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Uganda Community Lodge

Page history last edited by Aaron Fenn 4 years, 6 months ago

 

Partner institution: Uganda Community Lodge

Website: http://www.ugandalodge.com/

 

Contributors (2015):

Aaron Fenn

 

Instructions:

Contributors: for details on what is required in each section, please look at the Guidance Notes

Contents: 

Placement Information

Accomodation

Transport

Social life

Things to do, things not to do

Useful Contacts

Before you go

Placement Information

 

Uganda Community Lodge is a Volunteer Project attached to a local school, at the time of writing in the process of having the entire site rebranded as the Ruhanga Resource centre. While you can have this placement arranged with the aid of Original Volunteers, this is by no means necessary and you can save yourself around £70 that can be more wisely invested in your preferred choice of Nottingham drinking hole. Some like myself may prefer direct contact with their placements with no go between, and some other volunteers and coordinators I met while out there did not recommend using volunteer agencies, it can be easier and more reassuring to do it on your own.

 

The school where you will be doing your placement accommodates approximately 550 students spread across 8 classes, from Baby class to Middle class and then through from Primary 1 to Primary 6. One of the biggest differences between the UK schooling system and that in Uganda is that their classes are split based upon ability and not age. This will be more evident in P5 and P6, where you will have students aged between 9 and 17 learning the same subjects. Reasons for this can include students dropping out to look after family members, find jobs, help during harvest season, and then re-joining the school when they can afford to. (While the Education system is technically free, the government does not cover equipment costs or teacher salaries, so many schools will still charge term fees) If you have any particular skills or interests you'd like to do while here, the teachers and staff are more than happy to have you involved with something different. One of the first things I was asked was if I was able to deliver any sort of teacher training, as this is very limited. If you haven't had any experience teaching an entire class on your own, don't be afraid to jump in and get involved here. Language barriers are not an issue, and the children are incredibly well behaved and polite.

 

The school day lasts from 7 until 5, though you are by no means constrained to this time and are given a great deal of freedom in the classes you can volunteer for throughout the day. I'd recommend volunteering yourself for a range of classes and subjects to get the most out of your experience. You're never technically contracted to show up at all and there is no limit on how many classes you want to teach or help in a day, I found a typical day would involve helping one class in the morning, helping to serve porridge during break time, maybe help one more class before lunch then play with the children before going for your own lunch. As your accommodation is only a minute's walk away you can go between the two as much as you like for most of the day. Afternoons can still be spent helping at the school if you wish, but there are plenty of other activities to be done in and around the Lodge to keep you occupied.

 

 

Accomodation

Facilities on site were far better than I expected, with flushing toilets blocks and hot showers provided en-suite. I went during an off peak time (Mid March - Mid April) and so was able to have a room myself, though during busier times of year closer to summer rooms typically accommodate 3-4 people. There are currently 25 rooms, so it's quite likely that any crippling social anxiety you may have over sharing living space will not be an issue. Beds are provided with their own mosquito nets so you won't need to bring these, though it is recommended to wash them as well as your sheets every week or so, staff on site will do this for you for around £1. The only difficulty you may face is with generator and local electricity failures, around half of the nights I was there we were without electricity and so hot water, and there is only so long that sneaking around in the dark terrifying the other volunteers will keep you entertained. Pack torches and plenty of batteries. This can also be quite erratic depending on the weather, mid-March onwards is usually the wet season, and you can expect fleeting but heavy rain, during which most things in Uganda will come to a stop. The thing I missed most about being at home was a quiet night's sleep, earplugs are recommended also. Be prepared for noise from the road, insects, birds, other things scrambling over your roof, the generator throwing a fit, and people around the Lodge, they don't sleep much. Also while you might not find this in the official travel guide, be prepared to share your room with any number of insects, (Yes, big spiders) lizards, cats, and rats.

 

Meals are provided 4 times a day:

Breakfast is served at 8am: Ugandan Tea (I bought my own Coffee) Toast (If the electricity is on) Bananas and either Omelette or Boiled Eggs.

Lunch is served at 1pm: Expect some sort of Rice, Spaghetti or Vegetables with Matoke (Bananas - those with traumatic childhood memories relating to Bananas are encouraged to bring an alternative, this is the local staple diet)

Afternoon Tea at 4pm: Hot water is provided for tea, with either Chapattis (Flatbread) Donuts (Not like what you'd think, it's more local slang for Sweetbread) or local fruit and nuts.

Dinner at 7pm: Very similar to what you can expect for lunch, meat is a rarity you can expect at most twice a week, and it won't be great quality. Beef with potatoes, Tilapia (Local fish) or perhaps some nonspecific chunk of what used to be a Goat. Squeamish or fussy eaters might not have such a great time of it, but you're more than welcome to go into Town and provide for yourself, it's really not that expensive like most things in Uganda but I'd recommend at least trying what's on offer. Ask where you can get a Rolex locally, these are a traditional local dish, and peng. You are asked to inform staff if you're not planning on being present for a meal, so that food is not wasted.

 

Meals are served in the Food Banda (Volunteer Centre) where morning meetings are also conducted over breakfast to assign any tasks to volunteers during the day. There is a Fridge available for storing your food, though bear in mind the electricity is unreliable. I was informed the longest the Lodge has ever been without power was for 12 days after local construction work, though the worst I experienced was just over a day. If you are worried that any of your electronic devices will need power more regularly than this, bring your own independent battery pack chargey thing. There is also a bar where you are able to purchase cheap soft and alcoholic drinks as well as phone credit. You'll have to buy your water from here too, as there is no safe drinking water, everything comes from bottles. The Fire Banda near the bar also has a pool table, and is a nice place to relax around the fire in the evenings. Staff will usually join you and chat, or watch the TV when the power's on. For the record, Steven Seagal films in Ugandan audio is maybe the best thing ever.

 

Transport

Direct flights to Entebbe are available from Heathrow, though you can expect to pay up to £150 more for these. Many other flights are available with smaller stopovers, mine cost £525 with an hour in Amsterdam followed by half an hour on the runway in Kenya, though one of the other volunteers was able to secure a cheaper flight with a complimentary 2 day stay in a 5 star hotel in Turkey before flying to Uganda. When you arrive at the airport expect brief Medical checks as well as your usual Security affair, you can buy a 30 day Visa here for $50. This is where I also changed money (£1 is equal to 4800 Ugandan shillings) and purchased a Ugandan Simcard. As an aside, most volunteers myself included, found Phone top ups and contacting home to be one of the most expensive parts of the trip, so be prepared for this. Once you've sorted this, you'll be picked up from the airport by Godfrey, a driver employed by the Lodge for 4 years and an all round brilliant bloke. He will drive you to the Guest House in Kampala, about an hour away, and depending on your time of arrival you can either get a few hours sleep here or Godfrey will take you straight to the bus to take you to Ruhanga. You can pay for a Lodge employed escort on the bus for £20, which I would recommend as this can be quite daunting. This 6 hour bus journey will probably be the single worst part of your stay, it's cramped, smells and is generally awful particularly if you haven't slept,  no way to dress it up.

 

While staying at the Lodge your most common form of transport will be Budda-Buddas. These are motorbikes with room for up to 2 people sitting on the back, it's great fun and the drivers like everyone else in Uganda are incredibly friendly. This isn't for everyone and the Lodge staff won't technically condone this despite using it themselves, as it's obviously not entirely safe, don't expect to wear a helmet. A ride into town on one of these will cost between 2000 and 3000 shillings, be aware though that many will try and up the price when they realise you've come from the Lodge, or are on your way back. If you find a driver you trust or are recommended one by Lodge staff, it can be a good idea to take their number so that you can make sure you usually have transport, rather than always trying to flag one down. A lot of cars can also be flagged down and provide you with a lift for a similar price, but expect to be stuffed in with 12 or 14 other people at times. Minibus taxis are called Mutatus and will take you on much longer journeys, but I wouldn't recommend these unless totally necessary, as you can expect to share these with 25-30 people. And it sucks. The lodge has their own driver and van you can rent them if you really don't want to use any other option, but this will be expensive, so try and find other people to share the cost.

 

 

Social life

Uganda is a very cheap country and because your schedule provides you with a great deal of freedom, you can spend a lot of time exploring the country and doing things with other volunteers and staff at the lodge. Expect to pay around 40p for 2 litres of Mineral water or a pint of lager, most meals will be 80p to a pound and are quite generous portions. Ugandans drink like heroes. They consume more alcohol on average per person than us Brits. Most beers will have an abv of 8-10%, and many locals will drink their spirits neat. Using ice or a  glass to have a mixer in increases the likelihood of contamination particularly with Typhoid, so be aware of this. Traditionally Fridays are club nights, when you'll be invited to a local club with the lodge staff. This is a great night out and perfectly safe, though it is certainly not recommended that you travel back to the lodge on your own and stay with the people you know. And watch what you drink, you can't handle it like you think you can.

 

You'll be offered plenty of chances to get out and see the country. While I was there I spent weekends away at concerts, spending nights in Hotels after Lake swimming, days out at the bigger cities in the country and staying the night with local families and friends of the lodge, who are incredibly welcoming. The lodge also runs Safari and Gorilla trekking trips, while I was not able to afford these other volunteers highly recommend them and it's a great way to see the country. (These will be around (£180-£300) The nearest large town is Mbarara , which most people will use the Lodge's private driver to get to, is about an hour and a half away and costs about £20. This is where you can really experience one of the larger market cities in Uganda, get all your shopping done and buy all the fake or pirated goods you can imagine.

 

One of the most rewarding experiences you can have while out there are home visits, walking children home after school and being invited to their house. While you should obviously wait to be invited, many people will treat this as a great honour to have you visit, and will often prepare you dinner and provide you with drinks. Some may even invite you to spend the night, though this is entirely at your discretion and you may not want to if you see their living conditions. Local events around the Lodge are also seen as an honour to have you invited to, as I attended both a baptism and a funeral while there. (This is seen as a celebration of life, it's not a total bummer) If you're asked to speak, make up something about Jesus.

 

Volunteers at the Lodge organise weekly visits to the local hospital, to give them food, give the children some colouring activities, or maybe provide a film to watch. You are highly recommended to do this, but you'll hate it. It's horrible, and a lot of volunteers won't be able to take it for long. But it's certainly an experience, challenging though it may be. Like much of what you do at the school as well, feeling like you're doing some good in the world is its own reward. You are also free to visit other local schools to broaden your experience of education systems in Uganda, as most of the Lodge staff live locally and will be more than happy to escort you. You'll often be invited to their homes too, and while again it can be considered rude to refuse, be prepared that some people may ask you for handouts.

 

Friends of the Lodge who run other projects will be frequent visitors, and again I recommend visiting some of the other volunteer projects to see most of the country and the other work that is being accomplished with overseas aid. Food Step is a project run by a Belgian lady called Natalie, that is essentially devoted to rescuing children from the streets and from prisons, based near Entebbe, and this is an amazing thing to see if you get the opportunity.

 

However social you want to be depends entirely on yourself, I threw myself into every opportunity I had to leave the Lodge and travel the country and meet people, though you may prefer to base a lot of your work in one setting, and this is absolutely fine too. Point being, you won't be bored or short of things to do.

 

 

Things to do, things not to do

Exposing your knees is frowned upon in Ugandan culture, particularly for women. You'll be fine on-site but when travelling make sure that they are covered by at least long shorts. Travelling alone is perfectly safe during the day but it's best to travel with friends if you're leaving the Lodge after dark. It's a good idea at all times to make sure you let Lodge staff know where you're going and when you expect to be back. A lot of volunteers had issues with ATM's, these can be temperamental and very often devoid of cash, don't be surprised if the first 3 or 4 you visit are empty, or just give your card straight back without dispensing your money. Change is also quite hard to come by, use your larger notes when you can and save smaller amounts for transport. Roads in Uganda can be very dangerous, while most are barely properly surfaced, those that are typically are speeding zones, and there are no checks in place to limit this. Particularly in larger towns, crossing the road can be an exercise in dodging traffic.

 

Uganda is a country with many different dialects and languages, but one of the most universal terms you will come across is 'Mezungo'. This just means white person. Locals as mentioned are incredibly friendly, and if they hear or see you many will want to meet you and shake your hand. This can be seen as rude if you refuse, but you must be very careful to keep your hands clean, as this is one of the primary ways the Typhoid bacteria can be spread. Sinks and Hand wash are provided at the lodge, but one of the most important things to pack is sanitiser of your own. Speaking as someone who experienced a range of exotic diseases on my return from the UK, (Which totally sucked) this leads me on to Medical advice.

 

I made sure to have a full course of vaccinations before coming to Uganda, it's important to make an appointment and discuss this with your GP at least 3 months before you travel. Some are available on the NHS, some are not, some are mandatory, some are optional. I had the lot and it came to around £300. Some volunteers I spoke to just had the basics and took their chances, but I certainly can't recommend this. One thing I wasn't told, is that some are not 100% effective, you still have to be very careful while out there. One of the most important things you'll have to sort also is your Malaria medication. The most common of these are Doxycycline (around £30 for the full course, but you'll have to take these for longer) and Malarone (around £80, but a much shorter course of treatment). Each of these have an embarrassingly long list of potential side effects, ranging from death to bestowing you with superpowers, but what's life without a little risk? One of the more common problems encountered with either is that they can make you more vulnerable to sunlight, so be super smart like me and take them in the evening. As mentioned, be very careful also with the local water, only ever drink from bottled mineral water and be careful when washing too.

 

Useful Contacts

Ann McCarthy: (UK Coordinator and lovely woman)

Phone: +44 1932562757 Mobile: +44 7867513588

Email: ann@ugandalodge.com

44 Cranwell Grove, Shepperton, Middlesex TW17 0JR

 

Denis Aheirwe: (Lodge Director and all round brilliant bloke)

Phone: +256 7015361197 or +256 774768090

 

Sharon: (Runs the Kampala guest house)

Phone: +256 706897131 or +256 752597131 

 

Onsite team:

Email: ugandalodge@gmail.com

 

Be aware of the different calling codes when in the UK and when in Uganda, make sure you ring ahead before you leave the country. When dialling home from Uganda, you should have to add 000 to the start of the number, and dialling into Uganda should have to add 00.

 

Before you go

Upon contacting the Lodge, you'll be sent a volunteer pack, and this will contain moreorless everything you need to prepare, so read it thoroughly. This will provide you with reasonably updated details of what you need and what to expect locally. Particularly useful will be the checklist provided for what to bring with you, though as I've mentioned you may also want to consider additional torches and batteries, earplugs, and extra towels. Make sure you've spoken regularly with your GP and they are satisfied that your course of treatment is complete, and you should be safe. You will also need to send over a copy of your DBS check, and travel insurance is highly recommended, around £25 is a good guide price. Donations are also very welcome, pre-packed bags can be collected from the UK to take with you depending on your baggage allowance, and you can contact the Lodge prior to travel to find out if there is anything that they particularly need. Pack copies of your passport and other important contact details too.

 

The final thing to mention is that anything that has been mentioned here is purely precautionary, and you will have an amazing time.  The people of Uganda are the friendliest, happiest people I have ever had the pleasure of meeting and I am definitely planning on returning in the future. While you may encounter things you don't agree with, and find some aspects of this placement challenging, it's a truly unforgettable and incredible experience that will stay with you for life.

 

 

 

 

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