By Tom S., S.O.U.L. Foundation Volunteer
After a gruelling flight to Uganda through the night, I drowsily stepped out of the car at the end of the inbound journey with very little going on in my exhausted mind. Immediately, I was greeted by swarms of grinning children outside the S.O.U.L. Shack, who sang to welcome me – undoubtedly the most surprising wake-up I’ve ever received. Yet the incredible hospitality remained as enthusiastic and genuine until the moment I left Kyabirwa, not just from the children but from the entire community, which included the S.O.U.L. volunteers.
The village in which I stayed seemed infused with a positive dynamic; I had anticipated a place with little expectation for the future other than maintaining the status quo of feeding a family and grinding out as much additional output as possible. However, the village was vibrant: young children had the opportunity to learn through the pre-school set up by S.O.U.L. with the aid of incredible local teachers; older children were able to attend local schools through generous donations and S.O.U.L. scholarships and dream about the possibility of university; local women were actively involved in production of textiles, jewellery and crafts. Additionally, sustainable businesses have been developed – namely chicken breeding, goat breeding and fish farms – which not only offer economic incentives for villagers but also instruct them about long term economic planning. I believe that whereas, before, it seemed evident that the villagers lived just in the present, the input from the S.O.U.L. Foundation has instilled a plan for the future in the minds of these people, which allows for emancipatory and empowering work within Kyabirwa.
On a personal note, I devoted a lot of time initially to teaching in local schools, which are attended by many S.O.U.L. sponsored children. I was able to engage the primary school children in the study of Charlotte’s Web, using the book to attempt to improve their reading, writing and communication of English. I had great fun teaching these kids who had such a voracious appetite for learning; whether or not they understood what was going on in parts of the book is up for debate, yet they seemed to enjoy it. I also lectured A-level history students about World War Two in a local boarding school; I felt that was an instructive and rewarding topic to teach. On certain evenings I was able to teach IT skills to teenagers in the village such as word processing and drawing.
Later I was excited to involve myself with the digging of one of the sustainable fish ponds in Namizi. I liked the fact that I could see the palpable and immediate input I had in the project, and being able to do it while joking and chatting with the workers. I picked up the nickname ‘Kityanka’ which apparently means ‘Mud’, which I hope was an endearing name!
I stayed with one of the families in the village for the entire month, and became extremely close to them all within that space of time. They accepted me as one of their own; in return I tried to learn the language and assist with chores. I was able to eat incredible traditional Ugandan food (in huge amounts at that), and spent time not only with them but with other families who were equally as welcoming. One of the best parts of the experience was just to converse with them and learn about their culture and beliefs.
The inclusiveness of the community was such that it often made me forget the huge disparities of wealth and materials. Nevertheless, there is so much more to do. More kids need to be funded, more teaching materials need to be donated, and more work needs to be done on the burgeoning projects. I, for one, will treasure the place and endeavour to support S.O.U.L.’s work; hopefully it can expand to aid a greater area. Although the red soil has now washed off me, the memories won’t.
To learn more about volunteering with S.O.U.L. Foundation, click here.