Thursday, April 18, 2013

“30 Sites and 30 Nights”--Final Summary

I first want to thank all the volunteers who participated in this project. I think it was a total success and that wouldn't have been possible without the support and hospitality of all the volunteers I have blogged about over the last month. I want to give a special shout out to all the volunteers who I was able to stay with, especially those whom I stayed with for multiple days. If I've learned anything in the last month it is that Peace Corps volunteers are some of the most hospitable people I've ever met. When I was planning this project and I was asking people if I could visit their sites and stay with them, I didn't have a single person turn me down. Everyone was very welcoming whether they volunteered for the project or not.

In true Peace Corp style I'll start by naming my successes in this project and then move on to the challenges.

1.) Actually seeing 30 different sites in 30 days
When I first proposed this project to Peace Corps, they thought that one volunteer per day for an extended period of time was too much. On the other hand, I don't think they knew my level of determination to make it work. I will say it wasn't easy and it took some strategic planning, but it is definitely possible, however it can also be really exhausting.

2.) Really getting involved in many volunteer projects
I was able to participate in some of the daily activities of many of the volunteers. From going on the radio to observing PTC students teach to helping cook dinner. Most volunteers really included me in their daily routines so I could see how they actually live. Every day was “Take Jen to Work Day”.

3.) Seeing some places in this country that I've never been before
Before working on this project I had never been to Soroti, Arua, Luwero, Hoima or Rukungiri. I also had only been to 4 of the sites I ended up visiting. So this was a great opportunity for me to really see parts of this country that I probably wouldn't have seen otherwise.

4.) Truly understanding some of the experiences a non-education volunteer could have in Uganda
I'm an education volunteer and many of my friends here are education volunteers and I had actually been to very few non-education sites. I feel like everyone always says how different of an experience the education volunteers have from both the health and economic development volunteers. So by experiencing daily life at so many other sites I can now better grasp what their experience is like. I was also able to see the similarities between education volunteers and health and economic development volunteers, especially those who are posted at schools, such as nursing schools or vocational school.

1.) Transportation
No matter what you are doing in Uganda, transportation will always be an issue. It is rarely easy and it is usually exhausting. But I knew this going in and as many Ugandans would say, I needed to learn to “manage my challenges”. And I think I've managed this one well. I learned where to sit on a bus or taxi, how to keep my belongings safe and how to easily sleep while traveling. Without these skills I would have been beside myself with transport throughout this project. I'm not saying it wasn't hard. I went down many bumpy dirt roads and on many terrifyingly fast buses, but just like anything else, you learn to deal with it.

2.) Staying somewhere for just one night
I had 13 different places during this trip where I only spent one night. When you are trying to really see the volunteers sites, this can pose a real challenge. I ended up wasting a lot of time packing and unpacking. Although I did get used to it, it was still tiring. This also meant that I was spending part of my days traveling between where ever I was staying. But again, I “managed my challenges.”

3.) Staying with volunteers I didn't know or didn't know well
I had quite a number of volunteers that I had either never met or that I had met but was not all that familiar with. This can be stressful because you don't really know what you are getting into, but this one I feel really plays back into my successes. Peace Corps volunteers are some of the most hospitable people I've ever met. Nobody cared that they might not know me. They know I'm a Peace Corps volunteer and they were most welcoming for me to come and stay in their house. This doesn't just translate with volunteers in Peace Corps Uganda. I have no doubt that if I went to any other Peace Corps country and contacted volunteers there, they would treat me exactly the same way.

4.) Trying to see a volunteers site on an off day
When I visited some sites, things were not going quite as planned. Maybe classes were no being held as usual because there were exams or the volunteer had no work to do that day or it was a weekend. This challenge was probably bigger for the volunteers than for me. Before I came out I told all the volunteers that it didn't matter what was going on. I would love to see whatever they wanted to show me, whether that is their house, their organization, their neighbors or their local duka. To me it didn't really matter, but for them I'm sure they wanted to make it as interesting as possible.

5.) Language
Peace Corps puts a huge emphasis on language when sending volunteers to their sites. They feel that it is very important for volunteers to know the local language well. I personally don't fully agree with this. As an education volunteer, I needed the local language very little and therefore I never really furthered my language skills beyond greeting people and saying thank you. However, that little language that I had was very important to feeling at home. I realized this especially when I went to Northern Ugandan where I can't even use the word I know for “thank you”. I really felt out of my element. I think, in fact, that I've been living abroad for so long, I'm more comfortable saying thank you in any language other than English. Whether I'm saying “webale”, “gratze”, or “asanti”, it seems more natural to me now than actually saying “thank you”.

6.) Dehydration
Traveling in this country is obviously tricky on many levels. One thing that can be a bit of a problem is using the bathroom while on the bus. The bus will stop for people to go to the bathroom (you may even stop where there is a toilet), but when you're by yourself you probably don't want to leave your things on the bus while you go. So, like many volunteers, I have a tendency to dehydrate myself on travel days. Most of the time this isn't a huge problem, but with traveling so much, it is a bit of a challenge to consciously make sure I'm drinking enough water.

For this project, I also tried my best to get a broad spectrum of volunteers. Below you can see the breakdown of volunteers by program sector and also by training group. I've also compiled statistics on the number of volunteers with power and/or water. These are also listed below.

Percent of Volunteers with Electricity*  93.55%
Percent of Volunteers with Running Water*  72.41%

*These numbers are based off of the volunteers who participated in this project only.  This is not representative of the volunteer population as a whole.

Doing this project has been quite the experience. I actually feel like I've experienced almost as much in the last month as I did in the past two years. It is fascinating to see how other volunteers live and where they work. Everyone's story is different and unique in its own way. However, I can also see many similarities. So many people are working on similar projects or with similar organizations.

The volunteer experience can also be seen as similar in simple ways like how volunteers cook. For the most part all volunteers can get the same local ingredients to cook for themselves. So in the last month I noticed that many volunteers would cook the same things for me. I ate a lot of guacamole, pancakes, pasta, and oatmeal. Some of these things are simple and easy to make with local ingredients. I've also noticed just how much volunteers are obsessed with food. Most volunteers cook really good food and some even branch out of these staples and make things that I would never think to make or that I didn't even know was possible to cook here. Nonetheless, not being a picky eater made this trip so much easier for me and for the volunteers I visited. When asked what I wanted to eat, my response was usually “I'll eat anything”. I guess that can also be challenging to the volunteers because it gives them no guidelines, but on the same note I can't say I had a single meal that I didn't like.

Overall, I'm really glad I did this project. I got to meet some new people and spend time with some old friends. I also got to experience this country in a whole new way. In the end, I think the successes outweighed the challenges, which to me means the project was a total success. Now on to the next chapter in my journey...COSing!

1 comment:

  1. This was a great project and I'm glad you posted all the experiences! Enjoy your last five days in Uganda and say hello to home for me.