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Volunteer in Kenya

Volunteering in Kenya is an amazing opportunity to experience the traditional Masai culture, national parks with rich wildlife and support a good cause...

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Volunteer Opportunities in Kenya

Volunteer opportunities in Kenya

Kenya hosts a great number of globally important and internationally recognized species and habitats; this includes savannah rangelands and forests, as well as a variety of habitats in the coastal and marine environment. Hence, the conservation of animals and the environment is a topic of concern for many projects in Kenya. But not only the animals are in need of your help: the local communities, as well as the country's infrastructure, could use some support, too. If you're thinking about volunteer opportunities in Kenya, you might want to know a little more about the people and riches of this beautiful country and the ways to help and conserve them.

Animal and wildlife conservation

One of the 'Seven Natural Wonders of Africa' takes place in Kenya every year between June and September: the annual animal migration, a unique spectacle that cannot be missed! Andthat's just one of the reasons why Kenya's wildlife diversity has attracted worldwide fame. Tourists visit Kenya especially for its populations of large mammals.

Unfortunately, many of these wildlife species, such as lions or rhinos, are suffering habitat loss and this, together with illegal hunting, has significantly decreased the numbers of many of the wildlife species that inhabit Kenya. This is another area of volunteer work in Kenya. As a wildlife conservation volunteer in Kenya, you would:

  • help to reduce the human-animal conflict
  • conserve and protect wildlife
  • assist in research and data collection
  • ensure that local communities could benefit from wildlife conservation and Ecotourism development
  • help out at a tour guiding school for local residents to become more involved in the tourism process

Biodiversity and its conservation

The vegetation types in Kenya vary between extremes, and they change accordingly to the variations in climate and altitude. This creates a unique biodiversity. On one side of the country are the plains of the Nyika plateau, as well as large parts of north-western Kenya and the Mara river which feature dry forests and savannah. On the other side, in the northern part of the country, we can find arid deserts that foster different types of forests.

To help and protect these landscapes as a volunteer in Kenya, you can join a conservation project and get involved in some hands-on work. Some projects focus on teaching modern agricultural skills to alleviate poverty and hunger in the less fortunate areas of Kenya. The use of organic and sustainable farming techniques as well as the promotion of alternative sources of energy ensure that the environment does not suffer under this progress.

Medical and healthcare

Kenya's health infrastructure shows a disparity between urban and rural regions. Rural areas lack investment and medical institutions are way too understaffed. Additionally to this, Kenya struggles against tropical diseases (especially malaria and tuberculosis), and in recent years, HIV/AIDS have also become a public health problem. In the year 2004, it was announced that HIV/AIDS had surpassed malaria and tuberculosis as the leading disease killer in the country. This is the reason why Kenya's life expectancy has dropped dramatically, some data indicating that it dropped by about a decade. Maternal mortality is a health issue in the country as well.

Being a volunteer in health care can be a great opportunity for you to really make a difference in the lives of the unfortunate and offer you some hands-on medical experience. Coming from a medical background, your help is always well received. As a volunteer in Kenya you can join many medical projects in areas such as:

  • medical and healthcare internships
  • hospital placements
  • medical education about nutrition and providing food
  • HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention

Teaching in Kenya

Kenya's education system has certainly experienced a development and the country has worked hard to create a great number of public and private universities; as well as middle-level colleges. Nevertheless, literacy levels in Kenya are low. 5% of all children are not enrolled in school, and this is particularly bad in rural regions. Schools also struggle to offer quality education. As a consequence, many children are older than expected for their class level. This is mainly so because schools don't receive governmental support on a regular basis and are severely understaffed.

Volunteering as a teacher and mentor in these schools is not only rewarding, it will also help pursue your academic career. You will be working alongside teachers and other volunteers with students of all ages and backgrounds. Among others, your teaching tasks can consist of:

  • preparing and giving lessons
  • creating and playing educational games
  • tutoring and coaching in sports and IT skills
  • motivating and empowering local youths

Support community services

Given that Kenya is the most powerful economy in East Africa, it is still a developing country and poverty and inequalities continue to be a great social concern. You might like to consider becoming a community volunteer, in Kenya and help to tackle the many social issues the country has to face.

There are many social volunteer programs in Kenya that aim to work on these community issues. Volunteering at one of them gives you the opportunity to make a great difference for local communities and to improve various aspects of the local people's lives. Volunteer opportunities in Kenya in the field of community development are:

  • women empowerment support
  • child care and buddy programs
  • taking care of and rehabilitating street children
  • construction programs
  • cultural conservation programs
  • working at local orphanages

Before you decide on one of the volunteer programs in Kenya that are concerned with orphanage-work, make sure you are prepared for your task and understand what to expect. Many of these children have experienced violence or abuse and are traumatized. For this reason, it is essential that volunteers MUST have appropriate skills. If not you could be putting yourself and the children at risk. Therefore, if you wish to work at an orphanage, you should meet at least one of the following requirements:

  • experience in working with traumatized children
  • training as a child caretaker
  • training as a psychologist
  • training as a social worker

Cost of living

The suggested daily budget for living as a volunteer in Kenya is between US$ 16 and US$ 70. This is an estimate made considering the average price of some of the services you might need and things you might want to buy. It gives you a general overview of how much things cost in this country, so you can be prepared and save the money you will need.

Additional costs you should consider when volunteering:

An exemplary overview of living costs for a volunteer in Kenya (in US $, for one person) is:

Things to know before you volunteer in Kenya

When you travel to a different country for voluntary work it is important to familiarise yourself with its culture and social characteristics. This helps you to settle in quickly and avoid misunderstandings. These are some tips that you might find helpful when preparing for your volunteer work in Kenya:

Safety & precautions

First of all, you should be aware that there is a bigger risk of being mugged in a big city than in small cities. You should exercise common sense, be cautious and don't risk being pickpocketed! This is why we want to give you some travel advice, so you can travel safely and make the best out of your experience as a volunteer in Kenya:

  • Avoid travel to the northeastern Kenyan counties, like Mandera, Wajir, and Garissa, the coastal counties of Tana River and Lamu, the area of Kilifi county north of Malindi, and the neighborhood of Eastleigh in Nairobi.
  • Keep your personal belongings and important travel documents with you at all times! It also makes sense to bring attested photocopies of these documents, in case you lose them!
  • If you are going out, it does not make sense to take a lot of money with you, as well as jewelry or other fancy possessions. Take only the money you will need and leave everything else back home!
  • In the unfortunate case of you being robbed, do not resist the robbery!
  • Take care when withdrawing money from a bank or at an ATM!
  • Do not use unregistered taxis! Doing so increases the risk of becoming a victim of a crime.
  • Terrorist attacks involving shootings, grenades, or other explosives have occurred in the past, and potential terrorist threats (i.e.: bombings, kidnappings, and attacks on planes) are still a threat in Kenya, including the Nairobi area. Common targets are nightclubs and bars, universities, shopping areas, etc. Please be aware of this and move around safely!

Law

As with every country, it's always good to get a heads up on the laws that apply for your destination. When traveling and doing volunteer work in Kenya, please keep the following rules and regulations in mind:

  • Possession, trafficking and manufacturing of drugs are serious offenses in Kenya.
  • It is illegal to buy, sell, kill or capture any protected wild animals, as well as trading its parts.
  • Don't cross the road while speaking on your phone (unless it's hands-free)!
  • Don't lean or sit on ledges!
  • You won't be served alcohol at bars, restaurants, etc. after 11 pm.
  • Smoking on the streets of Nairobi's city center is against the law, except in designated smoking zones!
  • If you attempt to leave Kenya with products made from endangered species -such as jaguar teeth, ocelot skin and turtle shell- you'll face a steep fine and jail time.
  • Homosexuality is a crime under Kenyan law and it is culturally not accepted. If you are part of the LGBTI community, please exercise caution and be aware, that this is an issue that is still taboo in Kenya.

Health advice

It is annoying to get sick when traveling and volunteering and although it is a common concern for travelers to get a stomach illness when traveling to Kenya, there are some basic precautions you can take to avoid it:

  • Get all proper vaccinations four to eight weeks before traveling to Kenya.
  • Protect yourself from mosquitoes, as they can carry diseases such as malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever. Be sure to pack anti-Malarial medication, since mosquito-borne illnesses are quite common in Kenya and can restrict your ability to travel back home.
  • Don't drink tap water! All water should be either boiled or filtered before you drink it.
  • Wash all your fruits and vegetables thoroughly.
  • Plan for how you will get health care during your stay. Get a travel insurance and bring medicine with you, especially if you need special medication.

Culture & religion

Some codes of etiquette determine social behavior expectations and are considered to be very important in Kenyan culture. Be aware that you will need to adapt to these socially accepted interactions during your volunteering journey and volunteer programs in Kenya. These are just some of the common examples of social etiquette in this country:

  • Every contact between people in Kenya starts with a greeting. Even if you are just shopping, small talk and shaking hands are common practice.
  • Women shake hands with each other, but they shake hands with men only in sophisticated contexts.
  • Traditionally, Kenyan greeting exchanges last around a minute or two and they are performed in a formal manner. It is very polite to stop to ask people how they are doing, if their day is going ok, etc. and expect an answer.
  • Hissing ("Tsss!") is one common way to attract a stranger's attention. Even though this practice is less common in urban areas, you might experience this often and there is no a reason to be offended by it.
  • If you are being asked questions, avoid answering with YES/ NO, because answering anything in the negative is often considered impolite.
  • Your host might take your hand to show you the place around, and this is normal.
  • Be very aware of the "left-hand rule": it is considered a dirty hand, so avoid using it to eat, pass food to other people or greeting.
  • Unless you want to get into a fight, NEVER point at someone with your finger, because that is considered to be an obscene gesture
  • Women should be aware of what they wear, and avoid body fitted clothing, as well as showing "too much skin", especially in Muslim regions. For your safety, we recommend dressing as conservatively as possible.

Packing Essentials

It's nice to have a slight idea of what to expect from a foreign country. It's even nicer to know, which packing essentials should definitely land in your backpack! This makes life a whole lot easier when it comes to preparing for your time as a volunteer in Kenya.

  • Apart from the essential travel documents, like passport, travel medical insurance information, and visa, you should also keep photocopies or scanned copies of these.
  • Always carry sunscreen with you! The Kenyan sun can be unforgiving!
  • Keep enough cash with you! You might want to consider getting a money belt.
  • Carry luggage with you that will aid, not complicate your trip, like daypacks or backpacks; as well as lightweight bags.
  • Pack appropriate clothing and shoes! This means clothes that are suitable for a variety of climates, as temperatures can vary greatly throughout Kenya.
  • Don't forget to bring locks for hostel lockers and also for your luggage!
  • Mosquito nets that are treated with Permethrin will help ensure your safety from Mosquito bites. Also, try to buy bug sprays and Sunblock containing DEET.

Who can volunteer in Kenya?

You might have noticed by now that there are many different volunteer opportunities in Kenya that require different skills and abilities from their international volunteers. While you can find out the specific requirements for each project on their profiles on Volunteer World, here are some general requirements that apply to most volunteer programs in Kenya:

  • You need to be at least 18 years old for most of the volunteer projects. When in doubt, we advise you to get in contact with the local project manager, as in some projects you can also volunteer when you're 16 years old.
  • The language requirements for volunteer projects in Kenya vary, but -usually- basic English is required.
  • Volunteers can choose to stay between one week and 50 weeks; again: this depends on the project you are volunteering with.
  • When volunteering in a teaching or orphanage project make sure to plan in enough time and to bring a criminal background check.

What visa do I need for volunteering in Kenya?

You have made it to the last section of this guide, which is another really important aspect while planning your volunteering trip: getting your volunteer visa for Kenya.

Please consider that the following information is based on a best practice approach, which has been made according to the best of our knowledge and in cooperation with several volunteer organizations. That's why you should please make sure to discuss your visa requirements with your project coordinator on Volunteer World. If in doubt, we also recommend getting in contact with the Kenyan embassy or consulate in your country .

General entry information

There are some general requirements volunteers should comply upon their arrival in Kenya:

  • Please check the current validity of your passport. The passport should be valid at least 6 months following your departure date from Kenya. We strongly recommend traveling with 6 months validity on your passport at all times.
  • Make sure your passport has at least two blank Visa pages. Kenya requires that you have adequate unused pages in your passport, allowing for any necessary stamps upon arrival and departure.
  • Please check if a transit visa is required for any connections.
  • Make sure to be in possession of a valid return ticket for your travel home.
  • Two recent color passport size photographs. Note: Do not staple the photographs on the form.

Best practice for short-term volunteers :

If you are a resident of Australia, Switzerland, the USA or EU (including the UK) you are able to work as a volunteer on a single entry visa for up to 90 days. Make sure that your nationality is eligible for this visa. There are two ways to get it:

  1. Upon arrival at an international airport
  2. Online as an E-Visa

To receive the stamp at the airport, you can state tourism as your reason for traveling and immigration will stamp your passport. The E-Visa costs USD $51 and needs to be applied for prior to your departure. Please note that the fees for this visa are not refundable, so make sure to submit all of the documentation necessary.

Best practice for long-term volunteers

If you're planning to stay and volunteer in Kenya for more than 90 days, your stay period may be renewed for a further 90 days at the immigration headquarters in Nairobi. This way you can stay and volunteer in Kenya for up to 6 months.