Youth Camp experiences in Kenya

Emilia Salo
Kuvaaja: Emilia Salo
Emilia Salo
Kuvaaja: Emilia Salo
Emilia Salo
Kuvaaja: Emilia Salo
Emilia Salo
Kuvaaja: Emilia Salo

Four Finnish girls were sent to International Youth Camp in Kenya by the Finnish Red Cross. Here is a report from one of them as an example for what it was like in Kenya.

Report on International Youth Camp in Kenya

The International Youth Camp in Kenya took place between 30.11.-6.12.2014 in Masinga Dam resort in Machakos County. We started our trip already two days before the beginning of the camp and visited two Red Cross branches in Nairobi. After that we spent night in Bonna Inn hotel that is owned by the Kenyan Red Cross. The next day we spent almost the whole day travelling to the Masinga Dam resort. We stopped by in Machakos People’s Park and were introduced to it as a pride of Machakos County. We finally arrived to the camp in the late afternoon and had really good dinner. We were allocated to the tents and went to sleep quite early because we had next morning an early wake up and morning run was waiting. The programme of the week was full with presentations and experience exchange. We also had games and team-building activities. We competed in four teams and the allocation was made according to how early people woke up. I was lucky to be in the first team composed of first 20 people that made it to the gate in the morning. The name of our team was TAI which means ‘eagle’ in Swahili. And eventually, we also won the whole Olympics. However, I don’t want to write about what we actually did during the whole week, but rather want to write about stories that personally had an impact on me and that I will remember the most.

I have to say, that it was especially peer-to-peer experience that I appreciated the most. It has allowed for a really interesting exchange also about the Red Cross activities. We have already learned a lot actually during our first two days when visiting the Nairobi Red Cross branches. We got a chance to meet very inspiring young volunteers. We were told how physical training is also important and that being fit is a necessary condition in disaster management activities. Also in the Karen Langata Nairobi branch office we discussed a lot about the drug use prevention. I didn’t know how serious problems drugs are especially with young people and even kids. Apparently drugs are very affordable. And it is quite normal that parents would send their kids to buy marihuana. And the seller doesn’t care because profit is what matters to him. Anyways, I had more opportunity to discuss the drug problem with another camp participant during later on. I also told him about the drug and alcohol prevention that Finnish Red Cross does during festivals.

One of the rather sad moments was, when early on Tuesday morning the al-Shabab organisation conducted an attacked on mine workers in Mandera, town close to the Somalian border. Thirty-six Christians were killed and the Kenyan Red Cross was the first one to arrive to the spot and help facilitate identification of bodies. It felt rather strange to be in the same country. Normally, we hear about all those terrorist attacks and it doesn’t have much impact on us since it happens far away from our homes. This time, it was different and I felt much more compassion then before. In the evening during the dinner I started talking to one Kenyan volunteer I hadn’t met before. He had just arrived to Masinga and told me that he actually spent the whole day with his team from Mandera where he facilitated the identification and transportation of the bodies. He told me more about al-Shabab and how the terrorist organisation wants to destabilize the country even though Muslims and Christians have lived in peace for years in Kenya. Even during the camp, there were many Muslims and Christians and there were absolutely no tensions. Anyways, I had to ask again, whether he is doing this for the Red Cross absolutely voluntarily. And he said: ‘’Yes, totally. I don’t get paid for this.’’ It made me thought that this kind of physically as well as mentally demanding work would have been somewhat compensated in Nordic countries. So it’s really admirable that this person is doing this simply on voluntary basis.

There were also rumours about a planned drill during the night. We heard some crazy stories from last year. I don’t think it is a secret anymore to bring this up. I was scared to death. And even though there was eventually no drill, I experienced how it feels like to go to fall asleep with fear and to spend the night half-awake in insecurity. It was a lesson learned when I could imagine how it feels like to go to sleep for example in conflict situation. I don’t think I would like to experience anything similar. It made me appreciate the safety I take for granted in Finland.

Despite the unstable sleep, there was an early wake up at 6am like every day. We gathered in the camp area and left for a morning run. It was beautiful to see the nature wake up. I thought I wouldn’t be able to be so active at 6 in the morning but it somehow felt very natural. I only would have liked to have an access to drinking water even in the camp area. We only got water with our meals and even that was not enough. We ended up sometimes buying water from the restaurant and one 0,5l bottle was 70 Kenyan shillings, which is 0,70euros. Quite a lot for a bottle of water, if one compares the living standard to Finland. It is as expensive is it would be in a Finnish store, even more since in Finland you get bottle deposit back.

We also had two afternoons of free time which I appreciated a lot. Since the very first day everything we experienced was very overwhelming, so it was nice to have some time to relax and reflect back on what happened. It was also a good opportunity to meet people more properly and spend time together. We also had an opportunity to discuss issues of our interests and it was exactly during the free time afternoon when I learned more about Masai culture and local Kenya traditions. It was interesting to compare our values and for me to see that sometimes the picture we are given in the other part of the world can be misleading. Later on, with other international participants, we had a very insightful conversation about the situation of refugees but also about migrants in our home countries. We also touched upon more controversial topics such as corruption in some African countries and we also learned from our Zimbabwean friend that his country is not about dictatorship and that Mugabe has also done quite a lot for the development of the society, so people can also live dignified lives. I think that this whole debate fit very well into the camp’s topic ‘’Youth embracing diversity.’’ That experience sharing was actually much more fruitful than our in-class discussions and presentations.

Every time when there was an opportunity to play music and dance, people just stood up on their feet and waved their bodies to the rhythm of music. Whenever I tried to join, I felt very clumsy. But I always joined anyways and it was a lot of fun. Dancing even in between the presentations in the class brought a very relax atmosphere. Even though we were some 15 – 20 minutes late, enjoying the moment had a priority.

Timing was actually another thing that went according to local customs. I was told already at the beginning that: ‘’Time, doesn’t really matter. Things just flow naturally.’’ Personally, I forgot the time completely and stopped looking at the clock. And I realized that even during the last night, we were some 3 hours late with the programme and I didn’t mind. Why would I? We all had a good time and there was no point in stressing or complaining about the time. It’s true though that the programme ended at 3 am but it was the last night and last opportunity to spend time together.

Food was quite simple and a bit monotonous. I still haven’t learned to eat that Kenyan dry dumpling called Ugali. But apart from that, I always tried to finish everything on my plate since I was told that it’s quite rude to leave leftovers. I guess one has to really respect local customs, especially when food is for some people very scarce. After an active programme, it was after all not so difficult to eat up.

My Kenyan friend Alice had really beautiful handmade jewellery. I praised her earrings couple of times and actually at the end of the camp she decided to give me one pair as a gift. It felt a bit awkward because I didn’t have anything in exchange; all of my jewellery was in Finland. But then I remembered that we received from the FRC headquarters a first aid kit. I decided to give it to her as a gift. I was truly surprised to how delighted and happy she was about it. Even after my arrival back to Finland I received a message from her saying that it’s truly special to her and that she already had an opportunity to use it for her cousin. Now her little cousin keeps on telling his friends about this Finnish first aid kit.

We also had some gifts from the Finnish Red Cross, some pencils, key holders and pins. Unfortunately it was not enough for everyone, considering that there were around 120 participants. We divided the gifts among ourselves, 4 Finnish girls and decided to give it only to those people that we felt were really inspiring or with whom we made good friendship. But when somebody saw that I gave a pen to someone, he immediately came to me and asked: ‘’Do you have some for me too?’’ For a moment I thought it would be better to have no gifts at all then just for some people. People also had a lot of Red Cross bracelets that they exchanged among themselves. It would also be nice for the next time to have bracelets of Finnish Red Cross, because it’s more personal than just a pen.

One of the most moving experiences was community service. We visited two primary schools quite close to the Masinga resort. We stopped in a nearest village and then walked some 3 km to the Mukusu primary school. There were kids age of 7-15 and all of them were wearing the same blue and yellow uniforms. We gathered in the yard and first the Red Cross introduced itself and then the principal thanked us for the visit. We didn’t understand anything as they mainly used Swahili. I was told from my Kenyan friends that the Red Cross in Kenya is considered as really rich organisation. Not many people actually donate much because they think that the Red Cross already has enough of money. I suggested them that they could make a campaign similar to what the Finnish Red Cross have ‘Apua sinun avullasi’ to demonstrate that without people’s help (whether its volunteering or donations) it is difficult to help others.  Anyways, after the introduction we went to the classes and played and sang songs with the kids. Main language was Swahili so it was a bit difficult to understand. But as I found out later, many of the kids speak good English as well. They were really shy at first and they were even afraid of me a bit. I even asked them if they are scared of me and they said: ‘’yes.’’  I asked: ‘’Is it because I look different?’’ To which they again answered: ‘’yes.’’ I had to explain them that we are actually the same, we all have ten fingers, two eyes, two ears. After that they were touching my hands and my hair. ‘’It is so soft and fluffy!’’ Some girls also took turns in trying my sunglasses on. I also told them about Finland and about snow. It was funny feeling to explain what actually snow is. After that we distributed TOMS shoes, only two sizes. They were told that if the shoes would not fit, they can give them to their siblings and cousins. Then we planted some trees and it was soon time to go to the other school, named Tumaini.

 I was really moved by that experience and even a bit sad, somewhat hopeless that I cannot do more for them. So when we arrived to the other school, I lost most of my enthusiasm. We distributed shoes and also soda drinks. I was a bit surprised why soda drinks but one volunteer told me that many kids cannot normally afford to have such luxury and this makes them really happy. They really seemed so happy when they got the drinks. I also tried to talk to mothers of the kids that were there. In the end, I went to one kid and helped him put his shoes on. He seemed like he feared me but then started talking. I was very pleased that some girls from the previous school came to see me again to say goodbye. I told them to study hard so that we can see again. I am still thinking how we could directly help those kids. The blackboard was in disastrous state, as well as text books. I doubt that they have any good school equipment such as globe or maps. If there would be an opportunity I would like to encourage our members of the International youth club to come up with some project which could collect some money for buying good school equipment for those primary schools. Let’s see what we can do about it. I like this idea much more than donating soda no matter how happy it actually makes them. I think it is more important what helps them and whether they can benefit from it.

If I knew that we would do the community service like this, I would have asked if we could do it again during the week. Unfortunately that happened on Friday and there was no more time left. I consider it as best experience from the whole camp. I was leaving Kenya with very humbled and grateful feeling. It was a lifetime experience and I hope that some Kenyans will be offered an opportunity to visit Finland (or some other Nordic) to get familiar with the work that our Red Cross does. They were very keen on knowing more about Finland. I told them about the International Youth Camp that will be organised in Häme next year. They all seemed very interested about it. Anyway, to sum up, this was one of the most unique weeks of my life. Getting to know what the Kenyan Red Cross does was very inspiring and meeting so many nice and cheerful people made me forget all my everyday problems back in Finland.

Text: Jana Sassakova