Adventures and volunteering in Kenya: Blog
A group of 11 St Edmund’s pupils (age 15 -18) and Assistant Head, Mr Millard, have arrived in Kenya with for a life-enhancing expedition working with local communities in need of aid. For four weeks, this expedition (with Camps International) will help to challenge their view of the world, understand the day to day challenges rural communities face, help work on projects which transform communities and help them overcome significant issues they face including access to clean water, education and housing. It will also increase the pupils’ self-worth and appreciate the impact just one person can have on the world. Follow their blog here…
Day 1: All arrived safely in the Athi River Camp after two flights and a stop in the brand new Istanbul Airport. A game drive and walk has meant that we have already seen so many animals. The food is delicious (4 meals a day!) and the people in Camp are a delight to be around. Conservation work starts today in and around Nairobi National Park. A fantastic start.
Day 2: A morning of litter picking in the National Park followed by a wildlife walk along the Athi River. Avoiding the crocs of course. This afternoon we will be clearing paths for the local ladies who sell their products by the river. We have put out three camera traps to try to capture the lions and rhinos at night. Fingers crossed!
Day 3: A milder morning was great for the 6km walk to the local primary school. The task at hand today was planting 17 (one for each of the team) Ocascia trees to help divide the outdoor space for the children. They all came to see us for 30 minutes in the break from their end of term exams (they happen in all schools!). The pupils helped our pupils and the interactions were full of joy. This afternoon we will see if our camera traps have captured any footage of leopards, lions or rhinos.
Day 4: The answer is yes. We did capture lots of animals on our three camera traps. Our last evening in the Athi River Camp started with us watching what animals had triggered our cameras over the last 36 hours. Definitely the star of the show was a black Rhino who came right up to the perfect spot. The evening then proceeded with a fashion, singing and dancing competition pitching our camp staff against the two English groups followed by a general dancing session for ALL and an emotional speech on conservation in all its forms by Moses the park ranger.
Straight to bed because of the 4.30am wake up call and a long journey to our next camp in Tsavo. Our pupils are so impressive and have adapted very well to this, at times, overwhelming experience.
Day 5: First full day in Camp Kenya (Tsavo East). The flagship location for all of Camps work in Kenya is stunningly cut into a steep hillside with layers of wooden cabins set with balconies looking out to an unbelievable view of Kenya mountains. After orientation last night we spent the day with Mama Massi and the ladies empowerment group that Camps has been supporting now since 2012. Mama is a very special, inspirational woman. It was an honour to spend the day with the local women, making bead bracelets for the tourists and EDP (Elephant Dung Paper). It is what it says it is.
After our day of work, the ladies treated us to a traditional dance and song which was so culturally rich. We all then got up to try and the richness diluted somewhat although the fun increased. It has been hot today.
Day 6: After the last hour by the camp fire and a good sleep, Team Pofu (that is us and it is a big antelope) set to work building a new kitchen at the local primary school. When we arrived the Deputy Head spoke to us about the journey of her school and how Camps Kenya have transformed its fortune. She told us that the pupils who attend the school are some of the most deprived in the area. After a tour, we arrived at a derelict outhouse (the existing kitchen) where we were told that there had been no harvest or government food money now for a long time. This gave us the motivation that we needed to spend a hot day mixing cement and building the exterior walls. Such satisfaction for a job well done. Our pupils worked like Trojans and continue to impress. Game drive and bush skills tomorrow.
Day 7: Another day and more new experiences. A game drive to Rukinja Park, a smaller area that allows the animals free movement between East and West Tsavo. The Ranger felt that we might have less to see today but no… elephants ‘swimming’ in a water hole and a pride of four lions making it a morning to remember! The afternoon was one of hard work, clearing a water trench for one of the man-made water holes and then back to camp. Weary but happy.
Day 8: An early start got us to Tsavo East Game Reserve in good time. Our luck continued with our guide Andi and driver Kelvin manoeuvring the game vehicle to give us great views of elephant herds, a sleeping lioness and her three playful cubs and, to top it all, two hunting cheetahs. The group were then hosted by a Maasai family (village) who danced us in and out and showed us their primitive dwellings and total subsistence living.
Day 9: Today was a more relaxed day before our journey down to Diani Beach tomorrow morning. A leisurely trek up the Marungu Hills behind our camp to see the stunning views and experience some traditional bush skills.
Day 10 and 11:The group have earned two days of Rest and Relaxation on the white sands of Diani Beach on the Indian Ocean. We will make ourselves useful tomorrow with some marine conservation work but for now, the pupils have been treated to time in the waves and beach BBQs under the stars.
Day 12: Our final day in Diani Beach and after relaxing there was work to do in the Marine Conservation Programme (MCP). The first job was a litter pick along the beautiful white sands of the Indian Ocean (apparently the sand is so white and fine because it all passes through Parrottfish!). Once completed the litter was analysed for plastics, rubber, glass and other products such as polystyrene (this will never break down). Over 80% was plastic and this became the focus of the day. The group learned how to recycle, upcycle and looked at how Kenya leads the world in banning plastic bags and recycling.
A leisurely stroll back along the beach followed by a camp fire with singing and marshmallows and our short time at the coast is over. Just time for a sunrise in the morning at the beach before the next camp.
Day 13: New Camp (No. 4) is called Muhaca. A predominately Muslim community inland from Diani. Camps International have been here 12 years and the impact of the projects on the local community is so heartening to see. We (Team Pofu) have the job of renovating a classroom block in the local school over the next 3 days. Our last project of the expedition (how time flies). Today we broke off all of the old oil based paint, tomorrow it is plastering and the final day will be paint work. The group’s work ethic is so impressive.
Day 15: Team Pofu’s last day on the school project. The job, to plaster and skim the final part of the classroom block. A challenge, but one that was completed in time for an early finish. An impressive work ethic has been shown throughout the trip. After ‘work’ a couple of our boys joined in the weekly Camps football match. Kenya won 2-0 but the Camps team played really well.
Day 16 & 17: A well earned cultural day for the group after completing the three day school project ahead of time. In the morning we learned how to make chapatis and coconut rice with very basic and traditional techniques. The afternoon was a choice: A forest conservation walk or rest time on our last day at Mohaca. Tomorrow will be the long drive back to Athi River (Nairobi) and the final Mountain Trek adventure begins!
Day 18: One of our favourite locations was Athi River due to its position and co-existence between humans and wildlife. It was great to spend a final day there, working on Lion Lights (flashing at night to protect homesteads and livestock from lion predation) and relaxing with the wonderful staff before the start of our ‘mountain phase’ tomorrow.
Day 21 & 22: The start of our challenging trek. A short drive to The Mount Kenya Reserve and final checks (including passports). The first stage was a demanding 4 hour trek (lots of it in torrential rain) to Old Moses Camp. A night under canvas and then on to Shipton Camp (4200m!). This involved a 16km hike through valleys that looked like the set for a new Star Wars movie. All of our pupils coped with the changing terrain and the hours on their feet. At around 5pm and exhausted, we all made it.
There are no luxuries on the mountain, that is for sure. Our pupils have had to cope with the very basics needed to survive. Antiperspirants are banned! After another day acclimatising and a trek up to 4500m the signs of altitude sickness began to show in a few is us. This mountain is huge and the challenge to make it to Shipton Camp should be one that everyone at home is very proud of our pupils achieving. Summit day tomorrow begins at 2am.
Day 24 & 25 Summit Day: Our task was to climb the final 900m to Point Lalana. 900m does not sound a great deal but this really is a big deal. The group set off by ‘Head torch’ light at 2.30 am for the challenging 2 hour trek/climb to the summit. Freezing temperatures and extreme altitude are both serious things and four of us were not feeling ready for the final ‘fling’. 9 of us summited which was very impressive.
The rest of the day was spent trekking back to Moses Camp in torrential conditions that once again, tested us all.
A very long and testing day ended with a warm (and nearly dry) stay at Moses Camp before a short walk back to base in the bright sunshine on Tuesday. A job well done by our courageous adventurers.
A day to reflect at the Forest Camp (thank you Rift Valley Adventures) on our Trek into the Mountain Wilderness, where walking past a Colabus Monkey high in the canopy or a family of Baboons, becomes normality. The staff had prepared a BBQ for the pupils which was very well received (Mountain diet tends to be triple carbs with lentils, potato and pasta on the same plate to aid oxygen absorption). A very chilled evening talking about ‘the trip experience’ with the other group staying and we were off to our final destination, a hotel just outside of Nairobi.
Camps pupils and staff crammed into the small and nearly perfectly formed hotel (my shower experience involved no water and my tele, no visible power source – maybe I am simply still not resourceful enough!) for our final day in Kenya. Chicken and chips (what a joy!) followed by watching Chelsea lose to Liverpool (how quickly I was prepared to slip back into normal habits) and we were off to the airport for our overnight flight to Istanbul and then home to London.
Our welcome party at Heathrow was large and noisy and after one last team talk, the group thanked Ben (our wonderful Camps and Mountain Leader who simply could not do enough for our pupils for all 28 days – he fully deserves a pint or two in his local).
In our final ‘huddle’ as ‘Team Pofu’, the staff spoke emotionally to the pupils about their bravery, work ethic, resourcefulness, humour, intelligence and ability to overcome adversity. We spoke about The Kenya People who concentrate on what they do have and what they can do on any given day, and not what others have and what they would like to have or achieve. Our pupils have embraced this philosophy throughout the trip and, I hope, will continue to do the same.
Well done Team Pofu. I have been privileged to watch you all for the last 4 weeks.