Review: Volunteering in south west Uganda
Specialist Holiday - Voluntary work
Detox from the corporate world!
13 people found this review helpful
Put your hands up if you can relate to part or all of this scenario, I'm 50, spent 30 years working for the same company, reached the dizzy heights of director, ran a successful, profitable business. Enjoyed working with people, not afraid to roll up my sleeves and muck in, gained a good business mind and loved seeing people develop and make a success of themselves. Then, the combination of the 30 year service milestone and the bite of recession made me stop and think about my future. The desire of the parent company to save costs and my need for a fresh challenge combined to facilitate my exit.
I now had some time on my hands to reflect and plan my next move. I accept that it's not the best time to be looking for a new career, however, sometimes you have to take a calculated risk. I started looking at voluntary work, especially overseas, I'd done some volunteering in the past, but nothing abroad that could be deemed as taking me "out of my comfort zone". "Big Beyond" came to my attention, they are a British organisation that have 3 bases in Africa; Malawi, Ethiopia and Uganda and they get involved in local community projects, including education, health, conservation etc, their philosophy ticked a lot of boxes for me and I decided to investigate further. The Big Beyond website is comprehensive and full of information for prospective volunteers and makes for an inspiring insight into a work placement for people contemplating this for the first time. The list of options drew me to Uganda and, as I'm a nature lover, I asked to be involved in any conservation and education projects they had in the pipeline. From the outset, I always found the team at Big Beyond to be really friendly, helpful and keen to ensure that not only do the local communities get the benefit of the volunteer's work, but for the volunteers themselves, that placement can be a life changing experience. In December 2011 I decided that Big Beyond Uganda was my destination and that I'd go for 3 weeks in March / April 2012. As far as costs go, I paid for my flight and the work placement, in return I got a comfortable bed, 3 good meals a day, the support of the Big Beyond team on the ground in Nombe (where I would be staying) and scenery to take your breath away, not to mention the uncalculable benefit of doing something really worthwhile and rewarding (it looks good on your CV too!). Time moved quickly, I organised flights, insurance and any neccesary inoculations, malaria tablets etc. When I look back at the costs, it was no more (in fact probably less) than a 3 week package holiday to sunny european climes.
About 3 weeks before I left, I had my tailored work package sent through and that's when I started to really get excited, this was far from my usual line of work in a busy local newspaper company, but I could see where my set of transferable skills would come in handy. I also got a comprehensive volunteer pack from the team giving me lots of information and advice about the local area, language, culture what to expect, what to pack etc. All preparations completed, I was off! I flew from Heathrow to Nairobi and then took a connecting flight to Kigali in Rwanda. There, I was met by one of the BB team and we went by car, crossed the border into Uganda and on to Nombe village. I was greeted by the rest of the team and made to feel very welcome. The first couple of days were spent with the team acclimatising, getting to know the language basics and familiarising myself with the local area. The house was comfortable, I had my own room as it was a relatively quiet period for volunteer numbers. The house had solar power and although there was no mains water, we had clean bottled drinking water and rainwater for washing / showers (hot). It was then time to start getting into the projects; the main project for me was to help the community to preserve the Nombe Pocket Forest, a realtively small rain forest when compared to the adjacent Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, the habitat for over half of the world's population of the rare mountain gorilla. The Nombe pocket Forest is home to many species of birds and butterflies and a heaven for botanists too but was suffering from indiscriminate felling of trees for firewood and for sticks for climbing beans, cattle were also being grazed there trampling much valuable growth underfoot. The team had some ideas on finding alternative sources of firewood and sticks, also for grazing cattle. Between us we were able to put together a project that gave local people the opportunity to grow their own firewood and sticks, by planting fast-growing trees (and I mean fast growing) on their own land and growing feed for cattle. All this could be done on their own land thereby negating the need to use the forest for these valuable resources. We decided to take some local schoolchildren into the forest so that they could get an insight into how a rainforest lived and breathed. We got them doing bark rubbing and leaf rubbing and also taking time to stop in the middle of the forest and use their senses to understand all the different sounds, smells, sights and feel of their surroundings. We also showed them evidence of the destruction of the forest.The children loved it and we felt that this was a very useful exercise in getting the local community on board with the benefits of the project. As we saw it, the forest had huge value in a conserved state as a tourist attraction with its wide and diverse range of flora and fauna. We also took the conservation project to the elders of the villages surrounding the pocket forest and talked to them about tree planting, distributing seeds and the project benefits. This was again well received as people could see that Big Beyond's involvement with projects had huge potential for the wellbeing of the local community. My involvement with this project and the other projects I got into, was not neccesarily to devise the plan, the locals knew what they wanted to do, they just needed help in getting it off the gound and moving it along, which is where the skills I'd learnt in business came in. When I left Nombe, the project was indeed off the gound and moving very positively. The Big Beyond team in Nombe are hugely enthusiastic, the manager, Jenn is ably supported by a team of local staff who are committed to Big Beyond's aims and ideals. As I mentioned, I got involved with some other projects including a school food project, school building project and I also did some work with a local HIV group.
I must say that the 3 weeks I was there flew by, I was lucky enough to go Gorilla tracking and saw a group of these incredible apes which provided an unforgettable experience. In fact my entire 3 weeks was an unforgettable experience. Ok, this may not be for for everyone, the roads are a bit rough, there isn't a Starbuck's round the corner and in the rainy season it really rains but I found that if you immerse yourself in the culture and the community, let it wash over you, make the effort to say hello in the local language and adopt the "give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day, show him how to catch a fish and you will feed him for a lifetime" attitude, then you will enjoy it. If you have the opportunity, if you find yourself in the position I was in, or you just want to do something different for a change, do it. The Big Beyond team are committed to making a difference to lives in Africa and will make a difference to yours too. It brought out skills and motivation I never thought I had and it stripped back the corporate layers and laid bare the real me. I honestly believe that the 3 weeks in Uganda has done so much for me as a person, it has certainly given me a new direction in life and for that there will forever be a part of Africa in me.
13 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.