Gigi Van de Voorde - 2006 Program Participant

Starfish in Mozambique

Me in Mozambique

Why did you decide to volunteer abroad in Uganda?

I had been in Uganda in 2004 for a brief period, I wanted to do and see more in Uganda, and get to know the people more.

Why did you choose The Real Uganda?

Because it is a good organisation, with good reviews, and I liked the idea to be placed in a setting to teach and live with the locals. Also, the money I paid went to the community, and that for me was a big deal as a volunteer with this organisation. You can see your money grow as it is spent on buying bricks or a roof for the school or a full lunch program. You can see what an impact your money has on the community.

What was your favorite part about the location of your placement?

It was in a village where no white people came. You had to walk home along the main roads, the beautiful red dust roads. Every child said “hi muzungu” as I passed. The life of the village and normal activities happen all along the roads, and the laughter and fun that are part of Ugandan life is clear along the way. The place where the director brought us to start the projects had an amazing natural setting. It was as if I was living like a local, and that made this location fantastic, and a fulfilling volunteer experience.

Hiking in South Africa

Camping in South Africa

What surprised you most about Uganda?

What surprised me the most is that the people can look at you with a straight blank face, because of the pride they have, until you say “how are you?,” either in English or in the local language. Then they start laughing, and they greet you, shake your hand, and come and say hi. It is unbelievable to be a volunteer in Uganda, because of the respect you get.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

Hands, arms, and signs always help. You will quickly learn the basic words in the local language, and everyone is very helpful. Of course not everyone speaks English, and I am happy they don't because it makes it more fun to try to communicate.

What makes The Real Uganda unique?

Because it is real, they fight for their dreams and no money is wasted. You can actually see what improvements are done over the years.

How did the local staff help you enjoy your time in Uganda?

I made friends; it is fantastic to interchange values, ideas, culture, and tricks in life. Everyone is happy!

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

I wish i stayed longer, those six months just flew by.

What was a typical day like as a volunteer in Uganda?

Waking up early, get tea and bread with butter, prep yourself to walk up the road. Take a taxi to bring you to the school. When you arrive at the school, all the kids greet you. You teach English, math, and painting, and play with the kids.

Other days we did community work and focused on empowering women in Kitoola. For example, we bought knitting machines, or brought in a trainer and there were singing and dancing classes. We did weaving and jewelry making, so they could sell something at the markets.

View of Table Mountain in South Africa

Table Mountain

What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?

The difference in culture and how they do things. It was, for me, a great experience to see how different life can be.

What did you spend your free time doing?

On the weekends we met up with other volunteers, or we would spend time with our Ugandan family.

What was your accommodation like?

A room to myself with a bed, mosquito nets, cupboards, toilet, and shower.

How has volunteering in Uganda impacted your life?

It had such an impact that I decided three years later to move to Uganda, and I lived there for about three years. I am still living in Africa, and I still go visit Uganda every year.

What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Uganda?

Don't bring so much stuff. You can get everything locally, like mosquito nets and antimalarial stuff. Everything is present in large amounts, and just as safe.

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

I would go again to Uganda, with the same organisation.

What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?

It helped me understand a different culture. It helped me to be patient and live day by day. It made me wiser and it allows me to think broader, because there are always people who have less than me and are the happiest in the world.

Would you recommend The Real Uganda to others?

YES, YES, YES, YES! It is an honest organisation, the director is very professional, fun, and knows what she is doing because she has so much experience. She visits you at your project and you can always go visit other volunteers; everyone on all the projects knows each other.