Former volunteers dish on their time in Uganda
Since January, 2005. we’ve hosted over 900 volunteers from all over the world. Here’s what they did and what they had to say about it.
Natasha Kurowski, April 2015
“What really enticed me to join this program was the opportunity to dip my feet into a variety of areas – I really liked the program description of it being a community-based organisation by which you could really immerse yourself in real Ugandan life and work with members of the local community – whether it be through working in a small school, working with women’s groups or lending a hand in a health clinic. All these sounded like awesome opportunities to me and I was ready for the challenge!
Try EVERYTHING! Whether it be the strange food or the opportunity to take an adventure somewhere off the beaten track, GO FOR IT! Some of the best experiences I had in my two weeks were crazy taxi rides or trying some ridiculously random food that you expected to be totally inedible but was actually delicious!”
Sam Holmes, February/March, 2015
“For 2 months I taught P5-P7 from 11am to 3-3:30pm in the village of Kitoola. It was an amazing experience. I was teaching lessons on English, Art, Science and Sport – with each class once during the week. The first week was tough getting used to no modern conveniences and finding out how much the kids understood me. I have many vivid memories of running Netball and Soccer games after lunch on a pitch that was uneven with goats and cows as spectators, luckily I only slipped once on a cow pat. The kids were very welcoming and enjoyed the novelty of a foreign teacher (Muzungu).
Be open and ready to learn a new culture. Be prepared for culture shock in the first week and treat it as part of the adventure. The currency will take some time to get used to as there are a lot more zeros on the end of bank notes. Be open to praise from others and people having an open and strong religious faith. Take clothes that are breathable but cover most of your legs, good for local customs and protection against mozzies. Many students are excellent singers and dancers so any new songs or dances would be great. Open shoes are comfortable but not too loose as the footpaths are often far from smooth.”
Tiffany Leggett, December 2014
“I had daily involvement with approximately 10 children (at the boarding school). The school schedule was very flexible. The children tended to their daily chores and I assisted in any way I could, although I was proven very inadequate in many areas (peeling potatoes with dull knives, hoeing the gardens, carrying bundles on my head!). The younger children played most of the day. I was able to bring with me some supplies and toys (coloring books, games, beads, whistles) which they loved.
Take interest in learning the language and practice it as much as you can! It really goes a long way with them and they love hearing native Luganda coming out of a muzungu’s mouth. Embrace the culture! Love the food! Be appreciative! Love on the children, give hugs and plenty of words of affirmation. Bring good walking sandals, nothing rubber or plastic and preferably something that has a back to it. Take lots of pictures! JOURNAL! If I hadn’t I would have forgotten so many little moments and things that happened during my stay.”
Kristen Usher, September 2014
“I was placed at a local primary school and day care. While there, I taught some English lessons for the Primary 7 upcoming exam, read aloud picture books, taught some world studies on continents and various cultures, shared songs/dances/active games, played soccer, helped in the garden and shared love with every one there! Most of the activities organically came about, I prepared less and just brought materials/books I knew I would use. We made paper airplanes, origami, used stickers, colored, played tic tac toe and used alphabet matching cards.
Spend as much time as possible sitting with, talking to or doing chores with the kids. Even if they don’t speak to you at first, it is how I got to know them so well. Learn each child’s name if possible. They love to be called by their own names. Ask to help with the cooking or in the garden, it is a great learning experience and the kids seem to love seeing volunteers help out like that!”
Katerina Ost, January-March 2014
“I taught courses on HIV/AIDs, domestic violence, hygiene, parasites, nutrition, family planning, breastfeeding, and answered general health questions. This helped me solidify all the information I learned in University and gave me more confidence in my ability to answer questions on my feet and give accurate medical information. This was a challenge as I did not speak the language and so it made reactions harder to gauge, but it was almost more beneficial to me and the crowd as I had to learn to read the audience without the benefit of having a language in common.
I mostly just went in with an open mind ready to experience Ugandan way of life. I wasn’t sure what to expect, and that was almost better. I think if you have too much information you start to over think everything and you end up having a very concrete image of what you think life in Uganda is going to be like. I just went in with a “roll with it” attitude and I had a blast because of it. You get a lot further in Ugandan culture with a flexible, ready for anything attitude, and Ugandans are much more willing to throw more responsibility at you if they see you are flexible and willing to try.”
Nighttrain Schickele, Sept./Oct. 2013
“I signed up for the “Agriculture and Conservation Project” but my volunteering was not as straightforward as picking up a shovel and being shown what to do. I was given time with another volunteer to brainstorm on things we could improve at our designated school. We formed dozens of ideas for the farm, the soccer pitch, the kitchen, the garden, school beautification and education. Then we just went for it and started digging. We dug out the foundation of an old building to plant grass, dispersed rubble to divert rainwater and to build a ramp for walking, cleared out land for the garden, used broken bricks to improve a pathway and border the garden, planted seeds, taught classes on environmental issues. Tasks changed day to day.
Uganda is your hometown, just without all the material. You’ve got your corner stores and neighbourhood faces and usual routines that you develop but it’s all played on a different board. Stores look raggedy, roads are dusty, people are needy, rubbish-piles burn black stenches, children sleep in dirt-floored rooms and sickness is visible. But sunsets are explosions of orange and pink, dark green valleys are sprinkled with matooke trees, people laugh and smile all day, children of all heights want to meet you and play, and every man and woman greets you with warming cordiality. With a positive and flexible attitude, Uganda is just a short, 1-hour car ride from your home, even if it’s thousands of miles away. Life is tough, life is happy, and people are curious. So bring a map. Any map.”
Melissa McKinnon, July/August 2012
“Volunteering for The Real Uganda was an amazing experience. The program allows volunteers to work with local children, women and men, doing various things. I signed on to teach at a local school. Teaching in Uganda was challenging in the beginning due to lack of supplies and resources; however, once you adapted to using what you had, it was a walk in the park! The language barrier will definitely be a shock, but you’ll learn methods to make it work. If you have ideas of what you would like to do with your students, make sure you bring supplies.
Get comfortable quickly. Talk to locals as much as possible. They want to teach you about Uganda and they want to learn about your country. EXPLORE and ENJOY. Try all the foods, even if you can’t pronounce them. Get your toenails done. Embrace and the taxi and bodaboda rides. Head to Jinja or Kampala for the weekends. Have fun with the kids. Encourage them to be creative and to express their individuality.”
Ashleigh Scopas, December 2011
“I spent two months in Najjembbe teaching at the Christian Heritage school. This was a primary school for the children in the village. For teaching I focused on reading and writing improvement. This involved daily reading activities and writing activities. I would usually involve this with a creative activity also, such as painting, drawing, using natural resources such as leaves etc.
Just go with it, Uganda isn’t going to hurt you, give you aids or abduct you. Relax, the country is beautiful and if u come with an open mind you will sail through your time with no sweat.”
Gillian Burt, May 2011
“We worked in the Organic Farming project. We dug and maintained demonstration gardens that were used to feed the children and staff (and us!) at the school. It was awesome to see how big the beans we planted in the first few days were by the time we left – our first day there, there were only weeds. In addition to farming, we sanded and painted the walls of a future computer lab. It was really cool to see that we were making a sustainable impact within the community – the key thing that drew me to the project in the first place. While I love children and would normally have been drawn to an orphanage project, I wanted to leave something tangible in Uganda after I left – and I hope those beans tasted lovely.
Have an open mind, and drop the whole ‘save Africa’ thing. If volunteers ride in on a high horse as if they are a knight in shining armour, they are not going to get the most out of their time in Uganda. Try not to spread yourself too thin – focus in on one or a few aspects in your project. Quality over quantity or so they say.”
Maggie Hodges, June/July, 2011
“During my time with the Public Health Improvement program, I spent each week travelling to a different remote village and delivering educational talks on topics including sanitation and hygiene, HIV/AIDS, family planning, and economic empowerment. We covered the basics of these issues, so while background research is recommended, you don’t need to stress out if you’re not an expert in any of these subjects. I had a translator during each session. Most people in the villages do not speak English. Normally, we would be in the village Monday evening through Friday and have 2 educational sessions per day. I was responsible for coming up with the content I contributed to each discussion.
Come with an open mind, heart, and stomach! The meals you are served in the villages will be very big and it is culturally offensive to refuse food, so give it your all. Treat the people you meet in Uganda as family and they will do the same. It was one of the happiest times in my life and I feel as though I built meaningful relationships in a short period.”
Dan Dash, February-April 2008
“Over the two months volunteering, I was the P4 class teacher for English, Mathematics, Science, Reading and Art, of which the first three formed the major focus of my experience with the children. Due to lack of teachers it was not unusual at times to supervise other classes. I was usually at the school from 8.30am until 4:40pm Monday to Friday, with breaks in my day.
Make sure you have fun with the children even when teaching a horribly tedious maths lesson. If you are enthusiastic they will almost certainly be too, or at least attentive. Get involved with the other classes in the school when you can. Spending so much time with one class sometimes cuts you off from the other grades. Even if some of the practices of other teachers seem inefficient to you, I found hybrid approaches to be the most effective- try adapting your ideas for the context you’ll find yourself in.”
So, what are you waiting for?!