Each year, at the start of June, Ecologia, like charities up and down the UK, pauses to celebrate Volunteer Week and thank our wonderful volunteers. We couldn’t do without their invaluable contribution. And it’s a two-way street: studies increasingly show the physical and mental health benefits of volunteering, while our volunteers consistently report that it has enriched their skills, life experience, and social networks. So, if you have been considering volunteering abroad, and would also like to travel a little further afield, we want to take this opportunity to tell you about our volunteers programme in Meru County, Kenya, and share with you five fabulous reasons why we think it’s hard to beat!
1. We are cutting-edge
Dr Karambu Ringera established International Peace Initiatives (IPI) 15 years ago, with the aim of mitigating the suffering caused by poverty and disease in the local area. Based on her own academic background and international experience, her vision was to set up a grassroots community-building project, with a particular focus on improving the lives of vulnerable children, many of whom were living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.
On wasteland donated by her local community, she built Kithoka Amani Community Home (KACH), where she has become a mother to around 30 orphans and children whose own parents are unable to look after them. From there, her team runs a diverse range of innovative, community-development programmes, from skills-training and empowerment workshops for women to youth peace conferences aimed at fostering a new generation of leaders.
Throughout this time, Dr Ringera has continued to study and deepen her understanding of development. Our programme offers a fantastic opportunity to learn from this dynamic and forward-looking educator, while helping to give the children at IPI the best possible start in life. As one international development student told us,
It’s true that my educational background gave me the information I needed to understand the process of development, but being here has helped me to better understand and participate in development on the ground. – Rita Togba, SOAS, University College London, Volunteer 2015
2. We are grassroots
Ecologia works in partnership with local organisations, convinced that they are best placed to be able to design solutions that work for local people over the long-term. They in turn support local communities and socially marginalised groups to envision and build their own sustainable solutions.
Poverty is not just about lack of money, or absence of violence and disease. Rather the greatest suffering… results from lack of access to information; a lack of knowledge and support to successfully utilise and develop local resources to create a better life. My desire is to stand with communities as they learn to identify their needs, craft their own solutions and inspire actions to meet those needs. My role is to support and trust their judgement and promote the implementation of their self-identified solutions. – Dr Karambu Ringera, founder of International Peace Initiatives.
Our volunteers support IPI in this endeavour, becoming another access point to information, and helping to nurture a process of grassroots, community-driven change.
3. We are holistic
Believing that peace is not simply the absence of war, but also fair access to basic needs such as health, food, education, clean water, shelter, and the ability to earn a sustainable, dignified living, IPI has always taken a multi-pronged approach to its work.
For example, the original wasteland given to IPI has now been transformed into a place of beauty, where the community is learning how to grow diverse crops, suited to local conditions. Permaculture principles are taught to enable families to provide their children with a nutritious diet, without the need for chemical fertilisers. Based on whole-systems thinking, these principles mirror IPI’s holistic approach to achieving true peace, as it works to reclaim a flourishing, vibrant future for the community and its environment.
Based on your experience and interests, you will be supported to discover which of IPI’s programmes you can best assist with. Whether you end up working with local women to develop their entrepreneurial skills, looking after children, or learning about sustainable agriculture, the power of this holistic approach will soon become evident.
4. We are empowering
IPI is all about giving people the tools and knowledge they need to bring about sustainable positive change, including the volunteers who come there to assist.
We will be facilitators of your learning. We’ll give you a platform to learn about a new culture…. Within the space of this new culture, you will have the opportunity to see in action, in a context which deeply needs healing and empowerment, innovative eco-building, sustainable farming, peace-building work and community empowerment techniques at the cutting edge of modern thought. And this healing empowerment will also come to you, the volunteer. – Dr Karambu Ringera, founder of IPI
Our volunteers help IPI to empower children and marginalised people, by sharing their knowledge and skills, in the recognition that this is a two-way exchange. Through learning about the daily issues facing those in the Global South, and by exploring opportunities for building and transforming relationships across cultural and ethnic divides, our volunteers also learn practical ways to continue that work, long after their placement ends.
5. We are affordable
To help IPI to continue their work, we ask volunteers to fundraise for a minimum amount before departure to Africa. However, we want our programme to be affordable for people from all walks of life and will fully support you with your fundraising from our base in Scotland. The more you raise, the more you can support the children living at IPI to receive things we often take for granted: a loving home, a good education, food, clothing, and toys.
This is your chance to volunteer in Africa, to experience living and working in another culture, to add your gifts to an organisation bringing brighter futures to the most vulnerable, and to learn deeply about yourself and the issues dividing our world today.
Want to grab it? Read on for details of how to apply.