Soleine’s guide to connecting with the local community in Nairobi

“The self-made man does not exist in Africa. If the motto of Europe is individualism: `I think therefore I am,’ Africa’s would be communalism: `I relate, therefore I am.’ In Zulu there is a saying: `One is a person through others,’ or, as John Mbiti, the Kenyan theologian, put it: `I am because we are and, since we are, therefore I am.’”

Richard Dowden, Africa, Altered States, Ordinary Miracles

The best part of Nairobi is the social relationships you can build here. Whilst the expat scene is wonderful, with interesting people from all over the world, there are also great opportunities to connect with the local community. Here are some of the ways we have gotten involved in the local community in Nairobi.

Volunteering in Nairobi

When I think of my favourite memories in Kenya, so many have been formed whilst volunteering. There is so much need here –so getting involved in supporting the community is mostly about seizing opportunities that you hear about. My husband Richard and I were introduced through a friend to a high school in Kangemi (an informal settlement to the west of Westlands) and volunteered there for two years as Saturday morning tutors. We loved it. So many good teaching resources now exist online that it’s really easy to bring fun-filled activities to make Maths and English more enjoyable to students struggling in school. We also formed a life-long friendship with a Kenyan teacher.

We also have been going every two to three weeks to a home for disabled children off Thika road, near Garden City Mall, a 20 minute drive from Westlands. We mostly help the residents with their speech therapy exercises, play some sport and organise the occasional external trip. If you’re interested in volunteering there, contact me at sleprincer@gmail.com (long term commitment needed as kids like seeing the same faces again regularly).

If you are looking for a convenient, low commitment option which is also extremely enjoyable, go to New Life Home Trust on Lenana road. It’s a remarkable orphanage for 0-3 year old abandoned babies, many of which are HIV-positive. Introduce yourself as the front desk, go through their short volunteer on-boarding speech, and ta-da! You will be able to provide some love, fun and affection to some of the cutest babies you have ever seen for an hour or two. Different age groups each have their different rooms, and I found I quite liked going to the same one (6month -1 year) regularly so I could recognise the children.

Shopping and eating local 

Soleine at duka

I really feel on holiday when Rich and I have a “duka” breakfast. We walk 15 minutes from our house near Arboretum to the dukas next to the University of Nairobi, and sit down at a slightly dirty chapatti stall, next to some students. I usually go for the “rolex” (chapatti and egg, sometimes with a bit of kachumbari tomatoes and avocado), some Chai tea and buy some mangos, passion fruit and lime next door.

For lunch, I like the Kenyan food at Atlantis Gardens, a tucked away garden on Chaka Road, which costs KES ~300 a meal – fast, filling and delicious.

I love getting my fruit at the stalls next to J’s Bar in Westlands. They also do some good fruit salads with mango, pineapple, watermelon but also grape and apple for KES 50 a portion.

Attending a church

church in Nairobi

For most Kenyans, going to church is the central event of their week-end – both socially and spiritually. So it’s no surprise that attending a church in Kenya has been the #1 way that I’ve made Kenyan friends. We attend Lavington Vineyard Church on Riara Road in Kilimani, which is a small, modern, non-denominational Christian church about half Kenyan, half expat, and has really become a second family to us.

If you’re not religious, you should still try to attend at least one church service, because it’s such a strong part of the Kenyan culture. Otherwise you may be left wondering why all this singing you can hear outside on Sundays is so loud. For the best immersion experience and singing (picture people standing, clapping hands and feet), I’d recommend going to the Parklands Baptist Church at 11:30 on Sunday in Westlands.

Sponsoring a student

Soleine

Most middle class Kenyans pay school fees for a huge number of their extended relatives. It’s seen as a normal family commitment for anyone who has ‘made it’, i.e. holds a job in the city. But the poorest Kenyans don’t have anyone who is able to fund their school fees. When we were volunteering at the school in Kangemi, we met a smart girl whose family was struggling to pay school fees. We’ve been sponsoring her since then, and have formed a real friendship/ mentorship relationship with her. We recently went to visit her family in their ¼ acre farm near Kisii, a real highlight of my year.

If you are looking to sponsor a student but don’t know where to find someone who really needs it, check this really great Kenyan charity out. My friend Elana elana.laichena@gmail.com is involved and can help connect you!


For a new series on the blog I’m asking some of my friends in Nairobi to write about their experiences and favourite things to do. For the second guide in the series, Soleine Scotney kindly wrote the above. Here’s more about her:

My Nairobi: Soleine Scotney

Soleine + Rich

I moved to Nairobi with my husband, Richard, early 2014. I work for the Clinton Health Access Initiative on improving access to vaccination for infants. It’s been a wonderful adventure of living in Nairobi. We love sports, volunteering, and exploring the country. We ended up staying longer than initially planned (three years) because we enjoyed it so much, but are now moving back to Paris where I am from. We will miss the greenery, the blue skies and our amazing set of friends.

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