People always say that you have to give in order to get. If you want to get more, you have to give more. And what if giving and getting was immeasurable and so much valuable than any material thing existing around us. And what if we could give only a little and receive so much more in return. Impossible? Not even close. Volunteering is one of the most valuable concepts that exists. You give a tiny bit of your time, your emotions, your compassion, and you get a life experience in return.
You can think that you have nothing to give, or that you do not speak many languages to be useful. True, kids and families in Kitega Community Center do not speak a lot of English, but their openness and welcoming mind makes this language barrier an amusing challenge, which in the end allows you to get more friends. These kids are fearless, and are only waiting for your smile with a hunger to learn new things, so why should you be afraid if they’re not?
You can think that there are certainly some challenges, some difficulties, it’s not la vie en rose. Well, in some way, you’re right thinking that, but only in a small way. You can sometimes feel down and frustrated that the things do not go according to the plan, and the things that you’ve planned to be accomplished are still in the starting phase. Well, take it as a challenge and learning curve, and you’ll be surprised how beneficial this experience can be and how helpful in your day-to-day life. Reality of a volunteer working in a developing country is deeply complex and not all problems can be fixed straight away, however it makes you push your own barriers and see the other side of you. You grow.
And what if you could wake up in the morning and have all children running into your arms to give you the biggest hug ever? Well, you can judge it on your own, but in my mind it is far more than worth trying experience.
Kitega Community Center is waiting for you!
Interview – Sophie Gauss
How many volunteers are there in Kitega at the same time?
I was there for 2 months and during that time I had 1 other volunteer for one month, and then about 5 other volunteers stayed for about 1 week each.
In your opinion, what is the most important requirement/skill to become a volunteer?
Patience, empathy and willingness to get involved in all sorts of activities and tasks.
What are the main challenges of volunteering in Kitega Uganda?
Cultural differences and communication barrier. The staff at Kitega speak very good English and are incredibly helpful, but communication difficulties occur with the children and other people in the community. This is not a bad thing though! It is an amusing challenge.
How did you perceive the cross-culture exposure?
I enjoyed embracing it. Sometimes it was frustrating when things did not go according to plan but looking back at my experience I would not have changed this as it taught me many things. Everyone was incredibly welcoming – the staff, the children and the village community who I worked with. It shows that differences in culture, language and upbringing need not be a barrier to making friends.
What was the main reward for you following the volunteering in Kitega?
The life experience. The chance to be a part of an African society, to live with a host family, to eat their food and to learn about their lives.
What is the average age of the kids in Kitega and how do they see the volunteers? Are they open and gain confidence quite quickly?
Most of the children are incredibly confident and open with the volunteers. They get used to seeing different volunteers all the time and I think they really enjoy this novelty in their lives. The average age is probably about 10? 12? They range in age from about 5 years old to about 30. There are a few who are actually close to 30 years old, though their mental disability means they could be mistaken for younger.
How is the communication with the kids and families facilitated? In which language a volunteer communicates with the kids?
The volunteer communicates in English and through actions. The children understand only Luganda. With children, this language barrier doesn’t seem to be a problem though, as it is quite easy to show them how to write and add numbers without too much speech, as well as play with them.
What are the most challenging tasks?
I worked mainly with a village community to set up a pig income-generating project so I had more contact with the adult community than the children. The most challenging task for me was dealing with communication (only the village chairman could speak and understand English) and time management. Coming from an environment where everything is tightly planned, I had to adapt to the more relaxed nature of my African friends!
How are the tasks divided between the volunteers?
They aren’t. It is a very relaxed atmosphere where you can help different groups of children during their lessons, and design games with them in the afternoon.
Are you still having contact with some of the people met in Kitega? If yes, who are they? Other volunteers? Kids? Families?
I still keep in contact with David and Philip from the centre through Facebook. I have also written a letter to the village group I worked with, and got David to print it out for them. I do not expect a reply as they have no access to computers but I wish them to know I still think of them and to tell them what I am doing in life.
I also keep in contact with some of the other volunteers, particularly one girl, Amy Kirkwood who I became good friends with.
How did you prepare for your stay at Kitega?
Packed lots of survival items – medication, vaccinations and general things all ‘holidays’ require.
I packed some toys etc for the centre, and I kept in contact with David regularly before going out. All the project work I did at Kitega was not decided upon until I was out there. Very little preparation!
How do you see your stay at Kitega? How do you evaluate your input in Kitega centre and the benefices that it has brought to Kitega?
From a personal-growth point of view, I believe I benefited hugely from my time at Kitega. My village friends taught me a lot, both directly and indirectly, about their lives. I’d like to think that benefits were mutual.
I hope that the research I did for Kitega staff will help them for future initiatives, and I hope the pig project grows.
It’s difficult to say how I would evaluate it!
In your opinion, how much time do you need to make a change and for this change to be felt in Kitega?
The children feel the change immediately in terms of direct happiness and our presence. Playing with them and spending time with them is all that is required. Children are easily pleased this way which is great.
Helping the children in terms of development is very difficult. Kitega lacks the resources we would otherwise have in our country that could better help them learn. This is because disabilities differ between the children and they really require very specialist help. We can sit and help them draw letters etc but the reality is many of the most severely disabled children will probably just go round and round in circles doing this. Others who are able to self-help and have less difficulties benefit well from volunteers able to correct their written English.
The project I got involved with will take time to make a difference. All income-generating projects are like this. Two piglets were donated at the end of my trip and the plan was that the piglets from these would be distributed to the village group, and breeding will continue. It takes time to raise animals so it is a long term goal.
How did your experience in Kitega change/influence your behavior/perception of reality afterwards?
I learnt that the challenges of working in a developing country are deeply complex, and that it is very easy in the Western world to think you can fix all the problems. I did not have this misconception before I went out there, but having been, I find it easier to explain this to others back at home. My behavior has not changed since being there but my understanding of the difficulties Kitega staff face, has grown. I have a lot of admiration for people like David as it is not an easy job. Humanitarian work requires a lot of patience, a lot of compassion, and an ability to smile through the toughest times.
What is the most memorable experience that you have from Kitega?
Coming into the centre each morning and having all the children rush out to give you a hug.
Also, riding the boda boda (motorbike) through the sugar cane plantations!