization has brought education to thousands and thousands of children, clean water and health care to hundreds of communities and works tirelessly to partner with local communities on issues of sustainability.  It was truly a life changing experience to work hand in hand with FTC, to witness livelihoods I had never before experienced, and to see the everyday struggles the people must overcome just to have their basic right to food, clean water, and a school education. To my fellow volunteers and our organizer Greg Rogers I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to be freely accepted into the family you have all become. I have memories I will treasure and friends I have made for life.


My greatest thanks of all go to NYQUEST. Jonathan and the crew I would not have been able to embark on this life changing experience if it was not for your generosity. Your donation to my cause which has allowed me to go on this trip is something I will never forget. If it wasn’t for your generosity, passion, and belief I would not have been able to attend this life-changing journey. So to everyone at NYQUEST, you have my deepest gratitude and I can proudly say you all graciously uphold FTC’s motto of “Be The Change”.


A little help can go a long way.


Thank you all!

Dean Cooper

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