Blog post by Nicky Mifsud. Volunteer, Kenya 2017.
The first thing that comes to mind when someone goes on a voluntary trip is that he/she will go to a another country and help out the community in any way possible. Generally volunteers get comments like “congratulations!” or “well done!” from close relatives and friends which feels like a sense of admiration from them.
On my first voluntary trip in the Philippines back in 2012, I went there with the intention of giving my best and help as much as I can to change this community. I was sure that I would be going there and leaving a positive impact and my aim was to try and make these people’s lives better. Luckily enough, I did not reach any of my expectations, as the people who I interacted with managed to teach me much more than I could have ever taught them. The same thing happened in India during my second community experience and the first with Right to Smile organisation.
Now that I have just returned from my third community development experience (I do not call it voluntary work anymore), I amaze myself how much I learn every single time I travel and merge myself into a different community for a short period of time. I recall one Sunday afternoon where I was trying to hand-wash my dirty clothes when a 21 year-old member of the family approached me and started helping me out. I immediately told her that she should go to rest instead since she had been very busy all day and had not even had lunch yet and I did not want to add more chores to her already busy schedule. What really amazed me was her reply:
“My mother always taught me to help others when I have some free time, and that is what I will do. If each of us help at least one person everyday, the world would be much better than it is now. Please let me help you.”
My mind and my heart are both still in Kenya, I am writing this less than 48 hours after my departure and I feel really lucky!
I feel that this experience was unique for me since on the contrary to my previous experiences, I was living with a family for three full weeks – a Maasai family (Maasai is one of the 44 tribes in Kenya). I was living with them as if I was one of them – sleeping in the same house, eating the same food (which was quite a big challenge for me!) and interacting with them around the same table every night. They welcomed me to their Maasai family as if I was one of their own and I was even given a Maasai name (Nchipai, meaning happy). This made it easier for me to observe and compare the different life I live in Malta compared to that of my new Maasai family living in Olasiti, Kenya.
One of the first feelings I got from my experience there was that daysover there were much longer to those I was accustomed to back home. In a rural village like Olasiti, there is no electricity and mobile connection is very limited. Due to these basic commodities being missing, I was seeking alternatives on how I would spend my time there once our planned activities at school had finished.
I spent most of my time reading books and spent hours having discussions with different members of the family every day. This made me realise how much more productive I could be back home, using time more wisely than I had before. Nowadays, we have become so distracted with social media and 3 weeks away from Facebook made me notice how much time we actually waste on it and how severely addicted we have become – I had never noticed the scale of this to that extent and feel that this is a large opportunity cost. In addition, families spend much more time deep in conversation with their families than we do. Unfortunately the hectic life we live in Malta does not permit us to spend this time with our families, as everyone is living his or her individual life, leading people to have less physical interactions and instead connect through social media.
Looking at this factor from this perspective and excluding myself from it for the last 3 weeks made me realise how sad this truly is and what a negative impact it is leaving on society nowadays. Most of the time, social media gives different perception of how things actually are and this can influence people a lot – mainly the younger generations who are so addicted to it. Obviously this is not the case when used in moderation and when balance is found – then it becomes a great asset.Having lived for 3 weeks with my Maasai family in Olasiti means I had enough time to observe how these people where living on multiple occasions. They are self-sustainable, they own their own land and they cultivate it for their own personal well-being. They have food on their table everyday and they get water from a natural spring in the mountains. The women make beads (sur sur) and sell them whilst the men go to town and work as motorbike taxis (pikipiki). They appreciate all that they have even thoughthey have a very smallincome and have to face a lot of challenges. They do not have electricity and water is scarce, so they make sure to utilise their provisions well. They have to walk to the village school everytime they need to charge their phones and go back for it once it has charged. In view of the above, it amazes me how these people are always smiling, how they make effort to spend time with each other and how happy they truly are!
I firmly believe that the more a person has and the more he/she wants. That is one of the negative aspects of human beings, which might be also instinctive. The society we live is very dangerous – We work on a daily basis to earn money so that we can afford to have almost anything we want. Hard work pays off. But, are we prioritising? Is it worth to sacrifice our life and work non-stop to have all that our heart desires? When in reality having more means wanting more, which in reality is an endless loop. The question is – do we really need to burden ourselves with work and be unhappy rather than having less and being happy. This is obviously my own assessment of life in developed countries nowadays.
Back in Malta, I have a full time job and I will keep it but the truth is – Balance is key. It is very easy to forget yourself, forget your loved ones and lose balance in life. A full time job pays you for 40 hours a week, not more and not less. My message to people out there is – are you sure you are prioritising the important things in life – spend as much as you afford. Find time to do what you love and use that time well !
Having said that, I am in no way pointing fingers. I am as guilty as everyone else and have no one else to blame but myself. I have decided to share these thoughts and feelings with everyone primarily for myself. I wanted to have something in writing which I can refer to in the future, and think back on. Secondly sharing everything on social media (Facebook) is now part of our daily routine and I want people who are interested in my thoughts to learn from this experience. The sad part of it all is that in a couple of months time, I will not be able to share these same thoughts as I am doing now. I will be overwhelmed by the daily routine which I had been accustomed to before going on this short trip – the endless loop I mentioned before – A routine where in most cases people in society consider work and money more important than respect and love, which is deeply saddening.
In conclusion, I can say that my experience in the Olasiti village in Kenya with the Maasai tribe through Right 2 Smile organisation was very fulfilling and I am very grateful for having this opportunity. I will treasure all the positive memories with my Maasai family for the rest of my life and I encourage each and every one of you to experience this at least once in your lifetime, I am sure you will go back for more J
Photos – Steve Zammit Lupi