Kenyan kids win Kyogle mans heart
WHEN Kyogle man Tim Hoffman learned that his Volunteer Abroad placement in Kenya was to be in a reform school for boys rather than an orphanage, he was more than a little apprehensive.
However, inspired by the knowledge the two-teacher school desperately needed some help, the 23-year-old put his own fears aside and agreed to take on the job as teacher, mentor and friend to the 91 youths at the Kabete Rehabilitation School on the rural outskirts of Nairobi.
Tim found the experience so rewarding and personally fulfilling that he shelved his plans to spend four of the eight weeks he had in Africa travelling, choosing instead to stay at the school.
“It was an incredible experience,” Tim said. “Initially I was going to go travelling, but I decided to stay on at the school.
“I wanted to spend as much time as I could there.”
“According to Tim – who has been back in Kyogle for a couple of months – the boys, aged between 12 and 17, before the courts for crimes such as stealing or as a result of violence in the family, were sentenced to finish their secondary education at the school.
“The boys came from all over Kenya and a lot were orphans,” he said.
“Many lost their parents in the violence which erupted in Kenya after the last election.
“With no one to support them they would steal food to survive.
“Other boys were victims of violence within their own families.”
The boys lived in dormitories, were not allowed to leave the school grounds, and had to grow all their vegetables, cook their meals, wash their clothes and maintain the school grounds. The school had no computers and no television, and only a small library of sorts.
Tim said that the boys were well behaved, courteous, polite and mostly happy to be at the school.
All were keen to learn, even though they were forced to leave once they attained a certain education level.
Tim had no set role at the school other than to help out where he could.
He spent a lot of time just talking to the boys, as well as playing sport with them.
According to Tim, many of the boys’ stories were tragic, but none more so than that of a 16-year-old who was found by employees of the Kenyan Wildlife Society in a sack hanging from a tree in a national park.
He was 12 years old at the time and his father had left him tied in the tree at the mercy of the wildlife.
The boy told Tim his father had resented him because his mother had died giving birth to him, and he had never been properly accepted into the family.
“He wants to become an architect. It’s his dream in life,” Tim said.
He said one of the hardest things about being at the school and getting to know all the boys was the knowledge that, despite all their hard work, not all of them would get good jobs once they left.
Meanwhile, Tim said he gave all the donated goods he took with him to either the boys at the school or to orphanages he visited in Nairobi during his free time.
“I would recommend volunteering abroad to anyone of any age,” Tim said. “It was so worthwhile, and it’s an experience you just can’t buy.”