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We are absolutely delighted that you are contemplating joining our noble mission to construct schools and foster enhanced educational opportunities for children in Kenya. By dedicating your time as a volunteer with us, you will have the remarkable opportunity to directly influence the lives of thousands of young students, profoundly shaping their futures, and playing a crucial role in breaking the vicious cycle of poverty. Your invaluable contribution will pave the way for a brighter tomorrow, empowering these children to reach their full potential and opening doors to endless possibilities. Together, we can create a lasting impact and make a tangible difference in the lives of these deserving children, providing them with the tools they need to thrive and succeed. Join us on this meaningful journey and become part of a dedicated team passionate about transforming education and building a brighter, more equitable world.
Inspiring Volunteer Stories
Something new became home in just a week.
The sun set as I stepped off the plane in Kenya, my heart pounding with a mix of excitement and nervousness. I was a foreigner in this vast land, but only for a short while. Little did I know that this week of volunteering would change my life forever.
As I settled into my temporary home, we were greeted with warmth and kindness by the locals. Their smiles were genuine, their spirits infectious. I found comfort in their open arms, as if I had found a new family in a distant land. The welcome celebration they provided was not only unexpected but also indescribable. Although it is weeks later while I am writing this, it still moves me to tears.
Every day, I immersed myself in the vibrant Kenyan culture, eager to learn and grow. The people taught me valuable lessons about resilience and gratitude. Despite facing hardships, they embraced life with an unwavering spirit, finding joy in the simplest of moments. I marveled at their sense of community, the way they supported and uplifted one another.
In return, I shared my own knowledge and skills, but it paled in comparison to the wisdom I gained from them. They taught me to appreciate the beauty of the present, to be content with what I had, and to find happiness in the connections we forge with others.
In addition, seeing the huge impact a project like School4Life has on the life of these wonderful people is fantastic. Being a witness to the smiles of the kids eating the delicious meals the school provides, and seeing an eagerness to learn and grow in life is beyond compare.
As the week ended, I had found a new home in Kenya. Not just in the physical sense, but in the hearts of the people I had met. The impact they had on me was immeasurable.
In leaving, I carried with me the memories, the laughter, and the unbreakable bonds formed during my short stay. Kenya had touched my soul in ways I never thought possible. I vowed to return, not as a foreigner, but as a friend, ready to learn even more from the rich culture of this beautiful country and its people.
In 2017 for 14 days
Here goes the somewhat typical conversation of the weeks before taking off to Nairobi.
Friend: “Are you going to Kenya for two weeks?”
Friend: “Do you go on a safari?”
Me: “No”. Friend: “Do you go to the beach?”
Friend: “What are you going to do then?!”
Let me try to explain with a few words and numbers what we did in Kimilili and what I took back from this unique experience.
What we did:
11 Deloitte volunteers, 2 weeks, 5’772 km from Zurich, in remote Kimilili (“the town has an urban population of 10,251” declares Wikipedia). We moved more than 3’000 stones (massive bricks), served more than 2’000 meals, built 2 new classrooms, and painted all the classrooms’ blackboards. We kicked off some improvement projects for the kitchen, the IT infrastructure, the specials needs school and the children home. We fundraised an incredibly high amount of money and raised awareness about Kimilili to probably more than 1’500 people.
What I took back:
Friend: “You didn’t buy any Kazuri beads? No real-size giraffe toy?”. Me: “Unfortunately not, but this experience…”
- Equipped a new undertone to the word “compassion,” far from pity and very close to “feeling together”. I felt it when I was sitting on a bus with one of the special needs children, Sylvia, and she couldn’t stop crying for apparently no reason, and I felt it when Massi, another special needs girl, managed to ace her drama performance in front of an audience of 100+ people. “Feeling with” – Kimilili taught me real compassion.
- Made me grasp a new perspective on happiness. The kids in Kimilili taught me we don’t need much to be happy and it takes very little to help others to be happy.
- Gave me a renewed sense of gratitude. We have everything we could possibly imagine – affections, education, safety, employment, health, etc. – and we seldom appreciate it. Kimilili taught me to count my blessings every day, and refrain from complaining for trivial issues.
- Allowed me to believe that we can make a difference. It has always been very frustrating for me to see that the world does not go in the right direction: so much could be done to improve the lives of millions, yet very little is actually done. Being in Kimilili gave me a new sense of purpose: I can make a difference. Even if it’s small, it has helped a kid to go to school, or a special needs teacher to support her kids in a better way, or a single mother to pay for rent –who can actually claim that is a small thing to them?
I have loved every second of this unique experience and I will never forget Kimilili and its people “until”, as one of the locals put it, “my father gets pregnant” and / or “the Indian Ocean dries up” ☺
Lucy Baumann & Thomas Oldenburg
In January 2018 for 14 days
In addition to our monthly sponsorship for CBSM School in Kimilili we wanted to visit on site to get to know the school, people and especially the kids.Our journey to Kimilili was well organised. We were picked up at the airport hotel where we arrived and were accompanied all the way to Kimilili. Every one we met in Kimilili gave us a warm welcome. Everyone was friendly, helpful and interested to interact.After two days of getting to know people, campus and the village we started pursue activities aimed to support the kids. The first activity we started to do was to paint ECD-School that was until then only plain corrugated metal. With the help of Christina Amann and some teachers we painted the Kenyan all along the bottom of the front side. Above the flag large letters of the alphabet were painted in all colours. The other side of the building was painted with basic mathematical equations, a large clock and shapes (rectangle, triangle and star).
To help the current Form IV students evaluating job opportunities, we started a counselling program. We asked all Form IVs to prepare a short CV with their job preferences, hobbies, skills and career plans. After grouping and summarizing the feedback received we held feedback sessions in small groups where we explained requirements and backgrounds for the specific area of interest. We also gave them a picture of alternative job opportunities that might also catch their interest. Also university fees and costs of living were discussed before they got the chance to ask various questions. Madame Vane and Paul Stephens were very supportive all through the counselling works.
Due to Lucy’s background in bio-technology and science we were able to bring some experiments to do with the current Form II and Form III students. First we introduced them to the basics of Nano-technology. We used cubes and a sticky pad to visualise the background of Nano-technology. As a highlight students could make magic-snow by themselves. As they had never seen or touched snow before it was a stunning experiment for them. The highlight for ECD School was the Coca-Cola/Mentos bomb in the school-yard followed by some chocolate for everyone. Taste and consistency was new for most of the kids which lead to very dirty mouths and fingers. It was a pleasure meeting everyone in Kimilili and we hope we could add some benefits. In our opinion still lots of work needs to be done and the various groups of volunteers planning to spend time in Kimilili will add more benefit.
In 2017 for 10 days
It is difficult to put into words such an experience. Nevertheless, I will never forget the glances of the kids, their smiles, their energy, their dances and their hands held out to share their food … I will never forget how much they respect and help each other. I saw them sharing lollipops and ice creams, I saw them help each other to tie their shoes, I saw them fall – without ever crying – and help each other to get up. The values they carry are so beautiful and powerful: sharing, respect, mutual help.
Yet, their lives are not that easy; living conditions are difficult for most of them. Children who live at school sleep in small dormitories, showers are cold, electricity is unsteady, children’s uniforms have holes, sports classes are held barefoot because they do not have any sport shoes, school meals are always the same … and yet I did not hear any child complaining, I only saw smiles on their faces. These children are examples and I admire them so much!
The adults are just as remarkable … We took part in the construction of two classrooms. The construction workers impressed me with their efficiency, tenacity and kindness. They carved hundreds of stones with their hands, then carried them under the sun and the heat. I would also like to mention the quality and support of the teachers, the infallible smile of the cooks, the total dedication of Pat & Paul, the limitless courage of Abigail…
The association behind this incredible project – school4life – makes an exceptional job and always seeks to improve kids’ lives. In addition to the two classrooms that were built this year, windows and doors will be added, boys will move to new dormitories, larger and in better condition. Agnes, I would like to thank you for everything you have done for the kids and for us while we were in Kimilili. It was an amazing time and I could never thank you enough for that.
Back to my level, this experience has been a useful and necessary reminder of the fundamentals of life and happiness. Happiness is knocking at our door: smile, live – unrestrained and limitless – be yourself, do what you love, help others, share, surround yourself with people who pull you up and who love you, take advantage of what you have and fight to get what you want. If these kids can do it, we can do it as well.
In 2013 for 3 days and in 2014 for 11 days
I only spent a few days in Kimilili, but the impressions are like stones thrown into my soul and I watch the ripple expanding across the bay, wondering from which shores they might be reflected. As I am sitting in the bus heading back to Nairobi, I wonder what it was that fascinated me most during my stay. What was it that went under my skin? Will it last?
As I had only limited time due to other commitments, it was a real effort to get there. Astrid, Agnes and I got up before sunrise to beat the notorious Nairobi morning traffic downtown. We arrived at the bus stop and got on a local bus, supported by friends from the Kimilili community that are staying at Nairobi. From Kenya’s capital, the bus heads North, along the edge of the Rift Valley with its majestic views, passing Lake Naivasha, further up North towards the Ugandan boarder. It takes nearly 8 hours to arrive in Bungoma, from where we are picked up by a taxi to get to Kimilili. A full day of travelling.
After being dropped somewhere in town, we branched of the main road by feet onto a muddy side road, and here we are – in rural Kenya. Astrid and Agnes are greeted warmly by many people passing by. They whistle a song and around the corner a bunch of kids come screaming and running into their arms. No doubt, they are well known here. There are small shops and residential houses along the road, but there is nothing like the impressive structure of the school that raises on our right side as the cloud of kids around us gets bigger. This is not just a school. This is a massive construction project in the middle of nowhere. You have to see it in comparison to the other buildings in the vicinity, in the town, maybe in the region, to understand its dimensions. It’s huge, and it’s only 25% done yet.
We drop our bags at the director’s house and head to the school to look at the latest construction work that was done, we drop into ongoing classes to say “Hi”, we walk around the school grounds. The girls explain to me the history of their project by pointing at some mud huts and saying “this was all that existed when we arrived”, or “this part of the area we bought later”, or “here we will collect rain water to irrigate our own garden”. Again, simply impressive.
The counterpart for the girls are Phyllis and her husband, the Reverend. They are the eyes on the ground. While the Reverend is in Nairobi, Phyllis is overlooking the project. She explains the latest personnel changes she had to make: create new positions, promote teachers, change the salary structure. I have been working in Africa for more than 6 years – I know what this means. Hard and difficult work in a poor society where such changes change family lives. And the way she explains her motivation behind the changes could have come from an HR Manager with year of experience. Phyllis was guided by her judgment and her desire to make changes for the better. Again, I am impressed.
My days start with: kids. So many kids. Hundreds of kids. You hear the number and you think impressive; but if you see how many souls found a future at this school, it blows your mind. Agnes and Astrid brought shoes for the kids, and a couple of hours before lunch time we are busy pairing children feet and new shoes. Some have never met before as you can judge as they walk away – it’s like wearing skiing hard boots for the first time, if you know what I mean. I get a tour around the school administration unit and the library. It’s a mud hut, one door left, the other right. The teachers leave the permanent structure to the kids. Teachers pass by in the evening, coming from other schools on their way home, to train the 8th form for their final exams in November. This is their school project too, even if they don’t work here. These exams will determine what ranking the school will get compared to other schools in Kimilili, the county and in Kenya. And they all take it as their personal project, it’s their pride that will raise or fall with the school ranking. Again, put this eagerness into context and you will be ashamed of how we in the West misuse free education.
One event stands out in my mind: when we arrived, Agnes and Astrid wanted to tell the 8th form about the secondary school. This is about future and hope. This is about whether you will continue to go to school and get education, knowledge and certificates you can use when applying for a job, or you stay at home, work on a farm, and stay stagnant for the rest of your life. If it would have been me, I would have made a big event out of it, gathering all children, their parents and government officials to announce that there will be a secondary school in the premises of the School4Life project. But the girls had other plans. They walked into an ongoing 8th grade class at 9pm, they said they have something to announce, and here is the “ripple” (or stone) I will not forget. Agnes asked:” You will finish primary school after the exams, but where will you go?” – Silence. “We thought it would be good to give you all a future and use some of the newly built classrooms to turn it into the secondary school.” – First silence, then the information is digested and pure enthusiasm explodes (no, it’s beyond your imagination, don’t even try…). “We will turn one classroom into the secondary school classroom, we will hire teachers and continue your education.” That’s it. No big deal. And then I have to give a lesson in maths. Changing destinies in fast-forward. I think the girls sell their work here under value.
Let me put this clear: what I just saw was amazing and life-changing. But Agnes and Astrid don’t make a big fuzz out of it. And this holds true with their project. And as a consequence, you might understand that what you see and read and hear is the tip of an iceberg. The volunteers at SCHOOL4LIFE change lives and communicate it as “and then we did this”. My deepest respect to such an understatement. Maybe it’s like the bumble-bee which has physically too short wings to fly – but it doesn’t know it and just flies. I think this is it that went under my skin. Pure activism, the willingness to change lives, while accepting the sacrifices of being in Kimilili and using unpaid leave and holidays (no warm water, toilet is a hole in the ground, no meat for weeks, no entertainment, just rural life in Africa.
I worked in many different countries in Africa and I worked in poor conditions such as Kimilili. But to repeatedly come to such places, eager to make a change – I don’t think I would have the fundamental conviction to do this. Again, this went under my skin.
I arrived in Nairobi, took a taxi home for the same price I could feed a child in Kimilili for a week, I took a long warm shower with water pressure, I spent a teacher’s monthly salary on my hotel room for two nights, and I slept in a fluffy clean bed. I hope the impressions will last to keep my alert of the luck that I have. I hope the ripple will continue to be reflected from shores I don’t know to keep me happy, because this is what I should be. I am a very lucky guy (to be with a woman like Astrid).
In 2014 for 44 days
After an exciting and very demanding working year 2015, I was very happy about being given the opportunity of concluding the year as School4Life volunteer in Kimilili. With a mind still full of measures how to increase efficiency and optimize processes at my client, I arrived at Nairobi airport in the morning and was already warmly welcomed by a School4Life employee waiting for me at the exit – good start, I thought! He organized a taxi and we went together to the shuttle station in Nairobi city, where I got in touch again with what I call a “real” African city – it was loud, chaotic, dirty – and simply lovely! Despite the chaotic atmosphere around, the trip to Kimilili was perfectly organized by School4Life, so that I could already enjoy my first delicious Kenyan food in Kimilili in the evening – not knowing at this point in time that I will come across Ugali (made out of corn flour and water), Chapati (flat bread), Sukuma (local vegetables), rice and green grams (similar to lentils) almost every day as of now.
As the school was closed due to year´s end holidays, I spent most of my time at the Children Home, organizing activities for the children allowing them to make use of and benefit from their free time.
Next to a lot of touching and moving moments during common computer classes, mixed football matches, the visit of a coffee factory or mudding the walls of the new dining room, there is one activity which particularly stayed in my mind: swimming.
Following up an initial idea of the Children Home manager Patricia that swimming would be an enriching experience for the children, I started my search for a suitable swimming location. This already turned out to be a challenge, as swimming is not at all common in the poor rural area of Western Kenya and only very few people can swim at all. Luckily, the Kamusinga Friends School for boys near the Home had a wonderful pool and after some chat with the gate guards we were also exceptionally accepted as mixed swimming group where boys and girls of all ages (from little child to young adult) could participate.
The evening before the swimming I stayed overnight at the Children Home and discussed the planned excursion with the children. Although they were excited to go, I also realized they were very nervous and even anxious. I knew before most of them could not swim, however I – who grew up at the North Sea and was always surrounded by water in my childhood – was really surprised that going swimming is such a big and exceptional event for the children. On top of that, it turned out that they didn´t even know what to wear in the water – no one had the usual swimming dresses we know in Europe. After we sorted who is wearing what (and I could convince the girls to include a trouser to the skirt they planned to wear in the water) and I distracted their nervousness, we started motivated the next morning direction Kamusinga Friends School.
At the pool, the next challenging situation materialized – some of the children could not even stand in the water. They just slipped away, although the water was calm and not deep at all. Seeing all the incertitude in their faces and the shaky movements they made I realized the children could not only not swim – they haven´t been into water at all in their whole life! They simply had no clue how it feels and how their body moves when being in water!
While we – Home manager Patricia, her husband Paul and me – still thought of how we can support the children in feeling more confident in the water, we came across a very lucky coincidence – Jacob arrived. He was a lifeguard (most probably the only one in the whole region) and offered us to instruct the children in swimming – at no cost! Happy about this offer, we accepted and in the following 1.5 hours we could observe from minute to minute how the children got more and more confident in the water. Jacob started with very easy exercises to allow the children familiarize with the water, and finished his session with supporting them swimming through the whole pool – partially even in the deep water! At the end of the day, the children played hilariously in the water as if they had never done anything else – full of self-confidence and pride of having overcome their fear and even having learnt how to swim and control their movements in the water. These sparkling eyes full of lust for life and enthusiasm really made my day! Once back to the Home, the children happily told Matron Mama Beatrice about their exceptional experience. Here is her immediate reaction: “Hey, where is my swimming costume? I want to learn how to swim!” 🙂
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