The start of the new year often brings about a list of resolutions; for many of us, at least one of those resolutions involves travel. This year, think about going beyond mere travel, and instead, delve into a full cultural immersion experience by volunteering abroad.
If you are on the fence about whether or not you should go, then my advice to you is to put your worries and your fears behind, because once you get there, you’re going to realize that it was the best decision you have ever made. - Alumni Volunteer - Uganda
While there are hundreds of volunteer programs that exist around the world, here are 16 reasons you should volunteer in Uganda in 2016:
1. Build Community Through Service
Service is a powerful thing. Service eliminates the power dynamics between groups and unites individuals through working together toward a common purpose. By volunteering in Uganda, you can unite with teachers, students, and community members, all with different life experiences and backgrounds, and work alongside one another. You’ll laugh with them, eat with them, and start to recognize the similarities you share, rather than the differences that may set you apart. Volunteering allows you to build communities.
2. Experience Ugandan Time
There’s a saying in Uganda that goes, “"Americans have watches, but no time. Ugandans may not have watches, but we always have the time." When you’re volunteering in Uganda, time will slow down. There won’t be any hurry to get from place to place, or rush to cram your schedule with things to do and people to see. You’ll be there simply to experience.
3. Learn Old-Fashioned Trade Skills
Modern machinery has not made its way to most construction sites in Uganda. If you decide to volunteer on a construction project in Uganda, you can be sure that you’ll be at the forefront with your sleeves rolled up hand mixing cement, using a shovel to dig foundations, and fetching water from a well.
4. Meet Individuals that are Eager to Learn
Ugandans will be naturally curious about your history, your people, and where you come from. They’ll want to know about your life experiences, and also share their experiences with you. Nothing unites you more than sitting down together over a cup of tea and talking about your current job, sharing the name of your sister, or simply talking about what inspired you to volunteer in Uganda in the first place (which we hope turns out to be this article!).
5. Explore a Real Life Adventure Capital
If you’re a thrill-seeker, you’ll find your niche in Jinja, where adventure activities range from bungee jumping to ATV riding and ziplining to white water rafting. Prices are extremely affordable, and most locations even have conservation initiatives to preserve local landscapes and employ local community members too (check out the Mabira Forest Canopy Super Skyway - a personal favorite of mine!).
6. Eat Truly Organic Foods
We toss the word “organic” around a lot, but in Uganda, it’s true; fruits and vegetables are picked straight from the gardens and trees. Eggs are taken directly from the chicken coop and sold in the local market. From vegetable and meat stews to freshly made juice, you’ll never be disappointed by a meal in Uganda. If you’re a fan of avocados, you’ll be happy to find out that Ugandan avocados are so large that their pits are the size of the avocadoes you’d find in grocery stores at home!
7. Become a Kid Again
When’s the last time that you sang your favorite nursery rhyme? That you ran around playing tag? Kicked a soccer ball? If you’re volunteering with youth in Uganda, no matter what phase of life you’re in, it will bring back the kid in you. You’ll laugh until your stomach hurts, and you’ll forget all of your adult worries and remember what it was like to simply enjoy life for what it is.
Yes, it's that good. Get ready for a new addiction!
9. Stand on the Equator
Ever wanted to be in two places at once? While you are volunteering in Uganda, it will be possible. You can stand on the equator and you can say that you’ve been in both the northern and southern hemisphere at the same time!
10. Gain Perspective
Cultural misconceptions are easy to fall trap to; when you are immersed in a new culture, you’ll start to gain an appreciation for the unique customs and traditions that different people have and pass on to new generations. Especially in Ugandan culture, you’ll find that nothing is ever wasted. Instead of throwing a water bottle away, they will use it as a container for seeds or a canister for paint. Every resource matters.
11. Go on a Safari at Murchison Falls
Uganda is known for its wildlife. When you take a safari at Murchison Falls National Park in northwest Uganda, you’ll be assigned a guide who will share information about the wildlife and even teach you the calling sounds. Gazelle, giraffes, and elephants are abundant, and if you’re lucky, you may even see a lion. Take a water safari and you’ll even see hippos and crocodiles. The best part about the landscape is the breathtaking view of Murchison Falls, a powerful waterfall that feeds to the Nile River. Don’t miss your opportunity to climb to the top of the falls and take it all in!
12. Enjoy Having Limited Outside Distractions
You may not always have cell service or wi-fi access. In fact, on some nights, you may not even have power. This is the best time to reflect on your experiences, to engage in meaningful conversations, to journal, and to read. It’s not often you’ll find yourself temporarily cut off from the outside world, but when you are, you will focus on being present in the moment.
13. Experience Diverse Geography & Climates
We often think of Uganda as hot and dry, but different areas of the country have diverse landscapes and temperatures. While volunteering in Kampala and Gulu, you’ll be greeted by lush rolling hills and hotter temperatures closer to the equator. If you volunteer in Fort Portal, near the Rwenzori mountains, you’ll see dozens of tea plantations and be greeted by cooler temperatures that will remind you of early spring.
14. See the Nile River
The longest river in the world, the Nile is a sight to behold. It passes through 11 different countries. In Uganda, you’ll find entire communities built close to the Nile, in order to take advantage of the biodiversity the river provides.
15. Call an incredibly bird-diverse nation on earth home.
You might not know it yet, but birding is a fascinating hobby—it's more than old dudes with binoculars and mismatched socks. Enjoy laying your eyes on over 1000 unique bird species while volunteering in Uganda. We especially love the Shoebill (okay, it's a face only a mother could love...) and the lilac breasted roller. Plus, Uganda is the only country with a crane on its flag!
16. Understand Cultural Preservation Through Song & Dance
Even if you don’t have the best moves, you’ll be amazed by the music traditions in Uganda. In different communities you may be welcomed through a cultural dance, and even invited to take the stage with dancers. You’ll come to love the local languages and admire the way that culture is being passed down from generation to generation while volunteering in Uganda.
17. Find the Best Way to See the Stars
If you’re in an area of Uganda outside the capital, you’ll notice that while the streets are still bustling, there is little artificial lighting. Many street vendors and store fronts in smaller communities light their stalls with only a candle, leaving the best lights still in sight: the stars. Grab a blanket or a chair, have a seat, and enjoy the view you only wish you had every night at home.
18. Gain a New Place to Call Home
Whether it’s your first time in Uganda or your fourth time, when you’re not there you’ll find that you will never be able to stop thinking about your time and experiences as a volunteer in Uganda.
19. Make a Difference
The best part of volunteering in Uganda—especially when you find meaningful, sustainable work that needs help that your skills match—is seeing the difference and impact your work has. To us, this perspective is priceless.
Don’t miss out on the life changing opportunity to experience all that Uganda has to offer, and give back in a sustainable, powerful way. Find a volunteer program in Uganda, and you’ll be enjoying the local people and breathtaking scenes in no time!
This article was contributed by Pangea Educational Development, a nonprofit that empowers schools in Uganda to find sustainable solutions to the challenges they face. PED’s model extends beyond the traditional charity framework of providing aid and giving resources. Instead, the organization partners with schools to create an income-generating project that provides a steady, reliable source of income for the school and allows it to provide a quality education to the students it serves.