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Hosting has taught me that despite our different skin tones, we are all the same

Grace Munini, 59, lives in Loitokitok, southern Kenya, with her husband Ruben. Her four grown-up children now have families of their own, and she has opened her home to participants of ICS.

Mama Helen, as she is known to the volunteers, is a busy woman: aside from hosting, she farms potatoes, maize and beans, sells milk from her cattle to neighbours, and runs a small shop which is stocked with local basics from rice to soap.  

Volunteer Anthony helps with the farm work in Mama Helen's garden
© ICS / VSO / Jack Howson
Volunteer Anthony helps with the farm work in Mama Helen's garden

The experience of hosting has taught me a lot. You realise that, despite our different skin tones, we are all the same. I’ve never argued with any of the volunteers who have stayed with me. 

I go with them to church, I teach them the importance of cleanliness and which foods are good to eat. We enjoy each other's company. I tell the volunteers to be free and if they have any concerns, to let me know. 

The volunteers who stay with me don’t go hungry. If they haven’t eaten enough I tell them to add more food to their plate. I teach them how to make chapati, ugali (a starchy staple made from maize flour and water) and how to slaughter a chicken. We make mukimo (a typical dish containing maize, potatoes, peas and salt) in the evenings. I even show them how to farm. They learn to dig, how to make a barbecue, how to cook goat meat.  

Mama Helen stands proudly outside her home in Loitokitok, Kenya
Mama Helen stands proudly outside her home in Loitokitok, Kenya

Before I receive a volunteer, I pray to God that their heart is pure like mine. Then I welcome my guests and make sure they have a comfortable bed and good food. I take care of them. Volunteers are very obedient and have a lot of love. 

I didn’t go to school because my mother died when I was a baby. I never saw her face. I taught myself to read. I can hear and understand English, I just can’t speak it. But the language barrier hasn’t been a problem. 

People have returned home understanding my language. One volunteer went back to his country knowing Maasai. He wrote letters in Maasai and came back here with his family - his father, mother and two brothers. They stayed here for two weeks. I always tell those who stay with me to come back and visit.   

The view from the garden: Mt Kilimanjaro rises up in the background
© ICS / VSO / Jack Howson
The view from the garden: Mt Kilimanjaro rises up in the background

One volunteer called Ben went back to the UK and then returned to Kenya. He came back for his girlfriend, who lives here - she’s Kalenjin [a Kenyan tribe]. If he came back here I would welcome him. We have many rooms. 

Have I ever wanted to visit the UK? I want to know where my volunteers come from. I find it hard when they go home. Sometimes [many] people leave on the same day. I always cry when they leave. 

This interview was conducted with the help of an interpreter. 
Emma Warren is a freelance journalist and editor.

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