I am back. I just want to say thank you to each and every one of you who donated and helped to sow into the futures of young Ugandan lives, you will never truly know how grateful they are for your contribution to their life & sustenance.
So I am back & very healthy, and many of you of course have been asking me how my time in Uganda was like… so I write this blog post today to share some of my experience with you, given I was there for 2 months, this is a slightly longer post 😊 I won’t talk about everything as I would like to keep it as condensed as possible!
I want to start by saying this, often, when people go abroad to volunteer, they have a really good time… I know, I’m speaking from experience. I personally enjoy going to Uganda, and being able to serve the people there… hence I keep going back… However, my latest trip last year was… different.
So, how was it?
It was a lot of things.
It was interesting!
It was so many different things at different times that it makes this question quite hard to answer. I can definitely say that it wasn’t exactly how I thought it would be. It was so…DIFFERENT.
My main point of reference of it being different is that I had been there before… so I had just enough experience to know that I liked it, however, I was yearning for a deeper experience of Ugandan culture and life, so I could really understand the day-to-day living of the everyday people who we support there, and so I followed this yearning, which resulted in me planning this trip to spend two months in the country this time.
The longest I had ever been to Uganda before was for 2 weeks, and those two weeks were busy and packed with activities, moving here and there, that I always left feeling like I wanted to experience the place more. Nonetheless, through the help of a conversation with a sister-friend, I realised early in 2017 (first few weeks in January actually) that I would love to do that this year, I hadn’t planned for it, but it was a desire in my heart, and I thought hm, maybe I should follow this.
Having been to Uganda three times before, I thought I had sussed it out to some extent. BUT no! This time was different in every expression of the term different.
To name a few of the ways in which it differed to my previous experiences;
I was alone – I’ve never been to Uganda alone before, I usually go as part of a team.
I was staying in the North of the country, I literally hadn’t been there since 2 years prior, (we usually spend time in Mukono)
I was there for 2 months; the longest time I had previously spent in Uganda was 2 weeks. 14 days… days.
So anyway, it’s clear to see that I was very aware of the differences between this trip & my previous ones, (and they didn’t seem to stop coming by the way) everything about this trip was different…
So, it was OK overall… I had some good times and good memories, and I also encountered & experienced some very hard things. A lot of the time I was trying to push through & find the joy in this thing I thought I wanted to do & this place I believed I wanted to be.
What did I do there?
My time in Uganda was spent volunteering in an Organisation called Passion 4 Community. Many people have this misconception that I went to Uganda to do a mission trip… that’s not the case, and I never once languaged it as that, as I was aware that was not the intention of my visit. It’s understandable why people may have thought that though, as my previous trips have been for that purpose.
“Everyday is a mission! You will face scenarios, mindsets, ideologies etc, that require you to minister into them from the heart of God” – (Shaneka, 6th December 2017)
So, I spent my days at one of their centres where they provided vocational courses for young people, e.g. Hairdressing, Tailoring, Liquid Soap Making, and Agribusiness. The purpose of these courses was for sustainable income for the young people, and they also ran Literacy and Numeracy courses.
This provision was for at-risk youth, and those with the potential to get involved in anti-social behaviour. They also have provision for child-mothers, youth from child-headed-households, i.e. orphans, and they run counselling sessions, … even as I’m writing this now I’m feeling emotional, because it was such a blessing to even be a part of shaping the future of these young people with every interaction that I had with them, however big or small.
So essentially, I volunteered here, I sometimes ran my own sessions with the young people, or I assisted staff in the day-to-day running of what is already established there.
Much of the counselling is run via an outreach service, so staff have to leave that centre and travel via boda boda (small motorbike), and see families and young people – at times I had the opportunity to join them on a few trips, but it meant moving to remote remote villages to visit and check up on the young people on their books.
I’m not sure how many of you remember the LRA (Lord’s Resistance Army), and Kony… I remember there was this campaign called ‘Stop Kony’ some years ago when I was in secondary school…
Well, the place where I stayed during my time in Uganda was the very ground that he was occupying for over 20 years causing extreme havoc to the lives of those in Northern Uganda. Instilling fear in their very hearts, and terrorising their families, and killing people etc.
Thankfully it has been about 10 years since all of that stopped… but much of those in Northern Uganda, particularly Patongo where I was, were displaced (many many miles from their original homes) because of this.
I walked through territories which used to be impossible to walk through for fear of death. I spoke with many people who told me of their personal encounters with the LRA, it is not a distant memory for the people there and it’s crazy to think that so many people, young and old actually lived through that.
They shared with me many stories and many of their own personal encounters. I remember being at a colleague’s house one evening, it was reaching about 6:30pm, and she said,
“you know when the LRA was around, we couldn’t be here at this time. No, we would have to flee, it was hard, sometimes rain would fall on you in the night (because they had to sleep outside in the bush), you couldn’t eat dinner…you would go to sleep hungry”
… and she was young, about 22, so these memories for her, was when she was a young girl.
I met young adult orphans who lost their parents during that time, I met young girls who were raped and left to care for a child during that time. So, the beneficiaries of this charity, have gone through and are carrying a lot. A fair amount of them haven’t been in school and so speak very little English.
The trip was tough for many reasons… even stuff like processing all these things was hard. I was alone… I had no one really to debrief with or make sense of what I was being told.
So, I had to go through a lot.
I had to deal with everyone approaching me. All with their own personal motivations.
I had to learn how to remain polite, but be guarded & a little less trusting. Those of you really know me, know I am quite a welcoming person. I love to chat… I would talk to anyone… and so would many Ugandan men. OH my goodness. I learnt that alright. Lol.
So, as someone who likes to talk, and has no problem speaking to someone I don’t know, I would happily respond when being told ‘Hello’ or whatever from a Ugandan stranger I didn’t know… thinking, first of all it is polite, secondly, it was a very small area that I was staying in, so if I don’t respond this time, they are likely to see me tomorrow and give it another shot… anyway, all too often the conversation would go left before I knew it and I would be like huh… it was long, it got long. Long long long. I also just had to stop with eye contact then that may reduce the chances of an interaction.
I learnt so much whilst I was out there. I had to learn, and learn rapidly. I was in a completely different environment, in a culture and way of life that I was unfamiliar with.
As briefly mentioned above, the area I was in, Patongo… I found to be full of men. Imagine me, London girl, going to a small area in Uganda (that I have no problem with), but… being full of men. I quickly realised something is different here, it was how many men there were! Don’t get me wrong there were women around here & there… but the men were so dominant.
Particularly the place where I was staying, men would also come in the evening…
men downstairs watching news,
men downstairs watching football,
men downstairs watching films,
men downstairs drinking.
So, remember I said there were few women who you just see around… I became so noticeable to these men! Which was something I had to deal with, because these men had no problem with approaching you!… or me should I say. They loved me. I was different. I had money (???). I was British – that being said, many of them thought I was either from Central Uganda, or the West… and often people would try to speak to me in Lugandan to get my attention; ‘Nyabo, Jebaleko’…this always made me laugh cos I could ignore easier 😊
There was so much I needed to be ready for, and had to learn to deal with on the spot.
I pretty much ate the same food every day… which was rice & beans; which to begin with I didn’t mind, but after a while it became mentally draining. Not eating meat in the UK is actually fine because we have so much variety to choose from, but staying in Patongo which seemed to have some serious food limitations, was hard.
For me, that’s their main downside as a location, how restricted they are for food, otherwise, I love Northern Uganda. Go to Gulu (also in Northern UG), you can get much more variety in food, and in Mukono also; I didn’t have to suffer with lack of variety in that way.
Another thing I had to understand and deal with was the jokes they made that weren’t funny… so one of the most recurring ‘jokes’, was that I would be made a Ugandan resident… 😐 by men only of course.
The very first time this was said to me I was so scared. So I had come down for breakfast & this man was seated there and told me hello… I was unfamiliar with his face, but honestly the amount of people I met during my time there, I wish I could keep count, I’m sure it would have been like 80+, not counting the young people!
He was like, “I am your friend, don’t act like I’m not… “, he then asked, “are you having breakfast..? come & sit“… at which point I couldn’t lie, so I went to sit down. Then he asked me some questions; how long am I staying here, what am I doing, and where I am from… so I said London, etc. he then replies, “you will not be going back there…“
(You know when your face changes, eyebrows are all squash up… i.e frowning!) I’m like “where?” he replies: “wherever you came from. We will make you a Ugandan resident.”
Now to me, this
I became quite scared. So I proceeded to eat my breakfast and went to my room to get whatever I needed before leaving, and I noticed that he was extending his neck to look up at my door number. I was like whyyy did I talk to him. Lol but as said above, I really couldn’t have predicted what was going to come from a simple hello…
I experienced similar encounters in different ways and forms, and it got to a point where something inside me said, ok this has GOT to be a joke. But it was initially very hard to deal with when I was in the country alone – no UK team… not feeling particularly comfortable and for 2 months, so I was thinking ah they actually have time to plan it if this is a serious suggestion. Oh and previously I had never heard this ‘joke’.
What was the money spent on?
I cannot thank you enough all those who donated!
I am very happy to say that the money met a variety of needs; it was split between the inclusive education team – who support those at school who have additional education needs, some of the funds also went towards Child Mothers, so young girls accessing the service who are still considered a child but are also now a mother to a baby, this was in order to help sustain these interventions.
We also used some of the funds to have a celebratory meal on my last day working for Passion 4 Community; we bought a goat, and I saw it get killed :’(, and the kids and staff enjoyeddd, instead of having posho and beans everyday like they usually do for lunch.
It is also good to know that some of the fundraising has been used to support the Prison Ministry which the CEO of the charity is also involved in; with £100, we were able to buy 25 bibles, and exercise books and pens which they can be using to further their studies .
Money has also been used to help & support students pay for their university fees (which differs depending on your university of choice, I know one girl pays £60 per semester, whereas others can be as much as £275 per semester – both of which in Ugandan currency is quite a lot of money), as well as small-scale needs of the community, e.g. paying for one month’s electricity, etc.
How did I benefit/How has it changed me as a person?
Well firstly, I feel as though this trip was more about me surviving and getting through it, than the actual volunteering aspect. I personally learnt to deal with a LOT.
Before going I was repeatedly being told that I was ‘brave’ etc… I never realised why until I experienced some of the stuff I did… it made perfect sense!
- My first few days back, I literally felt like I could do anything, given my two month Ugandan experience. I felt triumphant and that nothing is a problem. A trip like this will change you and really help you to deal with, and manage what life throws at you. To deal with all different types of people.
- I’ve learnt to rely on God in a new way.
- I also feel I have become much more of a giver, which I am so grateful for.
- An increased willingness to try things… or just do it. Go for it. Don’t be held back.
- Also, learnt about not knowing a place until you know it culturally and historically. Not taking any place or person based on where they are now, but what has made that place/people that way. What is it’s history, what has been part of the shaping to make the people the way they are today?
Even typing this… it’s crazy to think, that I, Shaneka have had such an experience… if you even know where I have come from and my own life history. I am shocked. I legit never travelled growing up. It’s something we couldn’t afford and I never really thought about it. Even whilst at uni, I remember being asked would I live anywhere else in the world… and I was kind of like, I’ve never really contemplated that… going to Africa was something I thought would be ‘so cool’, but not being of African heritage, it always appeared a distant reality.
There is so much to say, seriously.
I can’t necessarily come back and say it was amazing – because that wouldn’t be honest, much of it was hard. But it has definitely left an impact on me, and the people there for sure. But I can say that I have done something which my heart longed for in 2017. I can say; go and follow your dreams and your hearts desires, and make them a reality… that’s what I did. It may not have looked like what I thought it would, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that I did something I wanted to do.