Grace Ellen - 2015 Program Participant

Why did you decide to apply for an international program?

I wanted to expand my horizons a little more before I went off to school, as well as understand different parts of the world with more empathy.

Why did you choose Pangea Educational Development (PED)?

Pangea Educational Development was familiar, friendly, and I had known people who had gone with them before. Sustainability was the determining factor for me. Many organizations tend to give things away, as opposed to helping communities become self-sustainable.

PED makes sure they leave their mark, and that the mark they leave is able to grow without them there.

Volunteers playing games with children in Uganda

Playing games with the kids

What was your favorite part about Uganda?

My favorite part about the location was the fact that beauty was everywhere. Beautiful mountains, beautiful culture, and beautiful people. Everyone I met treated me like family, and I always felt safe and sound.

What makes volunteering with PED unique?

PED's focus is keeping things sustainable. They have different programs with many phases in an effort to keep things going long after they are gone.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Local staff sounds too formal, as the people who supported me became like family. Everyone was always looking out for each other, physically and emotionally. Once a day, we would all sit all together and talk about the projects at hand and how we felt about everything. We even made long-term goals to think about after we get back.

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

One thing I wish I would have done differently is go for a longer time. I went for a couple weeks, and just as I was starting to really learn about the culture and the people, it was time to head back to the States.

Volunteer in Uganda holding hands with a toddler

Kids wanting to play games with me

Describe a typical day in the life of PED volunteer.

On a typical work day, we woke up at the crack of dawn, filled up our water bottles, and headed down to breakfast. Someone was usually in charge of music, which always got everyone pumped up for the day of hard work ahead. After breakfast, we loaded up in the van with water and headed out to the school.

After a long, bumpy ride full of singing and laughing, we made it to the mango tree; that was our meeting place. Teachers and students smiled at us as we got out and greeted us as we passed by. My job was usually to get water from the pump and carry it to the work site to make cement. It was physically challenging, but also rewarding to know you were doing an important job (Note: water is heavier than you think).

After working the morning away, it was break time. We got a snack, tea, and the opportunity to socialize with those in the vibrant community around us. We usually had time for a game of soccer or ultimate frisbee with the kids before heading back to work. Several trips to the water pump and back later, and it was finally lunch time. We had all worked up an appetite for delicious beans and posho. After lunch, we worked for a few more hours as the sun got less intense, then packed up and headed home.

Volunteers and local teens in a dorm room in Uganda

High school girls in their dorm they are so proud to be living in

Showers were the first thing on everyone's mind when we came back, as well as sleep. After we all got cleaned up, we usually went to dinner. After dinner, we went to reflections. This was a time we could all go around and talk about our days, anything else on our minds, and laugh about funny stories, etc. before going to bed. There was this time before bed but after reflections when we would all play silly games we made up, and it was always a good time. I always went to bed tired, sore, and ready for more.

What was your favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your volunteer work?

My favorite activity outside the normal day-to-day schedule was definitely the games we would make up and play at night before we went to bed. We did not have phones, but we had a deck of Uno and our creative minds. Uno will never be as fun as it was in Uganda.

What type of accommodation did you have? What did you like best about it?

We always had a nice, clean bed to sleep in with mosquito netting, as well as some sort of indoor plumbing most of the time. I loved how at night, I could fall asleep to the sounds of Uganda without ever feeling unsafe.

Construction volunteers at a project site in Uganda

The worksite, heavy water cans and all

Now that you're home, how has volunteering abroad in Uganda impacted your life?

Now that I'm home, going abroad has made me realize the importance of education, community, and sustainability. As a future teacher, it interests me to learn and grow while making connections with students and teachers around the world. It has made me realize what is most important to me in life, and it has definitely given me a good perspective to start my career with.