Known as a welcoming face and a friendly barista, Natalie Hamel, Class of 2012, brightened the days of many Starbucks customers. She is traveling around Kenya, servicing those in need, no doubt brightening the days of many Kenyans.
Visiting her aunt who lives there, Hamel is traveling and volunteering in the country on her own. Her aunt works for U.S.AID through the United States embassy. She invited Hamel to come stay with her and Hamel jumped on the opportunity immediately.
Currently, Hamel is working in the capital and largest city, Nairobi, west of where her aunt lives. She spends her time volunteering at a children’s home called the Nest.
“We take in kids whose mothers are in jail for petty crimes like neglect or stealing and help the kids in schools and mostly just provide a nurturing environment for them,” Hamel said. “Once the moms are released from jail, we help them get back on their feet. The kids are so sweet and I feel really lucky to be a part of bring their families back together.”
Residing there since the beginning of February, Hamel feels that she is beginning to know the Kenyan culture. She plans to extend her stay until the beginning of June and is relieved to feel a sense of comfort with a new country..
“I’m so used to having a busy schedule and something to do all the time, but Kenyans are different. They take things very slowly,” she said. “ So I’ve had to slow down a lot and let a lot of things go since I’ve been here. It hasn’t been easy, at first I was just bouncing off the walls because I had so much extra energy, but I’ve settled down a bit.”
Within the next month or two she plans to join the Elewana Organization. This will bring her to Western Kenya where it is really, really hot in the months of February and March, ranging temperatures from 70-90 degrees Fahrenheit. She is excited to travel but worried “how this Oregonian takes the heat.”
Hamel has loved having the chance to give her time to others and experiencing living abroad thus far. She has found that her favorite thing to do in Kenya is ride matatus, little rickety vans that most people use for transportation.
“It is always exciting to ride in a matatu because of all the surprised looks and double takes I get from my fair hair and skin. I’ve had quite a lot of people ask me about America and just strike up conversation out of the blue.” Hamel said. “Most if the time it is friendly, but I’ve learned to recognize when it’s not.”.
Traveling freely without a tourist group has presented Hamel with numerous opportunities. Essentially on her own, she has found independence is rewarding and has learned how to handle herself in sticky situations.
“I encourage anyone who is even considering traveling to do it,” she said. “It gives a person, especially a young person, so much more perspective on their life back home. I don’t know if I’ll seem any different when I come home, but this trip has made me appreciate the things I have, like clean tap water and a warm shower.”