Project Worker in Uganda in 2008. What were the circumstances of you going to Uganda?
Unfortunately, in the December and January before I was due to go to Kenya, the country experienced severe electoral violence, with over a thousand people killed. In the months ahead, Kenya continued to be unstable, not least because of the large numbers of internally displaced people who had fled violence in the centre of the country. The situation in Kenya by March posed a significant challenge to the charity who was monitoring the situation carefully. Should we go to Kenya despite the violence that had occurred? Should we cancel the trip completely? Or should we find an alternative? EPAfrica had been looking to expand its work in East Africa and this situation provided the opportunity to do so. Making a research trip over to Uganda at Easter, EPAfrica legends Steve and Shalini paved the way for the charity’s first experience of life beyond Kenya to Masaka, Uganda.
How did this affect your Project Worker experience?
On a personal level, I think this affected my PW experience very little. The EPAfrica project is new for every PW recruit, whether in a well-established site like Kisii, or a completely new one as it was this year. At an organisational level, there were of course differences – all schools were first-year and generally selected to be of a higher standard than those in Kenya; we worked in trios as opposed to pairings for logistical and safety reasons; and most importantly, we discovered in the process that the old “KEP model”, as it was then, had some difficulties in being implemented in such a different educational setting. I like to think that we have learnt, and are continuing to learn, from the challenges EPAfrica experienced in that year. The charity’s ability to manage risk and adapt what it does to a changing educational setting was kick-started by the Uganda year.
What are your thoughts on Uganda in general?
Firstly, Uganda is a great place! It shares a lot with its East African neighbour Kenya, but varies in quite subtle ways. Let me give you a little taste of their food (which, I would argue, is superior to their eastern neighbour). The Ugandans are very adept at using their staple, matoke (plantain), in a whole variety of ways, from roasting (delicious!), frying to mashing it up and wrapping in its leaves. Ugandan street food is also great – they have perfected the art of the roadside ‘rollex’ (literally, “rolled eggs”). These are chapattis with an omelette cooked on top, which is rolled up and served in yesterday’s Red Pepper (possibly the lowest and most hilarious tabloid East Africa has to offer). Yum! They also do some pretty mean salted cassava chips. Apart from that, other differences include the language – you will not find much Swahili being spoken here, a reaction to Idi Amin’s rule. The Ugandans also favour the saloon car over the small minibuses for their town public transport. This can lead to some PWs getting quite competitive over their records for the most people in these “five seater” cars (mine was a pretty acceptable 13). If you’re in Kampala, also be sure to look out for the signs on street corners advertising ‘enlargement’ services for various male and female body parts (but please do not take them seriously, they are a big con)!
What do you think of the expansion this year?
I am very excited that we will be going back to Uganda. While my year had to face some challenges with expanding to a new country at such short notice, I have every confidence that the level of research and planning that has gone into this move will make it a success. See you out there!