I travelled to Ndhiwa in Kenya for 5 weeks to volunteer with First Aid Africa, a charity which aims to reduce the mortality and morbidity resulting from injuries by providing sustainable first aid equipment and training. My role was to teach first aid to various local groups and schools. I chose this particular project as I had previously had bad experiences working on similar projects which weren’t sustainable as they had no way to make any long-term changes without the continuous provision of time and money from British volunteers. First Aid Africa on the other hand, aims to train up local people to the extent that, after a few years they will be able to continue our teaching without us, allowing us to move on to a new region. They also ensure that it is possible to make all the equipment they use from locally available materials.
My main concern before I left was that the local people would be unenthusiastic to learn what we had to teach as it would contradict commonly held superstitious beliefs about how best to treat injuries. Thankfully, this did not prove to be a problem. I think this was probably due to the fact that our charity had been operating in the region for several years already so that people were familiar with it and it had gained a good reputation. We also worked closely in conjunction with local trainers who were able to assist with any translation issues and explain to us any superstitious beliefs that we would have to overcome. They were then able to help us explain to the trainees why the methods we were teaching would be more successful.
The main problem which arose was actually one which I hadn’t anticipated at all. I was initially rather offended when trainees repeatedly didn’t turn up at the times we had arranged with them or made last minute cancellations without communicating this to us. After discussing this with the local trainers however, I realised that they weren’t being rude but rather that Kenyans simply don’t have the same culture of punctuality and planning as we are used to in Britain. This works fine if everybody is expecting it to be like this but it was a problem for us, who were trying to work to a tight schedule. I would advise anyone else travelling to Kenya to be prepared for people to turn up up to 2 hours late for scheduled events and to plan their schedules so that they are flexible enough to be able to deal with this. It’s much better to relax and go along with the less rigidly planned way of life rather than to try to implement the same punctuality we are used to in Britain and get continually frustrated when nobody understands why you are in such a hurry!