In Spring 2018 I got in contact with a distant family friend, who lives in Uganda, in the hope of finding some work experience related to my interests in International Development and Education. She arranged for me to spend 6 weeks volunteering with a local primary school.
The school I was working with is in a poor, rural area and has, up to now, been largely dependent on donations and funding from NGOs, especially for large projects such as new classrooms. My work, besides teaching English lessons to the P5-P7 classes (the school was missing but advertising for a new English teacher when I arrived), was to regularly update these sponsors on news from the school. These communications, although crucial to the school receiving continued, and securing future, support from the donors had previously been occurring in only a very limited fashion. This was causing some tensions between the school and its donors. To ensure my work would continue to benefit the school I created a Communications Plan and worked with the teachers to practise sending these updates so that the donors would continue to hear regularly from the school after my placement ended. I also updated the school Facebook page and created a newsletter and website where it is possible to make a donation to the school.
There are also 10 particularly disadvantaged students at the school who are part of a sponsorship scheme. Their school fees are paid by individuals in the US. I worked closely with these children to collect and send information about their schoolwork, hobbies, exam results etc. to the NGO which ran the scheme. Providing regular information to the sponsors was crucial for these children to continue having their school fees paid and being able to attend the school.
Whilst at the project, I was able to learn about how NGOs can support small-scale education projects in developing countries in a variety of different and sustainable ways. I also learnt about the importance of regular communication between the NGOs and the school, as well as the need for transparency and accountability in all relations and funding. I was able to understand how projects such as this one are able to acquire much-needed support from abroad and how they can maintain a good relationship with these donors.
Before I arrived in Uganda I was concerned about living on my own with a host family and about communication problems or cultural misunderstandings. However, despite not being able to communicate with people who only spoke the local language, Runyankole, there were few problems and I was very well looked after and made to feel at home. From this experience, I was able to learn about the struggles local families face and some of the ways they find to overcome them. In International Development work understanding the local culture and way of life are very important for implementing appropriate projects, systems and technologies. This made my experience of staying with a Ugandan family particularly valuable.