Kenya is an amazingly beautiful and diverse country. If you volunteer in Kenya, it will come to feel like a second home.
The Republic of Kenya is a democratic and market-oriented country in East Africa just south of the Horn of Africa, in between Somalia and Tanzania. With a population of just under 46 million as of 2015, Kenya boasts an abundance of different cultures and climates. English and Kiswahili are official languages, which many people in urban areas are able to speak. There are almost 50 different ethnic groups indigenous to Kenya, which speak 67 languages, many of which are the only language spoken by their respective group in rural areas. The coastal areas of Kenya on the Indian Ocean and Lake Victoria have tropical climates, and the interior of the country has various mountains, deserts, rainy and temperate highlands, and savannahs. National parks and wildlife reservations make up a significant amount of the country’s land and economic base from tourism.
Projects in Kenya
Where We Work
SID’s work in Kenya focuses in two densely populated counties in the southwest of the country, near Lake Victoria: Kisumu County and Vihiga County. Kisumu is also the name of Kenya’s third largest city, with a 2016 population of roughly 400,000 people. Most people in Kisumu County speak Luo, a Nilotic language with distinct roots from Kiswahili, with over six million native speakers. SID’s work in Western Kenya pre-dates the existence of SID as a non-profit corporation; it was here that our first student-led projects started in 2007 and 2008. We have since supported a wide variety of activities, including building health and water infrastructure, setting up microfinance workshops, gardens for health clinics, running a child sponsorship program, and opening remedial education centers. Our global health internship program for nursing, medical, and pre-med students is based at the Inyali Dispensary in Vihiga County. Our optometry internship program is run in partnership with the Sabatia Eye Hospital (5km from Inyali).
Return airfare to Toronto-Nairobi typically costs $1,200-$1,400CAD for May departures and August returns. Return Airfare Boston-Nairobi or NYC-Nairobi typically costs $850-1,100 USD. Domestic flights from Nairobi to Kisumu are ~ $40-50 USD one-way and may be best if booked separately from the international leg. Buses between Nairobi and Kisumu are ~ $15 and take approximately 8 hours.
Within and between the cities people often take a matatu (a large van used as public transportation), and in the countryside one can expect to take a boda boda/piki piki (motorcycle) for transportation. Prices may not always be standardized, and travelers should make sure to establish a fair price before getting in a vehicle.
The greatest safety risks to foreigners in Kenya are motor vehicle collisions, followed by preventable illnesses such as malaria and food poisoning. Like many countries, Kenya has experienced high profile terrorist attacks by Al-Shabab that have made international headlines. These attacks have been concentrated in Nairobi, and in the Coastal and Northeastern part of the country near Somalia. Western Kenya is geographically removed from these areas. However, scamming, theft and petty crime are common throughout the country, so travelers should remain vigilant at all times. Travelers are advised to check Global Affairs Canada for any updated travel advisories.
CKenya has rotating dry seasons, which go from January to February and July to October, and rainy seasons from March to May and November to December. These seasons vary drastically depending on the regional climate, from complete dryness several months out of the year to constant year-long precipitation. Kisumu’s position on Lake Victoria gives it rainfall all year, which is especially concentrated in the April to June season. However its elevation gives it relatively stable and more moderate temperatures than other coastal areas, with daily averages between 21.7C to 23.6C, (high of 28-30C).
Level of Economic Development
Kenya has a Human Development Index (HDI) score of 0.548 as of 2015, ranking it 145th in the world, among the countries with a “low” development score. Though it has one of the most developed economies in the region, infrastructure remains poor and access to health and other social services quite limited. There are a number of vaccinations and medical preparations any traveler must make before entering the country. Volunteers can expect stable access to electricity and internet in Kisumu, however rural areas may not be as well endowed. The cost of living is low. For example, an inexpensive meal can cost less than $2 in cities and under $1 in the countryside.
Kenyan culture, including the language, food, customs and beliefs of the people are dependent on the region. Various outside influences and cultural exchanges over time have resulted in a very mixed cultures and ways of life. Common foods eaten include ugali (maize flour made into dough), rice and beans, meat and fish (tilapia) is fairly accessible. Athletics are big in Kenya, with activities such as running and football being quite popular around the country. Given the large Luo population in Kisumu, volunteers may find Luo culture and language to be prevalent where they live.