So here I am working, volunteering in Africa. My host organization is KYDA, the Ugandan organization – Kawempe Youth Development Association. The location is in the capital city – Kampala.
In the past 60 days spent here my life had changed, certainly my mindset, my worldview.
We are nine people volunteering in this project, I came with two of my friends, but I met more here. And that are just the people in the house, outside I meet many folks as well.
I work with the local people on a daily basis, they are happy to engage, some are shy, but most of them are excited to talk to any “muzungu” – white man, east African local word. But people here don’t give much attention to skin color or at least they don’t talk about it.
In my work, I have been a student and a teacher, those are my primary roles. I still have a month here, and I take more and more tasks, as responsibilities respectively.
At first, we needed to get on the same page, volunteers and our organization(host). We had a week of orientation when we arrived. That time we spent for planning and defining roles. To define those roles, it turns out we had to define first our teams. In order to distinguish those teams though we had to first set out our projects.
So, in turn, we started jogging all that down.
The teams we called with the project names. Simplicity always shines, and all three of them as we go are construction, education, and gardening team. We choose a leader of each team, as I was the one responsible for the gardening team. Me and the other two team leaders – Alicia and Mihaela had to separate the total budget allocated for the whole Empowering Youth of Uganda through EVS project.
In the process of creating a project and committing to it, we found we abandoned a few. Patience is a virtue in those multicultural reals of things, especially with so many international members making the decision-making process a little more sophisticated.
At the end of the day, I got my budget for the gardening team. However, we choose to start with helping the construction team with their project. In fact, we are sharing the same tools as we bought common spades, pickaxes, hoes, and rakes. That’s for the digging part of the job.
The Carpentry Shelter
Our first project as I have just given you a hint, working on the construction team’s project first, is building a carpentry shelter. It was going to serve well the vocational training for boys in KYDA as for our next big project – making a playground for the kids.
Doing so involved a lot of work at the start of our second week since we had arrived in Uganda. We needed to make the foundation of that carpentry shelter.
We bought a lot of wooden poles for that reason. So we measured the actual space that we want the carpentry shelter to be left inside when we finish it, we pulled up the strings around the square space we projected.
After we put all the pillars in place, we needed more than we think, it was time for the top once. The idea of the whole carpentry shelter isn’t any complicated construction endeavor, it is just using the typical resources that Africans use – wood, and nails. Just for the top, we spare some iron sheets, that are really made form aluminum, only that the locals call them iron.
Putting it all together it didn’t take longer than two weeks to finish everything from the very start.
The idea of making a playground was legit given the resource we have, maybe not so much on first look, the kids really have bigger struggles than toys to play with. But that really made sense, building a filed for multidisciplinary team sports such as football, badminton, netball, and volleyball. Plus, the additional place we have spared for the little kids to build a swing, and a bunch of balancers, two climbers, and a pulling bar.
We negotiated the price for leveling the whole is where we had this plan for the play center mapped out. It was the first thing we needed to do, so we hired the groomer with the big tractor machine. That was a lot of money from the budget allocated for this project.
Anyway, we did a lot of manual work after that. Despite that guy coming with the machine to level the terrain we still had to chop the little blunders left behind, obviously too small for the machine to grind. Then we needed to fill around a hundred socks full of soil to place them on the lower border of the field. That’s so because in order for us to level the whole field we need to make it terrace-like, the whole yard of KYDA is inclined, as you could imagine the field on the top.
Then we went back in the carpentry shelter, now work station, to come up with the toys. It took us maybe two weeks to build all the toys. Most of the delay was because of the kids breaking the toys, right after we place them. I can see how they get excited, enraptured to go crazy hard on those simple creations of ours and exploit them to their maximum.
We learned our lesson, after each spoiled toy we came up with a way to strengthen them. We made them stronger the second time, enough so to last. Every toy we put, first we ought to dig a hole and mix some cement to install it in the ground.
Later we finished the project with a little tune-up. We decided to spend a little more money for paint, it was just enough to spark some light atmosphere around the playground with warm colors.
The education team is the one involved in teaching from the week after our initial orientation. Basically, those are three girls, two from Turkey and one from Romania.
I had recently joined the team, doing my own class for entrepreneurship. That is because entrepreneurship was a serious point in the tasks we had through our stay here.
Meanwhile, the girls are doing common classes for hygiene, although everyone was teaching solo in a class of ten to fifteen kids. But our priority is the teachers themselves, to see how we can optimize their methods.
Unfortunately, that is a hard task. It is almost impossible to collect all teachers at the same time.
My project took a lot to prepare, I made it consist of relative to the girl’s material. Mostly basic things that are foundational about business.
I had eight weeks when I started, I am left with three more now, that are six lessons if everything goes by plan. I never skipped a lesson so far, and I have two lessons a week for two hours each.
I research and bring appropriate material to talk about, raising questions, answering a few, let them think, leaving no homework behind, only suggestions. That is what my teaching composes from in a nutshell. In addition, I have reached out to The Art of Learning Foundation to see how can I optimize my approach to teaching.
I saw those guides based on Josh Waitzskin’s book “The Art of Learning” itself. They help you instill small helpful practices in your regular teaching curriculum by adding some sprinkles of reflection, creativity, and self-expression, and hygiene too.
All that is fun, sometimes though a little overwhelming. The girls teaching at KYDA face the same problems. Often it is hard to pass a message through a wall of resistance or just lack of understanding. Most of the kids speak English, in fact, they say Uganda is the best English speaking country in Africa.
In a few moments, we had misunderstandings in the common discussion of our volunteer course of conduct at KYDA. Many things change as we already thought trough as solid.
Anyway, I believe is part of the process, yet it does come up as a slap sometimes.
I love how we manage to get back on track, somehow miraculously even on the same day. Because we do have those hot discussions when you care about a project and people ain’t helping you to realize it.
That was my idea of making a huge garden using the place planned for construction far in the future on the same piece of land. It is smart to use that land to make the job of the organization easier and respectively taking better care of the kids living and studying there.
I bet they would have had a huge yield of vegetable production if we made the garden as I planned it. But all that fell out as we say that some ex-volunteers, four Italian girls, coming with their own project to build a kitchen. We weren’t aware of that.
And that is just my example. Else we fell in similar cases on a weekly bases when we face other challenges. But all that is part of the process.
We are here to adapt to solving arising new challenges in an unknown environment as fit as we can with the limited resources at our disposal.
Sharing the Results
Part of sharing the results of our contribution here at KYDA is building an online presence.
African people don’t have much chance to establish themselves in the virtual space, data is very costly here. The lack of infrastructure, optic cables underground prevents us to work full time on that too.
I try to spend my little data, my limited internet I have, to write an article when I get a chance.
They are also many other things we need to resolve online. For one, we also contribute to this blog, which is the official website of the project – Empower Ugandan Youth through EVS.
We made a fundraiser for Ivan, then for Catalin’s birthdays to get some funding to resolve the water problem. So we made a campaign online, we launched it and after a while, now 20 days later or so we have collected around 65% of the total target set.
Our goal is to provide KYDA with water filtrating system for the water tanks it has on campus. And that service would cost too much for the organization itself.
With all, that story laid out it might be hard to get my message. Allow me to recap.
My work here in Uganda is dedicated to one organization only – KYDA (Kawempe Youth Development Association). And I am co-working, collaborating with eight more volunteers, some which are my friends, all from different countries.
Here we all made our plans to fit the twenty-three tasks in total preplanned for our first term of volunteers created by our sending organizations.
The plan consists of too many tasks, as we face many challenges, some of the wich completely unpredicted. Funny is how to deal with all that adversity.
We have successfully built a carpentry shelter, playground, and have conducted many classes about hygiene, drama, entrepreneurship, and safe sex.
I hope by sharing this story we could spread the word for this project and more people come to see how they can grow personally while solving meaningful problems for a worthy cause.