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Volunteering in Kenya - Travel Writing Winner!

Congratulations to Tasha McDonnell, the winner of our travel writing competition! Tasha is 17, from Chester, and she went to Kenya to volunteer in July 2011:

"Having spent my childhood summers on the beach in tourist areas of France and Spain, I had always wanted to go somewhere unique and experience a different culture. I didn't think I would possibly be able to fund such a trip until I'd been to university, achieved my maths degree and begun working, but boy was I wrong! Enter Mr Ives; my maths teacher, who was offering a month long expedition to Kenya with Outlook Expeditions to experience Mountain Climbing, Conservation work and - most excitingly - a taste of the Kenyan culture. The fact that I had to raise several thousand pounds in order to pay for the trip wasn't relevant to me, I was sold. volunteers with children in Kenya

From then on, every birthday and Christmas present came in the form of money towards the expedition and I raised the rest by doing anything I possibly could: from cleaning my parent's cars to organising band nights. In July 2011 myself and 9 other students from my school embarked upon the adventure of a life-time.

We arrived with a very British view, holding our bags tightly and sticking together as we passed through the airport doors. However, as I left the airport, I was immediately hit by a wave of hot air and a refreshing sense of adventure. Our naive view was soon abolished and we began using local taxi drivers and walking down the streets with confidence. It was through this confidence that we met some people whom I would now consider to be great friends.

During the trip I was pushed over by a baboon who proceeded to steal my lunch, I was charged at by a hippo and a buffalo and hid from elephants for over an hour in the rainforest. Each of these experiences would be frightening to most, but I couldn't have asked for anything more! I put aside the many assumptions and worries that are spoon-fed to us from a young age and every past fear became a new excitement. I was immediately drawn into the way of life; the mandatory lateness and politeness. I had been anxious at the thought of leaving my precious mobile phone at home but after just one day, I was already so adapted to my month-long home that I had forgotten it even existed!

Each day I awoke excited for the challenges and adventures that I would face: whether it would be a day of teaching at Langalanga primary school, another day's hiking up the 4985m beast that was Mount Kenya or cycling through the open planes of Kenya's beautiful safari parks. Each day brought a new challenge and at the end of it, we would reflect upon what we had achieved and the obstacles we had overcome. Sitting around our trangias in the pitch black at 6pm waiting for pasta water to boil was possibly one of the biggest of those obstacles, but even that didn't dampen our spirits! 170x130_fitbox-kenya_tasha_sunset.jpg

One of the most memorable parts of the experience for me was the time we spent teaching at the primary school; every child was thrilled to have us "mzungu" (white people) with them and we were asked hundreds of questions about British culture. One even asked us about Wayne Rooney's hair transplant! The children were incredibly open with us, telling us about the difficulties faced by Kenyan children, but they told us this with no shame: they were proud to be Kenyan and proud to be in education even though they were aware that for most of them, secondary school fees were out of the question.

During our time at the school we met a 16 year old boy named Michael, he was an orphan and had lived on the streets for several years before being welcomed into the home of Monicah Wangui. She had converted her home into an orphanage and has since devoted her retirement to providing a loving home for the street children of central Kenya to give them opportunities they would not receive on the streets. Michael invited us to visit the orphanage and upon our arrival we were shocked to see a small building made of wood and sticks with several rooms, most of which had no windows to let in light. There were rows of rusting bunk-beds in each room, most without a mattress. Despite the conditions they were living in, the boys of Ubuntu Orphanage were some of the happiest children I met in Kenya. They told us of their outstanding football skills but how the richer children laughed at their ripped shorts and bare feet during games.

Because we had raised some extra money before we left England, we were luckily in a position to be able to buy each child a matching football kit and boots. On top of this, they had a large amount of debt to the local supermarket which we were able to clear and give again in advance for their future shopping. Their incredible gratitude and joyful songs of praise are memories that will stay with me forever. kenyan children

This experience made me realize what I had been missing on my family summer holidays; I had been busy sitting by the pool making sure I was taking good pictures for Facebook and getting a tan, when I could have been spending that time making a difference to other people's lives and embarking upon adventures that so few others can say they have experienced. I don't think I would ever be content going on a package holiday again, I have applied for a deferred entry to university and in just a month's time I will be booking flights for my return to Kenya in 2013 to teach maths and English at a Masai primary school for 7 months. It will be a completely different experience going alone and for such a long time but I feel no anxiety or fear; I am far too excited to get back to the culture that I already miss so much and to have the opportunity to visit my Kenyan friends again. I think I am living proof that no obstacle - even money - should stand in the way of a trip of a lifetime. I will be eternally grateful to Mr Ives and Outlook Expeditions for opening my eyes to the opportunities I had previously overlooked. Before Kenya, I had heard people saying that a trip had 'changed their life' and always thought it was an overstatement but after a month, i could already see a change in myself and I have well and truly developed the travel bug."

If Tasha's experience has inspired you, take a look at our Africa destinations page, or our Volunteering page.