Rodrigo Moreno - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I was going through a difficult moment in my life in which I had to define who I was, so I decided to take a year off and travel to give me time and space to think. Volunteering had always been something on my mind, because I feel I've had so many opportunities in life that it would be wrong not to try and give some back. It seemed like the perfect moment to do it.

School children in Uganda
Kids at the school in Najjembe, Uganda

Why did you choose The Real Uganda?

I chose the Real Uganda because a couple of friends from home had already been there some years back, so I felt safe in assuming if they had a good time, I would as well.

What was your favorite part about Uganda?

Hard to say what was the favorite part. A lot of things were very different to my hometown, but at the same time a lot more were alike, so I guess it was the perfect combination of new things and old things. I think that a reason why I had such a great time was because I went there with an open mind, so whatever came I was ready to at least try it. To answer this question in less words, I guess my favorite part was the culture.

What made your experience volunteering abroad unique?

I guess anytime somebody goes for the first time to a different continent, especially Africa, that's a unique experience. There is no way in the world that anybody can have a lame time going abroad to volunteer. That being said, I guess I was especially lucky because I ended up in a very good non profit organization that helped me and kept the flame going all the time.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

In the best possible way! I think The Real Uganda has the perfect combination between the occidental mind and the African mind, in the sense that Leslie really knows how to mix our way of thinking and understanding things, with the way a different culture like Uganda, and she takes you through that assimilation process, making sure you get all you can from it. The local families that manage the programs with Leslie know we are in a process, and they try to understand us, which is all I can ask for. The do a really good job in helping, as well; never in my days there did I felt alone or unsupported.

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

Well, nothing. I can't think of something that could have gone any other way and end up being better. I guess I don't find a reason to dwell in the "should have done it the other way" zone. The plan was to have no plan, so whatever happened I am grateful for it.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

Wake up around 7:30 a.m. and have breakfast at 8 a.m. Start walking to work around at 8:30 a.m. and work in the garden from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Have lunch at 1 p.m. and then a little nap at 1:30 p.m. during free time. Be back at school until 4 p.m., then have a Coke and a snack at our local bar at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 8 p.m. and eyes shut at 10 p.m.

Volunteer teacher with local students in Uganda
We ham it up for the camera

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Well, in our free time we used to go to a very local Hostel and sit in their bar to read and plan our weekend getaways, and talk with the owners who turned out to be great friends. In the house, we played with the kids; as all children, they were always full of games and laughter. The weekends we went on adventures to different towns to see whatever attraction they had there. Not a moment of idle time was marked. We tried a lot of restaurants with local Italiano-Indian food.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

Our accommodation was basic. It was just what you needed. A bed, a closet, and some space for ourselves. We lived in the house of our program managers and shared the common facilities like the toilet, TV, and the table with them. I loved it, because the family was doing their best to share their home with us, and that's more than I can ask for!

It was an unbelievable experience to be able to live with them, and I would not trade it with any hotel available around for all the money in the world.

What is one thing every participant should know before volunteering in Uganda?

Well, they should know they need to be very tolerant, very patient, and very open-minded in order to be able to really enjoy and take advantage of this opportunity. This experience is something that will definitely be with you for the rest of your days, and if you don't take it with the tolerance it deserves, you will regret it.

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

For a lot of reasons, apart from the volunteering, it was the most important year in my life to date. The impact is enormous. It gave me a lot of perspective in life; how we live, how we relate one another, as a society and with other countries. It opened my eyes to a world I could previously not see from my desk in an office, a world which I thought only existed in movies and TV.

It radically changed my way of being, and for the good. I feel it was a blessing to be able to experience this.

Would you recommend The Real Uganda to others? Why?

After a couple of other volunteering experiences during my year abroad, I can honestly, very seriously say that The Real Uganda is one of the best organizations you will find. If you are looking for the real experience, this is it. You will get to live “the Real Uganda.”