Youth Camp experience from Kenya

Kenya Red Cross Society National Youth Camp, Kisumu and an Initiation of a Youth Exchange Program, Nairobi
Text and photos by Kaisa Laitila and Wiam Elfadl


Finnish Red Cross youth volunteers Kaisa Laitila and Wiam Elfadl traveled to Nairobi, Kenya on the 21st November for attending a five-day long National Youth Camp in Kisumu organized by the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS). Besides attending the youth camp their task was to take part in planning and initiation of the Youth Exchange Program between the two national societies. The 12-day program included both office- and community work. The objective of the journey was to advance youth cooperation between the national societies and to strengthen the youth leadership. In addition, Finnish youth volunteers were to take part in a variety of activities organized by the local youth volunteers at the Branch level.  Accordingly they shared their experiences gained from the volunteer work in Finland by discussing with the youth and the KRCS staff. The results of the trip ought to be actualized in the form of a Youth Exchange program that is planned to be launched on the second quarter of 2014.

Kenya Red Cross Society National Youth Camp 25th-30th November, Kisumu

The national youth camp was scheduled to begin on Monday November 25th 2013 but the trip to Kisumu, Western part of Kenya started for us already on the day before. After spending the whole morning in car enjoying the beautiful African landscape the tired but excited team arrived to the center of Kisumu. Due to the unfinished setup at the campsite the whole team spent the night at the hotel. Camp arrangement and the registration continued the next day at the KRCS Western Region Office. After a slight disagreement in security rules we, David Karanja and few other volunteers received a permission to spend the afternoon in town. Unfortunately there was a misunderstanding regarding the day’s schedule and we missed the bus ride to the campsite. When we finally got there, we both were impressed with the beautiful location by the Victoria Lake. When the registration was over we were divided into tent teams. Tent division worked as an icebreaker and helped us to get to know other campers around the country already in the first evening. In fact, many of the activities were done within the tent teams thus we became acquainted one another quite well during the camp.

The camp was formed around different sets of activities including workshops, lectures, community work and games (not forgetting the morning run!). One distinguishable part of the program was an interactive workshop on business strategy. During the daily lectures the participants learned about business planning, creativity and marketing. The task was to sketch a business plan in small groups with a trick not to use other material than we found on the campsite. Working in smaller groups enabled campers to get to know each other better, yet for us the project work turned out to be challenging because of the Swahili language that group members preferred using. The objective of the project work was to be creative and to think outside the box. What we both noticed was that our group members were quite shy to through themselves and to brainstorm freely so we tried to encourage them the best way we could. What we learned instead was the importance of income generating and business like thinking; in most Kenya Red Cross branches the young volunteers are the greatest source of inspiration regarding fund raising. We got to learn how income was generated for the branches through a variety of activities such as gardening, green house projects, selling T-shirts and hand-made jewelry and organizing different kinds of charity events. Indeed, recourses are vital for sustainability of any running youth program. On the last day of the camp all group projects were presented and the best one was awarded by the jury. The business plan that won was about clothing and accessories made of recycled material. The winners made a dress with all accessories needed that could be sold in their own society.

Lectures dealt with a wide range of topical issues affecting the youth such as security, nutrition, drug abuse and AIDS. At times the content of the lectures was somewhat self-evident, however the speakers were inspiring and thought provoking. What delighted us was that the lectures were truly interactive and generated discussion among the participants. The atmosphere was relaxed and the floor was open for questions and comments. Furthermore, chosen topics were actual and covered important aspects of every day life.

During the camp we were privileged to attend the activities organized within the local communities. Community work included blood donation and the ‘jigger campaign’ in near villages. Of all the camp activities those two were by far most rewarding. Many brave campers participated in the blood donation together with the local villagers. Unfortunately, neither of us was accepted to donate because of the vaccinations we had taken before the trip. In addition, the ‘jigger’ campaign turned out to be a success. The purpose of the campaign was to give treatment to children infected by the jigger parasite. Words cannot describe how impressed we were about the professional touch that the young volunteers had that day. Right after receiving the instructions the youth started giving the treatment like they have done it many times before. We also took part by washing children’s feet and distributing the Tom shoes at the end of the day. The campaign took whole day but every minute was worth it as we experienced for the first time how is it to actually work in “the field”. Priceless experience.

One of the highlights of the camp was certainly a drill that happened one of the last nights. In the middle of the night we woke up because of a loud racket that almost reminded gunshots. In a blink of an eye the whole camp was awake. According to the orders we gathered on the yard outside the camp and packed into the bus. After a short but intense while the whole episode turned out to be a drill planned by the organizers. Next morning we shortly went through what happened during the night. However there could have been more time to discuss the exercise more thoroughly. We felt that the idea of the exercise did not come too clear because of the drill was not debriefed and it remained unclear what should have been the correct way to react in real situation. Anyhow, the drill was something that we never forget!

Besides the official program we had informal evening activities that included music and dancing or a campfire. Those moments were essential for getting to know other participants more closely and just to relax after an eventful day. The camp culminated in a cultural night that was held on Friday evening. After the official closing ceremony it was time to have fun and many campers had organized some sort of performance including funky dancing, acting and even rapping! Our contribution for the night was a Finnish theme quiz that ended up being quite tricky. Evening entertainment lasted until the next morning when the camp was officially over.

Overall experience of the camp was positive and inspiring. However there were areas that would have required more planning and coordination. From the day one the program of the next five days was not openly informed. It remained unclear why was not the program shared with the participants. At times it felt that the schedule was made too tight especially when the participants did not know beforehand what was about to happen. We got to know about the program as the day proceeded so it was challenging to find time for the group projects as well as having more detailed discussions with the other campers. Our impression was that the schedule was too ambitious in order to work accordingly. For instance we were prepared to give a presentation about the youth activities within the Finnish Red Cross but there was never time for that. In addition, the communication among the management and between the organizers and the participants was occasionally very limited. The timetable kept changing all the time and the coordination and instructions were somewhat confusing, some of the activities did not happen at all and some days the program lasted until late hours. Especially the last day, when we were supposed to return to Nairobi, was full of mixed messages and confusion. Instead of arriving at Nairobi we ended up spending the night in Nakuru after having a disagreement with the driver. It took a day or two but after recognizing that here things are done differently it was easier to adapt in changing situations.

Despite the occasional lack of coordination, everything worked out in the end and nobody was left unheard. The staff was friendly and it was made easy for us to go and talk to them whenever we felt like that. Camp conditions were functional and the food was delicious.

All in all, the camp met its overall goal by providing a platform for young volunteers from the Red Cross Movement to share experiences including the challenges and problems faced by the youth and strategies for tackling these issues. In addition, engaging with the local community through community service was extremely rewarding specifically for us who have never been in ‘the field’ before. During the camp we learned about the youth structure of the KRCS and what kind of challenges young leaders face in today’s world, let alone the commitment and the wonderful work that the youth is doing as Red Cross volunteers. Above all we learned about ourselves, how to promote positive attitude and to be open for new ideas and alternative strategies.

Planning of the Youth Exchange program in Nairobi

Besides participating the youth camp in Kisumu we took part in the planning of the Youth Exchange program between the two national societies. Before the actual camp we had a meeting with the National Youth & Volunteer Development Officer Shadrack Musyoka, who is the driving force behind the exchange project. The talks we had inspired us to take concrete steps for making the project happen. The national youth camp provided an opportunity for sharing ideas, hopes and challenges with the young volunteers regarding the KRCS Youth Strategy and the Exchange program. However, already visits to the headquarters and the branches gave us ideas how to develop the youth volunteerism back home and what the program could offer for Finnish Red Cross volunteers. In general, the youth structure of KRCS is very different from that of Finland. KRC youth volunteers are highly competent in the areas of media and communication, fund raising and emergency responding. In turn, Finland could provide training in logistics and first aid.

After the camp, the three of us sat down again and we discussed what we had discovered during the camp. We shared similar views regarding the concept and practicalities of the Exchange program, and all the conversations we had and the youth volunteer work we saw inspired us to take the plan to a concrete level. On the last day we were privileged to have a short meeting with dr. Asha Mohammed, the Deputy SG of Programmes and Region Management, and to present the preliminary thoughts about the Exchange Program. We were left with the impression that she is enthusiastic reading the final proposal and based on that to support the actualization of the Exchange program in 2014. The outcome of our visit for the Youth Exchange program is to be seen in the final proposal that is to be submitted to Dr. Asha Mohammed in early 2014.

Summing up the trip

All in all, attending the national youth camp was challenging and inspiring at the same time. In the future we would strongly recommend participation to the international camp instead of national one. KRCS is already experienced in organizing both national and international youth camps and undoubtedly there is much to learn for the Finnish youth volunteers. The days we spent at the headquarters and the branches in Nairobi were extremely interesting as we got to learn how strong the input is that the young volunteers are giving for the Red Cross. Now being back in Finland we are enthusiastic to share our experiences and knowledge gained from Kenya with the local youth volunteers and to promote youth leadership in general.

Finally we would like to thank Kenya Red Cross Society for inviting us both in Nairobi and Kisumu and Finnish Red Cross Headquarters for making the whole trip possible. Thanks should also go to Elisa Mikkola for hosting and mentoring us and to David Karanja and Kirsi Pohjola for guidance. Last but not least we would like to give special thanks to Shadrack Musyoka for taking care of us and being the source of inspiration and the driving force behind all the activities we took part in.

(Please see the photos from attachment below)