MANCHESTER - Sarah Stearns is no newcomer to the world of volunteering, but she is about to take her volunteering to a new part of the world. A 2009 graduate of Burr and Burton Academy (BBA) and a 2013 graduate of Keene State in New Hampshire, Stearns was looking for something to occupy her year off before starting grad school. She decided to spend it volunteering in Kenya.

"I had a friend who volunteered in Ghana in the past... and they only had good things to say about it," she said.

However, she will not be going alone; her friend and former peer at Keene State, Brian Finocchiaro, will be volunteering with her.

After searching through different volunteer programs, she began working through International Volunteer HQ to begin planning her 12-week stay in the eastern-African country.

Sarah Stearns
Sarah Stearns

"They have some of the worst living conditions and they need the most help," she said of why she chose Kenya. "And it has a unique culture... it's completely different."

Stearns' volunteering will begin in October and run through January; however, she explained that sometimes the host family will invite the volunteer to stay longer, as long as the volunteer can help pay their way.

Despite her excitement to spend her gap year doing something new in a place she has never been, Stearns realizes that there is a risk involved.

"It's definitely a risk to do this at this point in my life... with college loans... just up and leaving somewhere, and then coming back halfway through the school year."

As a secondary education and social science major, she explained that it would be difficult to come back to the country halfway through the school year and find a teaching job right away.

However, she will be doing plenty of teaching while she is in Kenya; her volunteer position is in an orphanage just outside Nairobi teaching some of the aproximately 300 children any one of four subjects - English, math, science and social studies.

"I will live with a host family, and the family might actually live within the orphanage," she said.

Stearns has been reaching out to the community, both in Manchester and at Keene State, to donate money to help her reach her goal. Finocchiaro and she will each be trying to reach a goal of $7,000. Out of that money, $1,579 will go toward the fees she will owe International Volunteer. That money will cover her accomodation with her host family, food and water within her accomodations, volunteer support services, administration costs, and an orientation service that will help her adjust to the drastically different culture and continue to teach her Swahili.

The rest of the money Stearns is looking to donate to the orphanage itself.

"We want to help rebuild the school if we have enough, and possibly buy them new school supplies," she said.

She also explained that the exchange rate between the U.S. and Kenya is very high; one US Dollar to 87.65 Kenyan Shillings to be exact. Often, volunteers are encouraged to buy more goods in the country rather than have things sent over from the U.S. because of the exchange rate and to help boost the local economy.

On top of what she hopes to give to the school, Keene State will be sending over text books and sports equipment upon Stearns' arrival in Kenya.

What she is planning to fundraise will not cover her plane ticket; she said that she plans to pay that out-of-pocket.

Stearns is raising money for her trip in two ways - through local bottle drives and from an online donation site.

"I work at the Manchester Country Club... so members will tell me when they have a lot of recyclables... and friends and family... and we go pick them up," she said of the bottle drive.

Online, through the website Go Fund Me, she has already raised $755. Some of the donations were made offline, but have been tracked on the website regardless. Stearns said that she has already made aproximately $1,200 across all methods.

"I wanted to get some first hand experience," she said. "When I'm teaching... I want to make sure that I make competent citizens... and I thought I can't push that on them until I have done it myself."

In order to get ready for her trip, in addition to raising money, Stearns has been hard at work on a variety of preparations.

"I just got my shots," she said, "but I need to get three more. And I'll have to start taking live typhoid pills. I've been working with the travel clinic in Bennington and they gave me a nice medical kit."

She said that she has also been learning Swahili, the official language of Kenya.

"My friend and I have been texting in Swahili to practice," she said.

Stearns also has been putting together some non-necessities.

"I was trying to figure out a present to bring to my host family," she said. "My mother recommended I bring them some maple syrup, but I can't imagine what they would do with a bottle of syrup."

Stearns will be given her exact assignments, including her host family, before she begins her work on October 1. In the mean time, she can be contacted at 802-379-5535 or by email at Sarah_Stearns@hotmail.com for inquiries about bottle donations. Her online donation site can be found at www.gofundme.com/37s9bk.