The journey began back in early 2016. A friend and old work colleague was planning a trip to Kenya. He did this most years and had told me about it before. The trip consisted of some typical Kenyan adventures, including a trip to the Masai Mara, a half marathon, and some time volunteering at a children's centre in Nakuru. Apparently his son was a trustee and this year they were raising money for a new chicken shed. This explains the outfits in the picture on the day of the half marathon. Anyway, after a bit of thinking, I thought why not join them. It sounded like they had an awesome trip planned, and I had been meaning to go back to Africa ever since I did a spot of travelling there back in 2003.
The trip turned out to be an amazing and authentic African experience. In the space of about 2.5 weeks we crammed an awful lot in. We spent the first night at a home stay on the outskirts of Nairobi, and then traveled into the Masai Mara on day 2. Here we spent 4 days doing game drives, sitting around camp fires, and of course the Mara Marathon (which was the hardest half marathon I have ever done on account of the 2000m altitude!). We saw an abundance of wildlife and even managed to get up close and personal to a white rhino in a nearby sanctuary. We then spent 2 days staying with a local Masai friend Sammy Tapenai and his family. The hospitality was excellent and the children there so happy.
From this point onwards, the 'holiday' part was over, and we headed up to meet a bunch of volunteers staying in Nakuru, a bustling and vibrant city north of Nairobi that is the fastest growing city in east Africa. The traffic was choas, and everything was busy, but the journey was fine. We met David, one of the trustees, who picked us up in a battered old Discovery. It had apparently done over 500,000 African miles, and was still going strong, all be it with a few bits hanging off. We met up with the other volunteers, a group of mostly trainee medics and physios. For most of them this was not their first trip here, it had become a regular thing for them. The next day we went to the children's home, the St Jerome's Centre on the outskirts of Nakuru.
We were greeted when we arrived by over 30 children, all extremely excited to see us. The hellos took a long time as everyone wanted to shake our hands, some more than once, which I had learned was the African way. Goodbyes take even longer! As well as the children, we met a volunteer carpenter, a local builder, the 'Aunties' who did all the cooking, Carl the manager, and the gardener who would be looking after the new chickens. Conversation quickly turned to what needed to be done, so we divvied up the jobs, rolled our sleeves up and got stuck in. I spent the majority of the time there doing carpentry, something I had not done since school, but something I wasn't too bad at after all! James, another student volunteer, and I had the job of building the perches for the chicken sheds, apparently chickens love to perch so we needed enough perching space for up to 100 chickens. This seemed like a straight forward job, but as we found out over the next week or so nothing was straight forward in Africa. We were fed well whilst we worked there, mostly rice and beans and the local staple ugali. Occasionally some chicken, but always lots of tobasco sauce! I had come to look forward to the chocolate milkshake I had bought with me for lunch. It was a welcome treat whilst sat on the balcony of the home looking out towards the crater.
As the week wore on, what struck me the most was the enthusiasm and motivation of the trustees to get things done, and how all they could think about was what needed to be done for the good of the home and therefore the children. For a bunch of students, they really impressed me. The children were also a delight. Most of them were orphans, but some had been taken away from their families as they simply could not afford to feed them, least of all school them. Many of them had been in the home for a few years now and according to David they were making real progress, not just at school but also as confident and sociable young people. As we discussed all the other jobs that needed to be done, and our imaginations were let loose on what could be done, David had mentioned they were looking for more corporate sponsors to help fund the next project. I realised I was in a position to help them. Not just by sponsoring a child, which was their main source of income, but as a corporate sponsor, since I was after all part owner of a new business now. This idea grew in mind, and the more I saw and experienced, the more certain I was that this was the right thing to do. All I needed to do now was convince my business partners when I got home.
On the way back to Nairobi we finished up the trip with an overnight stay at lake Naivasha and a cycle safari into Hells Gate National Park. It was a very relaxing end to the trip and a time to reflect on our experiences. It had been an amazing experience, tiring, but amazing nonetheless. I promised myself I would come back as soon as I could.