Volunteering is a call from God and an inborn gift that is expressed through various activities by individuals who demand no return for the good they do.

Korogocho, one of the largest slum neighborhoods in Nairobi, was the center of attraction to hundreds of volunteers from various organizations that turned out to offer their skills and expertise to the community in celebration of this year’s International Volunteer Day.

The event was organized by United Nations Volunteers (UNV) and flagged off by its Africa Programs Manager Tapiwa Kamuruko.

Apart from mobilizing thousands of volunteers every year UNV’s programme works closely with partners and governments to establish national volunteer programmes to create structures that foster and sustain local volunteerism in countries.

In Kenya, there are many volunteers involved in palliative care in hospices and palliative care units at different capacities across the country.

Nairobi Hospice has about 40 volunteers who are trained through a structured programme so that they can fully appreciate and understand palliative care and aspirations of patients and families.

Once trained they choose where and how to offer their time and skills, an offer that has seen Nairobi Hospice cut down its running costs.

Joy Rwabudariko, a volunteer at Nairobi Hospice says;

“Volunteering at the Nairobi Hospice has been both a humbling and very fulfilling experience. I got the opportunity to work within the office and learn about how the hospice runs their day to day operations. I worked with the patients at the day care sessions that the organization runs every Thursday, where I got a chance to mingle with patients, cook and eat with them. It has also taught me to embrace people living with life limiting illnesses and that they too need the love, care, comfort and concern just as much as each and everyone of us.”

Ann Muthoni, a palliative care nurse at Thika palliative care unit, says the workload at the facility is overwhelming and is only supplemented by fellow nurses who willingly sacrifice to offer their services when they are free.

She says this has helped her to attend to more clients especially when she is overwhelmed with work at the hospital given that she is the only one attached to the palliative care unit.

Elizabeth Ndun’gu, the CEO of Nakuru Hospice said the work of volunteers has seen the hospice carry out its activities effectively without whom such activities could be expensive to run with the financial constraint at the hospice.

Nakuru town Member of Parliament, Lee Kinyanjui says most students who have completed high school remain idle as they wait for their next course and absorbing them into volunteer services will make a great impact.

“All we need is proper structures to tap into such volunteer programmes, which would go a long way in cushioning hospices with workforce shortages.” Kinyanjui says.

He urged corporate not only to extend financial aid to the hospices but also consider involving skills of their staff in hospices in an effort to boost their effort.

Thigio Hospice has enjoyed services of two palliative care nurses from overseas for four months, two young Kenyan volunteers and two women from Catholic Women Association (CWA) who usually help them with domestic work every Tuesday.

Rosemary Mutunkei, the corporate partnership manager for Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) East Africa said VSO Jitolee values the work of volunteers in capacity building the community.

Muntukei said that in the health sector, VSO’s main objectives are to strengthen the management capacity of the health systems and information at the local, county and national level. This helps vulnerable and marginalised populations receive appropriate and accessible quality healthcare and service.

She said that they hope to increase access to quality healthcare, information and services by delivering integrated interventions in the following areas:

·         Maternal, child, and newborn health

·         Family planning and sexual reproductive health

·         Malaria

·         HIV prevention and control

·         Water supply and sanitation

·         Nutrition

In addition to our work in developing countries, VSO works to build global understanding of the issues around poverty and disadvantage. Advocacy and development awareness activities by staff, returned volunteers and supporters are part of our ongoing work.

Gemma James, a VSO volunteer at Kenya Hospices and Palliative Care Association (KEHPCA) says that volunteering over the past 9 months at the association has been an incredible experience, giving her the unique opportunity to enter a world a tourist would not be able to access, especially within the field of health.

She says this has been a chance to learn from others, share skills, engage with the warm Kenyan people, and experience a rich and diverse culture.

Gemma adds that one of the most enjoyable aspects as a volunteer is that each day at the office is diverse.

“One day I could be reviewing policies, the next capacity building team members through event organising, speaking at a conference with a room full to capacity or even going overseas to attend a meeting.” She says.

I, she said, feel privileged to spend my time within the field of palliative care, seeing the passion and drive of those who work within it, and contributing to its development in my own small way, knowing that by us all working towards the same goal, small steps will lead to lasting change.

Sammy Situma, an assistant Information officer at the Kenya Red Cross Society, says the organization has a whooping 70,000 volunteers in its network across the country, who are involved in response to various disasters.

This indicates the extent to which volunteerism is at the core of community empowerment in pushing the development agenda in society.

Dr Simon Lewis, an international volunteer doing a research project for VSO said they have been able to run community projects around Korogocho that include conservation and will soon open a dress making center in Mathare North, another slum area in Nairobi.

Various group participated in tree planting and cleaning up Korogocho slum with the aim of making the environment a better place to live.

While marking this year’s International Volunteer Day, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said the day offers an opportunity for volunteer organizations and individual volunteers to make visible their contributions – at local, national and international levels – to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

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