Kenya Offers Many Volunteering Opportunities.
The West Side of the Country is beautiful, relaxed, and his more laid back.
Most Meaningful Experience: Visiting all of these non-profits was meaningful.
Kenya West Side/Volunteer
Having finished my Nairobi adventure, it was now time to meet Toto and move on
to my second agenda – volunteering. During my trip west, I hoped to visit three non-profits in three different cities – Kisumu, Nakuru, and Eldoret (the home of athletes). From Eldoret, I would connect to Iten and realize my dream of running with Kenyans before finally heading to Kakuma which was another volunteering project on its own.
Kisumu – an Oasis of Hope for Abandoned Kids.
My journey began sitting with Toto, patiently waiting for the bus that would take us to his school in Kisumu. Being a weekend, there weren’t too many cars on the road, which meant that our bus ride was relatively calm and smooth. From a distance, I could see the rolling hills of western Kenya. We stopped a few times along the way to get beet, mango and avocado smoothies – the best thing ever! It was while downing one of these that Toto told me about how he had always wanted to make the world a better place. He strongly believed that it had to start with making himself better and that is how his nonprofit organization
www.bettermefoundation.org came to be.
I listened to him as he narrated how he’d raised enough money to build a home for orphans at a place where he’d once couchsurfed. The woman who owned the house had asked for his help and he’d agreed, which I thought was downright amazing. Today, the school assists about 200 abandoned kids, some of whom have HIV but no place to call home.
The day we visited, a group from Maine known as the Ripple Effect Project http://www.rippleeffectproject.org was also visiting. What amazed me was Toto’s unrivaled ability to recruit people to visit, help, and donate to this charitable organization. He was an amazing sales guy, zealous, and quite an inspiration. He made me realize that you can do anything if you really want to make a difference and it’s as simple as responding to a question – can you help me?
Having achieved my mission in Kisumu, I spent a few more days here as I planned my upcoming trip to Iten and Kakuma.
Melon Mission (www.melonmission.org), based in Nakuru, was the second nonprofit organization I was going to visit. I met up with Joyce and she gladly guided me on a tour their
facility. Her family has been hosting orphans for years, taking kids off the streets and giving them an education. Over dinner with her mother, she briefed me on how they started this charity work.
Initially, she’d started by taking kids into her home but as the numbers kept increasing, she began to expand little by little. Their school was small and in need of anything and everything. I loved what they were doing and felt it was an amazing mission.
Nakuru is a small city in Kenya’s Rift Valley Region and close to Lake Nakuru, which is an expansive and tranquil lake. The lake nestles in Lake Nakuru National Park where you can see wildlife freely roaming across the savanna on both shores. Also not too far away is the Maasai Mara National Park, which is famed for the annual wildebeest migration that travels across the border from the Serengeti in neighboring Tanzania. Joyce’s hobby is offering tourists secret tours of the migration. Give her a call!
Next, I was making my way up to Eldoret where I looked forward to meeting Toby, a friend of Jael. I’d been told that he was a crazy and amazing American guy who built the largest children’s hospital in Africa. When I finally met Toby, he was tall, lanky, and bounded like a deer in the woods. He took me to the hospital, which (true to Jael’s description) was massive and looked like any other in the west. He’d built it after raising $2M from NYC bankers and investors. Toby told me his story and about some of his encounters in Africa, from training for the Olympics 20 years ago to running in Mombasa then getting kidnapped and having his head smashed in. Luckily, someone found him and helped him secure a private jet to Germany where he got treated.
Not even this traumatic encounter with kidnappers could deter him from coming back to Kenya. It seemed he had completely fallen in love with Kenya (or so I thought). Decades later he returned to Africa but this time with his Olympic hopes shattered. Toby still runs for 10 miles with no problem but told me he gets headaches if he runs for any longer.
Upon returning to Kenya, he noticed the poor state of the medical facilities in the area and felt compelled to make things better. So he made a plan to take the medical care one step forward and this is what he built. I couldn’t stop thinking about how amazing this guy was.
After chatting for a bit, we spent the rest of the time touring the hospital. We met kids with all kinds of ailments. Some had cancer or facial burns while others were terminally ill, lying next to their worried mothers. Seeing these innocent children suffer was a sad sight but thankfully, Toby was there to help.
On that same day, I met Kevin who also happened to be running a non-profit organization in Iten, so we planned to meet there. His organization https://www.crossworldafrica.org/ helps Kenyans get into universities, particularly the Ivy leagues. I loved his passion at helping the community be educated and how he spun the donations. ”Don’t go out drinking for one night and instead buy books and food. Don’t go out drinking for a week and we can buy cows for a family. Don’t drink for a month and we can put many children through college.” That hit home hard.