It’s been an amazing post-pandemic period here at The Real Uganda. We’ve hosted a whole bunch of vollies since January 2022. These folks spent 2 to 12 weeks with us, working in classrooms, on farms, in clinics, and with women’s empowerment groups.

After almost 2 years of Covid travel restrictions, it was wonderful to welcome so many people and introduce them to the successes and challenges of life in Uganda.

We also had a few former volunteers step up to fund our hot lunch programs, build a school library, and outfit a children’s home dormitories with all new beds and bedding.

It’s great to spend time with short-term volunteers and travelers. Meeting new people interested in exploring the world is never boring. And I love how volunteer travel opens up deep discussions about the take-aways of short stays in Uganda…

The Real Uganda offers 2 – 12 week locally-led communty-based volunteer programs.

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, avoid trivializing poverty, and offer ethical volunteering opportunities in Uganda.

volunteer learning basket weaving in Uganda

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 with which we work 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 sewing machines to outfit their creative learning centres!

Volunteers in Uganda learning to make beaded sandals

The Real Uganda’s online shop has uniquely Ugandan apparel. Look great & support our programs.

primary school renovations

There are renovations going on at a number of partner primary schools. Covid school closures were hard on these humble little schools. 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.

Everyone wins.

This is what volunteering with The Real Uganda looks like in the post-pandemic world. Tonnes of ongoing work. People moving their bodies. Everyone learning new skills. Local communities working together to improve their lives, on their terms.

It’s pretty sweet to witness.

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