Recently, we asked one of our wonderful volunteers, Ashley, to write a little bit about what it’s like for the volunteers…from their perspective. Here’s what she gave us:
You can read FAQ’s forever and still not know exactly what you’re getting yourself into when you volunteer somewhere. Consider this your inside scoop on the daily happenings at Ekisa. If this blog doesn’t scare you off, then congratulations! You’re as crazy as the rest of us and will be quite welcome here.
Rise and shine! There are generally three types of people in the mornings: the Early Birds who get up around 6 or 7, the Average Joes who start their morning routines at 8, and then there’s me: I start the day by rolling out of bed at 8:35, grabbing the cleanest looking clothes off my bed and slapping together a PB&J before hitting the road. It’s about a 10 minute walk from the volunteer house to Ekisa, unless I’m in a hurry, in which case it takes 15, because it always seems to take longer when you’re in a hurry. Us volunteers usually walk to work together; a small parade of white girls causing no end of excitement for the children of Kimaka. Despite the fact that we walk up and down the same road at least four times a day, they still start shrieking, “Mzungu, byeeeeee!”, as soon as they see us coming. Newcomers may find them cute, but if you stop to greet one of these deceptively adorable little monsters (a term of endearment, of course), they will demand anything from money to sweeties to the water bottle you’re carrying; I’ve even had one ask me to buy her a house. Our best defense is to actively ignore them, though I’ll admit to plotting tactics to scare the little munchkins off the next time they grab my arms.
At Ekisa’s gate, we are greeted by the day guard, Simon, before nearly being toppled by the whirlwind that is Mweru. Morning classes are about to begin and the mamas are already herding children into the school room, so I hurry and dump my stuff in the office before heading for class. School begins with a greeting song, then Auntie Emily goes through the morning routine: How are you feeling today?, finding the date, reading a story, an activity like oral motor games, reading tricky words, or matching colors or opposites. Then we finish up with singing. “Wind the Bobbin Up” is a favorite for our kids so we end up singing it at least once a day, without fail. Let me tell you right now, you better get used to having random school songs stuck in your head for the next couple months, it’s inevitable, so the sooner you resign yourself to that fact the less likely you are to go postal on us when you wake up humming, “The snake is in the grass, the snake is in the grass, sssss ssss ssss sssss, the snake is in the grass…
Once morning meeting is over, we break off into smaller groups and do rotations between 5 or 6 school stations. Today I join Mama Zippy’s group and help her push Daniel, Isaac Little, Erisa, and Treasure in their wheelchairs. I love Zippy because she’s always making up funny little songs to sing for her group of kids. Plus, she’s not afraid to yell for me from across the house if she wants help with something. Sometimes it takes a while for the mamas to get comfortable enough to start ordering you around, but it makes me feel useful so I don’t get annoyed when I hear Zippy’s singsong voice calling “Auntie Ash-a-leyyyy!” the second I step into the office for some water. Instead, I laugh and go find out which child needs feeding or taken for nap. But back to the subject at hand: The rotations this morning are construction with blocks, lacing, chalkboard table, reading, train set, and sensory room. Since our group is made up of toddler boys in wheelchairs, we don’t get a whole lot of actual work done at the stations. I run a train up and down Isaac’s legs, chanting “Trains are chugging up the hill…” (see what I told you about school songs?) while Zippy hangs out with Daniel singing, “Danielaaaa, how many days make a week? 7 days make a week!” Every 10 minutes someone rings the bell and yells “SWITCH!!!!”, and we roll to the next station.
Next comes snack time: 30 minutes of milky drool and sticky pineapple fingers. This morning’s snack is milk and biscuits so I grab a bottle and attempt to wake Erisa for his snack. I swear, this kid could easily sleep through an apocalypse. I try the various methods of Erisa-waking: pinching his cheeks, raising his arms above his head and dropping them, tickling his feet, more cheek pinching. Finally, Mama Maggie hands me a glass of water and I sprinkle it on his face. He wakes with a start and I quickly shove the bottle in his mouth before he can settle back to sleep. By the time he finishes his bottle, still half asleep, it’s time for the second round of school.
Second round is basically the same as the first, except instead of the greeting, date, etc., we go through the entire alphabet and other letter combinations in songs. Yes, all the way from, “A, A, Ants on my arm” to “Did you ever hear a bee buzz, ZZZZZZ, like this?” Only the older kids attend this session as all the babies and toddlers go either for baby yoga* (*note: no real sun salutations involved, so leave your yoga mat at home) or sensory play, depending on what day it is. This is also the time that we do morning one-on-one sessions. So while the kids are inside belting out, “The mixer in the bowl goes, Ah-Ah-Ah” (Emily is British…), another volunteer and I take Arafat and Josh down the street for sodas. Arafat picks his usual Orange Fanta and Joshy goes for Sprite. Josh downs his in about a minute flat and spends the rest of the time burping up a storm. Naturally, this sends Arafat into hysterics, causing him to keep spraying us with a geyser of Fanta and saliva. It’s not the worst thing you can get soaked in around here, so I just wipe it off on Arafat’s bandana and try to keep him from choking to death, laughing. Around noon we head back to Ekisa so the kids don’t miss lunch.
After lunch the kids all nap – and I use the term nap very loosely as not much actual sleeping is done – until 3:00 and then have a snack before school, so we have plenty of time to kill. My favorite thing to do is head down to the pool to get my tan on for a couple hours. Today a couple of us girls have errands to run, so we catch bodas into town. Riding to town, I get a couple good mouthfuls of hair from the girl in front of me. Ponytails, people, not as effective as you think…buns are the way to go. Also, depending on your boda driver, you may experience a range of emotions; anywhere between, “Oh, that was a little bumpy” and “Please Lord, just let me die quickly when we crash!” Don’t be alarmed, no volunteers have ended up dead yet…at least that’s what they tell us. Once we get to town, we first stop at Biasara Supermarket (more like a corner store), then we waltz down to Flavours for chocolate croissants. The baked goods in this town are surprisingly abundant and delicious which is awesome but also terrible for someone with an inner fat kid and an anorexic budget, like me.
3:30 rolls around quicker than you expect and then it’s back down to Ekisa for afternoon session. Gracie comes running for cuddles and I scoop him up before realizing his diaper is sopping wet. A word of caution: cloth diapers are used here, so there will be leakage, just mentally prepare yourself for that now and you won’t be fazed when it happens. Now Paul is pulling on my arm and gesturing towards who-knows-what, so I follow him to see what he just NEEDS to show me this time. Turns out he’s collected a medicine cup full of bugs he wants me to admire. I feign admiration until he spills them and wants me to help him pick them up. Bugs don’t bother me, but half-dead wingless wriggly things don’t exactly inspire me to hold them. Leaving him to deal with his scattered insect corpses, I head back to the porch to snuggle little ones for a bit before afternoon one-on-one time. All the older kids swarm me asking over and over, “Auntie, who’s-a -going today?” They totally know who’s on one-on-ones every day, so I just say, “Not YOU”, until they stop asking.
Paul and Gideon have one-on-one this afternoon, so we send them to change into cleaner clothes. Paul is going to be covered in drool again within 10 minutes, but at least we can say they started out looking smart. Today we’re taking them to The Keep, so we call William to come pick us up. He’s a very safe boda driver so we like taking him when we’ve got the kids on board. The boys love riding bodas, especially when they get to sit up front. Sitting behind Paul is always a delight because you’re constantly getting hit with flying drool. Sorry, William. At The Keep, Gideon gets chocolate cake every time. The slices are huge but he just sits there calmly and methodically scooping up every bit. Paul loves milkshakes, but unless you’re prepared to deal with the aftermath of his insanely messy eating, I’d suggest you stick with something safer like chips. They’re used to our children and their messes here at The Keep, but we still try not to leave it looking like a chocolate monsoon just rolled through. After the boys finish their snacks, we call for William again and make our way back to Ekisa in time for the kid’s dinner.
Unless you’re assigned to the joyous task of dinner duty, you’re free to head home around 5-5:30. At home, we start the evening rituals of making dinner (whoever gets to the stove fastest gets the good burner), bathing (whoever gets to the shower fastest gets the most warm water), and watching TV (whoever gets to the couch fastest…well, we always watch Gray’s Anatomy these days, so it doesn’t really matter). The night is never complete until someone starts yelling that there’s a cockroach, then the entire SWAT team is mobilized. How many girls does it take to kill a cockroach? Some nights it’s all 5 of us. Once the threat is terminated, we go back to whatever we dropped and continue where we left off. The TV party generally ends whenever the girl whose laptop we’re using decides she’s too tired to keep watching, then we all break for the night and rest up for the next day’s adventures.
And there you have it: a typical day for an Ekisa volunteer. Some days are right crazy and some are rainy and boring, so we just snuggle up with a baby and watch movies. Just be ready for anything, plan to have your plans change, and don’t forget to bring chocolate to share!