A Volunteer's Experience: Four Weeks that Changed my Life Forever

By Nakato Allison, Past S.O.U.L. Foundation Volunteer

Jitters, nerves, excitement and anticipation—so many feelings running through my body as I boarded a plane from Nairobi to Entebbe. I knew I wanted to go to Uganda during my stay in Kenya, but I had no idea I would fall in love with a country and its people.

As a university student from the states (St. Lawrence University, Canton NY), I was studying abroad in Kenya when I approached Brooke about coming to volunteer with S.O.U.L. for a month in April. Part of my semester involves an independent study whereby students research an organization and eventually spend a month with that organization volunteering and learning. After constant emailing back and forth, my school approved of my stay with S.O.U.L.

I arrived in Bujagali not really knowing what to expect. I knew I was going to be near the Nile River and in a village working with locals, but I did not realize how incredible my life would be for the next four weeks. When I finally arrived at S.O.U.L. I stepped out of the car and received the biggest embrace from my host mother (Mama Robina) and immediately, both of my arms were consumed by children—I knew I was going to love it here.

Having a bit of experience living in Africa and traveling throughout Kenya (I arrived in Kenya in January, so by the time April came I was feeling a bit more immersed in African life), my time in Uganda topped my entire journey in Kenya. I would call home once a week to check-in with my family and my parents could tell from the tone of my voice how excited and happy I sounded. Every day was filled with smiles, laughter and adventure—my face has never hurt so much from smiling and laughing. Each night, I could not wait to wake up for the next day, eager to see what Bujagali and S.O.U.L. had in store for me. Being around my age-mates (Oko, Safa and Muganda), I learned so much about life in Bujagali and life in Uganda—it was a true cultural experience and I wish I could have stayed for 10 months (or even forever—paka paka paka)! 

The best part about my experience was undoubtedly the people—I may have been over 7000 miles from home, but I have never felt more at home than during my stay in the village. My best friends consisted of 10, 12 and 13 year old boys. Every night I would hang around the S.O.U.L. shack with so many kids from the village. I joined in their football matches (even though I am HORRIBLE) just so they could laugh at me. Eventually, I was the receiver of mangos and bananas- children would sneakily hand me something they picked for me. I even received my own Lusoga name: Nakato (first-born twin since I happen to have a twin brother). I have never felt so happy in my life and I could not imagine leaving these beautiful people.

When the children went on holiday, I partook in some of the hardest work I’ve ever done: the making of mud balls. I traveled to the fishpond project in Naminya and worked alongside so many KANYAMAS (strong men). I absolutely loved it—mud smeared all over my hands, sweat dripping down my face. During my last week with S.O.U.L., the fourth pond was finished and filled with water and tilapia—it was such an accomplishment and I felt so fortunate to have been a part of something that will improve the lives of a community displaced by the construction of a dam.

Returning home each night, I could not help but smile and reflect on the day’s activities. I felt so immersed and so in-touch with Bujagali life (and my Lusoga was slowly but surely improving day-by-day). Although I did take advantage of the recreational activities that the Nile has to offer (such as rafting), the most exciting and happiest times of my stay involved the children and spending time at S.O.U.L. My last Friday in Bujagali was filled with sadness—I kept trying to think of plausible ways to extend my stay—such as giving Oko my passport to hide or throw in the river. And then Saturday came—the day I would return to Kenya. From the moment I awoke, tears drowned my face. I could not help the waterworks from forming and saying goodbye was the hardest task of my life. I did not expect to fall so in love and I definitely left a huge piece of my heart at S.O.U.L. and in the village. I kept telling myself I would return after I finish university (2 more years—over 700 days) in order to ease my sadness. Without a doubt, I do plan on returning. At 20 years old, I don’t know how I’m going to pay back my student loans or what kind of career I’ll have, but I do know that I will be back to Bujagali, back to S.O.U.L.

The happiness I felt at S.O.U.L. could not be replicated anywhere else. Whenever I tell stories about my visit to Uganda, my face lights up and everyone can tell how insanely happy that experience made me. Two years seems like eons away, but I am so so confident that I will return to Bujagali—I cannot picture my life any other way!

I am forever grateful to Brooke and the S.O.U.L. community for welcoming me into their family. I have gained a new set of friends and family members and I think about them every single day. It almost feels like a dream—like I discovered the world’s best-kept secret—the wonderful village of Bujagali Falls. I constantly picture myself with Muganda, Oko and Safa (the boys of Bujagali, my age-mates, my brothers) drowning ourselves in laughter and jokes. I dream of the mornings I walk to S.O.U.L. and hear “Allison-y!” or “Nakato.” And the nighttime walks back to Mama Robinas, the perfect time of day for omulogos (the Bujagali version of the boogie-man). Every moment I shared with these beautiful people remains in my memory—crystal clear. These people have changed my life forever and words cannot express the true happiness and gratitude I feel.

Webule eno eno eno! I love and miss you all!