One group of ICS volunteers tells their story of how their year abroad led them to start their own organisation to improve water access across Uganda.
After Volunteering with Restless Development, we saw first-hand the challenges faced by young people in rural communities in Uganda. After completing the International Citizen Service (ICS) programme, we were inspired to reform our team and start our own youth-led organisation that supports young Ugandans to become changemakers in their communities.
Applying the skills and knowledge we gained on ICS, we are now working together as a team of seven ICS alumni (ICV and UKV) to build a grassroots development agency – with the ultimate goal of growing into a leading NGO in Uganda. We also see this as an opportunity to develop ourselves as people, expanding our skills and sense of togetherness.
Our motivation therefore remains the same: to challenge ourselves to change the world.
Living and volunteering together in small villages in Kayunga province, we learned quickly that one of the biggest challenges holding back young people is poor access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) services. In rural Uganda fetching water can take up to two hours per day for each household – a burden often carried out by young people and children. We want to solve this problem so the youth of Uganda have the time to study, work and live their lives. We have begun a fundraising campaign to build a water tank made from recycled plastic bottles, or ‘ecobricks’, for a secondary school in Eastern Uganda. We hope to expand this to many more schools and youth centres in the future.
Just before the COVID-19 pandemic reached Uganda we completed our first action in Bukedea District, Eastern Uganda. We ran a programme that promoted WASH as the first line of defence against COVID-19. This involved raising awareness about the importance of good hygiene in preventing transmission of the virus, encouraging people to wash their hands regularly and thoroughly. We conducted practical skills workshops that taught people how to make their own liquid soap, and also distributed masks, soap and other essential items to those most in need in the community.
Since Uganda entered lockdown, we wanted to continue to help young people during this difficult period. We have launched a series of skills workshops entitled ‘Lockdown Learning’, which are broadcast on Facebook live every week. We have completed two lessons on making liquid soap, and in the coming weeks will run demonstrations of how to make: bar soap, petroleum jelly, reusable sanitary pads, masks, tippy taps, and many more things. We hope this will also provide young people with practical skills, which they could develop into an entrepreneurial opportunity. It also functions as a platform for social interaction online and help young people to deal with isolation and mental health issues while living under lockdown.
On ICS we honed a range of skills that have helped on this journey: project management, budgeting, monitoring and evaluation, and working as a team of international volunteers. Our experience on ICS was overwhelmingly positive, but not without its challenges. There were moments of frustration and some communication barriers. We worked to overcome these and this made us well placed to build this organisation from the ground up. Perhaps above all is the sense of resilience that has helped us respond constructively to setbacks, such as delaying and down-scaling programmes due to COVID-19. We are excited, once the lockdown eases, to resume our activities and see how far we can take this together.