Africa 08

Travelling to Uganda with Camara in July 2008 was my first experience of volunteering abroad. Volunteering had been in the back of my mind for a number of years so when I found out about Camara, visited the workshop, and talked to the organisers I soon decided this was the type of project with which I would like to get involved. I had lots of years of teaching experience and the basics of computing so I felt I would be able to contribute to the Camara teaching programmes in African schools.

I had been on holidays in Africa previously and so while not a stranger to the African continent I knew that working there for a month would be a very different experience, one to which I was looking forward but also with a little trepidation.

Everyone on our team was very positive. We were divided into smaller teams when in Uganda and assigned to various schools. I enjoyed getting to know everyone, planning our classes together, learning from each other and working to each other’s strengths.

There were obviously challenges in the Ugandan school environment which varied from school to school. The focus of Camara’s programme is on the teaching staff in the school, to equip them with skills which they can develop and in turn pass on to their students. A week in one school is a very short time and I often left a school wishing I could have stayed longer. Classes were often oversubscribed so we had to divide participants into groups and repeat classes. It was then a challenge to get sufficient material covered with all in the time available. Uganda suffers from frequent power supply cuts and so this often affected our teaching programme. On top of this external problem some schools hadn’t quite gotten around to complying with the basic electrical requirements and safety needs as emphasised by Camara for a computer room. While absolutely excited about the computers and the classes some schools had problems realising there were deadlines for getting these kinds of issues sorted! Surge protectors were in short supply in some schools, another had too few electric sockets for the number of computers and another had no electric light operating in the classroom so class had to finish as dusk arrived! So frequently improvisation was the name of the game, make best use of teaching time even if one had to wait for an hour or more for power supply to be restored.

The official language of Uganda is English, so this was a major plus with regard to interaction with our students both in and outside of the class. Many were eager to learn something about our lives in Ireland as we were about Uganda life. It was special when, at the end of our first week, one teacher in a school in Kampala invited me into her classroom to show me around and tell me about her work and her family.
Memories and Challenges of Uganda 08 include:

  • the hustle and bustle of Kampla
  • squashing into a matatu (local transport)
  • the rich green vegetation
  • eggs for breakfast for a month
  • ‘hole in the ground’ toilets in the schools
  • bicycles laden with green bananas
  • learning that we were ‘Muzungus’
  • the lack of facilities in schools
  • the lade back pace re getting things done
  • >the smiles on the children’s faces
  • their delight if their photo was taken

I enjoyed the personal challenge of volunteering in the Africa 08 programme. I learned a lot about Ugandan life. I hope I succeeded in sharing my skills with some Ugandan teachers. Words of thanks and appreciation as we left the schools were very valuable gifts.

I have volunteered again for the Africa 09 programme because I believe Camara Africa volunteer programme is very worthwhile. I like that fact that feedback from volunteers is sought, review and development is on-going. I like the goal of Camara of empowering African people through education, of helping to share the benefits of our IT world in education in African schools.

Role on Africa 09! Mary Earle