The opportunity to experience indigenous aspects of Africa when it comes to the people and nature and help make a difference opposed to a touristy take.
Why did you choose Fruit Tree Planting Foundation (FTPF)?
I believe in FTPF's mission and how big of an impact it makes not only in the specific communities they work with, but for the planet as a whole. Planting trees anywhere with anyone helps contribute to sustainability, which includes pollution reduction, cleaner air, a better climate, and the obvious provides shade and food.
What surprised you most about Uganda?
How the people seemed genuinely happy just being together living in commune. Also very surprising was hearing didgeridoos from my room some evenings, seeing women in their Gomesi dresses, jackfruits growing on trees, and wild animals you've only seen on TV or at the zoo in real life!
How difficult was it to communicate with locals?
Not at all. We had guides that could translate when needed and at the schools where the children didn't speak English we were provided with translators for our presentations.
Is there anything you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Uganda?
Information on currency exchange and being informed that we would have the opportunity to do so outside the airport.
How did local staff support you throughout your program?
They were very eager and patient when sharing about their native practices and foods, and gave great recommendations of what to check out locally.
What made your experience abroad unique?
The rapport that the organization I attended with has built. Due to the relationships they have cultivated over the past few years with this ongoing project, we were welcomed very warmly and the proposed itinerary was accurate and flowed well.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
Each day was filled with the opportunity for community dining, commuting to and from our project site, engaging with children at the various schools we attended (and getting to see how they could drastically vary depending on the area we were in), and, on some days, additional voluntary leisure activities were offered.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Meditating, photography, and catching up on WIFI.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
For this project, we stayed in about four different locations. I felt safe at each one and they were nicer than the online pictures and websites depict. They were very well staffed and the meals that were served were made fresh daily with local ingredients.
Is there anything future participants should know about your program before they apply?
Tree planting can be very physically demanding, but you will learn many skills and tips in a short period of time that will benefit you for life. To have the opportunity to be around expert arborists, horticulturists, herbalists, and a variety of people coming together for such an incredible cause is priceless.
What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?
Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to Uganda?
I only brought a small carry on as one of my mantras is to live light, travel light, and be the light. FTPF does provide a helpful suggested list to pack, but the challenge in packing light is the varying climate of Uganda, which can be quite wet and damp with on and off showers or just plain hot or cold. You’ll even have windy blowing dirt into your face depending on your project location. Combine the elements with plant materials and there is a chance you might get mud on your limited amount of clothing.
What worked for me was layering with quick dry clothing that you can wash in a sink or shower if needed. A few of the places we stayed at did have laundry on site. Most handy for me was wearing a thin cotton long sleeved shirt over my tank tops which helped prevent against sunburn and I wasn't bothered by bugs touching my skin.
I also never leave home without a bandana and head lamp, a few pairs of moisture wicking socks, and for this trip, I picked up a pair of Crocs ankle high gardening boots that were super light and waterproof that could be hosed down. Just need to watch your toes with the different gardening tools since the Crocs are not as protective as regular boots or sneakers.
Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?
I've got great stories to tell for sure! Also everyone at home who got to experience the authentic goodies I brought home like g-nuts, rooibes, cardamon, and artisanal dark chocolate, just to name a few, got a feel for the essence of my trip.
What is your favorite part about Uganda?
Uganda has the coolest national symbol; a grey crowned crane that we got to see in the wild!
What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?
Utilizing your time and resources for a cause greater than yourself. There was one village we drove through that made me think if I were sent there as a teenager to see the way of life, I may have become more humble at a younger age and taken better care of my possessions, rather than treating them as disposable mindlessly.
Would you recommend FTPF to others? Why?
Absolutely, because I have volunteered with this group in different parts of the world and around the USA I can confidently say that each project is uniquely a once in a lifetime experience.
If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?
I would go back to Uganda in a heartbeat to continue on this project.
Laurén (aka Dr. Ren, America’s Holistic Sweetheart) is a board certified Naturopath through the American Naturopathic Medical Association, a multiple best selling Amazon author, and award-winning Holistic Health Advocate. She is the host of Think Healthy with Dr. Ren, an IMDb listed holistic lifestyle show that has been airing on public access television since 2014. Dr Ren has made multiple Dr. Oz Show appearances and even has been invited to the White House.