Creating memories with IHF Nakuru

Written by: Ayano Ogura, Voluntourist, Nakuru

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I was excited and a little bit nervous as my car pulled in through the gates of IHF Nakuru’s centre. I was visiting for a few days so that I can meet Chepanga, a girl whom I have been sponsoring through IHF’s sponsorship program since 2011. Every month IHF sends me an email with two photos -one picture of Chepanga’s hand written letter, and one picture of her holding the letter. Chepanga and I have been writing back and forth in this way as pen pals for five years. She always wrote to me about her studies, her friends, her Pokot village, and we always talked about how I should visit Kenya someday… but I never thought it would become a reality until this year. As I saw Chepanga’s familiar face in the crowd of curious, smiling kids, I instantly felt at ease.
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There is something about IHF’s children that is so very special. They have a strong bond with each other, and they welcomed me into their home like family. They are friendly, funny, strong, talented, independent and I fell in love with all of them immediately.

Time in Nakuru moved so much more slowly compared to my busy life in Los Angeles where I worry about work deadlines and traffic. I got to wake up to birds chirping every morning. I would go fetch some water from the water tank in a bucket to wash my face, drink hot Kenyan milk tea for breakfast and do some cleaning. Then I would hang out with the kids, read a book, teach some kids how to make friendship bracelets, walk around the green fields under the big clear sky and watch the kids play soccer/football. The kids, especially the boys, are so passionate about football and I loved watching them play every single day in the evenings. They play in any condition, rain or shine, shoes or no shoes, after chores or after exams. They are also so good at singing and dancing too!

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Of course it’s not all play, and the Co-Director Joyce and work-study volunteer Annie as well as the other staff were doing a great job of keeping the center running as smoothly as possible. I can tell the staff really care about the children and do their best even in the most chaotic and stressful situations.

My impression of life in Kenya seemed to be at the same time simpler and more complicated than the life I grew up knowing. The children here don’t have much in terms of material belongings and they focus on the simple pleasures in life, like eating, studying, playing, and sleeping. However, based on the stories I heard and what I saw during my brief stay, there are many challenges, as with any developing country. Persisting poverty and slums with hungry children begging for money, limited education and some teachers beating students, businessmen constantly ripping off foreigners/volunteers, riots and murders over political differences and girls being forced into arranged marriages at a very young age.

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I am so thankful to IHF for giving me a glimpse into what life is like in Kenya. I had the same valuable experience when I volunteered at the IHF Jakarta center back in 2008 and 2012, but I always feel like the kids ended up teaching me much more about myself and the world than I was able to teach them. I really believe in IHF’s mission of “Pass It On,” and believe learning about each other and sharing our different experiences will make all of us better global citizens. Even though I miss the kids a lot, I know I’ll keep in touch with many of them in the years to come!

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