VOLUNTEERING is a great way to learn about local culture and people apart from being responsible and sustainable travel. I always wanted to volunteer during my travels but due to time constraint, I never managed to do it. Since time was not an issue during my East African Trip, I volunteer twice during my 2 months long travel in East Africa. It was easily the highlight of my trip.
WORKED AT A COFFEE FARM IN THE MIDDLE OF A FOREST
After crossing the cyanika border from Rwanda, I entered Uganda. I spend 2 nights on the shores of stunningly beautiful Lake Bunyonyi before traveling to Bwindi Forest. My first volunteer work abroad was at a coffee farm. The coffee farm is located on the top of a hill in the Bwindi Forest. After traveling for long hours, I finally reached the farm in an evening. I met the supervisor of the farm who was very welcoming. Also, I met a French couple who were also volunteering there. At night, another guy came from South Africa to volunteer. We stayed in a cottage in the middle of a jungle. There were 2 cottages for volunteers and each cottage has 2 beds. Every night we used to hear different/weird noises coming out from the Forest. Bathroom and Toilet were located at some distance. At one night, I wake up around 3 am to take nature’s call. It was pitch dark. I walked from my cottage to the Toilet and back. It was hardly 3 mins long walk but it felt like an hour. Imagine this, you’re walking on a pitch dark path in the middle of a forest while listening to weird noises that are coming out from the forest and suddenly, something or someone passed over your foot. I know it sounds like a scene from a horror movie but it was exactly what happened with me! Needless to say, I took all the nature’s call before going to sleep on the rest of the days I stayed there hahaha. Our schedule was as follows. I used to wake up at 7 am and get fresh followed by the breakfast. The breakfast includes Porridge without sugar. We start working around 8 am. Our primary work was picking coffees. The red/riped ones. As our manager said, “It’s not about quantity but quality”. We had to make ensure to pick the riped ones and leave others to pick on following days. The farm was really huge. So, we had to walk all over the farm to pick coffees. Other works include removing all the small plants/grass (they call it munchies) around the coffee plants to help them grow faster as these small plants/grass eat into the water meant for coffee plants. Also, removing the unnecessary branches of coffee plants to avoid them to tangle into each other. Our lunchtime was around 12 pm which consists of Posho(Ugali) and Beans and the same thing for dinner. After the lunch break, we work for 2-3 more hours before calling it a day. Total working hours range from 5-6 hours. We also helped with the washing and drying of coffee fruits, cooking food, washing utensils, feeding livestock and any other general farm-related work etc. We generally get free by 2-3 pm. Rest of the day, I used to rest or wander around the farm. It gets pitch dark by 6.30 pm as there is no electricity on the farm. They use solar energy to light bulbs and charge mobiles. We were not allowed to go deep inside the forest as it is a protected area which comes under the Uganda Wildlife Authority. Foreigners need to shell out $40 as an entrance fee per day to enter the Bwindi Forest National Park. I still saw baboons, red-tailed monkeys, black and white monkeys and different species of birds. During the weekend, I visited the nearby village which is 30 mins by walk from the farm. I did the village tour by myself and really enjoyed my time there. After eating the same thing for a week, I treat myself with Rolex(It’s basically an egg roll) in the village. It was the first time I ate Rolex in Uganda followed by a million times. Rolex is an omelette rolled into parantha/s. Being from Mumbai, I am accustomed to fast-paced life but while staying at a farm, I really enjoyed this kind of slow-paced lifestyle. A night before I was supposed to leave the farm, our supervisor who I did not know is a Musician also played a series of beautiful songs composed by him. It was a perfect send-off. I had a great learning experience while staying at the farm. It was challenging at first but ultimately, truly rewarding.
WORKED FOR AN ENVIRONMENTAL ORGANISATION
My second volunteer stint was with an organisation which is really making an impact in fighting the climate change by educating school children about it. We plant trees in every school we visit and also monitors them from time to time. We recycle plastic bottles by filling them with soil and planting seeds in them. Once it becomes seedling, we dig a hole in a ground and plant a seedling in it. And use the same bottle again. The idea is to educate the future generation, so our future can be secure. We try to generate interest in children about tree plantation by organising contests and outdoor activities. It is located in Jinja, Uganda. The city is known for its Industrial sector and being the source of the longest river in the world i.e. Rive Nile. We visit schools in Jinja and nearby districts. We had a busy schedule and I completely enjoyed every minute of it. It felt like we are actually making a difference or at least working towards it. Even though we don’t get much appreciation or push from the Schools’ end. Since for them academics is the only thing that students should be worried about. It’s our program’s director Ronald’s irresistible urge and commitment to save the environment that motivates us. One can easily see his immense passion and wholehearted efforts he puts into this project, One day, we visited a village 45 mins away from Jinja. Here, I met kids who were preparing/rehearsing a play on climate change to perform for the whole village. Ronald is the director/writer of the play. The play feature songs and African dance forms. The point is to make an entertaining play with a message. The kids were amazing. This volunteer stint was the best experience of my East African trip. It taught me so many things about myself, people and the world we live in. And of course, about planting trees! Ronald is running this organisation for a couple of years now. He is doing all of this without any financial support and much manpower. His ultimate goal is to visit every school in Uganda. To reach his goal, he needs funding for transportation, seeds, raw materials, educational materials, Gardening tools, projectors, manpower to build a sustainable network. If you want to help him to reach his goal. You can contact him by visiting his website.
How To Volunteer Abroad?
There are many apps/websites which helps you to look for hosts. You can contact them depending upon the skillset you have or the work you like to do. The host will provide you with accommodation and food in return for work. So, it’s like Couchsurfing in return for work. Some hosts in developing countries charge some fee (up to $5 per day) for accommodation & food. The known apps/websites to look for volunteer work abroad are HelpX, WWOOF, worldpackers and the one I used was Workaway.info. The 1 year membership fee at Workaway.info is $42 which enables you to contact hosts all around the world.