My journey of volunteering in Kenya, Africa is coming to an end. (Read Part 1). I’m departing Community Progressive Focus Centre (CPFC), an orphanage and school in Njiru where I was welcomed in with open arms and will leave as a new member of Sally’s family. I’ll go back to travelling around the globe to write more inspirational stories but for now seeing what I’ve seen, will my life ever be the same again?
Yesterday I woke up feeling unexpectedly awful, a certain emptiness that glued me to the bed.
I laid in silence inside my cocoon of a mosquito net, staring at the ceiling contemplating the memories of the last few weeks that were all beautiful, confusing and challenging.
Events from the previous day were probably to blame. Sally and I travelled into Buru Buru to shop for groceries, where I had the chance to witness a “middle-class” society – by Kenyan standards – outside the slum I’m residing in. There was more commercial activity, less tired faces and better dressed civilians but that’s about it. The street kids, beggars, matatu chaos, mountains of rubbish and shanty buildings remained a backdrop to everyday life. As I watched the undeniable disorder down under, I thought this isn’t what life is supposed to be, you shouldn’t be – or deserve to be – living like this.
Later that evening, Sally received a phone call notifying that her teenage son, Ian, was arrested by the police for practically no reason, only to be released with a payment.
“Shit happens,” he said to me, shrugging his shoulders.
“Shit happens?! Back at home, when the public bus never arrives and you’re late for work – that’s shit happens. Not when you’re held hostage by the cops for a bribe.”
Ian laughed, “It’s ok, I am used to it.”
Furthermore, I was finally able to put fingers to keyboard on processing my million thoughts and feelings in completing Part 1. There on my screen laid bare the sad, unfortunate reality of poverty, child abuse, lack of education and corruption.
So questions surfaced the next morning. Besides my roaring gratitude for life’s blessings and gaining deep cultural awareness of Kenya, what else happens when I return home? How much have I changed? Will I quit everything and endeavour to save the world? Will my weekends consist of serving at soup kitchens or assisting the disabled and elderly instead of laying on Bondi Beach? Can I truly enjoy an overpriced Sydney cocktail over frivolous banter while I know people are struggling on the other side of the world? Why do I surround myself with materialistic goods? Why am I satisfying my own needs?
I immediately Skyped home and weeped, “I just need a hug.”
Then a strong inner voice declared don’t you ever feel guilty for what you have.
A word of advice from yours truly: if you’ve been touched by volunteer stories, whether it was through yourself or through other people, don’t be ashamed of your fortunes. You’ll live life in pain moaning that life is unfair, then you’ll eventually become depressed from feeling helpless because you can’t solve the world’s problems, then life just doesn’t feel worth it anymore, then… STOP.
While some people do move on to become social activists or campaign leaders in promoting welfare of mankind (good on them – I mean this entirely!), we still need people working in other creative, innovative industries to keep the world moving forward. The ones that make our lives better at heart, anyway.
It is important to not feel guilty for the clothes you’re wearing, the wine you’re drinking, the boat you’re sailing. There is art and beauty in quality and style so go on and enjoy it. But if you and I were born with more, than please share. If you’re able to, just give.
“But what about all my hard work? I deserve to spend my own money for freedom that I set out to achieve,” you say. Frankly, I’m not saying you need to give up your million-dollar home. We’re all hustling to make life easier but sometimes we get caught up in a world of consumerism (I, myself, guilty as charged) and crave for unnecessary bigger and better things and don’t know when to stop. This excessive (or obsessive) behaviour to fulfil egotistical needs is madness.
We are an endless cycle of humankind. Life isn’t about you, it’s about us.
Imagine the look on the orphans’ faces when they step into a country like Australia for the first time and learn that such a place exists. I want to hold their hands, look them in the eye and say, “It’s okay, you are safe here.” This kind of thought is what brings joy to my heart now.
While there’s no quick fix to solve the world’s problems, you – yes you, instead of fussing about micro-dramas at home and aiming for empty goals, seek how you can express your love to the universe. And the universe will repay you in fulfilling ways you’ve never imagined.
A quick outreach for help to friends and family during my time here led to a generous donation that brought immediate positive change: new classroom doors, installation of electricity in the kitchen and new washing basins. We’re also planning to plaster the children’s bedroom walls to remove bed bugs.
“Seeing things come together in these little projects really excite me!” I squealed to Sally.
“Don’t you dare call it ‘little’!” she responded, reminding me of the quote on the school wall painted by a previous volunteer: “Many small people from many small places do many small things to alter the face of the world.” “These ‘little’ things,” she continued, “are merely big things in fragments.”
I smiled in agreement. “Sally, I didn’t know someone like you even existed. You’re fearless, patient, transparent, the most compassionate. You’ve been so hospitable and I’ve learned so much through you. To thank you and say goodbye for now, I will buy you glassware and tonight we’re drinking wine!”
Sally, a woman who absolutely adores a glass of red wine but feasibly unable to take a sip in years, gleefully responded: “God bless you”.
I winked at her, “Besides, you need to keep sane somehow. Don’t you think you’re spreading yourself too thin?”
“I sometimes think I do. I ask God, ‘When will this ever end?’ But… There’s this strong wave inside of me that I can’t explain,” she said, clasping her palms on her chest, “and it just won’t stop. It keeps going, and going, and going…”
“An inner force to be reckoned with,” I helped summarise.
Sally nodded, “Exactly. Tiffany, if it’s something I know for sure, it is that love generates love.”
Looking back, I see that CPFC is really a physical embodiment of “love”. The donated bathrooms? That’s love. The rain tanks? Love. The walls, the doors, the chalkboards? All love. And all built by people who didn’t have it all but were just able to give what they could, with the help of their own individual networks through stories that truly connect.
So I finish off by saying this: may your hearts flow so wildly that even the smallest ripples of your love can spread through the universe and touch souls in new heights and greater lengths so that it has the power to change lives.
Of course my life will never be the same again.
Light and love,
How has volunteering overseas changed your thinking for the greater good? Write me a comment below.
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Tales of Ardour shares honest volunteerism experiences. As always before heading overseas, make sure you visit the official Australian government website Smart Traveller for the latest health and safety updates, as well as entry requirements.
Community Progressive Focus Centre is an organisation that believes in the importance of generating local solutions to any prevailing problem or circumstance for sustainable community development. Its mission is to strengthen partnerships for early childhood development and education within the Njiru community in Nairobi, Kenya.
Have any questions? Would you like to help Sally? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.