From February to April 2018 60 British and Ugandan young people volunteered with Restless Development to deliver their sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) programme in Uganda. They were able to do so through International Citizen Service (ICS) – a UK government funded programme providing volunteer placements to 18-25 year olds and Team Leader placements to 23-35 year olds.
Here, some of them tell us about their achievements, challenges and personal development:
Zoe, 24, International Volunteer: Our biggest achievement was connecting our teen mothers group to FAME (Friends for Life Agribusiness, Management and Entrepreneurship), a local agricultural training school.
FAME offered education in organic farming and provided information about caring for animals and profiting from them as well as craft workshops. These daily classes taught the teen mothers practical skills in crafts, as well as entrepreneurship, time management, teamwork, responsibility and commitment. The new partnership has been really successful for both our teen mothers group – who had seven goats but till now had lacked knowledge about animal welfare – and FAME.
Abbey, 20, National Volunteer: We delivered some really great school sessions in which the children were given the opportunity to process what they had learnt about SRHR in a fun and interactive way. We had them performing songs about gender equality and body autonomy, and dancing about gender stereotypes. We even had one child write a poem about menstruation. The class were very interactive!
Elizabeth, 21, National Volunteer: In school, the pupils understand English much better now and translation is no longer necessary. The children can now write sentences in English because of us! I’m so glad about that.
Helen, 23, International Volunteer: There are many SRHR issues affecting people in the community we were in but many people lack information and services. To bridge this gap we developed and presented a play about the importance of condom use and shared a video about gender based violence that reached over 200 people. We also organised a Sports4Life football event where 105 people benefited from on-site HIV testing and counselling.
Patrick, 21, National Volunteer: The classroom attendance was a shock for me. I didn’t expect to be in a class of 180 students. I had never seen this before. My impression was the pupils often rehearse and repeat rather than learn. This was difficult, but we had the passion to guide the kids and I really think we made a difference.
Abbey, 20, National Volunteer: We had difficulties with materials for some events because we were working in rural areas. This led to delays, made worse by some communication issues. Although we can’t avoid these location issues, through better communication and planning we can make sure everything runs more smoothly.
Helen, 23, International Volunteer: As an international volunteer the language barrier was a challenge. Although English is one of the two official languages of Uganda, most of the community members we were interacting with had limited English or were more comfortable speaking the local language, Lusoga. Luckily I had teammates who were able to translate – and I tried to learn a few words too!
Elizabeth, 21, National Volunteer: The UK volunteers are very assertive and open. They tend to communicate when hurt or affected by another person and don’t hide it like Ugandan volunteers who are often quite polite!
I was surprised to find that many British people are not religious. As the British brought Christianity to Uganda I had expected them to be even more religious than us! I find it nice that some Brits have gone to church on placement to please their host families, despite not being religious themselves. Our working relationships are not affected by differences in religious beliefs.
Dan, 22, International Volunteer: Cross-cultural learning works two ways: talk about your own culture and listen to the other person’s.
This is an important part of living with people of a different culture and means you can have a positive relationship and avoid conflict. Living in another culture is also a great chance to try unusual new things, such as eating insects!
Abbey, 20, National Volunteer: I have learnt to be understanding, patient, and how to adjust to different cultures. I also learnt from working with the international volunteers that assertiveness is key in communication.
Zoe, 24, International Volunteer: I have learnt about other cultures, especially their social attitudes, understandings of time management and lifestyles.
My teammate was a Rwandan who had moved to Uganda as a child. He was forced to learn English so he could communicate. His ability to do so in such a short space of time taught me that anyone can achieve something if they really want to!
Patrick, 21, National Volunteer: Working with people of different cultures was the best experience. It made me realise a lot of things about myself.
We discussed our weaknesses openly and this openness ended up being our strength. Open-mindedness is one thing that really helps in a cross-culture environment.
I think we should appreciate each other as who we are, throw differences aside and focus on what unites us. This made us brothers and sisters. I no longer feel like I have a fixed mindset. I am now much more open.
Zoe, 24, International Volunteer: I learnt that I should be proud of being proactive. I raised issues where I felt necessary giving the opportunity to achieve greater long-term change.
Dan, 22, International Volunteer: From my placement, I learnt just how much I enjoy teaching. Now I know to look for teaching roles in future employment.
Elizabeth, 21, National Volunteer: I learnt that I can work under pressure and adjust to changing situations. When we ran community events there were usually changes at the last minute. This helped me learn how to adjust to change so we can still get the best out of the situation.
Abbey, 20, National Volunteer: I learnt that I am a good communicator and entertainer. I realised this through people’s comments about me after certain events and activities. This gives me confidence and courage to improve.
By Helen Smith and Harriet Bytom
For more information about ICS visit VSO.
For more information about Restless Development visit our website.