Leslie is the founder of The Real Uganda and has lived in Uganda full-time for over 15 years. Currently the organization’s executive director, she ensures The Real Uganda continues to build new partnerships and keeps projects community focused. Leslie's passion is introducing international volunteers to real life in Uganda and giving them the opportunity to work on locally-led initiatives.
On top of her dedication to The Real Uganda, Leslie is mum to a lively 7-year-old boy, whom she's proudly raising in Uganda.
What is your favorite travel memory?
Wow - there are so many! From soca dancing in a random Jamaican bar, to attending a traditional wedding in Ghana, to road-tripping through Israel, to being proposed to by my long-time boyfriend on the steps of the Sacre Coeur in Paris... How do I choose just one?
Perhaps it was while volunteering in Ghana, I had hurt myself slightly and my students gathered around to sympathize and comfort me. It was about 10 days into my 3 months and we hadn't properly broken the ice. My vulnerability allowed the kids to physically touch me and examine me up close. I was their first international volunteer teacher, and up to then, they were a reserved bunch. After that, it was smooth sailing for all of us!
How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?
I spent my 20s working and traveling - gaining skills and experiences - and landed in Uganda at the age of 30 to volunteer in mid-2004. I absolutely fell in LOVE and founded The Real Uganda, in order to stay in this wonderful country long-term.
These past 16 years have grown me into a confident community collaborator and youth mentor. I've also become a mother.
Living and working in Uganda has made me recognize, understand, and own my white/western privilege. I'm doing my best to help international volunteers through this process as well.
Volunteers are always welcome in Uganda. We simply need to remember that it is Ugandans who are in charge and then support them whole-heartedly. Which is exactly what The Real Uganda expects its volunteers to do.
What is the best story you've heard from a return student?
This is another very hard one to choose. After hosting over 1,000 volunteers, we've seen it all!
I've had so many students come to get international work experience through volunteering - and return year after year to East Africa in paying jobs in their field. We get to resume our relationship as equals.
I've watched volunteers meet each other in Uganda, fall in love, get married, and come back to enjoy their honeymoon with us.
I've written recommendation letters for former volunteers in order to get into graduate school, who go on to achieve their professional goals. They are international teachers, logistics professionals, social workers, doctors, nurses...
A number of our former volunteers have also gone on to found non-profit organizations in their own countries that responsibly support those in need in Uganda and around the world.
If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?
This one is easy! Our Empower Women in Uganda program. I actually do join our women's groups in the field more than a few times each month. It's cathartic, joyful, and physically invigorating - absolutely amazing for my soul.
Together we dig in their communal gardens, make jewelry and baskets, cook, and watch our children run around free as birds. Immersing myself into traditional, rural, Uganda life is like coming home. The solidarity among our women is deep and beautiful to behold.
What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?
The Real Uganda is indeed different from other international volunteering organizations.
Way back in 2005, we started as an initiative to bring skills and funding to locally-led community-based organizations. The Real Uganda has since evolved into a network of international volunteers and Ugandan leaders transforming communities.
We're not here to 'save' Uganda, but rather introduce volunteers to the beauty and complexity of Ugandan culture and encourage them to build relationships with ordinary Ugandans working hard to improve their society.
We're not aiming for economic self-sufficiency, but group solidarity, team building, and shared leadership. These are the underlying cultural values found in Uganda. This is what our Ugandan partners want from our volunteers. And that is what we strive to bring them.
Sounds pretty empowering, eh?
What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?
There are 4 main reasons why we've continued to host international volunteers for over 15 years.
1. We’re Local: Our offices, staff, and partners are fully located in Uganda. The Real Uganda is on the ground with encouragement and support to ensure volunteer success. 100% of our funding stays in Uganda.
2. We’re Experienced: We’ve hosted over 1,000 volunteers from all over the world. Myself and The Real Uganda's staff and partners have worked successfully with international volunteers for over 15 years. Just check out our reviews on this site!
3. We’re Relevant: Our partner organizations are Ugandan-run and engage in Ugandan-led activities. Activities that help and develop real people and communities, on their terms.
4. We’re Specialized: This is REALLY important - we focus on Uganda and do not maintain remote relationships with programs all over the globe. Not only are we on the ground to support volunteers, but we are ourselves immersed in Ugandan life and experience all its successes and challenges every day.