The Mbarara volunteers have now been in country 10 weeks and we have established a way of life here. As I write, Project Workers are in their villages reviewing their investments and the Summer Team in Central House typing up school visits – the routine. We are familiar with how things work; from the tastes of rolex and matoke, to the tones of Runyankore (the vernacular) – though we’re yet to master the words and still get caught out by the unpredictable and torrential rains. We know where to find the best books, bin bags (one place only), fastest food and best/only wifi. Walking around we find ourselves surrounded by friends – our our network and community. And we have adjusted to the pace of life here, working to the rhythm of Uganda. At ease with our surroundings, if not at one with them.
Our world is soon to dissolve; tomorrow we pack up Central House (our base in town and mzungo ‘foreigner’ retreat). We’ll return to our different universities, jobs and countries. We leave behind wonderful and tangible things; books, lab equipment, water, sanitation facilities, health information and much more in our partner schools.
But there’s plenty we’re taking back to the UK; new skills –a first taste of project management, and knowledge – from the Ugandan education system to challenges of development more generally. Also a sense of achievement – £900 invested per person over 10 weeks and every shilling carefully directed and accounted for!
We have built a world here almost entirely distinct from our lives back in the UK, surrounded by new friends and absorbed in our summer projects. With our ‘normal’ lives on hold, we achieve a unique perspective on them and can interrogate them. How do we feel about what we’re returning to? We’ve got by without electricity, running water, indoor toilets, beds, personal space, friends and family. We can challenge ideas of who we are and what we’re capable of. The summer is not only entails valuable investments for schools and adventure for volunteers – it is also a wonderful opportunity to reflect on what we have and who we are as the time comes for us to return to our “other” lives.