Alumni Spotlight: Sarah Baird

Sarah Baird is a 47 year-old mother of three from New Haven, Connecticut. Sarah currently is completing a Masters Degree in Humanitarian Service Administration at the University of Connecticut. Her area of focus is Energy Poverty in the developing world. She is a poet and playwright and volunteers widely in her community, sitting on the executive board of the Eli Whitney Museum and on her town’s Clean Energy Task Force. She also is a founding board member, grant writer, and editor of printed materials of The Diaper Bank, a nonprofit organization dedicated to meeting the basic needs of families living in poverty.

Why did you decide to volunteer with A Broader View in Uganda?

Sarah: I decided to volunteer with A Broader View, because they provided me with the flexibility and the support I sought from a volunteer experience. Sarah Ehlers at ABV was incredibly helpful in making our trip even more productive and life altering than I had hoped. ABV is professional, well staffed, and reasonably priced with well-vetted staff on the ground in Uganda. At no point did we feel adrift or concerned that we were not prepared. We are huge fans of ABV now! In fact, our experience with ABV was so wonderful that upon our return I was able to advocate for and then facilitate a $20,000 grant to ABV to help the Ugandan organization to complete part of their Solar Community/Volunteer Center. I have now found additional funding from another grant source and hope to steer friends and family through ABV to experience their own life changing volunteer experiences!

Sarah Baird Volunteering in Uganda

What made this experience unique and special?

Sarah: This volunteer experience was unique and special because we were given the flexibility and support uncommon in many other volunteer programs. We were able to structure the program around our own schedules and were provided with explicit directions, program expectations, orientation materials, and contact numbers. In Uganda we clearly were foreign tourists, but we felt integrated into the community in which we were placed and knew beforehand how we would be expected to contribute to the ongoing community development efforts. We were told very clearly by ABV that our expectations would be challenged and that we needed to approach this experience as a process not as a quantifiable product. I appreciated ABV’s honesty and directness about our role as volunteers, and I loved that we were not insulated from the community but lived within it. Remaining flexible and upbeat with an open heart and an understanding of entrenched poverty was crucial to my ability to relax into this amazing experience.

How has this experience impacted your future?

Sarah: This experience has impacted my future in several ways. I now know more fully about how important it is for a successful grass-roots project to engage a wide range of stakeholders. I also know that I want to work closely with development projects abroad and that I have skills that I can offer, including fundraising, editing and teaching skills. I have remained in close touch with two of the principles at the project site in Uganda and expect to return in the near future for another volunteer visit.

Morning: At about 4:30am, the rooster living in our compound began his morning greetings. Initially we thought that the rooster had a faulty internal clock, because 4:30am could not possibly be morning, and in fact the sun was still an hour away from rising. At the same time that we heard the first cock-a-doodle-doos, we also became aware of the sounds of Sarah, the maid for our little cement compound, sweeping the small concrete landing outside of our triple locked metal door. Her efforts were futile but greatly appreciated, as she attempted to sweep away the perpetually accumulating red clay dust that covered everything in Bulenga. Thankfully, our wake-up time was not until several hours later. After having a quick wash with the cold water from the tap in our interior bathroom (a luxury in the area) we were served some matoke (a cooked green and not at all sweet banana mash) with a small sweet banana and sometimes a hard boiled egg at about 7:30am. Soon afterwards we left for the fifteen minute walk to Faith Orphanage, where we spent our days teaching math and English to some of the 150 AIDS orphans. The children range in age from 3-12yrs and are divided into age appropriate classrooms. Mid-morning we had a snack of sweet tea and a bit of grilled cassava.

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Afternoon: A typical afternoon began with lunch of more matoke served from a large metal vat in the main classroom to the children and teachers. By about 3pm we were done teaching and walked back to the compound, where our host, Derrick Luwaga, met us each afternoon and took us on walking tours of the area to meet other people engaged in local community development. Since we were the only non-Africans in the area, children and adults frequently came out of their homes to laugh and wave at us. At first it was a little unnerving but quickly became something of a game, as we responded to their cries of “muzungu!!!” (colored person) with our own waves and “hello, friends!” We visited piggeries, milk cow enterprises, AIDS widows jewelry projects, Health Centers, spring-fed wells, the children’s dormitories, another orphanage, and agricultural projects.

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Evening: A typical evening was quiet and short, because the electricity was often out, and we quickly grew tired after our long days. We read by flashlight and went to sleep by 9pm. We were only volunteering with this particular group for one week, so we did not venture out in search of excitement. Also, we were told that it was not particularly safe for women to be out after dark alone in the area we were staying. In the new Solar Community/Volunteer Center being completed by KACCAD, there should be ample and reliable electricity for the volunteers.

Highlights: The highlight of volunteering in Uganda was traveling with my 18 year-old daughter to one of the most beautiful but complicated places we have every visited and learning about our own inner strength and resiliency - and that of the many strangers we met along the way. Arriving at the orphanage every morning to the excited cheers from the children was immensely gratifying and fun. Immediately upon entering the classroom, my daughter and I were enveloped in hugs and welcoming cheers. The well-behaved and delightful children wore tattered clothing, the floors were thick with mud, chickens wandered through the classrooms, and a two-year-old baby often toddled into my classroom and asked to be held, while I taught long division. Each classroom had piece of slate propped against the wall as a chalkboard, and several classrooms shared a piece of cloth that we used as an eraser. Despite all the challenges, my daughter and I couldn’t stop smiling and felt luckier than we have ever felt before.

The highlight of my overall experience was working with some incredibly talented and hardworking people on the ground, who are implementing much of what I have been learning about over the years as a student of humanitarian crises and development studies at the University of Connecticut. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with KACCAD, an organization staffed by people driven by a mission, all of whom have a passion to help others and to improve their community.