In November of 2018 I volunteered at Sustain Micro Enterprise based in Jinja, Uganda. A few months before I decided to take a couple of months unpaid relief. I wanted to spent this time in Uganda, not only the touristy way with gorilla trekking and safari trips, but really make an impact and submerge myself in the real Africa. I looked for volunteering opportunities on the volunteer sites and found Sustain Micro Enterprise (SME). There are three reasons why I chose them out of all the other interesting organisations, like orphan homes, schools and wildlife conservation: SME focuses on women empowerment in rural areas, they give small loans to start-up a business instead of gifts, and, the founder is from Uganda (and not some foreign charity organisation).
Because I lacked the experience in starting up a business, I wondered if I could make the impact I was wishing for. After getting in touch with them, they were especially interested my experience with beekeeping. I contacted Jan Koeman and Piet de Meester from the Netherlands, who have been teaching about beekeeping in Africa. They gave me some useful information and contacts. Two years ago I started this hobby and have two beehives in my garden. Although, I don’t have a lot of experience yet (I know beekeepers who are in this subject for over 40 years and own 20 beehives), it turned out to be very successful.
The beekeeping lessons were inspiring and fun. A couple of women had some knowledge about beekeeping from the region they grew up. We shared the local knowledge, like the medical possibilities of honey. When I brought Ugandan honey as example of how to present it and for tasting they didn’t want me to leave! After one of my lessons a group prepared a beehive and a colony of bees entered it, but unfortunately they left after a few days. I gave them some tips to make sure the bees will stay next time. A local beekeeper is going to support them with practical issues when I’ll be gone.
Besides the beekeeping project, I helped with promotional activities. Like a daily message on social media, shot photos for promotional use and a video for the website. Although, I didn’t have any experience in making a video, I loved doing it!
Everywhere in Uganda you hear children yelling ‘Mzungu, bye’ (which means something like ‘bye white person’) and waving to you. It almost makes you feel like a celebrity. Like for example when I arrived in a small village and all the children came running to see the first white person who visited their village. They all wanted to greet me and show their respect by kneeling down and shake my hand.
Doing volunteer work in Uganda is also challenging. Some of the challenges for me were the food, slow internet, squat toilets (or a gated hole in the ground), power outage and the bad roads. All things that we take for granted in our Western society. The roads (most of them are unpaved roads) are in poor condition and have holes and loose stones. Traveling around in the rural areas means sitting on the back of a motorbike, red dust everywhere (the color of the earth in Uganda) and zigzagging between holes, cows and stones. They miss traffic rules (or everyone ignores them) and the single road is used by pedestrians, cyclists, motorbikes, buses, cars and trucks. But this means that most road users take good account of each other.
The friendly people and the beautiful surroundings made me able to meet all these challenges. I will keep Uganda in my heart forever!
I want to thank Sustain Micro Enterprise for this great opportunity and unique experience. Special thanks to Samuel Wanyagira for his inspiring ideas and his passion for empowering women.