My African Experience: A volunteer’s experience with URF

Kelly and her parents with a local family in the village

The main reason I was attracted to URF was that it is a non-profit organization run by a Ugandan. … I have seen and experienced first-hand that the most successful community development projects are those run by Ugandans themselves.“–Kelly Fischer

Kelly was with us in 2007 and this article appeared in Jan 2012 on her former high school, Crystal Springs Uplands to England (source url is at bottom of the page).


My African Experience

Kelly Fischer ‘01

I’ve always had a keen desire to explore the world and I will never forget the first time I ever left the United States of America. It was on a school trip with Crystal Springs Uplands to England.

I was fifteen years old and immediately got hooked on international travel. After that experience, I sought out any opportunity to travel abroad and spent my junior year in college studying in San Sebastian, Spain, using every holiday to travel around Europe.

In 2007, I decided I wanted my next travel experience to be slightly different. I wanted to travel, experience, and learn about a developing country through the eyes of a volunteer. I wanted to travel somewhere and have an experience abroad that was meaningful. I didn’t want to be a tourist, but be someone who could bring something to a community in need and gain something from the local community members as well.

Africa had always intrigued me. I felt connected to the continent, even though I didn’t visit until 2007, through a very close friend who is from Uganda. I could sit for hours listening to stories about his country. I soon decided that Uganda, the Pearl of Africa, was where I needed to go as a volunteer.

I began searching for volunteer programs but it was not easy. I read about so many different programs but none of them felt right, until I read about the Uganda Rural Fund (URF). The main reason I was attracted to URF was that it is a non-profit organization run by a Ugandan. John Mary Lugemwa, founder of URF, is from Kyetume village which is home to URF. He has a genuine understanding of the needs of the people in Kyetume, which makes the organization sustainable. I have seen and experienced first-hand that the most successful community development projects are those run by Ugandans themselves.

My experience with URF was so incredible that it’s hard to find words to give justice to everything I gained from working with the people in Kyetume village. I had a myriad of experiences while volunteering with URF that were very emotional for me. Let me share one of those experiences to help shed light on my volunteering experience.

On my first day as a volunteer I was taken to an orphanage which is part of URF. As we pulled up to the orphanage, all the children ran out to greet me, fighting to hold my hand. I spent some time playing and interacting with the children and then spoke with the program head. I learned that most of the children were found on the street or in garbage dumps and brought to the orphanage. The woman who cares for all the orphans, Carol, is eighteen years old and was an orphan herself in this very orphanage.

I was both happy and sad after I left the orphanage as I saw both happiness and sadness in the eyes of the children. My mind was flooded with a mix of emotions. However, once I reached the home and site where I volunteered for six weeks and met the family with whom I stayed, I felt nothing but pure happiness. The family was so lovely and welcoming. Among the family members, there were tons of animals: cows, chickens, goats, ducks, pigs, puppies, cats and turkeys. The animals were also very welcoming, except for the turkeys. I developed a genuine fear of the turkeys after being attacked on one occasion. But Ja-Ja (Grandma) always came to my rescue with a stick in hand. Despite the hole in the ground (pit latrine) which was the toilet and the bucket of water for bathing, I always felt at home. It was a special place full of comfort and love.

Most of my volunteer work was in the field. We would journey out to neighboring villages, sometimes walking for hours through banana plantations, to do community outreach. We visited the family homes of the children who attended the after-school program, where I also taught. We conducted interviews to get more information about their home life and how we could further help the children to become successful learners. Most of the families only spoke Luganda, so we would ask the questions in English and the program head would then translate into Luganda. Some questions were quite sensitive, particularly those  referring to HIV/AIDS or other health concerns.

The most significant change was that my purpose and understanding of my role as a teacher became clearer. I no longer saw myself as a teacher with restrictions or limitations. I realized that I am a teacher not just in my classroom but in this world. I realized that teaching is about exploring, learning, and embarking on a collaborative journey of knowledge with both the people and environment that surround me. Being in Uganda made me realize this and that is why I knew I must return.

For four years now I have been teaching at Kampala International School in Uganda and each day continues to be a learning experience for as I teach my students they also teach me many important life skills.

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