By Olivia Bunter
When the opportunity of a lifetime presented itself to Laura Saldanha, she could not refuse.
Under the support and guidance of Palms Australia, Laura is one of the volunteers who recently completed a six-month stint in Kenya as a part of a program to assist the people in the Mukuru slums of Nairobi.
The project allows those involved to immerse themselves into a new culture and assist those less fortunate.
The experience was something Laura says she always wanted to pursue, and that the timing was perfect when the opportunity arose.
“I didn’t know where I wanted to go or what field of work I wanted to volunteer in, but my mum heard of Palms Australia so she guided me to their website,” Laura told The Record.
When she saw a position available in Kenya, a strong “gut feeling” told her this was where she was meant to go as it was her father’s birthplace and home before he left the country at the age of 18.
For the past six months, Laura has been working at the Ruben Medical Clinic, a centre that provides healthcare to residents of one of Nairobi’s poorest communities.
Laura began working in the children’s therapy department before expanding the physiotherapy service to include antenatal and postnatal care and the management of adult musculoskeletal conditions.
“Many of the mothers and children I work with don’t speak English so it’s important that I try to learn their local language, Kiswahili. I love learning the language, especially because it has helped me build relationships and gain respect from the local community.
“There are plenty of laughs in the therapy room as I mispronounce words and phrases, but my client’s love that I am making an effort to learn,” she added.
Laura valued experiences over material possessions, a philosophy she aspired to before arriving in the Mukuru slum.
“I believe that living humbly and generously leads to greater eternal peace and happiness. I know that I am so incredibly fortunate to be able to spend a year here, and I wish that more people were able to do the same.
“It puts everything into perspective and makes you really appreciate the opportunities and choices we have. But there is still time for fun.”
Laura expressed that she is making the most of living in Africa, often catching up with friends for dinner after work, enjoying live music played by the locals, and enjoys hiking in the local forest.
“Outside of work, I have made friendships both with expats and also many locals. Nairobi is such an amazing city, I have been fortunate enough to explore the countryside… I try to go out on weekend as much as possible to go camping and hiking which nicely breaks up the busy working week.
“I’ve had so many memorable moments here, and I’m sure plenty more to come.”
She encouraged anyone who is thinking about volunteering, or in a position to consider it, should definitely take it up if the opportunity presents itself.
“We are supported so well by Palms Australia and although there will be some challenges, what you will take away will be invaluable.”