When I set off for Kitale in June 2007, I was certainly a little nervous. I was going to spend a month helping out in any way possible at Aquinoe Learning Centre as part of my gap year. I had decided early on that I did not want to go through a gap year organisation as I’d heard from quite a few friends’ experiences that they were largely corrupt and the volunteers were more of a hindrance then a help, the organisations just taking their money and not caring what the volunteers had to offer.
Holly received a warm welcome
I therefore thought Aquinoe would be a good bet as it was certainly a worthwhile cause, without a badly organised commercial volunteer scheme and through Jean I had a certain degree of personal connection that was reassuring to an 18 year old travelling on her own. So after equipping myself with large numbers of malaria tablets and a hefty number of injections I set off for Kenya.
Getting stuck in!
My first impressions were of how like it was to those ‘ideal gap year’ stories people tell you with a million cute kids running to hold your hands and start a conversation with you, desperate to know about England and your life at home. It was wonderfully overwhelming and needless to say a real eye opener. I was staying in Josphat’s house (director of the school) and he was consistently brilliant the whole month I was there. Always concerned as to how I was doing and eager to show me around the country at the weekends, which I very much enjoyed. Rachel (Josphat’s housekeeper) too was absolutely fantastic and helped me settle in so quickly, spending time introducing me to the children, taking me around town and laughing at how much of a novelty I found the boda-bodas! The teachers as well were so welcoming and gave up their lessons for me to teach, chatted with me about Kenya and marvelled at the fact that girls didn’t come with a dowry in England!
It was definitely the kids however that made the whole trip one of the best experiences of my life. On the third day of my stay, I was to teach the oldest class for their Maths lesson. Having had no teaching experience whatsoever and with only a GCSE in Maths, it was daunting to say the least, especially with 20 faces staring attentively up at me, but I soon got the hang of it and enjoyed every minute of it. Throughout my time, I taught Maths, Science, English and Social Studies to the most wonderfully eager and well-behaved classes…it really was a mile away from an English classroom in every way. The children were always responsive and such good fun to teach, we had quizzes for sweets, debates and role-plays and class trips. The work was also challenging as a class had so many pupils of different aptitudes and the text books left a lot to be desired, energy conversions in hydroelectric power stations not really being something the kids could relate to! But we got past the difficulties by swapping it for energy changes as someone walks up Mount Elgon!. After school finished I spent much of my time playing with the kids and chatting to them. They were always so delighted to see me and consistently positive, laughing at the fact that in England ‘ugali’ (their staple diet, shared reluctantly by me) would be considered somewhat disgusting! Sometimes we played organised games like musical chairs, team skipping, paper aeroplane races and I taught the girls ‘Shakira’ dances from the portable radio. The special needs kids too were just as enthusiastic to join in with the games and even some of the teachers had a sneaky go with the skipping ropes.
The pupils enjoyed Holly’s visit
The work that Aquinoe Learning Centre Charitable Trust and Josphat were doing was also very apparent with the new dormitory just being completed and the buildings seeing constant improvements of which the students were very aware and very grateful for. The whole experience for me was indescribably rewarding. From being there just a month, I felt like I was fully involved with the school and was so attached to all my pupils. It was wonderful to see them improve even in such a short time and I was so desperate to take some back with me. I was made to feel instantly welcome by everyone, I explored Kenya and I would recommend that anyone looking to get involved and really be of help should go to Aquinoe. The kids appreciate everything and are just so incredible…I never wanted to leave!