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
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.