By Nooshin Shabani
This article concerns our current volunteer, Mark Jenner, 18, UK. This gentleman is spending his summer vacation volunteering in rural parts of Kenya, and has witnessed some shockingly surprising levels of poverty.
As tourists wear their shades protecting their eyes from the beaming sun, their eyes are also protected from seeing the extreme poverty conditions Kenyans are faced with.
It’s been a 3 years since rain had graced Kenya’s soil. This has resulted in the worst drought in more than a decade within East Africa which has left millions of Kenyans suffering. The local people are the biggest victims as they watch their livestock die and their crops destroyed, making it almost impossible to a make a living.
Mark Jenner, 18, from the United Kingdom, decided to give 3 months of his time volunteering with the Global Volunteer Network in Kenya. Rather than attend an organized cultural dinner evening which you would normally find on a typical package holiday, he chose to experience the true essence of the Kenyan culture through living and working within the local community, he felt volunteering was much more authentic.
“I wanted to do something helpful and constructive in Africa, this is a continent which needs the most aid as each segment of society has its own problems.”
The aftermath of the drought had an impact on not just the local villagers but also on orphanages and schools in the area. Many schools already had a shortage of supplies but the situation has escalated which meant local schools were at risk of closing due to the conditions and the lack of food needed to supply daily meals for the children.
“Daily survival here is such a struggle, there is no security for anybody. We all have an obligation to try and make that struggle easier, volunteering is a fantastic start.”
Kenya is also commonly known as a safari holiday destination which receives visits from thousands of tourists each year. As holidaymakers enjoy the running hot water and the luxuries in modern Nairobi resorts, local people in most cases do not reap any of the benefits generated through tourism.
“People who live in rural areas rely on the rain for their livelihood. They live in tiny mud huts with no ventilation, windows, or electricity. Many women don’t have an opportunity to get an education or a good standard of healthcare as it’s too expensive. This makes diseases such as Tuberculosis and HIV more prevalent contributing to the levels of poverty which most people are not aware of.
Lack of rain meant lack of food which impacted Kenyans and other East African countries who were victims of the drought. Mark along with other volunteers and GVN staff had a passion to help. GVN sent out a donation appeal for the drought and raised nearly US$10,000. GVN staff and volunteers transported two trucks of food to two local schools and local villages, enough to feed the community for at least another month.
“Around 600 People stood waiting for the food for as long as 8 hours, some walking many kilometers just to get to the site. They reacted with a sense of relief and appreciation, as if a weight had been lifted off the whole community.
As Mark and the volunteers helped to distribute 10 tons of beans and ground corn the people grouped together standing in line with their empty bags of hope. Despite the poverty conditions and the risk of starvation, together they united as a community.
“Many people carried two bags for food, one for their family, and another for a neighbor or friend. The Maasai chef told me many people were sick and could not walk the distance and so neighbors collected a bag for them. Even when people live in poverty they still have a sense of community and look out for not just themselves but others also”
Ironically the day the food arrived the rain came with it. But the miracle of rainfall soon turned into mayhem for other parts of Kenya. Heavy rains have now resulted in poor transportation conditions and flooding, making it difficult for aid distribution to reach the villages compounding the problems.
“The main issues facing the Kenyan people are finding enough money to eat, go to school, and have a decent standard of healthcare. Malnutrition is a major issue.
According to the International Development Research Centre the local Kenyan people do not reap the benefits of the income generated from international tourists. For example less than 2% of the money spent at the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve benefits local Maasai people. Instead, most of the money goes to luxury lodges, transport costs, and foreign package tour operators. Even revenue from park entry fees as high as US$27 per day goes straight into the central government's treasury.
However according to UNICEF one out of every five children under the age of five in Kenya is malnourished.
This was one of the shocking realities Mark and the other GVN volunteers came to terms with, the impact of tourism if not responsible, made the rich richer while the poor silently suffer. Mark was happy he chose to volunteer rather than go on holiday.
“One of my most shocking moments was when I visited my fellow volunteer at Kibera slums, the levels of poverty were overwhelming. About 5 minutes after I walked out the slums we came across a huge western supermarket which has everything you would typically find in a market. Kibera was shocking but the contrast between the slums and the supermarket was unbelievable, it spoke a lot about how drastically wealth is polarized in Kenya.
Although Kenya is very dependent on money generated from international tourists, the local people do not feel nor see the benefits in their community, instead they see holidaymakers swimming in pools while they work all day waiting for rainfall to grow their crops.
Many developing countries suffer the same imbalance of rich and poor people. With the help of volunteers like Mark who trade in a summer package holiday for volunteering with the local community, the dreams of change can some day be reality.
“Numerous Kenyan people have said to me, give Kenya 5 years and it will be a fantastic country. Even in Kibera, a huge slum, there is a sense of development and a sense of community”
Mark volunteered with the Global Volunteer Network, a non-government organization based in New Zealand, which connects people to communities in need. For information please see www.volunteer.org.nz