Volunteering in Uganda is ‘a life-changing experience’

Regular tourists see a country’s beaches and hotels, but what they miss out on is the greatest thing about visiting a new country: the people and the culture. Volunteers get right into the heart of local communities, indulging in local customs and traditions during their stay.

There are endless reasons as to why people choose to volunteer. It could be to try something new, learn a skill or simply to have fun.

Over Easter, nineteen-year-old Erin Jolly decided to put herself out there and dip her feet in the volunteering pool. She took the opportunity to spend two weeks in the East African country of Uganda, a country riddled with poverty and an unstable economy.


Erin volunteered to help children in Uganda. Photo: Erin Jolly

Jolly travelled to Uganda through “Yebo”, an organisation that supports disadvantaged children in the UK, South Africa, and Uganda through animal and primate-based communication activities.

Yebo approached a number of universities from around the country, focusing in particular on psychology students. Jolly, a psychology undergraduate, decided that although it was something she’d not normally consider, it could be a good opportunity.

“It was a difficult decision because I’m not a very out-going person and I’ve never travelled alone, but I’m very interested in traumas and it’s something I want to get into in the future, so the fact it was psychology based was a big influence for me.

“We were working with children who’d been through traumas, or who had lost their parents thorough HIV, so street based children basically. We were going to the orphanages where they now live and trying to help them through animal- and music-based therapy,” Jolly says.

The aim of these therapies is to allow the children to express their feelings in a non-intrusive environment. The animal-based activities give children the therapeutic benefits of being around animals and observing their behaviour, feelings, and social interaction with each other.

Given the opportunity to experience some incredible sights, Jolly learned that in some circumstances, seeing really is believing and she had no idea just how bad poverty could be.

“I did actually have what I can only describe as a horrible experience. The group we were with took us to visit the slums where the children had come from. There were a lot of men hanging around the streets and all the women were hiding away. A lot of people came up to us and were showing us their injuries and their scars.

“There really was a lot of poverty. There was no clean water and there was sewage in the street. It just shocked me,” she says.

One of the women running the program Jolly was on,was called Peace; an incredible woman who had been through her share of pain. Peace had experienced a typical Ugandan upbringing. In Uganda, children are more likely to catch malaria than anyone else, are forced to work, and child abuse is not uncommon.

“I met some really inspirational people out there including Peace. No matter what she had been through, she had come through it and seemed really happy all the time. It’s incredible that some people can still smile and help others after all they’ve been through. Peace wanted to help others to have the best life they could.

“The children were amazing, you would never have been able to guess what they went through; they had such big smiles, and had so much love to give to people. We really wanted to get involved and help,” she says.

Jolly spent four or five days with two separate groups of children doing different activities throughout the day.

“We did a lot of art work with them, which they seemed to love, but for me, the most rewarding activity was taking them around the zoo we were staying at, and watching their faces as we introduced them to different types of animals.

“Within about an hour of meeting all the children they were cuddling us, holding our hands, and at one point I had three children on each hand! It doesn’t get much more rewarding than that.”

Now back on English soil, Jolly is glad that she took the opportunity to volunteer abroad and would recommend it to anyone.

“It sounds clichéd, but it really was a life-changing experience. It’s definitely made me want to travel more and it’s made me realise how rewarding helping other people can be. I want to go back at some point and see what changes have been made since I was there.”

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