Where do I even begin? This program has been one of the most influential experiences of my life, which is why I went twice and hope to return several more times. I volunteered at a government hospital in the labor ward and am now currently an L&D nurse in the US. It was more than the patients and healthcare workers that stole my heart; it was living in a village, submersed in the culture, hosted by two amazing individuals and their family that made my time there precious. In fact, I wasn’t ready to return home when my stay ended.
The hosts Bazil and Alice are incredible. They work extremely hard around the clock & sacrifice their own family time to ensure that each volunteer is comfortable and well taken care of. On a side not, you’ll actually come to find they take care of practically the entire village, too. While you are planning your trip they will be sure to answer any questions you have promptly and provide you with information to make the arrival process seamless. Great for individuals, groups, couples, families. There is something to be found for anyone of any age!!
What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
Please remain open minded in all that you do and I promise you will have the best time. Uganda’s culture is different than many others and sometimes it takes people time to get past that. Sometimes things run on “African time” and events or meet ups may be delayed several hours. They always say “you wear the time, but we have the time.” It’s about being laid and not stressing, in fact sometimes neighbors or passerby’s will tell you that you’re walking too fast.
Be sure to wear modest clothing. No strapped tank tops or short shorts/skirts, leggings, etc especially in villages. They are not used to seeing lots of skin - especially not white skin. The weather is usually very comfortable, not extremely hot like everyone imagines.
Learning a few words or phrases in Luganda, the language of the central region, will prove to be helpful in breaking down barriers with the locals or even getting around using public transportation and going to the markets. Ugandans have some views where they think white people (muzungu) are rich and will often try to upcharge taxi fares or food prices - your hosts will provide you with a list of normal market prices. Make sure to greet those you pass or offer a smile. Pre COVID there’s lots of shaking hands.
When your day is finished at your volunteer site, try venturing out and trying new things. Sometimes I would go to the water well with the children when they were doing their chores, help kids with English homework, or read then storybooks. Offer to help with making dinner and learn about the local cuisine.
A lot of times volunteers are shocked about different living areas and “squatty potties” and retreat to their room after a day. The transportation on a 14 passenger taxi or the back of a motorcycle “Boda Boda” can be intimidating, but I promise Ugandans take great care of travelers and are perhaps the most hospitable people in all of Africa. I felt safer there than I did on a college campus.
Do not worry about cell phone services - you can buy a cheap SIM card when you get there and buy a very affordable phone plan. Just make sure your phone is unlocked. Take your passport with you to the phone service shop (usually Africell or MTN). Sometimes there is trouble with AT&T and T-Mobile serviced phones. People tend to have the best luck with Verizon phones. Reception is actually pretty good, even in the village. Another note - don’t exchange your money at the airport. You will get a far better rate exchanging at a local place near your assignment.
Finally if you have the means, ask how you can help the children or your neighbors where you stay. A lot of my family and friends now sponsor some of the children to go to school - education and meals are gold!!