Many people are fortunate enough to travel. Some travel to Europe, others make it to Africa, like I did. I had the opportunity to travel to Kenya and participate in a unique and heartwarming experience of skills-based volunteering. I spent this past week volunteering at the Karibu Centre in Thika, Kenya, the fourth largest city in Kenya, about an hour’s drive outside of Nairobi. My initial expectation was that I would spend the week making art with the preschoolers and teaching the teens how to code in the STEAM classes, but what I found here was so much more than just a nonprofit that provides educational programs to the community. Not only does the Karibu Centre offer these educational programs, but they have also run a sustainable social enterprise program for 12 months now, which is a great accomplishment.
During a typical day of volunteering, we would start with a Kenyan breakfast of taro root and mandazi (small fried doughnuts) followed by special Kenya tea, a blend of black tea and lemongrass. The breakfast table was full of team members and new friends from different companies and backgrounds.
The first day we sat down with Luke Kincaid, Karibu Centre Board Member, to outline projects that we could work on all week as well as opportunities for us to integrate with the preschoolers and teens. Luke’s philosophy is to have volunteers help out in areas that are similar to their professional occupations and take advantage of the specialized skills that they bring. our companies pay us for a skill, so we are able to bring an area of expertise to the Karibu Centre.
My particular group helped run their social media campaign, developed a holiday sale for the cosmetic products that they make, researched distribution centers in order to scale the cosmetic social enterprise business, and created a financial model for 2018. We would work about 3 hours a day on our individual projects and spent the rest of the day playing with the pre-school kids, visiting the daycare, and helping out in the STEAM program.
The afternoons were spent with Nelson, the groundskeeper who runs the sustainable farm. Nelson is very knowledgeable about Kenyan farming practices and passionate about the plants and animals on the land. The farm produces enough food to feed all the kids at the Karibu Centre two hot meals a day. Nelson had us picking kale, weeding, herding escaped rabbits, and making compost, something that many of us had never done before.
Each night before dinner would be Steve’s hour! Steve is the Team Director and planned an event for the team each day where we could learn more about the surrounding area and local culture. We toured the nearby neighborhoods where the children live in tuktuks (small three-wheeled vehicles), learned how to cook traditional Kenyan food, and bonded over a bonfire while roasting corn. The gracious staff at the Karibu Centre, along with the smiling kids, made this volunteer experience one-of-a-kind.
In addition to the educational programs, the Karibu Centre runs a sustainable social enterprise. The Karibu Centre sits on 10 acres of land, and the majority of that land is aloe fields. The parents of the children in the educational programs harvest the aloe that is then used to make cosmetic products, like soap, hand wash, lotion, and lip balm. The parents later wrap and package the products to be sold under the Organic Savanna brand. The profits from this social enterprise go towards funding the center, but there are also plans to expand and build new centres in different cities in Kenya.
Traveling to a new country is always rewarding and humbling, and this experience has been no different. I met so many kind, caring, hard-working, and passionate people on this trip, and it will be hard to say goodbye.
Feeling inspired? There are several ways that you can get involved in this cause. If you are interested in volunteering at the Karibu Centre, visit their website or donate to the centre and help them expand their work to other communities.
Lastly, you can check out more information about pro bono/skills based volunteering at Salesforce.