‘We have set the bar high for the next group of volunteers..’

My journey started at the assessment where on the first day I had a formal one to one interview. Fresh from university, I had always been used to lectures and being a student where you can get away with not being able to say a word in front of the class for almost your entire time studying.


On the first day of the placement at balloon I knew I had got myself into a situation whereby I had to talk to one or two people I knew nothing about, and this made me nervous to the extent that I could not talk to anyone that evening. It was a relief to me to find out that some of my friends from college were on the program. This made me feel a bit more relaxed and I began to talk to those individuals, but I was still uneasy talking to other Kenyan volunteers and I did not say a word to most of them.


The day that the UK volunteers landed was another big-blow because I knew that this time around I have got to talk to someone from a totally different country with very different views in life. This heightened my anxiety once again. Fortunately my fears changed when I interacted with the UK volunteers and I realised they were totally different to what my assumptions of them had been before I met them. I became freer around people and I would find myself in groups of 3 or 4 having good conversations.

The training week was one of the challenging experiences because most of the time I was required to contribute in a group or say something in front of everybody. It was not because I had nothing to contribute but I was still stage-phobic and was vey introverted. I thought I wouldn’t be able to say the right things. As days went by in training, I started being more open and contributed quite a lot, particularly through the presentations we were required to do.


The first day at the host home turned out to be a disaster because me and my living counterpart could not adapt to the situation at the host-home and this was a setback to my personal growth as it affected my ability to adapt to change that was happening all the time. This showed that I was not as ready to adapt to the different challenges at the host home as I had thought I was. It reached a point where we were moved out of the host home and into a different one.

This was a major turning point of my life in the programme.

I sat down in the new host home and thought things over. I was thinking to myself that I can adapt to more difficult situations than the ones I was currently experiencing. I challenged myself to change and become more flexible, accept things as they come and also find better ways of resolving conflicts in the future because the way we left the previous host home did not make the lady happy. My living counterpart Daniyal was a major contributor in helping me to settle down in the new host-home. He ensured that he introduced me to each and every friend he made at Section 58 in Nakuru. This made our interaction with people and businessmen around the area easier.
My greatest concern now was how to deliver the knowledge gained in training and at university to the entrepreneurs with my working counterpart Shammi. The first day Shammi did most of the training and I was took less of an instrumental role. The next day I asked him if I could deliver more of the training alongside him, this changed me as I found it surprisingly easy to deliver the sessions and my confidence grew.

Being allocated 6 entrepreneurs, Shammi and I knew we needed to do extra work as the other volunteers all had 4 or 5 entrepreneurs to work with. This opened avenues for my other strengths that I didn’t know I possessed. I had to be very time conscious, have an ability to plan and prioritize work, learn how to be persistent, improve my inter-personal skills, have an ability to accept and demonstrate responsibility and also show creativity and innovative thinking to be able to complete the assigned tasks.


A few days after the second week we were allocated another 2 entrepreneurs because of a structural change in the program and its volunteers. This took us up to a total of 8 and was another added responsibility to us. Luckily enough we were assigned another volunteer (Mutai) to work alongside us, turning us into a team of 3. However, with a larger team come complexities and conflicts. It was not easy when we started but we knew straight away that to get things done we had to work more than any other volunteer teams and be more flexible and adaptable. My counterparts and I kept working harder and harder. We had 100% attendance from our entrepreneurs to all training activities and meet-ups and we were travelling more than any other volunteer pairs.
By the time pitching came, our workload increased even more. At this point we had to meet tough deadlines because we had to prepare 6-pitching documents for the 6 out of our 8 entrepreneurs that were pitching for funding. We sacrificed our sleep, working day and night to ensure that everything was perfectly done without mistakes.
When news came that we had achieved 6 out of 6 successfully funded entrepreneurs I could not believe it. However on the other hand I knew that the amount of hard work and dedication that we had put in would pay off.

In terms of personal development, no one can boast of having been able to benefit from the programme more than I have. Though I don’t have measurable and tangible facts to support this, I can happily say that transformation has occurred in my life and my career as a whole. I have developed such skills as being able to plan and prioritise work, learn to be persistent, improved my communication and interpersonal skills, improved my confidence and also to accept and demonstrate responsibility. I feel more adaptable to any workplace environment and thus I know am more employable.

Right now I am happy to say that the balloon ICS programme has changed my life completely. Thanks to my living counterpart Daniyal for making my stay easy throughout the programme and more thanks to my working counterparts Shammi and Mutai. I would say that we have set the bar high for the next groups of volunteers. I challenge them to beat the record of what I see as being the best working counterpart group ever assembled!

Silah Kipng’etich Rugut,
Balloon ICS Entrepreneur, Nakuru, Sept-Dec 2014