I applied for a VSO placement in the panic of my final semester at university. I was so unsure about what the next step should be after university. I knew I wanted to travel and that I needed a break from studying. But I didn’t just want to be a voyeur of tourist hot spots. I wanted to put in practice all the big, abstract ideas university has taught me about geographical inequality and to bring the high-in -the-sky theory back down to a grassroots level. I’d always talked the talk about my interest in international development and it was about time I tried to walk the walk.
During my placement, I was based at Mother Francisca. Funded by US Aid, the organisation supports families suffering with HIV. Many people on the program live with disability, but their families ae unable to access the government assistance available to them. We spoke to community health volunteers and conducted home visits so that we could provide a bridge between the community and the government. Working on the placement was such an eye-opening experience, the family histories were so sad yet so many of the people we met were so smiley. Whilst we can’t change the world in three months, and there have been lots of frustrations and roadblocks along the way, individual cases have been really touching to work on. One of my placement highlights was hearing that a HIV positive lady we referred for medical treatment was in recovery, after being weeks away from death. In that instance, if it wasn’t for her community reaching out to us and letting us in, we wouldn’t have been able to help her in time.
Writing this sat in the sun, on a very chilled Sunday morning in Kenya, it is very easy to look through rose-tinted glasses at my time here. But it hasn’t been all sunshine and roses. I’m trying (and failing) not to squeeze too many clichés in, but one of the reasons why it has been such an amazing journey is because of the challenges which have arisen along the way. Cultural differences have sometimes put a strain on my volunteer placement team. I’m still not used to ‘Kenyan time’ and, on a boring note, being able to start a meeting on time is one of the things I’m most looking forward to once I’m back in England. Then again, meeting halfway with some of the Kenyan volunteers has meant that I’ve become more chilled and realised that stress is counterproductive (something I would love to go back and tell my mid-dissertation self).
Looking back at the ten-and-a-bit weeks, I can’t say there has been a eureka moment where I’ve found myself thinking ‘Aha! I finally know what I want to be when I grow up’. But whilst no light bulb has miraculously pinged on, this cycle has definitely cemented my interest in advocacy and my desire to provide a platform for those whose voices are often silenced.