Just returned from a fabulous week in the South of France visiting my dear friend C and her gorgeous family. Feeling totally refreshed and ready for the next part of my adventure. Or so I thought!
Whilst I was away, I received a somewhat disturbing email from the website (www.ecoteer.com) through which I found the project in Uganda at Good Shepherd (GSCC). Basically it said that there were allegations of fraud at the GSCC project and they advised me - strongly - not to volunteer there. Whaaaaa?!
When I got back to the UK, I telephoned the lady who had emailed me and we had a long conversation about all of the complaints that Ecoteer had received from past and present volunteers. Complaints along the lines of:
- Money donated not going to the children;
- Volunteers being made to feel guilty that they had not brought money with them for the school;
- Pressure on volunteers on arrival to get money sent over from friends/family etc.
Apparently one young girl is out there at the moment (from America) and was meant to be at GSCC for six months but after three weeks is desperate to get out of there. Poor thing. A second volunteer left quickly and has now moved to a different project further east. What is going on there??
As you all know, money/fundraising was not the intention of my trip. Some friends have donated money in amounts of £5-£10 and I have said "all donations welcome" but I have not asked anyone outright for money and am not planning to do so. I could easily send the school money right here from the comfort of my living room. The reason I am going is to get stuck in with my bare hands and learn about what is needed and take that knowledge and experience back to the developed western world and go from there. If I wanted to make a difference using cold hard cash, I would simply sponsor one of the children on their website. But no, I want to go and assist the teachers, help to plant crops, paint the school huts, build cabinets, sew uniforms, dig new pit latrines etc. I must stress, the children at GSCC are not being mistreated in any way. Although there are accusations of donations not being put into the school in the way they are intended, the children are fine. Past volunteers have confirmed that at least. But still, it does not sound like the kind of volunteer experience I would be happy with.
Following my telephone call with the lady at Ecoteer, she put in touch with a lovely woman called Ann who originally went to Uganda years ago to volunteer and had a similar 'shock' when she arrived and saw the project for herself (not GSCC, a separate one). She ended up walking into a village and asking people if they knew where else she could put her time to good use and they pointed up a dirt track and told her to follow that to a school. When she arrived, the school was very basic and struggling. Long story short, she made a massive impact during her short time there and continued to support them from here in the UK. She has been back many times to assist and has now handed over all management back to the school and they are thriving. She linked me to their website and I was really impressed. You can see that this school really is pouring all of its resources back into the children and the volunteer work. My heart climbed back out of my throat and I breathed a sigh of relief.
The website for the school I will now be going to is here: www.volunteerugandaschool.com
I will be staying with the Director (Moses) and his wife and children, as well as other relatives and their children who he has taken into his home for various reasons. I will be doing the same as originally planned (assisting the teachers, helping with various projects around the school etc). As was the case at GSCC, there is no electricty or running water but unlike at GSCC there is a real community feel and it is within walking distance of a small village where I can even use an internet cafe for my Blog. Bonus! I have been told that evenings are spent on the porch with Moses and his family singing traditional African songs and dancing and listening to the wildlife.
I was telling my sister all of this last night and I was giving her the run down of what the accommodation was like etc, and that there was no mirror in my room. She said "Wow, imagine not seeing yourself for six weeks!" and I suddenly really liked that idea. That adds to my whole "grounding" programme that I am putting myself on. So I made a decision last night - when I pack, there will be no mirror going into my bag at all :-)
The other slight snag in my plans is that my Visa has not arrived from the Ugandan High Commission. I phoned them (three times today) and they confirmed it's not arrived at their end. That's a real nuisance because I wanted to have it in my passport ready for travel. I can get one on arrival at Entebbe in Uganda without problem, but I hate doing things like that - I like to be completely prepared. It's also a pain in the backside because I sent off a £30 postal order with my application and now I will have to fork out that money again. I think I'm just going to do it on arrival in Entebbe this time (as much as that goes against my nature) because I really can't afford for it not to turn up or get lost in the system.
Well, apart from all that, it's all fine, haha. I am due to have my Yellow Fever injection on the 29th (the other ones hurt for a week and I've been told this one is worse) and I must remember to buy a lantern to read my books in the evening. Apart from that, I think I'm set!
Three weeks and counting!!