Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Building a health care centre in Uganda - Summer 2006

I had never been outside of Europe since I was properly able to understand my surroundings and from the outset I was slightly daunted by the prospect of going to Uganda, a so called developing country, to volunteer for two weeks. However, it had always been something I had planned to do and I was determined to challenge myself.

Concordia preparation weekend really put me at ease and dispelled any worries that I had. Particularly with me being a volunteer virgin, it also really helped in terms of making sure I thought of everything I needed to take – plastic bags for dirty washing are a great tip!

Once in Uganda I was met by the leaders of the work camp. They were really great people, as were all of the volunteers at the camp; locals and internationals alike. There were 7 internationals and 9 Ugandan volunteers and we also got plenty of help from the local community. I suppose now is the time to tell you what we were actually there for. The project was based in Kikooba, one of the branches of the Uganda Pioneer’s Association (UPA) and its aim was to continue building a health centre and provide AIDS education to the local community. It was also based next to a school where there were about 140 children.

(Sam with the children of the School)

We were successful in all of our aims, although we would have liked to have finished the health centre but it just wasn’t meant to be. UPA do hope to finish it this year though, which I was pleased to hear. On one of the days, in order to raise AIDS awareness, we staged short dramas for the local community and encouraged discussion afterwards. It was very successful, with many community members attending and I think its success was largely due to the shear enthusiasm of some of the volunteers in handing out flyers and promoting the day in the local town.

All of the volunteers were so friendly, I had been expecting more international people but it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference, everyone got on brilliantly. We had lots of fun both working and relaxing, particularly in the evenings. Most nights we spent dancing around the campfire to the beat of the African drums or down in the town having some drinks and talking to the locals. One evening we had a cultural night where everyone had to present things to do with the culture of their country, in the form of dance, song or talk. It was a wonderful night and all of us from England composed a song about our experience of Uganda and the camp. Although not really to do with English culture, it showed our creative natures and went down really well.

We were also lucky enough to be invited by community members helping on the project to a ceremony taking place within the local community, an Introduction (an Engagement ceremony) and a Gift Circle (gifts are given to the people that invited you and many take place so that the gifts become shared around the community). It was a great privilege to experience the culture firsthand, something I think that no ordinary tourist to a country can actually do.

Probably my favourite part of the project was spending time with the children of the infants’ school. They were aged from around 4 to 12 and were truly amazing. It was wonderful to see children that had not been corrupted by western society, they were so innocent. On a number of occasions they gave me some of their food, which after speaking to a few people I had decided would be ruder to refuse than accept. It humbled me greatly; they had nothing and yet were so willing to give - unbelievable. It was great fun playing with them and although there was a bit of a language barrier we tried to teach each other words. Naturally there were a few that were more confident than the others and spent more time with us, and those children really won my heart.

From start to finish the experience was amazing, even getting used to using a latrine was interesting to say the least. The combination of the worthwhile work, the culture, the fantastic people and the fantastic children has given me some magnificent memories. I am missing it all so much, but hopefully not for too long because I am planning on volunteering in Uganda again next year. I hope then to be able to strengthen the friendships I have already forged and help with more important work, hopefully at the infants’ school as I would love to benefit the children there.

I wasn’t sure if I would, but I’ve caught the volunteering bug! Make sure you do too

(Sam Carter, 2006)

click here for pictures of projects in Uganda

click here for a country profile of Uganda

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