Why did you decide to volunteer with GVN in Uganda?
Cristina: I actually came up with the decision to volunteer in Uganda when I saw an episode of Veronica Mars (TV show) that involved a young man who had been a child soldier. At the end of the show, the cast mentioned a website for more information (invisiblechildren.com). I went to the website and checked it out and had this overwhelming desire to go to Uganda and work with children.
So I researched online for a few months to find a program in Uganda that was affordable. Throughout my research, I only found 1 program for Uganda, and that was with GVN. It was perfect! It was the perfect time period (1 month), the perfect price, and the perfect location (I almost went to Tanzania because I couldn’t find a program in Uganda)! I filled an application, got accepted into the program, and immediately started fundraising. ☺ I spent 1 month in Uganda from May 15 – June 15, 2009.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
Cristina: Every morning I would wake up to roosters around 5-5:30 am. They sounded like they were right outside my window. I think they knew I wasn’t a morning person… After snoozing for a few more hours, I would get up around 8 am, talk about having rooster for dinner, and go take a cold bucket shower. They called them bucket showers, but I guess it resembles more of a sponge bath. I had cold water in a bucket, bar of soap, and a washcloth. My host mom would set out breakfast and then I would head to the taxi park. It was a 30-40 min taxi ride to our stop and then another 30-40 minute walk to the school. Most vehicles can’t drive on the road to the school because it’s such a mess.
I would have my first class with Kindergarten around 10 am. I walked in and was greeted by a class of 70 kids with “You are welcome Madam!” If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will! There were 2 teachers for the class who translated for me. The kids all spoke Lugandan, and were learning English in school.
I mostly had the kids work with art and music. I wanted to encourage their creativity. I had them draw their homes, their school, what they wanted to be when they grew up. I tried teaching them the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” song. It came out “Eensy Weensy Spider” or shortened to “The Weensy Weensy”. Haha We would drill through the first 2-3 lines of the song, and then take a break and have them run outside for a few minutes. They would come back in, the teacher would drill them on a few letters in English, and they would sing and dance a song for me. Then we would give “The Weensy Weensy” another attempt until about noon. Their school day was over at noon and they would head home while I headed to the P1 building.
The P1 building is the only one left of the temporary shacks. Most of the others have been replaced by brick buildings. The P1 class has about 20-25 kids with lots of energy. I also encouraged creativity with art, but instead of songs, we did educational games. Their favorite was Tic Tac Toe. Each team had 3 chances to get the correct answer to my question; otherwise the opposing team got the question. Once they understood that they needed to block the other team on the board, they got competitive. There was yelling and trash talking all in Lugandan. They loved it! Whichever teammate got the right answer would be the one to put the “X” or “O” on the board. And they did that with their whole team yelling out where to put it. We played about 5-6 rounds before it was time to end class, around 2 pm.
At 2 pm, I would say bye to the kids and the teachers, and start on the trek home. Somehow the way home seemed to take a little longer than the way there. I usually got home around 4 pm. Sometimes I would stop at the local grocery and pick up a Fanta on the way. Once I got home, I would grab the baby wipes, and wipe off my “washable tan” from my arms, neck, face, and feet. Then I would take out my journal and write about the day until it was time for dinner.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Cristina: I believe my experience volunteering in Uganda made more of a difference in my life than it did in the lives of the children I worked with. I came to realize how much I take for granted, which is something I have thought of before… But I think the real difference was that I came to see what I was capable of. I knew I could push myself beyond my comfort zone and still be perfectly fine. I have always been kind of on the girly side, for example, my idea of camping consisted of a hotel next to a tree. Haha Well after my experience in Uganda, I know I can handle much more than I gave myself credit for and still enjoy it! That was a big eye opener for me, and my comfort zone started expanding. I now have the desire to immerse myself in various different cultures just to see how I handle because I already know I can.
I also want to go back to school. I graduated college years ago, but now I want to go back to pick up a few things; maybe audit some anthropology, psychology, or sociology classes or some classes on teaching since I plan on taking on some more volunteer teaching positions. I don’t need a degree (oh the pressures of “student-hood”… I don’t miss it!), but I would like to learn a few more things to make myself more valuable to the various communities I plan to volunteer in.
Uganda will always have a place in my heart. And I know I will be back to visit many times in the future. I actually just went to visit there for about 2 weeks, back in August (2011). I spent time with my old host family, and saw their new house and new baby. My host mom was so excited! She said that I didn’t stay long enough, and that next time I needed to stay much longer.