In the February of this year, a long plane journey took us far away from our western comforts, and we finally arrived in Uganda: a beautiful country that was to be our home for the next two weeks.
When I say us, I mean a group of people, including members from the charity organisation UgandAid, five other students, and a small selection of teachers including the principle of the college. (It's amazing what a different side of people you see when separated from your usual roles and responsibilities at home...!)
The first few days in Uganda were definitely a culture shock. We all became very aware of the foreign creatures and animals, there was getting used to tucking the mosquito net in every night, and accepting the fact that water and electricity were not as, well, ‘reliable’ as back home.
At the beginning, the word ‘mzungu’ was used to describe us. ‘Mzungu’ roughly translating as ‘white person running around like a headless chicken’. However, after sleeping in the village overnight, sharing stories with the locals, and a fortnight-diet of rice, poshoe, metoki and kidney beans - its safe to say that we didn’t feel like mzungu’s for much longer.
Every day for UgandAid was jam-packed: there was a commitment to many different projects, and from this, I believe each individual holds a unique memory. It was also at different points in the journey that triggered emotion; for some, that moment came when we visited the ‘slums’, or at the NVI service; where we saw hopeful students meeting their sponsors. For me – it was seeing a tiny young girl at Naranbhai primary school desperately quench her thirst, as she gulped a litre of bottled water in less than a minute.
Although living in such poverty, aspects of the Ugandan lifestyle were something to be admired; the sense of community, their self-sufficiency and resourcefulness - as they manage to live off the land and earn a living from transforming something as simple as newspaper into a piece of beautiful jewellery. Not forgetting (of course) something we all found very impressive was just how immaculate their clothes managed to stay, especially compared to our red dust-stained garments at the end of everyday!
For me, it was when I got home that ‘perspective’ finally hit full volume, and it was infact more of a culture shock to be back in the UK. Since my return, actions like running a hot bath and opening the fridge are done much more consciously than before. We were officially back in England: where the entertainment from laptops, iPods and television is a far cry from watching children play catch with a tree fruit and get hours of joy from the balloons we took over.
One thing that has to be noted is just how appreciative everybody was: the warm welcome of everybody we came into contact with, the speech after speech of people wanting to show their gratitude, and the smiles from the children that required no words. I now think it's so important for everyone to do some sort of charity work and see for yourself what absolute poverty really looks like - not just for the UCAS personal statement or CV - but for what it brings to you as a person. Like many, I have my exams looming in the next few months, and there are times where it all gets too much and simply want to give up (I doubt I'm alone on this one), but then I remember the conversations I had with the young people in Uganda; people my age who cherish every second of what limited education they may have. As much as we like to moan about Cameron, Clegg, Miliband and co, we truly are fortunate to live in a country where such educational safe-guards in place; and although I may not be walking into the exam hall with a big smile on my face, I'll always take comfort in the fact that such is available.
They say Africa gets in your blood, and I think that saying resides true in all of us that went. The trip not only taught us about a culture completely different to our own, but also aspects of ourselves that we could only really achieve in such an environment. For this and many other reasons, I am so very grateful that I got to experience Uganda and all it has to offer.