A perspective from Oli Watson who has been on a summer volunteering trip to Uganda twice and can’t wait to go again.
Oli was talking to Wycliffe Sande: Founder of Sandfield travel
How was your first Volunteering trip to Uganda – How did you find it?
I didn’t know what to expect on my first trip, I was going to be exposed to a radically different culture in Africa and was going to experience many new and perhaps challenging things. Before leaving I was very excited and couldn’t wait to see Uganda and to see the projects we had been fundraising for. When I first arrived I felt so happy to be there. At first the different culture and level of poverty was quite shocking. However, that very quickly subsided as I met our travel guides and started to immerse myself in the trip. I met some amazing people during the project. These people really made the trip what it was. Our driver and tour guide, Hamid, was amazing! He was very funny and made sure we safe and comfortable at all times. We also worked with a really inspirational man, Dr Michael Bayigga MP, who worked with us to implement the projects and showed us around the area.
I loved seeing the schools and meeting the students. The teachers and students were really inspiring. Even in a very remote and poor area, I was still learning the same things and had the same interests as the students. Although I had a huge amount of fun at the schools, it was also very moving to see the conditions that they have to work in. Compare their school with yours and there would be no comparison. We visited a fishing village where there was a government funded school. This school, for our standards, would be unacceptable for livestock let alone children! This was quite shocking to see! People can generally assume that these trips are ‘life changing’ and ‘makes you appreciate what you’ve got’ – but it genuinely does. It changed my life for the better and I can’t imagine where I’d be if I hadn’t taken this opportunity.
Wycliffe: How many students were you on your team?
For the first trip we had a team of 8 students and for the second trip there were 7 students
Wycliffe: What do you think of the projects you visited?
At first it was very shocking as the schools had virtually nothing and any resources they did have could not accommodate all the students. Kiringo was particularly moving. When we first saw the school it was a wooden shack, nearing collapse and with full exposure to the outside environment. They had to fit 115 children into this small wooden shack!
Despite the conditions the children and teachers were an absolute pleasure to meet and get to know. One of the most surprising things was that despite the lack of resources, the students were learning the same thing as us! It just shows how motivated these students are to better themselves for the future and how resourceful the teachers are irrespective of the conditions and lack of materials. “Education is a way out of poverty”
Wycliffe: Did you feel that your efforts made a difference to the local students and people in general?
I would like to think so yes! The money we raised helped to buy vital school equipment such as science equipment/ chemicals and text books. We were also able to build extra classrooms, (Mirembe SS), an exam hall (necessary for government examinations), a water butt to collect water and improved toilets. Moving from a wooden shack to stable buildings would mean a lot to the students and teachers. The textbooks will enable the students and teachers to learn more up-to-date topics and to learn more efficiently. Before they relied solely on the memory of the teachers. Since our project was implemented at the school, the attendance of the school increased. In terms of the wider community we were also able to donate some computers for local computer/IT training and we donated sewing machines to an AIDS widows community so that they can make a living through the production of certain items such as sanitary pads.
Wycliffe: Were you inspired after the trip, did you learn anything from this trip?
Absolutely. As soon as I returned to England I was planning my next visit. The whole experience is so amazing that you can’t help but want to return. I learnt many things from this trip. In terms of my development, I improved in areas such as public speaking (fundraising etc), professionalism, cultural awareness and interpersonal skills. Mainly, my outlook changed. I was motivated by what I experienced and I used this experience to direct and influence my goals.
Wycliffe: How did you fundraise for the trip?
We fund-raised by doing various different events within our communities. The main events we did were bag packing at supermarkets, lots of cake sales and speeches at church visits and collections at our schools. We also did one off events such as a fashion show and quiz and chips.
Wycliffe: Finally, What advice would you give to a student who wants to come on a trip such as this?
My Advice is to take any opportunity you can. These trips are unforgettable – you will have the time of your life whilst potentially making a huge difference to other people’s lives. You will experience a whole new culture and way of living – opening up your eyes to the outside world. Not to mention all the amazing people you meet during fundraising at home and during your trip in Africa. This can be both mentally and physically challenging so be open minded. You share an indescribable bond with the people you share the experience with and it is something you will never forget – I can’t recommend it enough!
Have you liked Oli’s experience, find out more