Volunteering in Kenya: Supporting Sustainable Development

Volunteering in Kenya: Supporting Sustainable Development

Nestled on the northeastern slopes of Mount Kenya, on the outskirts of Meru town, International Peace Initiatives (IPI), our partner in Kenya, has been working since 2003 to support and advocate for the needs and rights of orphans, vulnerable children, and women battling poverty and/or affected by HIV/AIDS. Built on wasteland donated by the local community, its physical structures comprise the Kithoka Amani Community Home (KACH), home to about 30 children, and the nearby Tiriji Centre, its new eco-retreat, training, and conference centre. Organic gardens and eco-huts surround the main building, and permaculture courses and youth summits are regularly held here.

Immersion in a different culture

Last September, we welcomed 20 year old Kilian Bartsch to our Kenyan volunteer programme at IPI. In his first email, he described some of the excitement he felt to be volunteering there.

Kilian and children
Kilian with the children

A few weeks back we went to distribute flyers about a medical camp that was going to be held at KACH, and on this small tour of the neighbourhood, I saw my first wild elephant! Yesterday I went on a little walk alone up to the highest spot in the area and on my way, kids just ran up to me to hold my hand and walk with me… The view from the top was stunning – the clouds and sky here are beautiful… I love Kenya more and more by the day and feel useful and appreciated, all while doing things for the environment!

Kilian threw himself into daily life at IPI with enthusiasm, curiosity, and creativity, starting off by coordinating efforts to build an enclosure for the biogas tank, designed to create a sustainable source of fuel for IPI’s kitchen. As part of his efforts, he researched how the tank worked and then began the task of

…carrying two buckets of cow dung every day from Tiriji to KACH, mixing it with water to form slurry and pouring into the tank. The people look at me as if I’m an expert in anaerobic digestion when I just spent an hour reading up on it on the internet!

Kilian mixing dung
Mixing buckets of cow dung

In mid-January, Kilian’s hard work started to bear fruit.

About a week ago we could finally use the biogas I have been working on for the past three months to cook! I will do my best to try to leave as clear instructions as possible regarding it, [as well as] many people understanding how it works.

Supporting IPI to become sustainable

In his efforts to get the biogas tank operational, Kilian showed a deep awareness of a cause close to Ecologia’s heart: the need to ensure that when we and our partners introduce new technology and  ways of doing things, it is supported to become sustainable – part of the fabric of day-to-day life. He has taught his successors how the biogas tank works and left step-by-step instructions about how to maintain it. Likewise, in KACH’s library, he has built a book-return box and worked hard to improve the book-return system so that the resources available to the children remain well-cared for.

Kilian helping in the vegetable gardens
Kilian helping in the vegetable gardens

Kilian has also been fundraising among friends and contacts back in Europe in order to buy a spare part to fix the inverter needed to get IPI’s solar-based back-up power system running again. This is particularly useful when IPI suffers a power cut, something which occurs fairly regularly in the area.

Quickly becoming a favourite among the children at KACH and the IPI team, Kilian has even been given a Meru tribal name: Mwongera. He has learned enough Swahili to be able to manage simple daily conversations and aims to be able to say a simple greeting in every one of the 42 officially recognised tribal languages of Kenya by the time he leaves.

Kilian joining games
Participating at the 2017 Global Youth Peace Summit

It helps that Mom (Dr. Karambu) has such a diverse group of people from all ethnicities here: I carry cow dung from a Luyah’s cow, I eat the food cooked by a Luo, I wash the bedsheets with a Kalenjin, prepare summits with a Kikuyu and walk home at night saying goodnight to a Maasai watchman!

Volunteering: every individual has their own contribution to make

Since 1995, Ecologia has sent over 350 volunteers to support our partners overseas. Volunteers bring their energy, varied skills, and fresh perspectives, but as part of a cultural exchange programme it is important that they too learn from our partners and the solutions they have created to address local issues. KACH is a place of ‘finding who you are’ and IPI wants volunteers who are willing to look inwards for answers in relation to what comes up for them – people who can talk openly, who trust that together, they can make a difference in the world and that each individual has their own part to play. Kilian has made a valuable contribution to the community at IPI, and in the process has come to know himself better.

Kilian at IPI
Kilian at IPI

Volunteering in Meru is a great opportunity for me to get down in the dirt (or in this case more often cow dung), do things with my hands while at the same time discovering more about myself and who I want to become. Being like an older brother to the KACH kids has made me think a lot about the parenting I received and that I would eventually like to give also. At a crossroad point in my life before starting my studies, here I have been able to have time for helping others as well as for myself.

Our volunteers are not usually ‘experts’ in the traditional manner; rather our partners seek people who wish to explore opportunities for building and transforming relationships across cultural and ethnic divides. At two youth leadership summits Kilian helped IPI to run last December, he met young people from Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia, South Sudan, South Africa and all regions and tribes of Kenya, sharing his own experiences as well as hearing about theirs. Recently, he summed up his feelings about IPI and what makes volunteering something he would recommend to others:

IPI is a unique environment in so far that it attracts the most fascinating group of people. I love the combination of helping the local community, fostering environmental care and being a centre for amazing conferences and events. Dr Karambu’s work is as inspiring as her positive mentality is contagious.

Kilian enjoying lunch with friends
Lunch during an ascent of Mount Kenya with IPI friends

Find out more about volunteering in Kenya.

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susie Kemp

Susie has 30+ experience as a creative copywriter, editor, and proofreader, starting out as a 20-year-old copywriter in the Mad Men world of early 1990s advertising in South Africa. Ever since, she’s had a love affair with creative conceptualisation, thinking outside of the box, writing to a deadline, and being thrown in the deep end!

She took an MSc in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University as a mature student, in 2015, and continues to keep herself busy working as a copy-editor, proofreader and copywriter in book publishing, corporate communications, and publishing project management.

Apart from her love of working with independent authors, Susie has a fondness for working in the third sector and likes to use her corporate communications and marketing experience to support projects close to her heart. She has lived and worked in the Findhorn area for 25 years, and has been involved in a number of third sector projects and organisations, and family businesses.

Working at Ecologia Youth Trust helps Susie to live in integrity with her values of supporting the next generation to be the best that they can be, and she sees it as a way to give back to Mama Africa, the beloved continent on which she was born.

Ellen Shaw

Ellen joined the Ecologia team in June 2018 as Marketing and Communications Manager. Ellen has lived in Scotland for 6 years and has worked for non-profit and charitable organisations across varied fields. She currently shares her passion for helping young people through Ecologia Youth Trust and she works as a dancer and dance teacher in her spare time.

Robyn Cooper

Robyn is the Associate Director of International Projects, having previously worked within the team as a Project Development and Marketing Officer from April 2019 until May 2021. As Associate Director, Robyn is co-leading the International side of Ecologia with Founder and Director, Liza Hollingshead, bringing a new energy into Ecologia as they look towards the future of the charity.

Liza Hollingshead

Liza is the founder of Ecologia and Director of International Projects. She was born and educated in South Africa and worked there as a high school teacher. She moved to live in the Findhorn Community in 1974. She started Ecologia in 1995 after being introduced to Dmitry Morozov, the founder of Kitezh Children’s Community in Russia, and was inspired to support the community in its mission to rescue orphaned children from institutions and give them homes, families and education in a supportive environment.

This led to projects supporting disadvantaged youth and children in South East Asia and in East Africa. TRead more about Liza’s story here.