Leeds Trinity University student Kasi Mistry has recently returned from Uganda where she spent three months volunteering with Restless Development, an organisation working to help young people make lasting change in their communities and countries.
In this blog post, Kasi shares her journey and explains what makes volunteering abroad as part of the UK government backed International Citizen Service (ICS) programme such a valuable, once in a lifetime experience.
During placement, my team had the privilege of working with five different schools in Nakigo, Iganga District, Uganda. We planned and taught lessons on drug and substance abuse, sexual reproductive health and sanitation. It was great sharing this essential knowledge with the young people, whilst making sessions fun and enjoyable by introducing different energisers and games for them to play. It was apparent that the young people in Uganda did not have access to accurate information regarding some of these topics, so it was fulfilling being able to clarify and answer their questions, which will be beneficial to them as they continue to develop and grow.
Developing confidence and speaking in public
I remember feeling so nervous before our first ever school session (hand washing), despite having organised and planned relentlessly! My team decided we would all attend the first class, and each lead one part of the lesson. The young people really engaged in the session, and took part in the demonstrations and activities that we planned. It was a great feeling having delivered our first session with no major mishaps! During placement our classes varied in size from 20-120. At first, delivering sessions to such big classes was overwhelming, but throughout placement, teaching lessons became less stressful and more enjoyable. Before volunteering with Restless Development, I hated the thought of presenting to large groups, and so this provided me with the opportunity to develop my confidence and conquer this fear.
Amongst other targets, we had to run a number of events in our community. We successfully ran two events in Iganga, one in Nakigo and the other in Buynama. These events were community health days which included HIV testing, condom demonstrations and sports events where all members of the community were welcome to watch a football tournament and take part in games.
It was hard work to set up and budget for our events, but felt like such an achievement knowing that we brought the community together and increased awareness of the importance of HIV testing and education about living with HIV.
Experiencing a new culture
When volunteering with Restless Development, all volunteers live with a host family, which is an amazing opportunity to get stuck in and embrace the culture. When we first arrived at our host home in Nakigo, there were loads of excited children from the village who had come to welcome us. We settled in really quickly, and although there was a language barrier between our host mum (mama), siblings and children from the village, we were able to pick up a few words in the native language Lusoga.
Our mama had an amazing sense of humour. She was always laughing at us, but was also very caring and helped us a lot, with things like hand washing our clothes (I was absolutely useless!). One day, unsurprisingly, I managed to embarrass myself when looking for the squeegee for the shower. As I had no idea what it would be called in Lusoga, I decided it would be great to play a little game of charades, which of course had mama in stiches (by then I think she was used to me doing these weird things anyway). My team developed such a strong bond with our mama, and it was really sad when it was time for us to leave placement and say goodbye.
And of course… having fun and making friends!
I grew really close to my team throughout placement, which I guess is to be expected when spending a whole 12 weeks with them! My team was made up of three female UK volunteers: Hannah, Daisy and myself, and a Ugandan national volunteer Noah. Hannah, Daisy and I soon made a close bond, keeping each other entertained and showing support through difficult times. Noah made me laugh throughout the placement and I absolutely adore him. He did a great job of helping us girls adjust to the culture, teaching us some Lusoga and helping us better understand the schools system in Uganda. When I returned to the UK, mornings were very quiet without Noah's attempts to get us up and ready for the day knocking on our bedroom door with "guysss, breakfasts ready", or later in the day "guysss, its din dins". We would sit down together every meal time and had some great conversations, where we'd learn so much about each other's culture, which was extremely interesting. There are so many little moments I will treasure forever.
If you are interested in volunteering with an International Citizen Service (ICS) organisation more information is available here.