Don’t Forget These 5 Things When You Volunteer Abroad

This week, I’m turning the blog over to Kristen McFadden. She’s a 24 year old Canadian, who volunteered with The Real Uganda for a month back in 2015. Why are we talking to her now? Because she’s heading back to Uganda in May, 2017 to re-join The Real Uganda. We couldn’t be more pleased!

Kristen currently works with autistic kids and JUST completed her Master’s Degree (rad). Back in 2015, she displayed a level of openness with both primary students and women’s groups, that made her a very popular volunteer.

Volunteer in Africa and work with women's groups and on organic farms.

While she was here, Kristen assisted staff at a rural medical clinic, and taught primary school classes that focused on social studies, nutrition, and math. Alongside members of 2 women’s groups, she helped dig in gardens, weave mats, and taught basic English and nutrition. The ladies even requested Kristen to teach them how to bake cakes. They continue to bake and sell their wares in local schools and neighbourhoods.

In the evenings, Kristen ran around and had fun with all the kids living in her compound.

As a particularly successful volunteer, I wanted to give her a voice. I hope her time in Uganda inspires you to start planning your own volunteer abroad trip. Want to hear the voices of the Ugandans we work with? You may enjoy our post What You Need to Know About Voluntourism.

Among other topics, we discussed ways volunteers could make their time in Uganda respectful, responsible, and fun. Here are Kristen’s top 5 things to do while volunteering in Uganda.

1. ASK QUESTIONS

I think the most important piece of advice I would give future volunteers is to ask questions about anything you can think of. It doesn’t matter how stupid you think your question is, you don’t want to return home still wondering what the answer is.

Asking questions shows everyone you care. It shows Ugandans that you have an interest in their culture and their lives, which is a really great feeling. To Ugandans, everything they are doing is normal, everyday life, so if you want to know something, you have to ask.

Get to know the culture, the language, and Ugandans as people. Also be ready to volunteer information about your own culture, country, and personal life.

Volunteer in Africa and work with women. Nutrition information, small business skills, and help in the garden are needed!

RELATED: what to pack when volunteering and travelling in Uganda

2. TALK ABOUT YOUR EXPERIENCE

Talk about your experience while you are volunteering and when you get home. My time in Uganda was the most amazing month of my life, but there were some experiences that were difficult to process. Keeping a journal, talking about Uganda with friends and family, and taking the time to reflect will help you gain understanding about the full meaning of your experience.

It will also raise awareness about the realities of life in Uganda, and help reduce the starving brown baby/lion king stereotypes.

3. DANCE

When you see how happy it makes the people around you, and how much they smile, you will dance. Even if you are a tight-hipped Canadian dancer like me. Absolutely no one is judging you.

4. LAUGH

The people you’re working with have relatively few materials possessions but they love to laugh. Ugandans find the tiniest thing to be joyful over, and then they share that joy. It’s a beautiful thing, and it becomes even more beautiful when you join in on it too.

5. BE FREE

Be yourself and don’t worry whether people are judging you. They’re not. You are just not that important. Don’t limit yourself, and you will create the best possible experience for both you and the people you work with.

Volunteer in on an organic farm in Africa. Learn and teach new techniques and help a community obtain food security.

Thanks Kristen. We cannot wait to have you back later this month, exactly 2 years after your first arrival! So much has changed…

Readers, keep these 5 things in mind when you travel or volunteer, and you’ll make friends for life. Kristen says she regularly chats with her former hosts on Whatsapp. She laughs and jokes on the phone with the kids from her compound. On her graduation day, she received a call from the women she worked with, who sang a congratulatory song for her. People are people, the world over. Deep connections are made when you let your guard down and give up those silly stereotypes and unfounded fears!

I hope everyone enjoyed reading words other than my own. I think everyone here knows The Real Uganda’s philosophy regarding volunteer abroad programs.

If you are researching volunteer abroad options, please spend some time on this website. If you like what you read, fill in our online application form. We’re looking for volunteers interested in deep cultural exchange. In our world, volunteering is not about saving anyone or simply lending your hands. We want what makes you unique. If you’re up to it, we’d love to share the successes and challenges of life in Uganda with you.

RELATED: Former Volunteer Feedback and Advice from Megan

Don't forget these 5 things when you volunteer abroad. Written by a former volunteer in Uganda. Solid advice that will help you be a successful, responsible, and fun volunteer, no matter where you go!
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One thought on “Don’t Forget These 5 Things When You Volunteer Abroad

  1. Pingback: 7 Years Later: A Reflection on My Ugandan Volunteer Experience – The Real Uganda

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