Lessons learned as a project coordinator

Last Thursday I completed my final school visit of the summer at St Theresa’s Bogiakumu Secondary in Kisii. My work over the past seven weeks as a project coordinator has offered a different perspective on both EPAfrica as a charity and life in Kenya. Here are my eight biggest takeaways from my stay in East Africa:

1. EPAfrica is not just committed to improving schools, but also its own model to generate sustainable change. Since June I have become increasingly familiar with the charity’s Vision 2020 (for more on this watch the following video: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=DFnIsB1hvpE) and focus on innovative projects. For the first time in our history we have introduced a new sum of money so that our volunteers can expand the boundaries of our work into new areas such as digital learning and environmental projects.

2. In my position as a project coordinator I have also been able to see the variety of initiatives our volunteers undertake and how the charity’s goal of addressing the specific needs of each of our partner schools works in practice. In contrast to many other internships EPAfrica gives its volunteers a lot of responsibility in project management and deciding on their own priorities.

3. My work this summer also reaffirmed the true value of partnership between both EPAfrica and the institutions we collaborate with, and the schools themselves. During my time in Kakamega I visited Emanyinya and Ematsuli who have forged a strong relationship since graduating from our programme which they have used to stimulate continuous growth (for more on this see Tom’s interview with the leadership teams of both schools here: https://epafrica.org.uk/ematsuli-emanyinya-partnership-beyond-project-workers/).

4. One of the best parts of coming to work in East Africa is the variety of people involved in the charity. Although many project workers identified similar motivations for volunteering with us during our first training week, each has brought a different set of experiences and views on life to share with the rest of the group. I strongly believe that the charity’s diversity contributes to the overall success of our projects as we regularly meet up to discuss our different ideas.

5. With such a range of characters involved in the charity, an internship with EPAfrica offers a great platform to access a network that can help you get into a number of different career sectors. In the past our volunteers have gone onto work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Deloitte, and the World Health Organisation.

6. As a project worker I was never fully aware of the extent of EPAfrica’s Summer Operations. In spite of the many organograms I was shown during my initial training, I did not grasp how many people were involved in assessing risk, monitoring our projects, and checking up on the well-being of both our project workers and summer team.

7. Over the duration of this summer I have also recognized the importance of our local stakeholders. Across all three sites we have friends who advise us on security issues, good local contractors and the best places to eat in town.

8. The projects offer a unique opportunity to integrate into Kenyan and Ugandan culture, and make long-lasting friendships. Since returning to Kenya I have been taken aback by the warm welcome that both old and new friends have given me. A testament to this is the number of Kenyan names I have received over the past month including Otieno (a Luo word noting a good harvest), Majani (a Luhya name for tea leaves), and Kahawa (the Swahili term for coffee). Other than representing my preference for hot drinks, the different names also signify how Kenyans from various tribes and localities want to share their traditions and cultures with us.

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