I’ve been volunteering in Africa for the past two months.
Let me tell you more about it.
We are investing our time and resources at KYDA, the hosting organization. During my stay here I witnessed world-shattering events that have positively contributed to the set of my beliefs about reality. From my own shenanigans, conversations and daily observations I’ve discovered many things about Africa that contradict my previous views about this penurious continent.
Furthermore I am a firm believer in the subjectivity of everyone’s own experience. One thing that is for sure – Africa will be something that you have never ever experienced before. At moments it will drive you crazy and irritated, at other times vulnerable and delighted, but one way that is going to impact you – it will widen your perspective on life. And what better than that? Who doesn’t want to become a more complex and a mature human being.
Volunteering in Africa has its pros and cons. It could be a good idea to reflect on these before arriving here, of course if you are consider yourself a thoughtful person, unlike me.
I would like to share a small story with you about how Africa happened in my life.
“It was a warm and sunny day at the tropical island of Gran Canaria. Birds chirping, sipping fresh juice from the store, laughing out loud – the perfect environment for recent graduate students, looking for ways to expand their common sense.
As we were casually pretending to work at the office, our mentor entered the room with a flirtatious smile on his face.
- How’s it going, guys? Are you busy?
- A lot! We replied calmly.
- You wanna roll in Africa next summer?
After about five seconds of silence and looking around the room at each other’s faces we all declared in a synchronized answer “Hell yea”.
That decision was made in a matter of seconds, and it left its mark for a lifetime.We are fortunate being here and grateful for the opportunity to explore and experience Africa. I love being a volunteer here and but I also think that this is not a one-size fit for all experience.
Contributing to something greater than yourself and making a positive difference is the main focus of my volunteering experience. Everything else comes as a bonus and it’s marginal.
People volunteer abroad with different motives behind their intentions. Some like the feeling of immersion in a different culture and going through adventures, others like to travel or gain professional knowledge in a specific area of interest. Also it could be a cocktail of the above.
Whatever your intentions are, if you have a strong why, you can endure any how.Nietzsche
Furthermore altruistic activities always go hand-to-hand with internal rewards. Such rewards are – a deep feeling of satisfaction, a sense of purpose, a meaning. It’s a two-way process – giving and receiving.
Here are some of my observations during this volunteering experience
People are friendly
From my frequent interactions I have found that the best way to fit is as a white person is to learn to speak the local language. This doesn’t apply only for Africa, but to wherever in the world you find yourself at. People always appreciate your effort to adapt to their system of communication.
Being a Mzungu, you are somehow privileged. A white person in a black people’s territory. But it doesn’t look that bad as it sounds. As long as you behave with integrity, respect and understanding – you will meet the same in your peers.
Moreover people are open, talkative and almost always ready to help you out. I honestly did not expect that, but as you begin making friends, everything seems normal and rational.
In the end it boils down to the essentials in human interactions. To have a successful dialogue you just need attention and interest. Although, sometimes the reality requires you to be more patient and tolerant to your partner from Uganda due to the gap between your and their development, which is not that big in the end.
In Uganda you bargain for everything. Literally. From fruits and veggies to mobile contracts and currency rates.
It’s a good place to train if you wish to harness your negotiation skills and boost your earnings up next time you get called for a promotion.
Out of this, I learned that communication is an art. And whoever does it better, controls the conversation. Whoever controls the conversation, has more authority and more impact on the outcome. More impact on the outcome, a bigger chance to close the deal by your terms.
Being a good conversationalist is an essential skill in your toolkit for success.
People work hard
There’s a small market close to our home. It’s an organized space with wooden build shacks where people sell fruits, veggies and typical Ugandan food. ( like rolex; chapats; kikomando, et cetera).
These guys work from 06:00 AM to 12:00 am. Some people even work non-stop. Through conversations with them I learned that they work out of need and to fight poverty, not because they like to work, or don’t prefer spending time on the beach.
We often find ourselves hungry in the middle of the night and with just a simple trip to the near market, we delight ourselves with night snacks and quick saver drinks. It’s just like going to the 7/11 store in your neighborhood.
There are also huge night markets where you can find everything you need. It left me surprised to see so many people selling and walking around in the streets at the late AM hours. Looks a bit like NYC.
Challenging and inspiring
Life can be rough in this developing country, but if you spend some time observing and consciously trying to adapt with everyday frustrations, it’s hard to come away from it without a bit of personal growth and a sense of maturity.
Living and working in Africa teaches us patience, ( being tolerant to the lack of understanding and smaller perspective), resourcefulness ( the ability to manage what you have and use it in the best possible way) and acceptance ( nonjudgmental behavior towards the ignorant or different people). It is sure that you will encounter challenges and provocations here, but come out of them as a more complex and sharp human being.
Investment in your future self
Volunteering in Africa will teach you how to overcome the alienness of your environment, but also how to strive and grow in such. Being here requires a bad-ass attitude, courage and resourcefulness. Those are qualities that are highly appreciated not only in business environment, but also interpersonal relationships.
If you can successful adjust yourself in the jungle, and shape your environment in a way that fits you, this will make you stand out in an potential future ventures in your professional life. (At least I hope so)
The lack of infrastructure
The unstable internet connection, lack of public transport, no night lightning and the under-development could be frustrating at times. But as you go along with those experiences you learn to accept reality as it comes. Accepting what is, rather than what you wish it was, makes your experience flow more smoothly than roughly. You develop a habit of looking at everything through a positive mindset instead of a negative one.
The faced obstacles taught me how to be more flexible and creative in my solutions.
It’s true that the local people look at a white person like a walking ATM. This is the first impression most of the locals have. They are curious, but never overstepping boundaries.
They will yell at you, show gestures and always have a specific behavior towards foreigners.
This is easily shattered when you reply to their calling using the local language and act with confidence. About 90% of my interactions with the locals in Luganda leaves them surprised and hopefully with a shifted perspective about the foreigners.
In a nutshell volunteering in Africa will challenge you, change you and make you grow. If you are looking to make a positive impact in someone’s life, expand your knowledge on the world and strive in a foreign environment, then Africa might be for you.