Volunteering Abroad | The Kids of Ngong Hills, Kenya

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When I set out on this around-the-world adventure, my big picture plan was to volunteer in as many places as I could from Fiji to Thailand to Laos to Bali. I had grand idealistic dreams of serving tons and tons of people, and who knows? Maybe I’d find a place to stick around for a while and make a difference.

What I didn’t expect was that it would be so challenging to find places willing to take on a volunteer.

I encountered numerous reasons why volunteering abroad wasn’t as easy as I thought; either I wasn’t around long enough (which I understand – kids need stability), or I needed a background check and an extensive interview process or I had to pay hundreds if not thousands of dollars for the privilege of volunteering. There were so many obstacles in the way that despite my heart’s desire to serve around the world, it wasn’t until my visit to Kenya that I finally had the opportunity.

Fortunately my experience was worth the wait and I have been eager to share it with you for so many months! I wanted to get all my ducks in a row first because I know you will want to help… now that I’m ready to go, I want to introduce you to the kids at Compassion Center No. 755 in the Ngong Hills, Kenya.

While I was planning my RTW trip, a friend in Atlanta introduced me to Sammy, a Kenyan man living in Nairobi and working for Compassion International. (You may remember I stayed with his family while in Kenya.) Sammy set me up with the center nearest to his house, and I spent my days doing a variety of administrative tasks, doling out lunch and snacks, conducting home visits, walking to schools and conducting interviews with the kids’ teachers on their development, nourishment, behavior, etc., and the best part – teaching classes and playing with the kiddos!

Compassion is an organization I’ve been associated with since 2005, when I went on my first short-term mission trip to Bolivia. It was there in Santa Cruz that I was first exposed to extreme poverty. Since that first visit, I’ve been back to Bolivia twice, and I’ve sponsored a little girl named Issett since she was about 7 years old. (Best $38/month you could ever spend, I guarantee!)

I taught a class one morning to these kiddos, who are very motivated by candy

Through Compassion, sponsors around the world are connected to a child in one of 26 countries. You can pick a kid for any number of reasons – I know a lot of folks choose one with the same birthday. Then you exchange letters and send small gifts, like stickers or pictures of your family.

While it takes very little effort to maintain the relationship over the years and the miles, those letters are a lifeline for the child – a hope that someone, somewhere cares and wants the best for them.

Part of my job in Kenya was to read through and sort all the letters from the sponsors to the children and then to help distribute everything when the kids arrived. Even though I’ve been exchanging letters with Issett for years now, seeing all those other sponsors pouring themselves into the lives of these kids, even from afar, had me in tears every day.

1.2 million kids sponsored through Compassion are given food, education and medicine

At the Compassion center in Kenya, the same feelings I had in Bolivia came rushing back. Sadness and desperation and rage that there isn’t some way to make the whole world see this. Shame at the times I’ve wasted food and money and energy on trivial things. Helplessness knowing no matter how hard I try, I can never help them all.

 The kids of No. 755

The part about volunteering in the third world that always amazes me is that kids are kids, no matter if they have a little or a lot. These precious little ones make due without toys or new clothes or running water or decent shoes, but they have the same spark you see from kids back home. And being a part of the Compassion program has given them a hope many in their situation don’t have. As I was organizing their files, I saw that many dream of growing up to be doctors, lawyers and teachers.

As I’ll show you in the next post, having the freedom to even dream up a vision like that is miraculous given where these kids come from. The kids at Compassion are the lucky ones, if you can imagine, as many of them have a sponsor.

A shining spot of hope in a very hopeless, helpless existence.

On the way to a hearty lunch after class

When I went to Kenya and started posting pictures of the precious kiddos, I heard from you – How can I help? What can I do? The first step was providing the Compassion center with some much needed supplies. Several readers donated and I matched it, so we had around $200 for pencils, pens, markers, paper, erasers, glue sticks, scissors and a couple of soccer balls. These days, it can cost that much just to outfit one kid back home with the necessary supplies for school, but that small amount purchased more supplies than those kids have seen at once in their lives.

As I worked with the staff and spent time with the kids, I asked a ton of questions. What are your immediate needs? How can people back home help? What would it cost to change a life?

I firmly believe if people only knew how easy it was to completely change the course of a child’s life, there would be far fewer hungry bellies in this world.

I’ve got a very easy plan to give 30 families a new start, but I need your help. First though, a tour of the slums where many of the kids from Compassion No. 755 live.

Want to help? Check out the details here.

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18 thoughts on “Volunteering Abroad | The Kids of Ngong Hills, Kenya

  1. Jade - OurOyster.com

    Wow sounds like a great program! I can understand your frustration at the difficulty in finding a place to volunteer. I personally refuse to pay more to volunteer, than I would to stay at home and be unemployed…. 4 grand for 2 weeks…..AND I pay my own airfare? I just don’t see where the majority of that money goes.

    Reply
    1. Angie Away Post author

      I agree – there are much better ways to volunteer than paying a huge amount upfront. That said, it takes quite a bit of work to find these opportunities sometimes.

      Reply
  2. Cole @ Four Jandals

    We would love to volunteer overseas but we hear so many of these sorts of places that scam you with the money paid for the volunteering going into others pockets and not in to those who need it most.

    Reply
  3. Chris Orman

    good blog! As a Scot living in Ngong town and working with a project in Oloolua, Ngong, I can totally understand everything you have said, havong experienced it for myself.

    Reply
    1. Angie Away Post author

      I know what you mean. Compassion is cool because I’ve been on both sides – as a sponsor from abroad and as a volunteer in the trenches, in two countries. What they do is truly life-saving for these kids and families!

      Reply
  4. Angela

    Every help we can give to these communities are paramount, but the first thing to do is to make them independent from foreign help, otherwise anything we do is just a small relief, curing more the symptoms than the actual problem..

    Reply
    1. Angie Away Post author

      I agree. One of Compassion’s goals is to equip the kids in the program with the vision and tools to succeed out of life. I’ve seen myself kids who come from absolutely nothing who go on to college… ultimately helping to bring up their entire communities. It’s a beautiful thing, and a model that works!

      Reply
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  6. Doc Wends

    I am impressed by your experiences on the road Angie. Seldom I see backpackers who do just what you did and I am inspired. I am a backpacker/travel blogger from the Philippines and wishes to do just like what you did the most, teaching in a foreign country as a volunteer.

    I saw the same poverty when I went to Cambodia and wishes to help but since I am on the road for a quick backpacking, I can not just do it at that time.

    Kenyan schoolchildren are indeed motivated by you and your inspiring journeys with them. I hope to see you on the road and learn from you, personally, how your inspiring journeys make most of our own humanity.

    Thanks for this wonderful post. I am touched.

    Reply
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  8. Mary @ Green Global Travel

    We had the most amazing experience with the children of the Peruvian Amazon. It pulled at my heart strings and made me want to give them everything I had. Good for you for volunteering and matching donations for the children of Kenya!

    Reply
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