KVT president Anni Karusigarira sat down with Zziwa Samuel Musanyusa, the Executive Director of Uganda Pioneers’ Association on her recent visit to Uganda. They discussed about the objectives and goals of UPA and the impact of the international volunteers. UPA has been a partner organization in the SCI network for many years already and every year KVT send the most volunteers in Africa to Uganda. UPA celebrated its 25 years two years ago so they are an experienced organization also within the country. Let’s find out how and why they are in the volunteering field!
UPA vision is a society where youth are empowered to enhance development with a mission of promoting community-based development, intercultural co-operation and understanding. Their goal is to enhance youth participation through voluntary work for better standards of living. Sam adds that, for him, volunteering is an opportunity or an avenue for willing people, especially for youth, to offer services and their time for those in need. Volunteering within the community is all about learning from each other and sharing experiences.
UPA hosts both short-term and long-term projects. This year they have 11 workcamps with topics ranging from HIV/AIDS prevention awareness within the local communities, construction works on orphanages and schools, environmental conservation and protection to children play schemes and gender awareness. They also have 25 on-going long-term projects in schools, orphanages, hospitals and community-based organizations.
As UPA has programs of different type and length and the volunteers participating in the programs are individuals with different backgrounds and skills, it is impossible to identify only one way in which volunteering has an impact. Sam says that the impact can be seen on many levels and we must also remember that volunteering is a give and take process for those who are engaged where the volunteer gains as well as the community.
Firstly, volunteers and UPA staff learn from each other, whether it be technical knowledge, institutional development or feedback from the projects. Secondly, when both host projects and the volunteer have an open mind, the volunteer can bring new ideas and views on the work on the local level, and the volunteer can also take something meaningful with them when they leave. Thirdly, in the long run, volunteering promotes mutual understanding and cultural exchanges not only in their host projects but also within the larger community. Volunteering has reached its purpose when the community and the volunteer don’t see each other as different anymore, but respect Sam gives an example of how, upon getting to know the volunteer, local vendors or moto-taxi drivers don’t charge the volunteer any extra any more because of their skin color as they have become part of the community. Lastly, though not their obligation, some volunteers have fundraised for their projects both financially and materially leaving something very concrete behind them.
According to Sam and UPA values, volunteering starts with the local people and local community. They are the ones with a project and the volunteers are only a compliment to what is already done or planned to be done. International volunteering also serves as a model for the local youth to contribute to community causes. The volunteer has an opportunity to be immersed in the local community and be creative, whereas UPA is there to provide guidance and orientation on the local habits and ways of living.
We also talked about the current (political) situation for the volunteers in Uganda, and there seems to be no big challenges at the moment. As long as volunteers understand the local cultural rules and know how to behave, it is rather easy to be a part of the community in their projects. Sam estimates that the number of international volunteers is growing in Uganda, which has also led to a birth of new volunteering programs of varying quality. As for the volunteers, and open mind and self-initiative is needed when volunteering in Uganda, but with those qualities you are sure to have a great time!
Lastly, Sam and the whole UPA team would like to welcome everyone to Uganda, “the Pearl of Africa” and thank the volunteers for loving and supporting the local communities in their various capacities!
Text: Anni Karusigarira