Not many stories are told of Weber State University students going to developing countries to do humanitarian work, yet that’s how one WSU student spent her entire summer.
Living in a slum just three miles outside Kibera, the largest slum in Nairobi and the largest urban slum in Africa, Sarah Archambault, a WSU sophomore in the nursing program, worked in various orphanages, providing assistance and care to children and infants.
“I have always had a real interest in Africa, and it was so nice to finally have my feet on African soil,” Archambault said. “I just really wanted to help.”
Working with the Global Volunteer Network, Archambault traveled to Africa for the first time during the summer of 2012. Never having been outside the United States before, she said her initial experience was quite a shock.
“The people are all very friendly (but) they are not used to white people; a lot of them had never seen a white person . . . they don’t know what to expect.” She said many people spoke English, which made it easy to get around and figure out the area. After a few weeks, she said, she was traveling to the market and meeting extraordinary individuals.
In the one-mile walk Archambult made every day to get to work, she was exposed to the challenges the people of Kenya face day to day. Watching starving children rummage through garbage to find food and hundreds of disabled people living on the streets, she realized the impact her time and donation was going to make for the lives of the children and the local organization she worked with while she was there.
Working in an HIV orphanage in Kenya, Archambault taught nursery school to children ages 3–8. After a few weeks, she transferred to Happy Life Children’s Home, an orphanage for abandoned infants.
“Babies get left in dumpsters, on the street or left in farms,” she said. “They’ve just been completely abandoned.”
Tasks Archambault performed at the orphanage included infant therapy, such as stretching their muscles, helping them roll over, and doing reaching exercises, because many of them are behind in their development, and daily feedings, which took up the majority of the day. Infants need to be fed every 2–3 hours, she said.
“Many of them have trouble absorbing nutrients and they just have a lot of problems, so that took a lot of work and time in the day. By the time you were done feeding the babies, you practically just had to start all over again.”
According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics 2009 census, Nairobi has a population of 3,138,369 and only 985,016 households. Millions of people live on the streets, and the orphanages try to care for as many children as possible, but the demands are overwhelming.
“Sometimes it can be 80 children to one teacher,” said GVN volunteer specialist Kelly Holyoake.
GVN, founded by executive director Colin Salisbury, has been in operation for more than 11 years, working closely with grassroots organizations, creating partnerships with institutions already making a difference in their local community. GVN has placed more than 18,305 volunteers with their partner organizations in Argentina, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guatemala, Kenya, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Philippines, Rwanda, South Africa, Thailand, Uganda, the U.S. and Vietnam.
“Volunteers come in and do short placements at local organization that (are) there with their own goals, already on the ground, working hard to already achieve great things in their community, and volunteers come in and help them with their work,” Holyoake said. “They can be sure they are contributing to a great good in the community.”
Archambault said that when she returned from her trip in 2012, the only thing she could think about was going back because she loved it so much, and when May 2013 rolled around, she was packing her bags for her next African adventure. Instead of working with GVN, she decided to work directly with Happy Life Children’s Home, making her own arrangements.
She also decided she wanted to see more of Africa. After working with the orphanage for two months, she went on to explore other countries on a month-long safari expedition. Traveling through Rwanda, Uganda and the Congo, she tracked gorillas, coming less than three feet from silverback males; went white-water rafting on the Nile; saw elephants, zebras, giraffes, and had chimpanzees scurrying all around her in the rainforest. She met local villagers and said she was pleased she could impact them as much as they did her and that it was an experience she will treasure forever.
“There are 800 mountain gorillas, roughly, left in the world, and so it was really cool,” she said. “We saw this family of 14 and it was just amazing to see them. We trekked for about three hours until we found them. Then they allow you to stay for one hour and watch them and take pictures. It was literally the fastest hour of my life.”
Archambault’s family looks up to her and believes she will do great things in her life.
“I am really proud of her and excited she wants to do these things,” said Andy Deetz, Archambault’s mother.
Archambault has three sisters, and Deetz said she has had an incredible impact on them.
“She has really inspired them. Now they want to go do those things, and they are already talking about doing those things,” she said. “Her younger sister, Holland (18), went to Mexico last year for a week, helping to build homes for families in need.”
After graduating from WSU, Archambault plans to move to Africa and continue doing humanitarian work.