This is all about my time in Uganda, what made me choose to take part beforehand, the impact it had on me, any personal challenges I found with it and how I found the 12-week experience as a whole. There will be a lot of photos and a lot of stories which won’t mean much but I hope it will provide an insight into how I personally found it.
Each of us is different & whilst I completely enjoyed all aspects of my voluntary work, others didn’t so much. Before booking onto any volunteer programme, please ensure you have researched what you are getting into thoroughly & the project you will be getting involved with.
Before the Project commenced.
I was leaving the Army and wanted to put myself out there and my money towards a project that I wanted to get involved with. It was important for me to apply myself to something that would benefit others. With a lack of direction from my short time in the military and an urge to do something worthwhile, I started to look at my different options, shortly after I found an organisation called Volunteer Uganda.
I made my decision to take part shortly after (within a week of my first exposure), although it was a hasty decision, I’d researched the projects, what it involved, had numerous conversations online and via the phone with the organisation and made the choice to pay the funds required.
I remember telling my family and friends back home about what I’d signed myself up for (I was still living in a military camp at the time in Cyprus) and the response was erratic, to say the least. Most were shocked, & nervous. Others were excited for me whilst some just didn’t understand what I was going to be getting involved with.
I guess I didn’t either and the amount it impacted me, I would never have guessed before I begun this chapter.
I had purchased a new laptop and camera a week before flying to Uganda so I could record and update people on what I was doing, how I was finding it and basically, keep a day to day diary of different topics I had planned per day.
The day I left for the airport, my family helped me with my bags to the car. Passport, a desk. I’m under my allowance so proceed to the security desk. I get asked to empty the contents of my laptop bag and to my surprise. I see a gaming console. I wasn’t prepared for this & tell the security man that the laptop bag wasn’t mine… He started getting concerned and asking me questions when I realised what had happened. We were moving some stuff so had placed a games console in a laptop bag. The morning we were leaving, I picked the wrong bag up and didn’t check it until I needed to open it, at the security desk…
I explained it fully to the security staff, we both had a laugh and I carried on with my journey, somewhat embarrassed and slightly irritated. Back at home was a brand new laptop, whilst I was carrying an unusable games console. This wasn’t a great start to the 12 weeks.
I arrive at the airport in Uganda, meet up at the “meeting point” and introduce myself to the other volunteers and the team leaders already waiting. We get advised to draw money from the local ATM & I think you see where this is going. My bank blocks my card.
We all know everything happens in 3’s so, although upset, I was far from shocked when I got back to the UK and realised my new camera wasn’t in my bag.
So the organisation offered a few different packages with activities to take part in outside of the project (Bungee Jumping, White Water Rapids, Lake Bunyonyi, Chimpanzee tracking, Safari Weekend & Gorilla Tracking. I took part in all of them apart from the Gorilla Tracking and it’s fair to say they were equally a wonderful experience.
So we started the 12 weeks getting to know each other and familiarising ourselves with Uganda by an adventurous two days included a Bungee Jump over the River Nile as well as some White Water Rapids.
I had a Go Pro camera attached to my wrist trying to record the experience of me falling, thinking it would make a great video. After watching it back, I have to say it’s one of the most embarrassing things I’ve ever recorded. You can tell straight away that I’m bricking it aha. I will be uploading the videos to my Youtube account, so when they are online, I will be linking my account for you to see. I would definitely do it again & if you are thinking about it, I 100% recommend.
I thought the Water Rapids was going to be a nice chill adventure taking the environment in and enjoying a slow ride down the River Nile. How wrong was I…. Every Rapid was a struggle against the tide to stay afloat, & when it toppled, you were bobbing in and out of the water for what felt like miles. If you like the adrenaline rush, you’ll love this.
I’m very interested in nature and animals so being able to do a safari weekend and Chimpanzee tracking was just awesome. We had almost spent a full morning walking through this thick hot woodland tracking Chimpanzees, without seeing anything, we were asked if we wanted to keep going or turn back around, we decided to keep walking in the same direction we had been and within 5 minutes started hearing screams from the trees in front of us, we were told to hurry and there, in front of us 10m away were some Chimpanzees. Remarkable experience.
On our way back out, of the woods, the bushes started to shake and a Hyena darted in front of us, stopped in its tracks, looked straight at us, laughed and then darted straight back through the bushes. It was such a great experience being able to see these animals in their own environment and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
We also got to spend time on a beautiful little island on Lake Bunyonyi. Was quite the educational weekend visiting some of the local islands around us. There was one called Punishment Island where women who were pregnant before being married were taken by boat to this island and left to die. Another island we went to, we visited the local people, a Pygmy tribe, who were very welcoming and allowed us to experience their way of life (even if it was only for a short period of time).
This was our home for the 12 weeks whilst we were in Uganda. It was such an amazing place & it truly felt like home. The viewpoints were just breathtaking and the sounds of monkeys in the woodlands surrounding made for a wonderful alarm clock in the morning.
Matiro Primary School
We were asked to learn about a topic we would be teaching and host a small 5-10 minute lesson for the other volunteers and the team leaders so they could offer advice, and pair us to the school and class we would best be suited for.
Later that day, I was told I would be teaching in Matiro Primary School with their P4 class and 64 children. It was a huge class size and a big task, but I took to it as best as I could.
I remember the first day I walked into the classroom, saw the 60+ children looking at me, they all jumped up and shouted “Good morning Teacher, we are P4 Class, Matiro Primary School. We thank you for coming to teach us.”
At first, the children were quiet, shy and nervous to talk, answer questions and participate in the lessons, over the first week, we spent a lot of time learning names (It was very hard at first but by the end of the placement, I came to know all of them) and playing games with numbers and doing as many interactive activities as we could until there was a mutual level of trust.
I came to realise their initial shyness came from the caning they would receive from the local teachers if they didn’t know answers or if they didn’t understand something.
I realised there wasn’t any reading material in the school and that children weren’t taught to read so a lot of our English classes were spent bringing Disney books in from the lodge and helping the children to read. One child would sit at the front in a chair and would read a few lines out to the class in English, if there were any words the child would particularly struggle with, I wrote it down on the black board and we covered it as a group at the end of the lesson.
I taught English, Maths and Science every day (Monday-Friday), each lesson being 40 minutes long. I was responsible for planning the lesson and creating the content along with marking the books. The length of the lessons caused some complications, I couldn’t spend 1 minute per child, it really struck home that this is how local teachers are required to do their job daily and this is how the children are required to learn daily.
The question of how different teaching styles can be applied and learning very quickly how to teach using limited resources was something which we really had to focus on. Over the time, however, I came to realise that the children I was helping were exactly the same as children back home, they wanted to play, some of them wanted to fight and most of them wanted to be outside, the biggest thing I noticed was their joy and genuine gratefulness they had for me being there.
Goodbye Teacher Karl
The last day in the school was a lot of fun, full of tears and different emotions. I came into the classroom after lunch and saw the class huddled around the blackboard. When they saw me, they ran to their seats whilst one girl finished writing.
Bedtime is over
The school had a classroom for the toddlers and they sung songs, played games and learnt basic English terms. There were little mattresses in the back of the classroom for when they were tired and wanted some down time, during our lunch break, we would pop into the classroom and help the teacher play with the children. They would all run to the front of the classroom cheering and any sleeping would instantly wake up and run over to us to sing and dance and play games.
Community / Walks
Whilst we didn’t have much integration with the community, we did get to meet the local people and they were always very friendly with us. Most of the time we went into the market, we could hear “Mzungus” and people trying to call us or greet us.
We had some amazing scenery where we were, from the school to the lodge we were staying in and having the opportunity to walk around the lodge was incredible.
If you have any questions about anything volunteering or even just want to hear a bit more, you can either leave me a comment or Contact me
If you haven’t already but want to read about my time in Bangladesh, you can do so by clicking here
Thank you for taking the time out to read this & I hope you have thoroughly enjoyed reading about my time in Uganda as much as I enjoyed being there.