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My time volunteering in Uganda by Esther Gittoes

Posted on 5 August 2020

I started my journey with the charity during my first year of University in 2013. I fell in love with Uganda, the project and the organisation’s philosophy, so a year later I returned as a project leader. During my time as a leader, I helped recruit, interview prospective volunteers, help with fundraising goals as well as supporting and managing volunteers on the project whilst in Uganda. I had always wanted to become involved in the charity sector (A degree in International Development) and after a 6 week trip to Ghana the year before, this seemed like a great opportunity. 

Whilst on the project you immediately dive into a new way of life, daily chores (collecting water from the local pump, washing up etc), bathing from a bucket of cold water and sleeping next to more than 8 other people on the floor of a classroom is just some of the things you’ll experience on the project. Early mornings of playground building are followed by arts and crafts sessions with the children. The organisation encourages sustainability and implement recyclable materials in play such as bottle caps or natural clay.  

The construction of the playground can be challenging at times and you’ll use muscles that you’ve never used before. But working in a collaborative team means that you have fun and finish the work quickly. As the weeks unfold digging holes turns into cementing, drilling, sanding and finally painting. The final week of painting the playground is the most fun in my opinion, with planned designs implemented including hand-prints and zig-zags.

After a hard week of working, the weekends are organised to allow you to see parts of Uganda and get involved with planned activities and trips. The trips I took part in were a safari in Murchison Falls, bungee jumping in the River Nile, abseiling, white water rafting and horse riding. 

As the final touches are complete on the playground the opening ceremony commences. The school put on a performance and parents and teachers attend, the ribbon is cut and the children flee to the playground that they’ve been anxiously waiting to play on. If you’re lucky enough, you may even get presented with a goat as a thank you for your efforts. 

The opening of the playground can only be described as crazy, your hard work is appreciated and all of those early mornings are so worth it. Observing the children’s happiness from play is why I went back for a second time and why I’m a big supporter of the organisation. Volunteering with them doesn’t just have an impact on the lives of Ugandan children, but also your own. I’ve made some amazing friends from the trip, learnt a lot about myself and took fond memories away with me.

It’s amazing to see the change from an empty field to a colourful playground just four weeks later.  You not only build relationships with your fellow volunteers but also the staff, local community, school children and teachers. If you are thinking about overseas volunteering then I would definitely recommend a project with the charity. You gain vital skills and experience to help towards your career and personal growth.   

I’ve always said that the charity is like one big family and it’s amazing to see how much they have accomplished since my trips in 2013 and 2014. Ecotourism is changing and the world is getting smaller, but the organisation continues their ethos of shaping children’s lives with play whilst keeping their charity humble. 

Take action and volunteer with Play Action International.