Developing skills with ICYE Kenya

In this series, we get to hear about volunteering opportunities within the ICYE network all over the world. This time, we chat with Mercie Kubasu who is the programme coordinator at ICYE Kenya.

Interview: Mia-Elina Aintila
Photo: Mercie Kubasu

Who are you?

I am Mercie Kubasu and I work in the ICYE Kenya office in Nairobi. I started in the office in 2016 with an educational background in International Business Administration. My roles include (but are not limited to) planning and coordinating the placements of both incoming and outgoing volunteers, facilitating training on intercultural learning, and coordinating the virtual volunteer programme.

What is the most rewarding and challenging aspect of your work?

My favourite aspect in my work is seeing young people value and benefit from volunteering. This is not a thing to take for granted in Kenya. Many people do not see the value in volunteering, as most people are more preoccupied by moving forward in life, seeking more clearly educational and professional opportunities. The most challenging part about being involved with International Volunteering Service (IVS) is seeing first-hand all the systemic structures that act as obstacles to the growth and empowerment of the African youth. Personally, I view the systemic obstacles as major contributors to why there is a lack of drive for volunteering among the African youth. Working with ICYE Kenya and participating in staff exchange within the ICYE network has opened up my eyes to the inequalities within the IVS space and how these inequalities continue to lock young people – especially from the global south – out of opportunities. In the long run, this contributes to the bigger issues of social injustices that young people face today.

What kinds of expectations do you have for your volunteers’ motivations?

I respect many kinds of motivations as people have different personalities as well. I especially appreciate a willingness to learn, seeing a person motivated because they are curious to learn about something they haven’t experienced before. I also appreciate skill-based motivation: wanting to improve a skill they already have or wanting to learn a new one.

What I do not expect from volunteers is for them to feel the weight of the world is on their shoulders. Sometimes I can see our volunteers carrying ‘white-guilt’ with them. It does more harm than good, both on an individual level and community level. A volunteer should take everything one day at a time.

”My favourite aspect in my work is seeing young people value and benefit from volunteering.”

I wish for the incoming volunteers to notice that the local people are doing well whether they are here or not. We want to avoid ‘voluntourism’: it’s good to want to travel – and you should take the opportunity to see Kenya while you are here – but volunteering should be the main focus. Our country’s tourist attractions are a bonus.

We are still in the middle of a global COVID-19 pandemic. How has your organization adapted to the situation? How do you view the future of international volunteering for your organization post-COVID-19?

The pandemic has definitely affected our operations. Since April 2020 we have been working from home, and as a consequence, we have lost out on walk-in opportunities: people looking for information on volunteering and/or going abroad, and people who could be our local project contacts. Also, there have been restrictions on Kenyans travelling abroad. Some candidates that were selected to participate in the exchange programme haven’t been able to go. The one-sided acceptance from the Kenyan government, letting foreigners in, and foreign governments not permitting Kenyans to travel highlights one of the inequalities within IVS.

We have adapted to the situation by offering online volunteering with projects that have access to the Internet. Volunteers can, for example, help in social media, research, writing proposals, providing administrative support (sending emails, drafting programmes and schedules, logistics). This arrangement has allowed for participants below 18-years-old and other participants who could not before travel physically for one reason or another to participate in IVS. This arrangement is currently in place with volunteers from United Planet (the local ICYE organization in the USA). Other effects have been that public transport is limited at the moment, so we have to use private means to transport our volunteers placed outside of Nairobi.

We hope to continue with the virtual volunteering programme even after the pandemic. Another challenge is to convince people that despite being in a pandemic the movement of volunteers is still necessary rather than reckless. We hope to continue with both on location volunteering and online volunteering opportunities.

What kind of projects does ICYE Kenya have?

We have lots of projects involving education: in high schools and primary schools, for example. Then there is work in children’s homes, generally taking care of the children, sometimes as young as nursery aged (0–2 year old). There are lots of project opportunities in hospitals, but these would typically require some professional skills. Other very valuable professional skills are competencies in education and social work, we have lots of projects that could benefit from these skill sets. We are also responding to young people’s wishes for environmental projects: we have projects combining environmental conservation and culture preservation where volunteers get to experience traditional ways of living from certain ethnic groups and learn about how the people in these communities conserve the environment.

Your current volunteers?

Currently, we have long-term volunteers from Ecuador, Finland and Denmark, and in addition some short-term volunteers from Denmark, Switzerland and the USA (online). This year we have sent out volunteers to Costa Rica and are hoping to send volunteers to Finland and Germany later this year.

Your greetings to those interested in volunteering in Kenya?

Karibu Kenya! Welcome to Kenya! Come and experience a new culture, something different compared to what you are used to. Whether it is for your own personal development or career development, you get to help local communities while developing your skills.

#ICYEKenya #ExperienceTheWorld

This article has been extracted from Maailmanvaihto’s magazine Volunteers’ Voices 2/2021 edition with the theme of motivation to volunteer abroad. You can find the full magazine and previous releases here.

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