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Learning for the long term

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How short term volunteering convinced me that I want to work in development long term.

Joanne Mulligan teaching in Nansansa, Uganda: Photo Credit VMM International

From our first issue of Volunteering Options, Joanne Mulligan writes about her experiences volunteering in Uganda:

Soon after beginning an internship with VMM International in April of this year, a short term volunteering opportunity arose and I jumped at the chance as I have been eager to experience development in Africa first hand.


Although the internship has, valuable knowledge and skills on international development so far, I truly believe that you need to experience development in the field in order to get a deeper insight into how it works. Spending four weeks in Nansana, on the outskirts of Kampala, in Uganda was an incredible eye-opener for me. I split my time volunteering in two primary schools during my time overseas. Both schools were dealing with very different situations, one being a severely unfunded school owned by the Catholic church, and the other a government run school with more access to resources but dealing with an issue of overcrowding.


My days at the two schools were spent assisting with the teaching of English through comprehension and dialogue sessions, in addition to carrying out art, music and physical education lessons. That is; I was an extra pair of hands to help relieve teachers. The students I had a chance to interact with were some of the kindest and most polite children I have ever met. What my experience taught me was this: Development and growth do not happen overnight, things take time. However, knowing that each step I take is working towards a bigger picture gives me the inspiration to continue with what I do.


I believe that in the long term the sharing of our skills with these communities and supporting them to carry out the work themselves can help so much more than merely throwing money and resources at them. After spending a month immersed into Ugandan life, it frustrated me to see the misconception that the media gives the rest of the world about Africa.


There are charities and organisations who send out distorted, disrespectful images that do not clearly represent the communities. These kind of images now make me wonder if that is what life is truly like for these people or whether it’s what the organization feels it needs to portray in order to get donations; whether the people even know that their images are being used and for what purpose.


What I learnt overseas is that charities and organizations working in developing countries, in addition to volunteers who have experienced development first hand, have a responsibility to tell the story of these people and these communities in a respectful, appropriate and accurate way, especially in times when people do not have the ability to tell their story themselves.


My short experience in Uganda sparked a passion within me, left me with a feeling of determination and a motivation to continue this work, and convinced me that development is the right career path for me. Seeing the work of development first hand made me realise that every little act that we perform can help in some way and every little thing we do has the potential to make a difference.


If more people got involved in development work, the change we could see could be astonishing. Uganda is only the beginning of my adventures to Africa as this first trip awoke a desire in me to travel and explore more of Africa.

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