If you come to Kenya or any other country as a volunteer, you might get the chance to take part in a work camp. We had the pleasure to join dozens of them. It depends from organisation to organisation, but usually it works like this:
A group of between three and twenty people, Kenyans and other nationalities, come together for two to four weeks in a project of a community, usually in a rural area. For this time, they will stay together, cook together and work in the respective project together with the community.
At the day of evaluation there are ALWAYS the same complaints coming up:
Every person is used to different food. It is hard to please a big group of various nationalities. We have seen workcamps where people ate the Kenyan staple food Ugali without complaint every day. In other camps, people striked because they couldn’t get enough of what they wanted. Food will ever be an issue, especially when you bring many people from different backgrounds together.
Each camp has one or several leaders. Sometimes the appointed leaders lack competence. They may get support from the organisation or they are left alone in the field and have to run the show on their own responsibility. And some camp leaders simply lead for the first time and don’t know exactly how things work.
We had local and/ or international volunteers drink alcohol or smoke where it is not appropriate and going into buildings or parts of the compound where they are not supposed to go. (Sometimes, men and women are sleeping seperately, for example.) They walk around on their own, come home late, don’t follow agreements, make noise. The camp leader will then be held responsible by the organisation, the hosting community and the other volunteers. We simply must remember that we are guests and repsect other people’s borders and rules.
In the second week we usually have it: the discussion about money. Is the leader paid? Are the hosts paid? Are the local volunteers from the village paid? We have so little and crappy food, so where is all that money going that we paid in the beginning of the camp? It is the most regularly occuring issue.
This also concerns money. All the same questions again. Try to accept that things are handled differently in different circumstances. Sometimes communication is poor due to technical constraints, sometimes due to a lack of experience. While volunteers never asked their sending organisations for a clear breakdown of the budget, they often claim it from the hosting organisation. But we are neither police nor authority to inquire the book keeping of any organisation.
We had camps where people just wouldn’t stop working. Other times one or two lazy butts were carried along by the rest of the group. Sometimes there are not enough tools and sometimes people wonder whether it makes sense to do the tasks they are doing. One advice here is to take initiative in conjunction with the camp leader, the other volunteers and the hosting community.
As leaders and participants in many camps, we have experienced these as the most common complaints. Expecting them makes it easier to deal with them the moment they come up.
A participant once told me:
It’s only four weeks. We are not going to be best friends forever afterwards. We are here to gain experiences and we came to do some work. We can as well do our best to make it a succesful camp.