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UGANDA2The time has come for me to conclude these posts reporting on my Ugandan volunteering. I hope that I’ve managed to give a taste of what a (cliché alert!) profound, rewarding and life-changing experience it was, which is all you can do within the confines of a blog post. Nothing can replicate the visceral feeling of connecting with another culture through humanitarian work on the ground.

So to round things up, here are five reasons why I recommend you give volunteering in a developing country a go. If just one person who reads this is inspired to look into it, then I’m a happy man!

  • You realise what’s really important in life. Prior to heading out to Uganda I was in something of a funk: not clinically depressed, but certainly unhappy with my lot in life. I felt unfulfilled in my job and hung up on the fact that my hopes to get my novel published (I’d landed a literary agent) were coming to naught after months of waiting. So when I came face to face with children who dealt with severe adversity every day and were able to smile about it, I got the kick up the backside I needed. My introspective self-pity was replaced with a newfound maturity and wisdom.

  • UGANDA3See everyday life through a different lens. In London, everyone everywhere is in a terrible rush to get to some appointment or other and woe betide anyone who gets in their way. In Uganda (and, as I learnt in Tanzania and Zambia, in much of Africa as a whole) the philosophy is more ‘when things happen, they happen.’ It’s what they call ‘African time’, and whether you think it’s a superior lifestyle choice or not – something you can only decide after experiencing both sides of the coin – it does lend a different perspective on things when you return. Which leads me on to…
  • Reverse Culture Shock when you return. Wait…surely that’s a bad thing, no? Well, that depends on what you do about it. Friends of mine remarked how distracted I seemed the first couple of weeks after I returned, and things such as seeing food being wasted and people getting preoccupied with how they looked or what clothes they wore upset me in ways they simply didn’t before. But readjusting is part of the process, and helps you mature and become less judgemental of others, in much the same way as volunteering in the first place does.
  • It’s the most altruistically selfish thing you can do. Anyone who thinks a humanitarian trip overseas is completely selfless is lying, or plain wrong. Heck, all I’ve talked about here is how volunteering has helped me. But however you look at it, you are helping others, which is good for your karma and good for the soul. And whilst it gives you the chance to talk about something you did (everyone’s favourite topic, right?) at great length – thus scratching that individualistic itch – you can reflect on the fact that you have, ultimately, done a good thing. Unless you actually did more harm than good in your work of course, but I’m going to say I didn’t because of what I took away from it all…
  • It will stay with you forever. The photos included in these posts are just the tip of the iceberg in my collection. The picture of the letter – from Joyce, a girl I taught – is one of about a dozen I was given. But even without these hard copy mementos, I have UGANDA5lifelong memories: the kids singing about how they were going to miss us, a boy quizzing me about Socrates, teaching a class of over 60 to sing Yellow Submarine…I could go on.  

Not everything was brilliant, of course. There were frustrations, there were setbacks and there were bad days. But in the final analysis, the good comfortably outweighs the bad. I think the greatest gift of all the experience gave me was not only to increase my desire to travel but make me want to do more good as well. Which is why, in the summer of 2016, I’m taking a group of 14 girls from the school where I work out to a school in Tanzania to build a library. But that’s another story…

 

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