What can I expect when volunteering for Kenya Health?
Most Kenya health volunteers arrive ready to give most things a go and are able to “go with the flow”. Very often things don’t quite run to plan so being adaptable and able to improvise are two very useful skills to have. The duration of our outreach medical clinic trips is 3-4 weeks.
Clinics are run in various locations around Nakuru. During some trips the team is away for several days doing outreach clinics further afield. This provides a good opportunity to experience some other areas of Kenya.
A typical clinic day starts around 8.30 after a hearty breakfast. After travelling, picking up supplies and local helpers, clinics are usually underway by 10am and run for 5 hours or so. Lunch is a banana and a soda on the go. A stop in town on the way home allows for a late afternoon meal there or to stock up on supplies to eat back at the accommodation. Evenings are spent planning, washing, staying in touch with family and friends, viewing the day’s photographs, or playing with the children from the nearby orphanage.
Free days are spent relaxing, sightseeing, souvenir hunting at the local masai market, visiting Kanana knitters and Bagamoyo bags or on safari. If there is somewhere special you would like to visit please ask and we will do our best to arrange it.
Accommodation is shared basic western style with shower, toilet and electricity (most of the time).
Medical and general volunteers
Most Kenya Health volunteers are nurses, though volunteers from any health field will find their skills useful. We always need 1 or 2 other helpers to assist with dispensing medicines, setting up, packing up and a multitude of other tasks.
Basic travel information
For those who are curious about the basic travel information for volunteers in Kenya we have put together the essential information to get you started on your volunteer experience in Kenya. Once you choose to volunteer on one of our trips we will help organise your travel plans, however volunteers wanting to do other travelling in Kenya will need to make their own arrangements. We are happy to provide any information we can.
Kenya enjoys a tropical climate. It is normally hot and humid at the coast, temperate inland and very dry in the North and North East parts of the country.
The average annual temperature for the coastal town of Mombasa (altitude 17 meters) is 30ºC maximum and 22ºC minimum. In the capital city Nairobi (altitude 1,661 meters) there is normally a 28ºC maximum and 13ºC minimum. Nakuru, where Kenya Health is based, is approximately 3 hours drive North West of Nairobi and has day time temperatures of 26 – 29ºC and night time temperatures of about 12ºC.
There is plenty of sunshine all the year round and summer clothes are worn throughout the year. However, it is usually cool at night and early in the morning.
The long rains occur from April to June and short rains from October to December. The rainfall is sometimes heavy and when it does come it often falls in the afternoons and evenings. The hottest period is from February to March and coldest in July to August.
The annual migration of wildlife between Serengeti National Park in Tanzania and Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya takes place between June and September.
You will need a Kenyan Visitors Visa before you arrive in Kenya.
There are 2 options to obtain this visa:
- You can buy this at the airport when you arrive in Nairobi for $50 American Dollars which is what we have always done without problems (you will need actual U.S. currency for this).
- You can organise the visa before you leave by contacting the Kenyan Embassy. You can also have your travel agent arrange this for you at a fee.
Once you arrive in Kenya you will need to advise what the reason is for your visit. It is important to contact volunteer coordinator re visa/customs information and Kenya Health will advise you further of the information you will need and the address in Nakuru to note down when you are applying for the visa.
The airport you need to fly into is ‘Nairobi Kenyatta International Airport’ – NBO
Once travel dates are confirmed, flights are booked through a local travel agent in Coolangatta. Travelling together as a group from Brisbane is ideal. If you are planning to travel individually for part of or entire duration of the journey we can pass on all necessary details. We usually plan to arrive in Nairobi on a Sunday as the traffic is less chaotic than other days and allows a timely onward journey by taxi or minibus to Nakuru. This journey takes around 2 1/2 hours depending on traffic.
We suggest you travel as light as possible for 3 reasons:
- Life is much simpler without large amounts of luggage to cart about
- The unused baggage allowance can be utilised by taking Kenya Health’s stash of donated goods
- More room for souvenirs
It is a good idea to take a lightweight compressible overnight bag in your suitcase as there may well be times when you will only need enough for a few nights with possibly limited room in a vehicle.
It is important for all volunteers to have adequate travel insurance in place. Rotary provide a very comprehensive policy free of charge for Kenya Health volunteers. It is up to each individual to read the information provided to be sure to make alternative arrangements if necessary.
Individuals need to see a travel doctor to arrange the necessary vaccinations. Some doctors may recommend others such as Cholera, Flu and Rabies. It is up to each volunteer to decide on their own requirements.
Previous volunteers with Kenya health have all had the following:
- Hepatitis A – Recommended for all travellers
- Typhoid – Recommended for all travellers
- Yellow fever – Recommended for all travellers greater than nine months of age. This vaccination is important when travelling to Kenya as your certificate may be checked upon your return to Australia or when entering other countries
- Polio – One-time booster recommended for any adult traveller who completed the childhood series but never had the polio vaccine as an adult
- Hepatitis B
- Measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) – Two doses recommended for all travellers born after 1956, if not previously given.
- Tetanus-diphtheria – Revaccination recommended every 10 years
Malaria prophylaxis is also recommended. There are a couple of options for this which you can discuss with your doctor. We use either Malorone or Doxycycline. Some of these medications can be quite expensive. We advise volunteers to check with us before you purchase these as we may have some left from a previous trip.
What to bring
No need to pack many clothes as you will often end up wearing the same thing most of the time anyway.
Some useful clothes to bring:
- Jeans/Cargo pants
- 3/4 length pants
- Long shorts
Things that are light and easy to dry are ideal.
Polo shirts with the “Kenya Health” logo are available to purchase at a very reasonable cost. Having two of these leaves you one to wear and one in the wash for all clinic days and other times you may be representing “Kenya Health”. Tank tops are fine as long as they are not low cut/revealing (mostly to be worn at home and avoided when going into town).
We also recommend that you bring 2 casual or dressy outfits. Clothes that are suitable are those such as a skirt (knee length is suitable) and top, or dress, in case you wish to attend church or some other function. Warm jumpers and jacket are advisable for mornings and evenings.
Some other useful things to bring include:
- A travel pillow and travel towel can be useful (Bedding and towels are provided with the accommodation)
- A torch and alarm clock
Universal adapter – Kenya has electricity sockets the same as the UK (2 round pins)
English is widely spoken in the larger centres. The older population and those without access to education (of which there are many) do not speak or understand much English. Kiswahlli is the local language and it is quite worthwhile (and fun) to familiarise yourself with the basics of this language. Interpreters are always available for clinics.
Bottled water is widely available in Kenya and it is quite inexpensive.
Phones and internet
The cheapest way to stay in touch with family and friends by phone is to purchase a Kenyan sim card. To use a Kenyan sim card your phone will need to be unlocked. You can even purchase an unlocked phone in Kenya for as little as $30. Texting is quite inexpensive. To call home is considerably more costly, although cheaper than the global roaming rates of the main Australian providers.
If you bring a laptop with you wireless internet is another way to stay in touch. You will need an unlocked usb internet modem (dongle) and can purchase credit through a local Kenyan provider such as Safaricom. Approximately $30 will give you 4GB of data to use Skype, email or Facebook. Coverage in most areas we visit is very good. The electricity supply can be unreliable at times so keeping things charged can be a bit of a challenge.
It is a good idea to bring a small amount of US currency ($100 – $150) in case you get stuck with a non-functioning ATM at some point. You will need $50 US for you Visa anyway. US dollars can always be exchanged. Travellers’ cheques are very difficult to change.
The local currency is Kenyan shillings. You can always check out the current exchange rate at www.xe.com.
We suggest you bring a debit card or pre-loaded credit card to use for cash withdrawals. This can be done at several ATMs in the area. Check with your bank and shop around for a card which does not charge a high fee for cash withdrawals as cash is the most common method of paying for things in Kenya. You will be able to withdraw some Kenyan shillings from an ATM on arrival at the airport.
The word safari is synonymous with Africa. Most people visiting Kenya for the first time plan to include a safari at some stage.
The Masai Mara National Reserve is the most popular location for this. A 3 day safari staying in a tented camp can cost around $400 Australian dollars. This includes accommodation/meals/park entry/all transport. Bedding & towels are supplied. We can arrange this from Nakuru. Masai Mara is approximately 4 hours’ drive from Nakuru
Lake Nakuru National Park which is famous for its flamingos and white rhinos can be done as a day trip from Nakuru
Hells Gate National Park is a lesser known park 2-3 hours from Nakuru. Visitors are allowed to cycle through this park. An overnight stay and a trip on nearby Lake Naivasha to view the hippos is very easy to organise from Nakuru.
Volunteers wanting to do other travelling in Kenya will need to make their own arrangements. We are happy to provide any information we can.