Volunteer Tourism in Kenya

Many travelers want to do more than just enjoy a fun vacation – they want to also give back to the places they visit. Volunteer tourism, or voluntourism as it’s sometimes called, is a global movement. Volunteer tourism in Kenya is especially popular these days due to the immense need, and the relative ease of getting to Kenya from most parts of the world. In this post we’ll discuss volunteer tourism in Kenya in general, and a specific opportunity of which you can take advantage. 

Voluntourism – A Growing Trend

The statistics around the growing trend of voluntourism are impressive:
  • According to a 2015 survey, 84% of millennials (18-34 year olds) say they would travel abroad to participate in volunteer activities.
  • NPR (National Public Radio) reported in 2011 that an estimated 1.6 million volunteer tourists spend upwards of $2B annually.
  • 10% of families surveyed reported that they had taken a volunteer trip in the past, and 29% of those surveyed indicated they intended to participate in the voluntourism movement in the future.
There are some voices that claim voluntourism can do more harm than good. But if efforts are directed in the right way with the right oversight, and if they take a holistic approach to improving developing areas, they tend to help enormously.

Volunteer Tourism in Kenya

voluntourism volunteer tourism in Kenya
Students at Cheryl’s Children’s Home, Nairobi

I have a special place in my heart for volunteer tourism in Kenya, as I’ve traveled there twice to do work at a school and home in Nairobi called Cheryl’s Children’s Home. The school is located about 2 kilometers from a section of Nairobi called Kibera. Kibera is the largest slum in Nairobi and is the largest urban slum in all of Africa. Estimates of the population vary widely, but most experts place the population at or slightly above 1,000,000 residents. Most of these residents live on less than $1 US (100 Ksh) per day. Unemployment rates are in the high double digits, and many residents suffer from – or have fallen victim to – the HIV/AIDS crisis sweeping parts of Africa.

That said, Nairobi is an incredibly diverse and economically prosperous city. Moving out beyond the limits of Nairobi, visitors find that Kenya is a beautiful and diverse country that provides many great opportunities for a wonderful tourism experiences. It is home to some of the world’s best safari destinations and national parks (like my personal favorite, Nairobi National Park), athletic championships, amazing cultural experiences and fantastic weather.


Is Voluntourism Right For You? 

Like most travel experiences, voluntourism isn’t right for everyone. You have to be willing to put the needs of the community first, and you need to be willing to do work during some of your hard-earned vacation time. If you fancy sleeping late in a posh hotel, eating sumptuous meals every night, and sipping cocktails by the pool all day, this may not be for you. But if you want an authentic cultural experience and want to do something to help others, this may be up your alley.
It’s incumbent upon you, the traveler, to ensure that the organization you’re working with is reputable and can provide you with a good experience. It’s also good to know where your money goes – all voluntourism organizations have overhead of some sort or another but ideally the majority of your money should go back to the community in some way. Asking for references of previous travelers is also a very good step.

An Easy Way To Organize Volunteer Tourism In Kenya

Many organizations can get tourists into the country and help connect them with organizations which need helping hands and welcome those participating in voluntourism. If you’re planning a trip to Africa someday, Kenya can be an excellent place for a voluntourism trip. One such organization that I have some experience with is called Kenwild. Kenwild Home and Care’s mission is to “…invite and organise volunteer tourism in Kenya for people who would like to enjoy the beauty of Kenya but also give back to the community.” Volunteers participating in a Kenwild experience are hosted in a home and get the full experience of living like a suburban Nairobian. They recieve the best care and comfortable home treatment. A qualified cook makes delicious Kenyan meals for them, and laundry and cleaning service are provided.
The usual voluntourism day at Kenwild begins with a hearty Kenyan breakfast, and then off to do volunteer work. Travelers can work at an orphanage, school or in the community. After a break for a home-prepared lunch, travelers can do more work or engage in leisure activities. Based on a traveler’s personal preferences, the Kenwild team can also arrange tours within Nairobi (like nearby Nairobi National Park or the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage) or to other sights or parks in the nearby area.
Volunteering will give you an experience of a lifetime and the memories will stay with you forever. The impact you would have made to the community is eternal.

What do Voluntourists Say About Kenwild?

I’ve personally met travelers who have arranged their stay with Kenwild, and they’ve been thrilled with their experience. Here are quotes from just a few of them:
“I don’t know how to thank you for making this the trip of my lifetime. Most importantly, we have become friends/family“ – Paul
“Thank you so much Erick for being the best host in the world, you are absolutely fantastic human being. We will miss you!!” – Elin
“Thank you so much for your hospitality, the stay has been great, we couldn’t wish for something more. Great experience and we hope to come back.” – Linda and Sofi

Just Get Out There and Do It!

I hope this overview of voluntourism in general, and volunteer tourism in Kenya in particular, has provided you with some food for thought. Whether you travel to Kenya or not, you should definitely consider a voluntourism experience for your next trip!

Disclosure: This author has a personal relationship with the staff that owns and manages Kenwild. However, no compensation or accommodation was received for this post.

15 thoughts on “Volunteer Tourism in Kenya

  1. Volunteering is definitely a great way to help the global community as well as to learn more about the plights of others to inculcate values such as empathy and helpfulness in one’s children. Love seeing how these opportunities have been set up in developing countries, even though much has been said about some fake charities emerging to prey on volunteers’ kindness.

  2. I was definitely a voluntourist in Nepal, which was a bit annoying and made me think a lot about colonialism. I did a project in Tanzania though, which was a collective project with young people from the cities of TZ. That way it felt less invasive and we were helping entrepreneurs in a rural village

    1. Yeah, Amber – I agree that it has to be done in the right way, or it’s counterproductive. Thanks for sharing your story!

  3. I would love to do voluntaring in different countries I even thought about considering it but I had no guidance on how to apply for it. I am so proud of you. Loved watching you spreading smiles globally 🙂

  4. I really liked your post. This is so much kind gestures that truly world needs now. Spreading happiness on someone’s face is such a God thing. Good work. Keep doing great things. Yes, you truly said that if we want to have real experience of different culture then we need to sacrifice our luxuries first. Well done.

  5. Anyone interested to contacts us so that we can actualize his or her dream to make this world a better place. Kenwild is ready to walk with you in this path.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing this! As someone who helps promote voluntourism and conservation travel, this really spoke to me! I had never heard of Kenwild, and will 100% look more into them! #weekendwanderlust

  7. Have not been back to Kenya since 1978 when I was fortunate to be able to spend a few months there as a student — walked along the Rift Valley, spent time in Samburuland, volunteered putting in a water line at a Peace Corps school in Lamu, took the night train from Nairobi to Mombasa. Amazing experiences and I do want to return some day. Perhaps as a volunteer as that would be a wonderful way to do it. Asante sana for your post … brought back a flood of memories.

  8. Your point about making sure you choose the right company to volunteer through is so spot on. We spent a week at an Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand last year and whilst it was amazing, we didn’t do any real work. I got the feeling that our money was more important than our time & whilst I enjoyed it, it would be a stretch to say we ‘volunteered’.

  9. Volunteering there must be interesting. I love the happy people on the photos. I would love to have a break like this from my boring work.

  10. Thank you for sharing this really helpful information on volunteer tourism. It’s something we’ve done a little of and are planning to do far more

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