Helen Turner, one of our interns this summer, talks about her interest in international development and how a trip to Kenya last year shaped it:
I have always been interested in international development and charity work, and I am lucky that this interest has so far led me to have some great experiences – one of which is having the opportunity to volunteer with Just a Drop! When I heard about the chance to take up the voluntary intern position for the summer, I knew it would be something worthwhile. I had some understanding and concept of the importance of the type of work that Just a Drop does from my own previous experience of being in Nairobi, Kenya, in July 2013.
This chance came about through my involvement and later co-leadership at Durham University of the Korogocho School Project, a small student-led fundraising group working to support the New Star Light Primary School in the Korogocho slum in Nairobi. After fundraising for the academic year in 2012-13 (and successfully, considering the project had only just been set up!), a small group of us were able to travel out to Kenya to visit the school, meet the staff and students, and find out more about their needs.
New to Nairobi
I had never travelled to anywhere like Kenya before, and definitely nowhere quite like Nairobi. People had told me to expect some culture shock, but really after a couple of trips through the city centre, you get kind of used to dodging traffic for which a red light means nothing, and hearing calls of ‘mzungu!’ (Swahili for westerner) in many places! On a similar note, before the trip I had wondered about and thought I should mentally prepare myself for what being in a ‘real-life slum’ would be like. Korogocho is Nairobi’s fourth largest informal settlement and does of course suffer from inadequate sanitation and water provision, poverty and poor living conditions.
In truth, however, on the days that we made the walk from where our matutu bus dropped us off to New Star Light, I didn’t experience quite the shock-factor that a life of Comic Relief-esque images seemed to have conditioned me to expect. Yes, conditions were rough, with sludgy streets, open drains, ramshackle houses and a very polluted river running through the town. But behind that, there were just people. People living their everyday lives; people like the teachers at the school who were clearly so passionate about education and trying to make a better life for the kids, despite their basic (to say the least) facilities.
The school is a shell of a building, which they have never been able to afford to improve upon, with scraps of blackboard in the classrooms for teaching over 30 children in each one. They also had very poor sanitation facilities, with only two pit latrines servicing over 500 children. That’s why the project was delighted to be able to donate its first year’s funds to the construction of a brand new block of pit latrines.
Just a Drop
And knowing the difference this has made to the school is one of the many reasons why I wanted to volunteer at Just a Drop. What may seem like such simple water and sanitation solutions can make vast improvements to peoples’ lives, especially when they are locally driven, as Korogocho School Project’s was and Just a Drop’s projects working with local partners are. I’m therefore happy to be helping in the small ways I can – writing blogs such as this, assisting with funding research, and whatever else I may end up doing next! So thank you to the Just a Drop team for having me!