Posted on April 13th, 2017
‘Why Uganda?’ A very good question, asked by very many people, and answered (inadequately, I’m sure) only to a few. Hopefully, in the ensuing paragraphs about my time as a volunteer, I will be able to share my answer with you, and in doing so encourage you to take the leap that I took – one that I have never looked back from.
As you may have realised, I am not Charlie. Unfortunately, I do not have a degree in English, and so I do apologise in advance if this piece lacks the linguistic flair that has become custom of the recent updates from HYT.
In my final year at Haileybury, I had the privilege of being tutored by Russell Matcham, who first floated the idea of visiting HYT’s work in Uganda. Compounded by the reports from my peers who had visited Uganda that year, and by the stories of my HM, Nick Davies’ time there, I applied to volunteer.
Travelling to Uganda is not cheap, and with this in mind I applied to four different jobs, expecting to be turned down by all. By some stroke of luck, I was offered all four, and decided to take them on. Five months of 12-hour shifts, 6am finishes and 7-day weeks later, I was exhausted, but excited.
A few days into my time in Uganda, we visited a village near Kamuli town and were greeted by the whole community in their smart Sunday dress sitting in anticipation under the mango tree. We were welcomed like celebrities, with the local children clamouring to touch our unusually pale skin. The meeting concluded with Mauricia (HYT Country Manager) telling the community that we had decided to build in their village. With grown men and women crying with joy, and the kids screaming our names and chasing after the truck, it really was a special feeling.
On the journey back, I looked around in the car, and realised that I really didn’t deserve that welcome. What had I done to help these people, other than taking the credit for a decision I didn’t help make? The other members of the team had all contributed, in a tangible way, to improving the lives of these people. It was in that moment that I promised, to myself more than anyone, that my time as a volunteer will be spent trying, in every way possible, to feel like I have made a difference.
A couple of weeks later, I headed back into the village with the Training Manager, Freddo, for a few days. Having failed to make an Interlocking Stabilised Soil Block (ISSB) on my previous visit, I was determined to try until I succeeded – taken from the famous Haileybury Habits of course.
After a fair few laughs from onlookers, and many hours in the scorching sun, I had succeeded not only in making a few ISSBs, but also in laying the foundation for the new staff quarter and turning my skin a lobster-shade of red.
That evening, Freddo cooked his famous rolex (think: omelette-chapatti) for the two of us, which rivals even the most highly-acclaimed dishes from famous Michelin-star chefs. We were tempted to add the neighbour’s chicken into the recipe, although then we wouldn’t have our 4.30am alarm, or a place to sleep.
Aside from the tasks of an HYT volunteer, I have also been involved with the local Jinja ‘Hippos’ and Jinja Secondary School rugby teams. With a senior Hippos side that is to be promoted to the Ugandan Premier League, and many younger teams at the school looking to improve, I asked if I could help out and coach a few squads. I attempted to play in the senior squad for a few matches, but through a combination of a torn MCL and cartilage, and a lack of pace on my part, I decided to stick to the coaching side of things. Fortunately, coaches are included in the post-game celebrations.
‘Why Uganda?’ From the wonderful work HYT do, to the beautiful landscapes, the mountain gorillas, the climate, the locals, the boundless opportunities, white water rafting, trekking, rugby coaching, Freddo’s rolex, and the chance of a conservation lecture from Charlie or to hear PY’s infectious laugh, there’s really no reason not to visit.
So, instead of asking ‘Why Uganda’, I encourage you to rethink, and ask ‘Why not Uganda?’