Janelle MacBain came to Kenya in 2015 and again in 2017 and volunteered in Kibera in music education. Kibera is one of many placement areas for volunteer work, but Kibera is also one of the world’s largest informal settlements too. Her work in music education with the children for 6 weeks made a difference in their time at school, so many developed an interest and love for music because of Janelle!
Janelle is from Calgary, Alberta, Canada and went to Selkirk College in Nelson, British Columbia. She studied Contemporary Music with a focus on vocal performance.
We asked Janelle what made her want to volunteer in Kenya and this is what she shared…..
“Africa has always been on my bucket list ever since I can remember. I wasn’t set on any one part of Africa in particular until I learned that IVHQ has a music education program in Kenya. As soon as I found out that I could visit Kenya and share music with children there, I was sold. I registered at IVHQ and then volunteered with their in-country partner, Networks for Voluntary Services.
Preparing to go to a foreign country… Janelle, what did you do to prepare to come to Kenya?
“I did a lot of reading about Kenya. I wanted to be knowledgeable about the country I was going to visit, so I learned a bit of their history and about the landscape, the food and the culture. All of this reading made me feel more prepared, but I also learned that reading just doesn’t quite match up to the experience of actually being there. It was still not exactly how I had pictured it. It was better! But learning as much as I could about Kenya prior to my trip made me feel safer and more confident in travelling there by myself.
Since I was going to teach music lessons, I also prepared for that aspect of my trip by putting together lessons plans and gathering as many ideas as I could. I didn’t know how many students I would be teaching, what instruments, or what their musical backgrounds would be. So, I did my best to gather as wide variety of resources that I could use in my lessons.”
Getting off the plane in a new country had to come with some thoughts or feelings….. what was this like for you, Janelle?
“I had done a little bit of travelling prior to my trip to Kenya, but I hadn’t done any significant solo trips. As the day of my trip approached, I was getting very nervous.
“To be honest, when I landed….it was a very overwhelming situation. I was exhausted from my flights and had no way to contact anyone at this point. But very quickly, I noticed a man standing with a sign that read “IVHQ” and I felt relief wash over me. I went over to say hello and he said he was expecting me. He was so friendly and drive me right to the volunteer house where I stayed until Orientation Day. I felt proud of myself for making my way through an unfamiliar situation and finding the driver who had been assigned to pick me up. It is never easy arriving alone in a country you have never been to before, but I made it and felt safe”
Janelle volunteered as a music teacher at KAG Olympic Educational Centre in Kibera. “Music class is an extracurricular at this school, so the kids and I would meet on certain days for about an hour after their classes finished. When I first started teaching, I had a class that consisted of about 10 students. By the end of my 6 weeks, I had 45 students showing up regularly for music! Luckily, there were a couple other music volunteers by this point, so we were able to split the class up into some smaller groups for lessons.”
We asked Janelle what she liked most about her volunteer placement and this is what she said…..
“Of course the children I taught were wonderful, but I also became close friends with many staff members at KAG. In my down time I either helped the cooks in the kitchen prepare lunches for the students, or chatted with Ayub, the school’s director, and found ways that I could help him out as well. The staff were so welcoming and so enjoyable to spend time with at KAG.”
“My college music experience came in handy since I was teaching music classes. Prior to my trip I had also taught private piano and voice lessons at home for a couple of years, so this was also helpful. It was also really helpful that I’d had experience working with children prior to my volunteer trip.
Going back to your home country must have been another adjustment….. talk with us about that in case there are other volunteers experiencing the same thing or getting ready to….
“Since coming home from Kenya, there are certain aspects of my life that have changed. I live my life with a lot more gratitude for the small things than I used to. Every person I met in Kenya was generous, kind, and full of happiness. It really made me take a closer look at how materialistic our society is. Many of us fail to realize just how lucky we are, and how thankful we should be for the fact that our basic needs are met so easily. My trip to Kenya made me more aware of things that I used to complain about, and now I try to catch those complaints before they come out of my mouth, and reframe them into ways in which I can be thankful instead.”
Let’s get real about saying goodbye……. Can you share some honest thoughts about the close of your experience volunteering in Kenya?
“When I woke up on my last day in Kenya, I felt so incredibly sad and unprepared to say goodbye to the friends I had made, and the children I had taught. I didn’t feel like I had to hide my sadness, because every other volunteer who had come and gone during my trip had experienced similar emotions. We all understood each other and the sadness that comes along with the end of each person’s trip. Despite these difficult goodbyes that had to be said, though, I felt extremely grateful for the experience I’d had in my six weeks in Kenya. Feeling sad at the end of a trip just emphasizes how amazing the trip was in the first place, and that makes the tough goodbyes worthwhile.
As I said goodbye to each person, I made a conscious decision that I would return to Kenya again someday. I felt that I had formed bonds with people that would not just disappear over time. So I did go back to Kenya again 2 years after my first volunteer trip, and I am confident that I will continue to go back again and again.”
And Janelle, we would love to have you back again and again, just saying! We know the kids loved their time learning from you!
So one last question for you…. if someone was on the fence of coming to volunteer in Kenya, unsure if they want to do it not, what would you say to them on that?
“Kenya is simply a gorgeous country. The landscape. The animals. The culture. And, of course, the people! The people in Kenya are friendly, generous, welcoming, and so eager to share their culture with others. I fell in love with Kenya within the first 24 hours of being there, and now I can’t help but feel that it’s my second home. I would recommend Kenya to anyone without any hesitation.”