When told that I would be spending a month in Kenya, in a small village without electricity six hours outside of Mombasa, I couldn’t help but worry a little bit.
However, as soon as I arrived in Muhaka, many of my worries immediately vanished.
The local children jumped into my arms and searched for attention, and a few of the elders of the village came to give me friendship stones they had carved as a peace offering to their new guest.
They did not ask for money or sized up my belongings; instead, they offered a friendly smile and allowed me to feel settled and comfortable in their presence. This feeling of comfort grew with every moment I spent with the locals of Muhaka.
During my month in Kenya, I worked for a company called Camps International.
By completing the various tasks assigned to me, I was able to give back to the community and thank them for their kindness and generosity.
My first job was teaching a secondary school class in the local stone-built school. I was lead into the room by the head teacher, shown what page of work the class was on… and that was it.
I had no help, no classroom assistant to show me how to deliver my lesson and I had no preparation to fall back on.
As I felt 35 eyes staring at me in great expectation, I knew the pressure was on. Trying to cover up a mild panic attack, I introduced myself in broken Swahili.
Thankfully, the children helped me start off the lesson and I eventually found confidence in my teaching skills – even though I’m sure I still made numerous mistakes.
The children in Muhaka have an inspiring dedication to learning and to improving themselves.
One girl I spoke to told me how she runs for an hour barefoot to school every day in order to receive an education and one day become a nurse.
Think about how many university students (myself included) complain about nine o’clock starts and more than three hours of lectures in a day.
The harsh truth is that most of the children in Muhaka will never make it to university level, and yet many of them show more commitment to studying than we in the Western world do. This made me realize how many opportunities I have received in the past and taken for granted.
However, what influenced me the most was the time spent I with the younger children in the newly renovated nursery built by Camps International.
These children were only five or six years old, however the amount of responsibility that is placed on them is more than I had at the age of 18.
Many of the children care for their younger siblings and also help with the manual work around the village. Although they may lead a very difficult and challenging life, not once did I hear one of the children complain.
Instead they were always smiling, laughing and singing. They craved attention from anyone and being able to give them that attention cost nothing to me and meant the world to them.
Seeing their faces light up as I gave them a pair of cheap sunglasses or took a picture of them is a memory that will stay with me for a lifetime.
I not only took away with me a new language and some amazing pictures, I also gained a new understanding of the word ‘kindness’ as this was given to me throughout my entire stay in Muhaka.