Two Tipperary women have returned home after an unforgettable summer volunteering in Kenya.
Ballybacon Grange’s Christine Goonan (21) and Ballymacarbry’s Danielle Hallahan (22), who both went to Presentation Secondary School in Clonmel, positively impacted the lives of kids at an underprivileged orphanage in Waithaka.
“It was absolutely brilliant and I loved every minute of it,” smiles Danielle, the daughter of Pat and Breda Hallahan.
Danielle says the life changing trip was a real eye opener. “The kids had two changes of clothes, shoes that never fitted them right and a diet that usually consisted of two meals a day and I never heard them complain once. They were always so happy and positive which was refreshing.
“One of my high moments of the trip was bringing all the toys to the kids in the orphanage - they were ecstatic. We even caught the teachers playing a game of Frustration and Snakes and Ladders which was funny to see,” Danielle laughs.
Christine, the daughter of Michael and Catherine Goonan, was astonished by how the children made the best of every situation despite their Third World surroundings.
“They were given two meals a day which consisted of rice and kidney beans, and this was all they got until the following morning. On our last day in the orphanage we brought them each a packet of Haribo jellies as a treat - they were over the moon. They never had sweets before and didn't even know that they were edible until we explained what they were,” Christine recalls.
Christine and Danielle spent most days teaching everything from History to Science and English. “As Danielle and I taught one class, the class next door would be trying their very best to listen in. They loved learning new things and genuinely appreciated the opportunity to educate themselves.
"There were 60 children in the orphanage ranging from the ages of two to 16. No child had their own bed or space that they could call their own. It was a case of however many children could fit in a bed slept in the bed. This is all down to the lack of funding available to them. The staff in the orphanage always tried to do their best for the children with limited resources.
“One of the most memorable parts for me was seeing the conditions the children lived in. What was normal for them would be considered extreme poverty here. The school they spent majority of their day in didn't have windows, doors or electricity. The classrooms were very cramped with chairs and desks falling apart in almost every room. We noticed classes would go on for hours without a teacher,” Christine highlights.
Christine describes how fantastic it was to see the Irish and Kenyan cultures fuse together.
“Teaching the children began as a challenge because neither of us had teaching experience but eventually we found our feet. We would often end up learning from them about their culture and in return they enjoyed hearing about ours.
“The locals were very welcoming. They love to see volunteers coming as they appreciated the time and donations we bring them. Even outside the orphanage the locals would always make a point of saying hello and welcoming us to Kenya,” Christine explains.
“We tried to sneak in a game of Hangman with the kids when we finished the lessons,” Danielle smiles.
“We also spent a few days in the orphanage painting which everyone loved because it really brightened up the place,” Danielle continues.
But Danielle says daily life in Ireland and Kenya are worlds apart. “Meals usually included rice, legumes, pasta and potatoes. Meat was very much a luxury so that was only served once in the two weeks we were there. Everything is completely different - you walk down the road and they have an open sewer along the road. There is no bin man so rubbish is burnt on the side of the road.
"Animals such as goats and chickens roam freely around usually eating out of landfills which was very unsettling. If that was to happen at home the animals would be taken to an animal shelter, but it was very much the norm there. Washing clothes is done by hand, which the locals claim is better than any washing machine as their clothes always come out clean with no stains. Public transport consisted of what they call a ‘matatu’, a small bus with 14 seats where they pile in about 20 or more people for about 20 cent a journey,” Danielle narrates.
The local ladies went on an excursion outside of the orphanage where they saw everything from giraffes and crocodiles to baby elephants. “We even went to a monkey park and we were able to feed them peanuts and bananas. They were climbing up on our back and jumping onto our shoulders, so it was a really fun day,” Danielle smiles.
“We were also brought to Kibera slum which is the largest slum in Africa with around two million people living off $1-5 dollars a day. Efforts have been made to try and help the situation, however because there is so much corruption in the country sadly not a lot has been done,” Danielle underlines.
Christine and Danielle were overwhelmed by the support they received from their local Tipperary and Waterford communities ahead of the trip. They held a coffee morning at Danielle's sister Rebecca Doocey home in Russellstown, a church gate collection in Newcastle, a raffle draw at Doocey’s Bar in Ballymacarbry, and a table quiz at Glenview Lounge in Goatenbridge. St. Mary's Primary School in Clonmel also donated the proceeds of their annual coffee morning, while Ardfinnan National School donated school books to aid with teaching classes at the orphanage.
“The money raised was brought directly by us to the orphanage. As well as money going towards the upkeep of the orphanage, we also put money towards some sustainable projects. We bought new mattresses for all beds in the orphanage as these were urgently needed. We were able to put down a new surface of chippings in the playground to replace the mud that lay previously. We also purchased various games, toys and clothes for the children. We bought all the materials needed for the children to set up a herb garden. The hope is that they will be able to use the produce themselves and sell excess produce in the markets. We also contributed a large sum of money towards building a water system where there was none previously in place. It is most rewarding to know that we contributed to giving generations of people clean, running water,” Christine adds.
Christine and Danielle, who recently finished final year at Cork Institute of Technology and University College Cork respectively, plan on doing more voluntary work in the future.
“It really was a life changing experience and I think everyone at some stage in their life should go out there. Kenya is a really beautiful country and the locals are some of the friendliest people I have met,” Danielle admits.
“Being in a position to be able to fundraise much needed money for the community was a real honour for Christine and I. Even being able to help out on smaller tasks such as painting the orphanage with animal and cartoon characters and playing games with the kids after school made us feel good knowing that we were making a big difference to the lives of these kids in such a short space of time.
“Christine and I would like to thank everyone who donated. So many people donated and we haven’t had a chance to meet everyone, thank them and tell them about our experience so hopefully from reading this they will get an insight into what we were doing for the two weeks,” Danielle concludes.