Joanna Goldberg sends weekly communiqués from Kenya, where she’s living with her kid
I have always wanted to volunteer abroad. But my experiences overseas have invariably ended up being hedonistic, selfish and, admittedly, carelessly fantastic. I partly believed that, as a writer, I wasn’t on equal terms with the pediatricians, engineers and microfinance managers criss-crossing the globe in efforts to alleviate sickness, homelessness and poverty. Furthermore, packing a bag, boarding a plane and alighting somewhere new was only worthwhile if synonymous with the unburdening of responsibility, deadlines and cellphones, right? And the final nail in the coffin: as a (typically harried) single mom, how could I possibly manage volunteering abroad and living abroad with my 5-year-old daughter Cameron, who is often compared to a ferret on speed (by me)?
It’s the latter that motivated me to turn the hammer around and start prying the nails out of my doubts and anxieties. Proving to myself that it could be done is what drove me to quit my well-paying cushy job, rent out my newly renovated house in Toronto, endure countless hours of pre-departure training, subject my daughter to a dozen vaccinations, give away my cat and devastate my parents. And here we are.
The beginning of July, Cameron and I packed a mere 23kg and moved to Nairobi, Kenya to volunteer in international development for one year. I was selected as a worthy volunteer by CUSO-VSO (Voluntary Services Overseas), one of North America’s largest international development organizations that works through volunteers. Its vision is to bring people together to share skills, creativity and learning to build a fairer world, fight poverty and disadvantage and promote international understanding. Lofty goals, but for all the effort it took to make it happen, I sure as hell wasn’t going to spend a year building fences or digging pit latrines.
Through CUSO-VSO I’ve been partnered with GROOTS Kenya (Grassroots Organizations Operating Together in Sisterhood), a network of grassroots individuals and organizations across the nation that works tirelessly to ensure that grassroots women are at the center of decision-making about development in their own communities. I am both amazed and thrilled that GROOTS Kenya believes I have skills and knowledge that might actually help. So far, it seems I can, despite absences due to Cameron’s bouts of diarrhea and meetings with her school headmaster about matters of God, discipline and ballet. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
And so here you will find updates of our adventures, learnings and random tales during our year in Kenya, from the perspective of a single mom and the heroic kid, on a journey that opens our eyes wider each day to both each other and all that’s around us.