#WUTpeople Seeing a smile on children’s faces we know we do meaningful work

A volunteer of the Harambee Poland Foundation and a student of the Warsaw University of Technology, Stefan Pytel, and his family have been helping people in Africa for over two years. In 2017, he spent little less than a month in Kenya, renovating buildings among other things.

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Europeans are an attraction for most of the Kenyans, especially for children, for whom it is often the first time they see a white man, photo: Stefan Pytel’s private album

An inspiration to establish the Harambee Poland Foundation was a trip made by doctor Jacek Pytel and his son Wojtek, then a medical student, in 2013.

“Harambee Poland is a national branch of the worldwide foundation, set up by my dad three years ago,” explains Stefan Pytel, a student of Mechanics and Machine Design at the Faculty of Automotive and Construction Machinery Engineering (SiMR), the Warsaw University of Technology. “It all started with my elder brother, who was looking for internship opportunities abroad. Wherever he turned, we was asked to pay a hefty sum to get a placement. So we started to look further away for a suitable destination and that’s how Kenya came up. Apparently, my brother would be very much needed there. He went to Kenya for a month with my dad, who is a surgeon. Once there, they treated everybody and everything in the middle of nowhere. This sparked the idea to do something to make a bigger difference.”

Equipped with their experience and contacts, Stefan’s father and brother arranged for three students from Poznań to go to Kenya the year after. When they came back, a foundation was established, which managed to send a container with medical equipment to Kenya within just a few months after it kicked off.

The Foundation is very active in Poland. “Raising money to fund medical equipment is only a part of what we do. We also send people to Kenya to help,” says Stefan. “Those are mainly medical students. Now, we are planning to send younger people too, school students who would be willing to give a hand.”

This is not five-star holidays

The SiMR student’s first time in Kenya was more than two years ago. His trip this year involved months of planning ahead. He stayed there with a priest and worked mainly on the parish grounds. “Together with three students from Spain, two guys from Poland and my dad we went to Kenya in July. We spent over 20 days there,” he says. “During the almost month of our stay we managed to plant several hundred trees, paint the church and build a chapel, to mention just a few things.”

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“Working like that as a volunteer, you come to appreciate what you have in your life, photo: Stefan Pytel’s private album

Before his trip, Stefan kept himself up to date with the developments in Kenyan politics. It was especially crucial because elections were scheduled in Africa for that time. “This was not a peaceful time. Elections are usually held amid some turbulence and this time it was no different. For this reason, we set off at an earlier date,” he explains.

Volunteering in Kenya is nowhere near holidays in Seychelles or a summer break in a five-star hotel. If you make up your mind to go, you should remember to take some precautions. You have to be prepared for any contingency, from a serious illness to evacuation from a dangerous area.

What else should you put on your checklist? “Before you go, you have to get vaccinated, e.g. against yellow fever, and take Malarone daily while you are there. Still in Poland, it’s a good idea to check if the region you are about to go to is not a malaria-prone region,” says Stefan. “You have to be prepared to change your eating habits too, which is often uneasy on your stomach.

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We were often invited to houses, photo: Stefan Pytel’s private album

It’s essential to dress properly: wear headgear and closed shoes which prevent you from contracting a disease; it’s very important that you don’t wear open shoes. It’s especially true if you walk in wet grass,” warns Stefan. “There are known cases of people who ignored that rule and then suffered from serious health problems or parasites. You should think about taking shoes you wouldn’t need any more to leave them to the locals afterwards.”

Welcomed by locals

“Europeans are an attraction for most of the Kenyans, especially for children, for whom it is often the first time they see a white man. They will run up to you, touch your skin and start to cry, squeak and run away. Older residents are well disposed for the most part. We were often invited to their houses,” says the student. “We had only one unpleasant encounter when a certain person demanded us to go back to where we came from. But I heard stories about taking pictures of the local community; for example, the one about locals asking to delete the pictures taken of them because they feared that taking the picture, the photographer had also taken their soul and closed it in the camera.”

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Volunteering is worth it!

Asked about benefits of the volunteer activity, Stefan names the opportunity to find out about a different culture and learn new things, such as brick making, and many more. “Working like that as a volunteer, you come to appreciate what you have in your life,” says Stefan. “If I can make a difference to somebody’s life or bring a smile to children’s faces by what I do, I feel it all makes sense and I am even more willing to help again.”

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