CAMPUS AND CULTURE
The international volunteer experience
Mali: A warm, welcoming village
Starting the search
By Leena Kamat
Five-hundred orphans. The jungles of Kenya. A whole different world.
Sarah Tilley, a first-year social science student, worked at an orphanage in Kenya for five weeks last summer, but what makes her story so unique is that she planned the trip on her own, without the aid of any volunteer organization.
Tilley knew someone who had gone to Africa and volunteered at a large orphanage, so she used the available information and contacts to begin planning her own trip.
"I wanted to get a lot of contacts because I was going alone. Incredibly, everyone knew someone else in Kenya and I ended up with tonnes of names," she said.
Tilley volunteered at an orphanage where she taught the kids and helped in the kitchen. It was run by Charles Mulli, a former Kenyan businessman who has used his entire fortune to build orphanages over the past 12 years. "It was a wood shack with a big pot in the middle. It fed 500 kids, three times a day," she explained.
Tilley started fund-raising for the trip about five weeks before she left and managed to raise an astonishing $7,000. After paying for her trip and teaching supplies, she donated the remainder of the money to the orphanage.
"In two days, I fell in love with every kid. All the kids had serious, tragic stories about families being killed and poverty," she explained. "I learned more from the kids than they learned from me.
"I loved those kids. I was really sad to leave, but was ready to have a room without rats," Tilley laughed.
One of the most poignant moments for Tilley was the night she and a few others went to a slum in Kenya and brought back six children. "At night, one girl came to me and told me, 'I've never had clean fingernails before and never had a new dress before.'
"That moment made the entire trip worthwhile."