It has been a substantial amount of time since I updated the blog. There are numerous reasons for this, the main one being that I have been pretty busy at work. The other being that when I have had free time there has either been no power or no internet. The combination of these factors has meant that e-mails, facebooks and blogs alike have all been pushed to the wayside. But I have power at home, which is a true rarity and I have taken this moment of relative tranquillity to update all those avid readers out there!
My work is going well. Its moving at Uganda time, which means that I have achieved here in 6 weeks what I could have achieved in 2 at home, but I have, finally, come to terms with the fact that things here just move ‘slowly slowly’. It doesn’t matter that every single person I met told me that this would happen. I still thought that things would be different and that people just weren’t trying hard enough. Oh how foolish I was! I have decided to stop doing the interviews this week. This is for a number of reasons, the first being that I could continue forever, so it was best to just set myself a deadline and achieve something concrete rather than ending up with nothing. The second is that I am using volunteers to help me, and I don’t feel that I can ask them to continue working for me for anymore than three weeks. Thirdly, Jerry who is helping me is going back to the US, and it would be good if he could give me input for the analysis, as it is far less likely to be biased if we work on it together. He has also put in a lot of work so deserves to be part of the end of the project. Finally, this gives me ample time to produce a solid write up and to start getting involved in some other projects. After spending time here I am starting to understand many of the other projects which are set up here and perhaps how I could be involved with them in the future. I have met this pretty amazing Ugandan guy called Charlie who I think will be a good point of reference for finding some work for the next few months.
Many of the people who I have met here are going home in the next few weeks, which is pretty sad to be honest. But it is to be expected when everyone is here for such a short time. It has also made me realise how lucky I am to be here for another couple of months, there is no way that I would feel satisfied if I was leaving in the next few weeks. It is always difficult to decide how long to stay abroad for, and I do think that if I wasn’t working that I’d be now ready to come home. But there still remains so much for me to see and do here.
This is really the place to come to if you don’t want to feel special about giving up your holiday to volunteer, as everyone is doing it. I still am not sure, 100% convinced that we are all doing it for the right reasons, myself included. When I came here I told myself that I was going to have a nice sensible altruistic time, but the truth is, with people working hard, and some in emotionally stressful situations, the downtime becomes even more important. Volunteering is a complex affair, something that I didn’t appreciate before I got here. Not everyone wants you, which is strange, I thought that people would be desperate for help, but the fact of the matter is that they have local volunteers who are sustainable and aren’t just going to flit back off 2 weeks after they arrived. We, as Western volunteers, hold the unjustified opinion that we are great and that we can help, but most of the organisations that we join were running just fine without us. Now I am not saying that help isn’t needed, not at all, its just that giving help is just a little more complicated than I first thought. We don’t have the same practices, we don’t come from the same school of thought, and for most people its perhaps pretty hard to admit that we don’t exactly know what people want if they refuse what we have. I am not bitter about being here, not in the least, I hope that I have been fortunate enough to have been of use to the organisation that I have joined, but I do perhaps think that I am not that much use. The work that I am doing is interesting, and it may show the service providers some improvements which they haven’t thought about. But, mainly due to financial limitations, there just isn’t that much that can change. For an organisation to improve many of the same things are needed here as they are in the West. More training is needed, more staff members are required and patients could use more time with the health care providers but there are no quick fixes for these problems, and even if there was an unlimited amount of money available things need to be implemented correctly and they need to be sustainable.
When I came here I wanted to help find jobs that students could fill next summer, ways that clever people could be used in more productive ways than stacking shelves in a supermarket. Ways that would benefit not only the organisations in which they worked, but also so that students would gain a taste of how another part of the world lives and works. Yale University, as it turns out, had exactly the same idea. They run a program called Bulldogs which is basically loads of unpaid internships all over the world. It’s a pretty good idea, and this year they launched in Kampala. It has been interesting seeing the problems that they have encountered, and more interestingly how they plan to improve the internships for the following years. The internship which has been most ‘successful’ is the one at Mulago, which is also the only one which has had a Western contact. I think that part of this is because when you are working with someone who is also volunteering from the West, they are acutely aware of what you are trying to achieve, but when you are working within a local Ugandan organisation there is perhaps a cultural gap. I think that part of it is simply that Ugandans don’t understand what we want, and why should they? I don’t think that we really take time out to find out what they want. How would they know that we only have 12 weeks in which to save Africa?! So, I have realised, as expected, that perhaps I was being a little over ambitious about what I could achieve in 3 months. Although I do still think that setting up permanent summer jobs here would be valuable, I think that it would take a few years before the jobs would become as valuable to the organisations as to the volunteers. Uganda is a country which needs commitment, and 3 months of valuable work is brilliant, but what happens in the other 9? Perhaps a more interesting avenue to explore would be to set up a Warwick year placement, so that the jobs would be permanently filled. There are many young graduates, who at 21, are not quite ready to hit the job market, who would be of good use, even more so as they would be qualified, in a number of organisations. Volunteering should be about balance, when you work your exchange for your labour is money, and when you volunteer it is experience, but the balance is only maintained when your labour if of value to the receiving organisation.
More fun things
Despite how things may sound, I have been able to squeeze in a little fun since I arrived. My favourite thing here, apart from the local gin, is the place called the Music Club. I apologise to those who have already had listen to be harping on about it. This is a meeting point for local musicians who convene every Monday inside the National Theatre. It’s a free night and has some of the highest quality music that I have ever heard. This Monday they held it outside, this is something that they do once a month, so it had a much cooler and more spacious vibe that its usual cramped conditions. As usually the music was incredible, despite a dodgy ‘Hero’ cover, but what really blowed me away were the breakdancers. Now breakdancing is cool at the best of times, and these guys had some serious talent, but what really made my jaw hit the floor was the fact that neither of them had any use of their legs! They both had legs, and I am sure that anyone medical will shudder at my description, but they were like stuffed trouser legs. Yet, one of the guys held his feet with his arms, pulled himself up, and walked, danced and breaked using only his arm strength. It is kind of the same awe that you have when you see disabled athletes competing.
This weekend was pretty good, even though I didn’t leave Kampala. I went to the 2nd Eastern Africa Children’s Cultural Festival on Saturday. One of the Yale students is doing a music internship and had to record all the music so I went along. It was a very long day, we got there just after 8 and didn’t leave until 7. It was meant to start at 9, but as we are on Uganda time I think it finally started about 10.30, which is mostly why it finished at 7 instead of at 5! The kids were mostly from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and all of the schools that were present were those that had won their national competitions. The standard were incredible. Each school had to produce a poem, a choir song and then a national dance. The national dances, were in my opinion far superior to the choir performances, but I would think that as I have never seen African tribal dances before so they look fresh and ‘native’. The poems, however, were incredibly insightful and interesting. They were more like national propaganda messages than poems which were performed as short theatrical pieces. My favourite was one called ‘African Women’ which was all about the strength and resilience of the African women and the troubles that she faced. The children seemed completely unfazed about speaking about rape, beatings, paedophilia and female circumcision. They seemed to have a strong, clear awareness of the problems that their country and people were facing. I would love to tell you who won the competition, but I have no idea, I was there for the presentation, but I still have no idea.
On I went to the Bahai temple. This is the only one of its kind and I don’t believe that there is one in the UK yet. It’s a relatively new religion which accepts all other religions. It is like an amalgamation of the top 8 religions and their prophets plus the Bahai prophet, which means that Jesus and Mohammed are part of the same religion. The temple itself is very plain inside whilst the gardens around it are perfectly kept and amazingly beautiful. Its well worth a visit as it’s a tranquil spot in the hard of Kampala, a true rarity.