Volunteering


Last week I wrote about my visit to Dar es Salaam  Tanzania and conversations I had with Omari from the Investment Facility for Africa, as well as Ethnic Supplies textile producersFlotea and Elihaika. In this post I will present the points of view from folk in Uganda

I was in a contemplative mood as I left Tanzania for Uganda and tried to take in the conversations I had, had with Omari, Flotea and Elihaika. They all appeared to agree that change is necessary in order for circumstances of the desperately poor in Tanzania and indeed elsewhere in Africa to change to change.

What was interesting to note was that all three are doing there bit to end poverty be it from a different angle/approach but more so that this change or ending poverty was not necessarily about money, instead that the environment in which business is transacted needs to change, skill shortages, property rights for women need to be addressed and that access to international trade is vital in the fight against poverty.

In Uganda I headed to our project in Ruhanga in SW Uganda, where the community is in dire need of access to clean water. Currently the women and children walk for up to three hours just to access clean water. The water they have access to is disease causing, the children and those with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. After the women collect the water they return to the bottom of the valley to collect firewood to boil the water on an open fire to rid it of disease causing germs.

This routine leaves no time for any thing else and time for income generating activities is certainly reduced. What tends to happen is that the women often fore go the boiling of the water step because of exhaustion and consequently this leads to illness which means they can’t go out to work! Catch 22! This water is especially dangerous for the young, elderly and those with compromised immune systems and ultimately ahs implications for healthcare budgets.

It may not be easy to associate the lack of clean water to poverty but there is a real and clear link, water is an essential part of life and therefore like us folk here cannot do without. What compounds the situation in this village in particular, 9 out of 10 households have no access to electricity, this means that most chores have to be completed during day light. This means that women for instance cannot do their embroidery or basket weaving in the evening which are some of the income generating activities that they are able to participate in.

One man in this village is doing his very best to change the fortunes of his village. He was given some land by his father and he decided to put this land to some good use. As the village is on the main road to Rwanda and DR Congo he decided that he would make all these people passing through his village stop and spend some money in his village. He embarked on a project that has become known as Uganda Lodge http://www.ugandalodge.com/ . He soon run out money to make his dream a reality but as luck would have it he bumped into an English woman Ann McCarthy who was on holiday in Uganda, Ann was so taken in by this part of Uganda that 5 years on she has made this project a way of life.

Ann came across me, when she read an article about my work in the same part of Uganda and we have since registered a charity LET THEM HELP THEMSELVES OUT OF POVERTY so that we can raise some money to bring clean water to the people of Ruhanga. We have not achieved this yet, and if you are able to help us please get in touch.

What has been achieved, so far, is that this village was virtually unknown to the outside world, but today thanks to Ann’s efforts, Ruhanga is a place for people in the west to visit and share their skills with the local community, these visitors have been able to help out in local schools, work on the construction site and as a result there is a space for village people to learn about computers as well as sewing machines for women to use.

There is a nursery school that has enabled children from the village to start school before age 7 as was the case before. the challenge now is to get more people from the west to come in and experience life in atypical African village, but also learn about what can be achieved through joint efforts that are not necessarily about charity but rather HELPING PEOPLE HELP THEMSELVES OUT OF POVERTY

Will you take up the challenge? We would love  to hear from you and I can guarantee that this would be the most fulfilling holiday you will ever take!

In the post  head to Kampala the capital of Uganda where I visited a slum right in the middle the richest part of the city.

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This question has been on my mind for sometime now. Due to the current economic environment we have struggled to get volunteers from the traditional sources to out to our project in SW Uganda. I did wonder if Africa could tap into the skills and knowledge on the ground?

The other reason this is on my mind is that the Obama administration’s policy toward Africa appears to be one of tough love. You the Africans have to get your house in order, you need to start trading with each are some of the messages that have come from both Obama and Clinton. I wholly subcribe to that kind of thinking.

I would wonder therefore if folk on the ground will rise to the challenge and form their own NGO’s for instance. Whilst thinking about this idea of “Africa growing its won volunteers” I do wonder too whether it is a question of how voluntary work is organised in Africa. Africans families tend to be very large (extended) and every one helps out including whole villages when required. However voluntary in the western world appears to be orgnaised in what I would describe as a formal structure.

But what about Africans in the diaspora, Could they take time out to go and volunteer in their countries of origin? Certainly this is something that the Department for International development (DFID) is keen to encourage so much so that they have joined forces with the VSO and come up with a whole programmes to encourage Africans in the diaspora to volunteer. I am however not sure how well publicised this programme is.

Have you got a view on this either way? Are you an African that has participated in the VSO diaspora programme? If so how did you find it?

If you are an African that would like to volunteer would you know where to start?

Would you be interested in your views