Ashley Craig, Leah Snyder, Brittany Stokes and Dana Van De Vaarst came to Kenya together and volunteered in special needs at the Ongata Special Home Care and Training Center. Each shared their thoughts and experiences with us!
Ladies, where are you from and where do you go school, what are you studying?
Ashley, Leah, Brittany, and Dana go to Wesley College in Dover, Delaware as Graduate Students for a Master’s of Occupational Therapy. Before attending Wesley College, they earned their undergraduate degrees at different universities. Leah went to Penn State University, Ashley and Brittany went to Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and Dana went to Georgian Court University in New Jersey. What is so special about this current Spring semester is that they will be graduating with their Master’s degrees from Wesley College, but their graduate work was complimented by their amazing service to others in Kenya!
You might be wondering what an Occupational Therapist does. We were wondering the same so we asked the ladies to share more about that… check it out!
- Occupational Therapists help individuals throughout the entire lifespan with an illness or disability return to their prior level of function. We work closely with physical therapists and speech/language pathologists. Our goal as occupational therapists is to consider the client’s needs and wants to increase their quality of life and ensure good health and well-being. We also understand the importance of helping clients establish or reestablish habits, routines, rituals, and roles. We achieve this by helping people perform daily self-care activities such as bathing, dressing, toileting, feeding, and hygiene/grooming, as well as increasing their ability to participate in meal preparation, shopping, education, play/leisure activities, and social participation. An occupational therapist is able to determine ways to adapt and modify tasks to create a safe and efficient method to participate in these activities with optimal performance and increased independence.
As you can see from that description, their work in the world is extremely important. Their home towns, friends and family must so proud of them! Dana comes from Ocean County, New Jersey while Ashley (Montour County), Brittany (Lehigh County) and Leah (Delaware County) all come from New Jersey’s neighbor- Pennsylvania.
We asked the ladies how they prepared for their volunteer work in Kenya
Each of these women worked incredibly hard to prepare for their trip to Kenya to volunteer. Not only did they have to address any vaccination needs, they also spent time raising money to help them carry out any project work once in Kenya. This is always exciting since it allows so many friends and family to also be part of their experience. Some of the fundraising efforts involved a Bake Sale as well as selling hats and jackets- creative! This was not the only preparation they did though. Each of them also spent time learning about the country and culture of Kenya, even chatting up previous volunteers online! Dana, Ashley, Britney and Leah were also aware that the language spoken in Kenya was different- Swahili. In addition to Swahili, there are other tribal languages spoken, as well as English. The ladies decided to learn a new Swahili word each day leading up to their trip which certainly helped once they were on the ground with the local community. Hakuna Matata, right?
Arriving in a new country so different from one’s own can offer a variety of emotions. Our future Occupational Therapists were no different! Each shared their initial thoughts when they arrived! Check out what they shared…
Ashley | “I was super excited and nervous to be in Africa. I could not wait to meet our host family and work with the children on activities of daily living.”
Dana | “It didn’t actually hit me until we were leaving when I thought….Wow, we’re in Kenya, Africa! I don’t think I ever felt nervous, I was extremely excited that we were finally here and off of that plane (13 hr. direct plane ride). I was pumped and ready to start working with the children and seeing what this country had to offer (which exceeded my expectations)
Brittany | I was so excited to immerse myself in the Kenyan culture! I couldn’t wait to meet the people and our host family, who by the way were absolutely amazing and made me feel like family! I also couldn’t wait to discover where our placement would be and to meet the children, as I heard so many good things about all the placements!
Leah | “I had no words, for the months of planning and waiting it had finally arrived. I was so incredibly excited to experience a new culture and help through IVHQ – NVS with my classmates/friends.”
Our future OT’s did so much for the youth at Ongata Rongai Special Home Care and Training Center! They participated in a variety of occupational therapy techniques and exercises which included positioning to help with feeding, toileting, and functional mobility, stretching of the arms and legs for those children suffering from contractures, social participation with playing games, coloring or dancing, fine motor and gross motor skills like holding crayons or putting stickers in books, sensory integration which is the proprioception awareness, eye contact with others and self regulation. We also worked on oral motor skills using lollipops, blowing bubbles which was so much fun and reminding the kids to swallow before another bite of food.
When you come volunteer with us in Kenya, it has an impact! We asked the ladies to share the impact that it had for them in their life
Ashley: The impact Kenya had was life changing; from the culture, to volunteering, to touring; I would do it again in a heartbeat. I really learned a lot about the culture and how it is different from America. I feel like I have a new take on life, 10 days was not enough in Kenya. It is very important to be thankful and always be happy for what we do have. Many of the children at Ongata Special Home Care and Training Centre were suffering from illness or injuries and always had a smile on their face and were happy with what they had even if it was very little. Kenyans have a huge heart and care for everyone like their own. It was really nice to know we were loved from day one and taken in as their own children. I felt very honored to be a part of their family and help them in anyway. Family dinners consisted of everyone around the TV, eating, and conversing about their day as we watched local sitcoms. I will never forget all the children. To this day I can’t say what my favorite day was because every day was an adventure and very impacting.
Dana: I went into this experience with everyone I spoke to telling me it would change my outlook on life. They were not wrong at all. I understood from the beginning that I was leaving my home in the USA with constant running water, food and electricity, and entering a place where some people are unsure if they would get a cup of water that day. It was unbelievable how we can be so unhappy in the USA with all that we have and yet in Kenya, our host families were more than willing to give us anything we needed/wanted even if it meant they received less. There was not one moment where I felt unsafe. I felt like part of the family. The hardest part was saying goodbye to the family and the children. Ten days was not enough to make an impact on the centre and the children, but it was enough to make an impact on me. I was shown unconditional love and generosity throughout my trip. I will forever carry that with me and never take anything for granted at home.
Brittany: Kenya has changed me forever! The people of Kenya have so little yet provided so much love, support, and such great hospitality. Most Kenyans live day by day walking miles to their job and spending relentless hours to just make enough money to support their family. Just ten days in Kenya has impacted my life in so many ways. To not take anything in life for granted because here in America we have everything we could ever ask for. We have cars, brand new phones, constant running water, our own bedroom, plenty of food in the kitchen, appliances, and money for extracurricular activities, and vacations. Yet, many of us still complain that it’s not good enough! It has taught me to love everything and everyone you have in your life. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner families gather around to eat with one another. Those little moments out of our day with my second family are ones I’ll never forget, as it’s so important to have this time with family. I can’t thank IVHQ – NVS and my host family enough for everything they did for me. I will be back again one day, Kenya! Asante Sana (thank you)!
Leah: I am forever changed by this (way too short) 10-day experience. Every, single person I met was kind and welcoming- it was a breath of fresh air compared to some of the experiences I have had at home in America. I found myself completely immersed in the country’s culture right away because of the openness of community to travelers. Volunteer-wise, it is hard to put into words how the experience at Ongata Special Home Care and Training Centre affected me. The children there are full of life, love, and wonder, and are unfortunately misunderstood by their community. All they want is to be loved, and luckily, they get that and much more thanks to Diana, Henry, and the numerous other volunteers that donate their time to the orphanage. I feel very fortunate that I was able to, and am now, part of the Ongata Special Home Care and Training Centre and IVHQ- NVS family
We had one more question for these amazing ladies…. What was something interesting you learned about Kenya or the culture while you were with us?
- We learned how to make Mandazi or small fried dough bites. In Kenya they are typically eaten for breakfast and they use jam or butter as spreads. In America, Mandazi could be similar in taste to a funnel cake without the powdered sugar and much smaller in size, typically.
- Unlike America, dinner is the most important (and largest) meal of the day, compared to our breakfast.
- Dana: I actually celebrated a birthday while in Kenya and I found that it was similar to how we celebrate in the USA with singing, dessert and candles.
- We spoke to a local taxi driver about the difference in paying for additional schooling to receive higher degrees. In the USA, universities are very expensive, so our government will loan us money to pay for school that we then have to pay back to the government after we graduate.
- While we did see a couple dogs on leashes, we noticed a lot of stray dogs roaming the local streets. I did see one building that was a Kenya SPCA. In the USA, SPCA organizations are all over our country to take stray dogs off the streets and place them in homes.
- We learned that the largest “slum” in Africa is Kibera in Kenya and it is also among the top 5 largest “slums” in the world.
- In Nairobi there are designated sections in the main city for smoking, whereas in the USA smoking is allowed outside anywhere, with few exceptions.
Our soon to be Occupational Therapists do have plans to return to Kenya which is so exciting for the kids at their placement as well as us! We appreciated their time and dedication to serving the kids at Ongata Rongai Special Home Care and Training Centre. We are very excited to hear about their upcoming graduation, as well as the jobs they end up in. We can absolutely say that whomever hires these ladies is getting the best Occupational Therapist out there and we are also proud of them at Networks for Voluntary Services of Kenya!