It’s been an amazing summer here at The Real Uganda. We’ve hosted 22 vollies over the past 3 months. These folks spent 2 to 12 weeks with us, working in classrooms, on farms, in clinics, and with women’s empowerment groups.
Wanna know what’s cool? 6 of them were returnees! It was wonderful to welcome so many people and introduce them to the successes and challenges of life in Uganda.
We also had a group run the Uganda International marathon, raising $4,000 to support our hot lunch program and the work of 2 other community based organizations. We hosted another group that funds our holistic community development program in Kkoba Village, Buikwe.
It’s great to spend time with these groups. Meeting new people interested in exploring the world is never boring.
But it scares me sometimes what the take-aways are, when people spend only one week in Uganda…
THE CHALLENGE OF SHORT TERM VOLUNTEER PROGRAMS
Comments like “I’m so lucky…” and “they’re poor but happy…” are problematic. I hear these both a few times each year. But we are working on ways to educate our volunteers beyond these types of conclusions.
Underlying global economic structures have little to do with “luck”. Billions of dollars in natural and human resources are taken from Africa every year.
Further, rural Ugandans are not 2 dimensional “happy” figures that have accepted their lot in life. Rather, they are part of a connected community and work hard everyday to give themselves and their families choices.
The “simple” life may indeed be a nice one, but shouldn’t we all get to CHOOSE it?
Yes, there can be negative outcomes in short-term volunteering abroad. But with proper resources and orientation they can be mitigated. Spending time interacting and working alongside Ugandans helps challenge these views as well – so staying away isn’t the answer.
Be sure, The Real Uganda is actively working to change these assumptions to avoid trivializing poverty.
Okay, onto what our partner programs have actually been doing to affect change in their communities. These stories are meant to sing their praises, but also meant to help the wider world understand what life is like for our volunteers.
I also hope they demonstrate the impact our volunteers can have – with proper direction from local leaders.
FOOD SECURITY THROUGH COMMUNAL FARMING
A women’s group we work with recently leased land to farm communally in rural Buikwe District. Our volunteers, along side these amazing women, cleared the land in one morning – trees, bushes, weeds and all.
The ladies are growing cassava on this plot. It’s a dense, root crop that does well in both drought and flood conditions.
It was sweaty work, made short by many hands (and hoes).
EARNING INCOME FROM HANDICRAFTS
Another women’s group we work with has been learning how to make beaded sandals for sale at local and international markets.
Here are Brix and Ingrid completing their sandals. Pretty cool skill to learn, eh? They both took a number of completed pairs home to Australia to sell. The funds generated will be returned to the women to spend communally. The sandals are also being sold in local markets.
I hear the ladies want to invest in another new sewing machine!
PRIMARY SCHOOL RENOVATIONS
There are renovations going on at a primary school we partner with, in rural Mukono District. Here are Daniel, Max, and Sam helping to mix and carry cement to the professional builders on site.
When possible, our volunteers help out doing basic manual labour. They don’t replace local workers though. When our guys do these small jobs for free, the local unskilled labourers have time to learn brick-laying and other prized building skills on the job.
This is what volunteering with The Real Uganda looked like during the summer of 2017. Tonnes of ongoing work. People moving their bodies. Everyone learning new skills. Local communities working together to improve their lives, on their terms.
It was pretty sweet to witness.