I’ve spent a total of six months living and working in Uganda. I originally went there in 2010 with the goal of teaching music, dance and drama to AIDS orphans and former child soldiers. That mission was my greatest passion and I was determined to take action to try to better these kids’ lives. I am so thankful for all the risks I took to get to Africa because it was an experience like no other!
Upon arriving to Uganda, I was utterly terrified. I had not done very much international travel before, and I was travelling alone so it was all the more scary. All I knew was I was arriving at Entebbe airport at 10:00pm and a guy named Berni was supposed to pick me up. Thank goodness, everything went smoothly and Berni was there waiting for me once I arrived. I definitely had a major culture shock once I was in Africa. I had dreamed of it my whole life, what it would look like, what it would feel like. Once there, it was really hard to grasp that I was actually half way across the world from good ol’ USA.
Adjusting to life in the village was not easy, but that was not the most difficult part of the journey. Learning to live without running water, electricity, or a toilet only took a few days to get used to. The toughest part for me was realizing that my idealistic views of volunteering were somewhat naive and although I tried to have very little expectations before I arrived, what expectations I did have were retty much smashed. To sum it up, the most valuable lesson I learned while working in Uganda was that no matter what you just have to keep going. Just when you think you have seen or heard the worst, there is something even more tragic. Just when you think you can trust someone, they steal. The bad days can always get worse, and yet the good days can get indescribably better.
Now, I am NOT saying that being excited to volunteer is silly or naive because it is totally useful and helpful. But, for me I had a lot of facts to face and the amount of problems in Uganda were quite overwhelming. The personal growth for me has come through overcoming obstacles, and time after time coming back to a place of hope and optimism even when it feels like there is nothing left to give. My faith, courage and determination to help others was tested far more than I ever thought I could withstand, but I am all the more stronger for it. Going to Uganda has changed my life for the better and serving the people of Uganda still remains one my greatest joys and passions. I will be returning soon for a visit, and will be moving there in January 2013! I am sure there are so many more adventures that lie ahead.
So, for women travelling to Uganda, here are some tips:
1. Dress modestly and bring lots of skirts and dresses below the knee. In the big cities it is okay to wear pants, but in the villages it is better to wear skirts.
2. Bring cash! The banks mostly take only $50 & $100 bills after the year 2006. If you want the best exchange rate and the least amount of hassle, that is the way to go. Almost zero banks take travelers cheques and the ATMs have large international fees.
3. Do not travel alone at night.
4. When visiting someone’s home, it is polite to accept any food or drinks they offer you. They have usually made a great sacrifice to host you and provide food and drinks, so it is disrespectful not to accept their offer.
5. Have fun! One of my favorite quotes is by Howard Thurman, “Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive and go do it, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” I could not agree more! It is overwhelming to try to save everyone or fix every problem, but if each person lived with a little passion and a little joy and shared that with the people they met each day, I believe that would cause a ripple effect for good in everyone’s lives. As a volunteer, I did my best, loved with all my heart, and tried to make someone smile and laugh each day. It may not be much, but it is something and I am so thankful for my experiences.