A Day in the Life of a CFK Student Volunteer July 24, 2014  by      

By: Brandon Wong, CFK 2014 Peacock Fellow

Brandon w Allie and Mjee [iContact-size]Every year, Carolina for Kibera sends students to Kibera to design and implement short-term projects alongside staff members.  Prospective volunteers go through a rigorous application process for the James and Florence Peacock Fellowship, which provides them with partial funding for their trip.  This year, two students were selected, along with one student from UNC’s School of Nursing (who recently wrote a blog post about community clean-ups).  CFK Peacock Fellow, Brandon Wong, recently shared this update with us.  Read on for an inside look about what daily life is like volunteering in Kibera!

8:00 – Wake up

Every morning, I wake up for Kenyan tea and a light breakfast of cereal, bread and butter, pancakes (occasionally), and one ripe banana to take on-the-go. My homestay father, Yusuf, and my homestay mother, Nasra, go into work at varying times in the morning.  However, I have the opportunity to see and chat with Mercy, the live-in house help. The other morning we ended up discussing Mercy’s favorite American music artists, including Chris Brown and Lil Wayne.

9:00 – Head from Woodley Court to Kibera

The homestays for the US volunteers this summer are all in Woodley Court, a gated middle-class neighborhood located next to Toi Market, the most well-known second-hand clothing market in Nairobi. We will often meet up in the neighborhood to head over to the main CFK office together, taking either of two routes: the first walks towards Ngong Road and takes a matatu, a van-type shuttle for 10-20 Kenyan shillings (Ksh), to Olympic Estate; the second goes through the back end of Toi Market, weaving through the narrow alleys of street vendors until reaching the main road in Kibera. Ultimately, we end up at CFK’s main office in Olympic Estate.

9:15 – Arrive at CFK’s Main Office

The first thing we do at the office is a round of hellos (or mambos, and other greetings combined from English, Swahili and Swahili slang, called Sheng) and a warm handshake for the dozen-or-so CFK staff already there. This is the perfect time to discuss the World Cup soccer matches from the previous night, especially if an African team has triumphed.

9:30 – Meet with CFK supervisor for the day’s assignment

For my two months at CFK, I am interning for the Entrepreneurship and Economic Department (EED) under Stella, the Department Head, and Moses, the Program Officer. My role involves program assistance and support for CFK’s small business initiatives in the community, such as Taka ni Pato (Trash is Cash), and I often work alongside Mjee and Botul, the two Field Officers for EED, in different areas of Kibera.

The two main projects that Stella has directed me to work on this summer are: 1) to assist in the selection process for the 2014 EED Marketing Plan Competition, which received 79 applications from different entrepreneurs in Kibera, and 2) to support her market research and start-up planning for a briquette-making social enterprise. Briquettes, as I learned after initial research, are alternative fuels made from biomass that have the potential to replace charcoal and wood fuels for daily cooking needs.

10:00 – Dive into the day’s work

During my initial week of working at CFK, I spent the first couple days reading through the 79 written applications for the 2014 Marketing Plan Competition, and the latter part of the week conducting on-site interviews and business assessments with the 20+ finalists. The finalists ranged from trash collection youth groups to bone craft artisans and local vegetable vendors, and the interviews gave me an extensive look into income-generation, youth employment, and access to loans and capital from a grassroots level in Kibera. Overall, the interviews took 20 hours total over 3 days, and I have now spent much of this second week compiling the interview data, and creating a summary report on the Marketing Plan Competition and some business profiles on the applicants.

Brandon 2 [edited]

Brandon talking with leaders of Victorious Bone Crafts.

1:30 – Take a lunch break

On most days, I’ve gone with Mjee to get lunch. We often joke about how many portions of Kenyan food that he can eat. However, two other options I love are a small restaurant on Arusha road that serves a full plate of chapatti, a type of fried dough, and beans for 50 Ksh (less than $.75 USD), and a local stand that sells a large fruit salad of mango, avocadoes, papaya, and more for 60 Ksh.

2:00 – Return to the CFK Office to complete work

The afternoon provides more time to continue the daily assignment, and check-in with a final update for Stella and Moses before the day is over.

5:00 – Stop by Java House, and then head back to Woodley Court

Java is a nearby cafe that has become, jokingly, like our second home because we spend so much time there to email parents, Skype back home, or just relax.

Back in Woodley Court, the neighborhood kids (ages 4-15) usually come out to play before dinner, and it’s always fun to join in their games of hide-and-seek, or hear some of the hilarious stories from their school day.

6:00 – Relax at the homestay

Some days I get home early enough to help prepare dinner or watch some TV with my homestay Dad, but usually I have just enough time to journal and reflect on the day. The seven checklist items from the day I always complete are a daily recap, new Swahili words, things tried for the first time, the names of new people met, purchases made, observations, and weekly goals.

8:00 – Have dinner with host parents

I have fallen in love with Kenyan food. From ugali, a maize-type dough, to sukuma wiki, sauced kale, and the classically stewed meat, I could eat dinner for days.

9:00 – Fall asleep early

Brandon 1 [edited]

Brandon, talking with Botul Abubakar (left) and Daniel Mjee (right), both of whom are Field Officers with the Economic and Entrepreneurship Department.

Arguably my favorite part about our days is simply how exhausting and rewarding it feels at the end. I literally fall asleep already excited for the next day, and the sensation reminds me of how I used to feel during my happiest times working at summer camp.

Final Note

While this is a typical weekday, the daily schedule always has slight changes here and there; for example, this morning, a friend invited me to train with his semi-pro soccer team in the morning from 7-9:30 a.m., so I arrived at the office a little later than usual.

Additionally, the weekends for us are completely free. So far, we have spent most weekends singing, dancing, and playing games with CFK’s Daughters United girls program, which meets on Saturdays and Sundays.  However, we’re also hoping to make some day trips to see Hell’s Gate (the location that inspired the setting of the Lion King), a chimpanzee sanctuary, and other destinations outside of Nairobi.

In short, our time as CFK interns have been incredible. Here’s to the rest, full of excitement and great work in Kenya!


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