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Behavior and Relationships
Cultural Beliefs: Interpretations and Misconceptions
· Do NOT MAKE PROMISES for the group or as an individual. Saying; 'you will have to come visit us and stay with me" translates into: "I will pay for you to come within the next couple of months to the US." Do not make promises to people about what you can give them or do for them. Promises are taken as seriously as we would a ‘contract.’
· Do not assume you know everything about Kenya. There is a lot of misinformation and misinterpretation out there. Just because someone is smiling does not mean they are happy! The majority of Kenyans are living very difficult lives and struggling just to meet basic needs. Try not to make snap judgments about what you are seeing. Kenyan society is very complex and westerners often see only one dimension while visiting. Know that things are not always as they appear and that often social issues are hidden but they exist. People are not “happy with the cards they have been dealt” and would love to improve their lives and their community. Watching a family member waste away from HIV/AIDS or a child die from Malaria is routine for many. They are not going to talk about it with someone volunteering for a brief stay.
· Be discreet with the use of hand sanitizer. Try to avoid using this in a public way. If you shake hands with people don’t use hand sanitizer in front of them unless you are about to eat. Be subtle and think about how you would feel if someone shook your hand and immediately used hand sanitizer.
· Remember that our drivers are also professional guides. They are experts at not only navigating you to the destination but also navigating you through the culture. Listen to them. Ask questions. Engage in conversations with your safari driver. Know that they can hear everything you say. Be sensitive to the fact that they are Kenyan and may not enjoy hearing criticisms from their passengers about their country.
· Ask people before you take their picture. Just like in America people may not want their picture taken. DO NOT take random photos of people from the van. ASK YOUR DRIVER if you want to take a photo. You may think you are ‘sneaking’ photos, but there have been incidents as a result of tourists taking unsolicited photos. It is ok to take photos at KUEF project sites.
· When you see street children don’t pretend to ignore that they exist. You don’t have to shake their hands or even talk to them but do acknowledge them with a smile or a “hello.” Don’t take their photo without permission.
· The Meru area of Kenya is overwhelmingly Christianized. Faith is integrated into the life and language of the community. It is common to hear religious references in conversations. All Kenyan schools start the day with religious observances following the British system. We ask you to be tolerant and open-minded as you identify these differences from US culture.
Hospitality and Communication
Generally dress is much more conservative than and definitely not as casual as in the US. At the schools, girls wear dresses or skirts. Teachers usually wear suits. Be aware that the local youth in Meru view Westerners as role models and will often emulate their behaviors and dress.
It is important that volunteers adopt a Kenyan dress code while in Meru. For women, this means wearing skirts below the knee, avoiding low cut tops, tight clothing, midriff baring shirts and tank tops that show your bra straps. Women in Kenya dress very modestly and you will feel more comfortable if you are dressed in a similar fashion. Men should also dress conservatively. Wearing pants and a collared shirt are very important. In some situations it is better to have close toed shoes. Most work places do not allow open-toed shoes.
Avoid bringing flashy jewelry, you will feel silly. Leave expensive jewelry at home.
When swimming in Meru wear a one-piece. The looks from fellow swimmers even in your one-piece will make you feel uncomfortable enough! (You may want to wear a T-shirt over your swim suit.)
While shorts are fine for safari, they are highly inappropriate at KUEF service sites. In Kenya, only children wear shorts. Shorts should be almost to the knee.
If you have questions about appropriate dress, please discuss this with your group leader, a KUEF Project Leader, or the KUEF Executive Director.
Requests for MONEY
You will be asked by many for money. There is great need in Kenya. Most volunteers struggle with the vast economic discrepancies. It is difficult, knowing you cannot help everyone. If someone approaches you for funds, refer them to the group leader or KUEF Staff.
We discourage giving of funds directly to individuals and would rather focus on specific projects through appropriate avenues. KUEF projects are always in need of additional funds. Our projects are directed by leaders both in Kenya and the US to meet the needs of the community and to move beyond charity toward sustainability. Giving through KUEF empowers Kenyans to effectively address the issues of poverty. (Please note that if you are soliciting donations for KUEF project funds these must be given through KUEF, not individual websites or Pal Pays.)
Many will try to manipulate you in various ways; some will do this by saying they love you immediately after meeting you. Others will call you their ‘sister’ or ‘brother,’ ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ right after meeting you. This may be sincere, but this may also be an attempt to influence you to give them money. Be familiar with the desperate needs of most of those whom you will serve. Place yourself in their position and ask ‘what would I do?’ It is ok to say ‘no’ to requests and refer to the work supported through KUEF.
It is important to change the way westerners are viewed by many Kenyans. When volunteers randomly give things to people, money or gifts, they reinforce the concept of Westerners as dollar symbols. You can change this by instead using your time to build relationships - spend time listening and being more observant of the culture. If you bring school supplies, consider giving them to the head of the school and staff for distribution. Ask the Kenyan leading the program before randomly giving away gifts.
Use of Local Resources
Water is a precious resource. Taking long showers is a waste. Remember…rinse, soap, rinse! Never let a sink faucet run.
NEVER WASTE FOOD. At meals, take ONLY what you will eat. Consider the implications of throwing away food where many are malnourished. If you are not sure if you will ‘like’ something, place one ‘bite’ on your plate to try. Remember that ‘liking’ food is considered a ‘luxury’ for the bottom billion of the worlds’ population. The extreme poor do not eat for taste, but rather for survival.
Acknowledgement of the KUEF Volunteer Code of Conduct
Thank you for carefully reading this information and being an ‘informed’ volunteer. KUEF appreciates the intent and commitment of dedicated volunteers. Please initial each page, sign and return to your Project Leader or the KUEF Executive Director one month prior to your departure from the US.
__ I have read and understand the KUEF Volunteer Code of Conduct and agree to abide by the behavior as set forth in this document.
Volunteer’s Name (Printed):_____________________________________ Date: __________
Volunteer’s Signature: _________________________________________
Date received: ______ Signature of Project Leader/ Executive Director:___________________