Myself and Brenda (P7 student) at St Mary’s Primary School, Kaihura.

I spent 12 months in East Africa, Uganda, the ‘Pearl of Africa’.  I am so pleased that I made the decision to go away with the charity Project Trust and have such a great opportunity to learn, enjoy and give to such an amazing place. Project Trust is an educational charity, which sends young volunteers to Africa, Asia and the Americas to teaching projects, care projects and outward bound projects. Going with this organization meant I had a good set up with insurance, contacts and representatives if I should ever need anything while I was away.

There were twenty volunteers in Uganda and we were all split into pairs across the country. However, unfortunately my partner went home in February so I was living and working alone for the majority of my time. It was the good set up of project and the kindness and caring nature of the Ugandans that made me comfortable to stay in the village alone.

I lived and worked in a village called Kaihura, Kyenjojo in the west of Uganda. It was five hours from the capital, Kampala. I lived in a room with a tin roof with a wooden window and door, which was a part of the teacher’s accommodation in the school. There were communal long drops next to the chicken coups for toilets and two wooden cupboards for showers. This was quite a shock at first but you soon become accustomed to new surroundings. There was a borehole at the bottom of the hill where the children and I would go to fetch water in jerrycans. There was no running water and electricity, but after the initial shock this became a very calming way of life. I lived right next to the boarding section meaning I could go and see the children regularly as well as living in amongst the teachers. This was a good setup allowing me to integrate straight away and build up strong bonds. It was such a lovely place to live with such kind people who made me feel so welcome and comfortable into the place where I was to spend the next year. My headmaster and fellow P6 teacher lived to my right, which was good for effective teaching. I grew very close with Fortunate and his family and even went to his introduction, meeting of the parents to his future wife, Brenda. Brenda then moved in with Fortunate with her baby Fostine and we spent a lot of time together. She was one of my closest friends while I was away and often turned to her for advice.

Myself, Ashley and fellow St Mary’s teachers at the introduction of Fortunate and Brenda. (Above)

Gideon at my favourite local shop where people would come and chat for hours.

The village had a few basic shops but I loved nothing more to go to the village and sit on the bench outside Gideon’s shop with the locals. Many different people would come and go which was one of the main reasons as to why I had such a lovely time as I got to know so many of the locals by spending time in the village just they do, and not being the foreign white girl but one of them. I was soon being given gifts, being inviting for meals, trips and to functions including the most beautiful African wedding. Local transport was a big part of my year with buses moving at hair-raising speeds used to get to and from Kampala and taxis, which have fourteen seats.  During one journey I was squashed in the back with twenty-four others, three chickens and a goat! The most fun way to travel however was either hitching with the locals or on the motorbike taxis called Boda Bodas. The local Boda drivers would all sit at the ‘stage’ and wait for customers, they were hilarious people and always had a funny story or questions to ask. I spent a lot of time with them and miss them a lot. They would fight over who would get to take me to the college on Wednesdays or up to Faith’s house on the hill.

I was mainly teaching P6 class in which there was 150 students, aging from 10 to 19. I taught a mixture of English, maths, reading and writing. I found it very intimidating on my first day but soon settled in and created a good relationship with my students and resulted in fun lessons and good results in their exams. There were very few resources available as it was a government school, but chalk and a chalkboard and one English textbook would have to do. They particularly enjoyed when I took them outside and gave them practical things to do or rewarded them with the spectacular game that is ‘rounders’. This became their particular favourite and would try really hard with studies hoping to be rewarded with it. I played netball with the students and had a lot of fun particularly with sporting aspects of school life. Me being around and speaking to the locals and students constantly improved their language skills a lot. They were able to learn from a native and meant I could offer a lot of help and I managed to get a hold of English reading books for the UK. This was a huge help to the school and allowed huge improvements in English especially writing skills. The borders would enjoy teaching me local language but this also helped their English as they would have to translate at first.

I was able to pass on my skills in sports to the school and introduced lots of British simple games such as duck, duck goose and even our way of organizing athletics days. We had a big sports day at school and Edward, headmaster, was very pleased at how well it went with my organization. I really enjoyed getting stuck in and being around for the students to come and talk to me, play or ask for help with their work. Exam results this year were the highest yet and I was so proud of everyone.

 The other teachers at school were so welcoming and became very close friends. It was quite difficult to build relationships with the female teachers at first as they were quite intimidated by me, the white foreigner, but after time and getting used to me they invited me to meals often and helped teach me to wash clothes, cook meals and learn about their culture and way of doing things. I was particularly good friends with Okello and Kadoma, two teachers at St Mary’s, Vincent, a teacher at the senior school in the village, and Moses, who worked for the charity hope again which was based in Kaihura.

I had lots of fun, learnt lots from them and miss them a lot. One of my most memorable trips we made was to deliver mosquito nets to people living in remote areas in poor conditions. It was a lot for me to take in but the people were so grateful and happy even though they have the absolute bare minimum, even just the fact that we had gone to visit them was a great blessing and they insist in sharing what little they have. I found it very touching and eye-opening the fact that they will welcome anyone into their home and share everything yet here in the UK people would sit anywhere but next to a stranger on a bus.

I was so lucky to be involved in many trips to school competition and sports events. My favourite was the district schools music competition where students performed poems, songs, orchestral pieces on the local instruments and cultural dances. Our deputy headmaster of St Mary’s primary school, Steven was in charge of these performances and did an amazing job but unfortunately the head judge was from the hosting school and biasedly awarded his school as the winners with St Mary’s coming a respectable second place. The students had a lot of fun and particularly enjoyed my camera taking photos of their faces and not the performances bless them. My students found it very amusing attempting to teach me the local dances and songs. By this point I had picked up a lot of the language so could attempt the songs a lot better than the dances. I felt it was really good for the teachers to see me with my students as I had a very relaxed relationship with them meaning they could come to me for anything. The other teachers had a very strict way, with pupils bowing to teachers and elders.

I managed after a lot of work to put in different disciplinary actions towards the pupils. Caning was huge all over Uganda and was very hard for me to see when I first arrived. I will never forget when I was in the staff room and a pupil was carried in and whipped ten times by bamboo. I said nothing, as I could not undermine, instead had to go home and pull myself together. After speaking calmly and reasonably to the teachers on many occasions and showing them other methods, such as sitting on the floor, moving seats and no participation in the fun activities, they began to take my views on board. On the day I left Uganda, Sam, P5 teacher, father of seven, handed my his bamboo stick and promised to stop caning and instead put in place the discipline I had showed him. This to me was such a proud moment, for both of us, and I am so proud he managed to stand up against what they have known all their lives. 

Precious, police officer of Kaihura, became very protective over me and often took me to the local pubs for a beer with the other officers or cooked local dishes for me. She has a lovely family and welcomed me to be a part of it.

Okello, Kadoma, Myself, Moses and Vincent at the Catholic stones in Kyenjojo.

St Mary’s pupils rehearsing traditional dances.

Myself teaching at Butiiti in the newly created computer room.

Truck packed with locals to go to the village football final.

Living in my village there was a Voluntary Missionary Movement volunteer called Eilis who was working at a primary teaching college in a town called Butiiti, a 15-minute drive from where we were living. She had recently set up a computer room when I arrived and asked for my help so it became a regular occurrence for me to go to the college and teach the students there to learn how to use a computer. I really enjoyed this part of the week and made good relationships with the friendly staff at the college too. It was also nice to meet the students who were mostly my age group and to explain to them about my culture and country. There were a few dances at the college for after exams, which the students kindly invited me to and I was their guest of honour at the final sports day of the year. This college was closely linked to St Mary’s as many teachers studied there and were involved in the teaching practice of the students. This meant they were more then happy for me to go and offer my help to them as well. We made a computer exam for the students and rewarded them with a certificate which they were very proud of and meant they now had skills which would give them a great boost for further education and an insight into the technical world.

I met a lovely woman called Faith in Kaihura. Her story was truly amazing and she had built up an NGO, which consisted of a school, clinic, vocational school, and orphanage. The orphans came from the district and were brought to the home to gain food, shelter and medical attention to try and stabilize their situation. The school and clinic were linked to the orphanage so they managed to monitor all progress extremely well. The kids were a lot of fun to play with and always so happy to get a visit and attention.

While I was there a girl called Elizabeth was brought in and had elephantiasis. The NGO had found her a few months before and had offered medical assistance to her for free in an attempt to reduce the severity of the case. However her parents did nothing and when they went to see progress realized nothing had been done were horrified the situation had worsened and had to take her away to stay in the children’s home until she could recover. It was quite a hard reality to deal with as she was so young and so ill but her story was only one of the many cases in this orphanage, village and country as a whole. I experienced a lot of illness and death of people I met and their relatives and it took a lot of getting used to. It was this harsh reality of life and death that made me really appreciate their love and kindness for each other. When a relative was ill, all members of the village would go and visit or wish them well, this level of care for each other was lovely to be a part of and everyone was genuinely asking how are you, how is your family, how is your day. It also meant if I did not go to the village one day they would say “you are lost”. I think I settled in so quickly because of this care meaning people always knew where I was and what I was doing so if I needed help they could offer it.

Faiths brother, Kenneth lived in the town 15 minutes from our village and also had an NGO called Noah’s Arc. He helped children with school fees, materials and to those who needed it a place to live. He had good links with people in Poland and had a really nice set up. The kids were so happy, and every time I went, they would call me auntie and give me hugs. I used to take a Boda from my village and go and spend the day playing, singing or helping with homework. This was a small gesture but meant the world to these kids. Language skills was a noticeable improvement. They would always prepare the most delicious meals and when I went for the last time they killed their goat! This is a tradition that I feel very guilty about. Africans like to kill their animals out of respect for their visitors to give them the best possible meal. However, goats are a really useful commodity for a family and I could do nothing, but be grateful and eat the meat as they killed especially for me.

As volunteers, because we were teaching we were lucky enough to get two months holiday in December and January and another break in March to travel east Africa and I went to Rwanda Tanzania and Zanzibar. In March I went to Kenya to renew my visa. These countries were amazing but I was specially attached to Uganda and always loved returning back. We visited the Rwandan genocide museum which is truly horrific, the fact that it was so recent and so brutal is terrifying and the last room of the exhibition is filled with children’s photos and their story, one of which stays with me, killed: smashed against a brick wall. This brutality was truly shocking and we all really valued this new understanding to the world’s actions.

We travelled through Tanzania visiting the capital Dodoma, Moshi, Arusha, and Dar Salam and then got a ferry over to Zanzibar a real paradise. Tanzania is a lot bigger than Uganda and we had a lot of fun travelling on the long coaches with the locals observing the views and differences in cultures. It was quite difficult to communicate as they are Swahili speaking and their English was not as good as the Ugandans. Zanzibar was the ultimate paradise and was really nice to go swimming and relax. There were a lot of white tourists and we met a lot at a beach party and stone town was unbelievably pretty with a fish market out at night. Travelling allowed us as a group to become really good friends and we are all still in touch and will be friends for a long time. Living and travelling with people builds up quick and strong bonds between people and would not have wanted to go with any others. We all got on so well even though we were so different.

In March we went to Kenya. We stayed in some really nice places and went to see lake Naivasha, a hot spring by baked land where all the locals do their washing and graze their cows, the Masai market where they have the most incredible jewellery. Kenyans are quite different in appearance from Ugandans, with lighter skin and bad teeth from chewing mirra, tobbacco.  We also did a cycling safari and got within metres of buffalos, giraffes, and zebras. This was one of the best experiences as we had a lot of laughing and we made a picnic for us all. It was so nice and free cycling through Kenyan wilderness and we also did a gorge walk with a tour guide and saw the most incredible views.


I was lucky enough to have my family come and visit me in April and my best friends come and visit in June. I took them to queen Elizabeth national park and saw all the baby elephants, went to Jinja source of the Nile where I had been white water rafting with the volunteers. They stayed with me in my village and I introduced them to all my friends and students and even took them to the busy city market to experience true Africans at their best. They helped teach for a few days and made huge progress especially with the computers at college. My dad was able to format them all in exactly the same way making teaching a lot simpler. They were able to bring a few resources for me which were useful and I could leave behind when I left to go home. Owino market is a big second hand clothes, food, and everything else you could possibly imagine. It is so busy and not very well organized so really have to get stuck in. bartering away with the locals was a lot of fun. There is also a lovely African craft market in town where ladies make traditional goods and sell. There are a lot of tourists that go here but speaking in local language ad being friendly guarantees cheaper price. I was very partial to the beaded necklaces and my family and friends loved the gifts too.

Refreshing hot spring, after a long trek over Kenyan land.

Mum and Dad at the school assembly receiving a gift from Edward Sabiiti the headmaster.

Junior, my headmaster’s son who lives next door.

My experience of east Africa was truly amazing and I will never forget it. Travelling with the other volunteers made me not only see and experience amazing things, but also make extremely close friends. We are planning a trip for summer 2013 back to Uganda and I cannot wait. My village, school and friends were all so great and I felt very proud when I had visitors to show them what I achieved. Being thrown in the deep end with nothing had its difficulties but I wouldn’t change any of it. The things you begin to hate turn out to be the things you miss the most. I would do anything to be able to eat the local food or be sitting in the village passing the day. Africans have such a lovely calm, caring life and makes any visitor feel at home, sharing everything they have even though it is practically nothing. I feel like I was able to give a lot to the community and people I was living with and really made some huge improvements with the level of English after a lot of work. However I also gained a lot from these incredibly humble people and would love another opportunity to offer my skills and be as part of a community as I was in my village, Kaihura. I have shared only a few of the amazing experiences and achievements I had throughout the whole year. It was truly unforgettable.