The African Volunteer Aid difference
When I first volunteered in Africa I was 23. I’d never thought about volunteering to be honest. It was never something on my bucket list. I had always envisioned myself on more tropical and relaxing holidays, never spending weeks in a guest house sharing a bathroom with four other people.
It wasn’t until my dad got cancer that things changed. During this period, he decided to utilise his time volunteering in outback indigenous communities in Australia teaching the local people all things nutrition and how to cook as he’s a chef.
Listening to the stories he would come home with and how saddened he was by what he experienced I thought to myself “I’m 23 and healthy, my dad’s late 40’s and sick. If he’s still able to help people and create a positive impact in communities, then any excuse I can come up with are null and void.”
I had already travelled a lot, but never as a volunteer.
It would be my first time traveling alone to a foreign country and the excitement and adrenalin rush I got from this thought alone was almost enough to get me on the first flight to Africa.
So, I started looking into overseas volunteering. I now knew I wanted to make a difference, but I didn’t know where to start. Ad after ad popped up on all the search engines, all promising a volunteer vacation unlike any other. But I noticed that this repetition promised an experience with a price tag.
I thought to myself “why am I paying to volunteer? Especially $1000’s?”
Eventually I booked through a company that promised the ‘ultimate volunteering experience’, one which I could walk away from and feel I had accomplished something positive in the world. On one hand it was the most disappointing experience for me, although from it came the most amazing rewards, just not where I expected them to come from…
Why did I choose Africa, well why not? I’d never been before, never experienced poverty before and I had the weird egotistical idea that being able to say “I’ve volunteered with orphans in Africa” would be a bit of a bragging right when I returned home.
I arrived in Uganda for my four-week placement and was assigned to a school. I was given a bunch of pencils and asked to ‘hand them out’.
That’s what I did.
If a child needed a pencil, I gave them one.
It was crushing.
There is so much genuine need in these communities and so much I could actually do to help and support and so much I wanted to learn about the people of Uganda and there I was, trapped in a schoolhouse, feeling useless.
The money and time I had invested in a great cause was completely wasted!
I thought surely this couldn’t be all there is to volunteering, they can’t have spent everything on a box of grey-led pencils!
I naively presumed that those volunteer organisations would pass on the majority of my substantial fees directly to the communities involved. I felt unworthy and insignificant. I was having no impact being placed somewhere where I was doing menial chores that didn’t create a change in the welfare or the lives of the people I had been told I was there to help.
I was then assigned a teaching placement, and was enthusiastic to expose children to a learning experience that wouldn’t otherwise exist without my contribution.
However, I was underwhelmed by my experience as there was no need for me at the school. I was simply participating in a regular school day, assisting where necessary but not wholly contributing. I was there as a spectator to the classroom rather than participating.
I came to realise my fees didn’t directly benefit the program I volunteered for, the program that I was involved in or the communities that I became a part of. I learnt that these people weren’t simply acquaintances that I met on a whim volunteer holiday – they were individuals and families that genuinely appreciated every small gesture that most people take for granted.
The bitter taste in my mouth motivated me.
I hungered for the volunteer experience I signed up for; to live in the community and work alongside the locals to build something together. I wanted the money to be given directly to those who needed it, I wanted to form a bridge of bonding between our cultures that would outlast any war or famine and enrich all of us.
As I started to talk to other volunteers and do some deeper research I found that this happened often. Money made in donations went to administration for the organisation, flights for their staff, laptops and even televisions. Volunteers like me were politely placed out of the way and given superficial tasks to keep them placid. I was determined to change that.
From my terrible experience ‘volunteering’ African Volunteer Aid was created. A charity organisation that gives volunteers the experience they are looking for, to provide long lasting and greatly needed support in small regional communities, learning the culture by living it, and at the same time developing communication skills, flexibility, friendships and memories that will last forever. Working alongside local staff and other NGO’S I finally felt like I could give African communities what they need; genuine support through community development programs that directly impacts their day to day life, better agriculture methods, clean water systems, effective drainage, sturdy crops, rich harvest, storage and money for their labour. We work in ways that actually make a difference.
African Volunteer Aid offers incredible flexibility for our volunteer positions right across Uganda. We cater to whatever timeframe you need with volunteer weeks ranging from one week to six months. You will live with local communities where you will be welcomed as family.
African Volunteer Aid also offers direct line sponsorship of an orphan, with all funds going to their schooling, including shoes and meals to give them the education they deserve to get ahead in life.
This is one of the things that really broke my heart, I was giving pencils to the kids who could afford them, and outside the school gates stood orphans with no hope of ever getting in the door, begging the school kids to let them see their homework, so they could maybe learn something. I watched the Principal chase them out the door when they tried to sneak in quietly and sit in the back, they are just so desperate to learn, going to school is like a grand prize. That’s the kind of difference I wanted to make, give the kid outside the school a pencil and see their world open up and a smile light up their face.
Even though the original company didn’t do what they promised, it propelled me on a life path I never could have expected and gave me the ability to change thousands of lives. Hopefully, by the time my work is done, I will have touched millions, that’s my plan.
Are you with me?