Volunteering abroad in Uganda usually involves a strong focus on developing the natural resources within the country. Although it is about the same size as Wyoming, Uganda has 10 national parks offering diverse and beautiful topography. Opportunities to volunteer in Uganda are offered in every environment, from savanna safaris, to tropical forest environments, to village communities. It’s no wonder Uganda is known as “The Pearl of Africa.” If a once in a lifetime experience in an east African country with a growing volunteer population strikes your fancy, then Uganda is the place for you!
Iganga is a lively town of about 40,000 that sits just north of Lake Victoria on one of Uganda’s most used highways. The immediate area surrounding the highway feels urbanized and busy and the route has ensured that Iganga has access to modern facilities. But, the true Iganga can be reached just a few minutes off the busy route and has a much more laid back and rural feel. Its centralized marketplace is another source of its energetic feel, but also provides a window into local goods.
Kampala is the capital of Uganda and is home to many NGOs headquarters. It is located just off the northern banks of Lake Victoria and built into several large hills. Several of the hills are topped by important sites, such as the Uganda Museum or the Kasubi Tombs which are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the burial site for ancient kings. Others are topped by important government headquarters or cathedrals. Kampala is the largest city in Uganda with a population of around 1.2 million.
Rural Areas. Over 80 percent of Uganda’s population lives in rural areas and while poverty levels have improved, this is more true for urban areas, leaving the vast majority of Ugandans still living in poverty specifically in the northern areas. The people that work in agriculture are at the will of a rough climate and even rougher means of gathering and selling goods. Many areas of rural Uganda have little access to means of transportation, developed roads, or health care. Many rural volunteer projects in Uganda will work in community education, humanitarian issues, agricultural practices, or resource management.
Projects & Placements
Healthcare and HIV Awareness. If you’re looking to make a difference in an HIV affected area, western Uganda is where you’ll want to start looking for a volunteer placement. It’s several hours away from other volunteer programs in Uganda and emphasizes taking care of children who have been orphaned by HIV/AIDS. Since much of rural Uganda has extremely limited access to healthcare or education regarding health, medical volunteers placements work to implement better health practices.
Volunteer Teaching is particularly popular in the rural areas of Uganda. Most of the teaching placements work with grassroots, village based organizations. Also, if you’re interested in teaching at a secondary school, many of these organizations can provide a placement. However, for those looking for a short-term trip (less than a month) you should know that if you’re looking to teach, at least a month commitment is normally required. In the end, most individuals who volunteer in Uganda will find that organizations can accommodate them easily, based on a combination of expertise and preferences. So just be sure to let your chosen organization know what you expect and what you want to do.
Wildlife & Conservation. Uganda is home to Africa’s “Big Five” which refers to the lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos, and buffalos that draw people from around the globe. Many wildlife programs in Uganda focus on the Black Rhino which is extremely endangered or bird populations. Research is a strong component in conservation programs. Typical areas of research may include: exploring the vegetation in the area and determining what and how much of it the animals are eating, anti-poaching initiatives, and animal tracking and monitoring. Other responsibilities will include general maintenance of reserves and possibly helping with public relations or outreach.
It is recommended to get an idea of what an average day might be like whatever your area of interest, but keep in mind that as with all things in the volunteer world, expectations should be fluid and flexible. Opportunities to volunteer in Uganda run on a revolving schedule, so you can start volunteering at almost any time.
Costs & Affordability
Uganda as a whole is fairly affordable and the exchange rate to the American Dollar is favorable. If you plan to volunteer in Uganda, but want to eat luxury foreign food for every meal your money will run out quickly. To make sure you stay within budget, try to conform to local cuisine, cook at home, or enjoy the meals offered by your homestay. If you do this, not only will you save money, but you will get that much more of a cultural experience while volunteering in Uganda. You can purchase a local meal for less than $2, but lunch at Western chains can easily be over $7.
Accommodation & Visas
Housing is usually varied depending on the specifics and location of your volunteering in Uganda. Some programs have group living arrangements and dormitory style housing. Other volunteer programs in Uganda offer host family accommodation or independent housing options. Sometimes volunteers are housed in a type of living arrangement called a compound. These are set up so that multiple families can support each other and use each other for security.
As with other criteria, it all comes down to what you’re looking to get out of your volunteer abroad experience. Many volunteers prefer host family arrangements as that’s the most intimate cultural setting you can get and they also typically include three meals a day provided by the host. Other volunteers prefer volunteer housing or compounds because it offers support from other volunteers and good opportunities to meet your fellow volunteers. Be aware that resources may be limited, especially in rural areas. You may have a fan rather than AC, but most accommodations will have the basics – electricity, water, and a furnished room. Don’t be afraid to ask your program provider to find out before hand and see what is the best option for you.
Visas for volunteering abroad in Uganda come in two forms, single entry and multi entry. A single entry visa means that you cannot leave Uganda during your volunteer work to visit other countries in Africa. If you mean to visit other surrounding countries during your volunteer program in Uganda, make sure to get a multiple entry visa. Both types of visas can be obtained upon entry into Uganda at the airport. The single entry visa typically costs about $50 and the multiple entry visa is around $100 so make sure to plan accordingly. If you have any other questions about visa information, make sure to visit a Ugandan Embassy.
Benefits & Challenges
- Rising Volunteer Population. Since volunteering in Uganda is a growing area, it gives you the chance to be involved in many NGOs and grassroot organizations that are really starting to expand. You can be involved in projects and work from the ground up.
- Unrivaled Bird Watching. Have an interest in bird watching? The popular past time may sound like something people take up after retirement, but Uganda’s over half a million different species make it a paradise for anyone interested in winged creatures and nature in general. Its incredible “birders” scene is one of Uganda’s most popular attractions believe it or not.
- Green and Green. Uganda is not only covered in lush verdant landscapes, it is also focused on ecotourism and responsibility. The country has many natural resources from forests to gorillas and recognizes how precious they are.