Project Uganda: What we achieved, and what the future holds

On June 19th 2014 I embarked on a month long trip to Uganda with Soft Power Education, a charity which builds and refurbishes schools in Uganda. They work with the Ministry of Education and local government to achieve the second of the UN Millennium Development Goals – to achieve Universal Primary Education. The charity also provides educational opportunities and creates economic empowerment for local people by teaching them sustainable life skills in areas such as farming, healthcare as well as working with special needs children.

I was part of a group of 5 volunteers from Aston University whose task was to be part of the school building and refurbishment program. Each of us fundraised from our family and friends for the project, with the money we raised to be used to pay for the building materials and for the local builders’ and foremen’s wages who would be working alongside us.

Soft Power Education selects a school for a development project by looking mainly at one criterion: The ratio of classrooms to the number of children that attend the school. Unlike in the UK and in much of the developed world, the number of children in each class in some Ugandan schools can be almost 3 times the amount we are used to. With such large classes, there is less personal attention given to each student by the teachers, which lowers the quality of the education the children receive. This is the case in many rural areas of the new world (a phrase I much prefer to ‘third world’ or ‘developing world’). By increasing the number of classrooms in a school, Softpower aims to make class sizes smaller, paired with a welcoming, safe and practical learning environment.

After a school has been selected for development there are usually 3 main stages: Building>Painting>Teaching Aids. The first school we worked at; Walakuba Primary has 950 pupils and had been built a new classroom block in 2013 by Softpower, but which had not yet been painted. Our first task was to paint the entire block of 3 classrooms inside and out within 2 weeks.

The school is located in Walakuba; a small fishing village on the edge of Lake Albert in the Bulisa district of rural Uganda.

A typical day at the school involved around 6-7 hours of work, excluding our breaks. Sometimes we worked for up to 8 hours to reach our target for the day. Painting involved applying 4 coats of paint: 2 undercoats and 2 coats of colour (the paint colours were chosen by the community and the school). The pace of work was relentless and was not helped by the beating Ugandan sun, as well as having no running water and no electricity!

Time outside of work was spent resting, helping with washing/cleaning/cooking or playing with the local village children. In the evenings we often took walks to the village and spent time with locals.

Although it doesn’t sound like much on paper, it is surprising how bright coloured walls can transform the feel and learning environment in a classroom. Older classrooms in other blocks at the school were very dark and shady, whereas the newly painted class was in a league of its own and all of the children were excited to begin classes even before we had finished!

This month (August 2014) there will be another group of volunteers going back to Walakuba Primary in order to paint teaching aids onto the walls in the classrooms. These include visual aids such as anatomy diagrams, world maps, spelling and times tables which play a vital role in helping teachers deliver clear and memorable lessons. It is also something the former head teacher of Walakuba highlighted as being a standout contribution by volunteers that enhances teaching for children of all ages.

After completing our work at Walakuba our Aston group was split over two building sites in conjunction with Leeds University. Myself and another Aston University volunteer were allocated to working at Ngwedo Primary School, one hours drive north from Walakuba towards the Murchison Falls game park and home to 1,023 primary school children.

This construction site, like others at this point was at the early stages and had only just had its foundation trenches dug. The tasks for us as volunteers on site were to help with labouring and certain skilled work if we were up to the task. Typical days began early with volunteers having the choice of how early we wanted to join the builders with work. This is because most volunteers cannot (and are not expected to!) handle a full day’s work on a building site in the treacherous Ugandan heat, and so they can choose their own working hours. In total there were around 10 builders and masons, one foreman and 17 volunteers on-site.

Early morning tasks involved mixing concrete to be used for the brick compressing machines (yes, in Uganda bricks are made manually!). Brick making goes on until mid afternoon alongside the mixing and pouring of the aggregate for the foundations. The target quantity of bricks needed to build the classroom block was 12,000 and the rate at which we made them was around 350 per day.

Other tasks for smaller groups of volunteers involved making the steel reinforcements by hand, which were placed in the trench to be set in place by the concrete aggregate. Some volunteers were given the chance to learn brick laying and stayed on the job if they completed the task well.

Outside of working hours time was spent playing with local children and often with the builders who were also living on-site with us. We also at times ventured into Ngwedo village which was 2km away, visited classrooms during teaching hours and mixed with local people such as the families of builders on our site.

David and I; one of the children from Ngwedo with whom I built a good friendship

Interacting with locals and speaking to them about their daily lives and struggles gave me a good insight into what is happening at a ground level in these remote communities. This enabled myself and other volunteers to appreciate the lessons these people have for us in the west while at the same time giving us a chance to share our knowledge with them on ways to help improve their standard of living. Areas we were able to help them with included advising on how to improve building practices (taken in the stride of an architect named Terry from Sydney who is helping the charity in this area by working with people at all levels).

By observing day-to-day routines on a development site with an analytical eye paired with specialist knowledge we can help improve practices in areas such as construction, sustainable initiatives, logistics and also through identifying areas where there are new businesses opportunities. This is something I will be talking about in my next blog post.

By the end of our 2 weeks at Ngwedo, the entire foundation had been built up to ground level. This included the steels being set in place along with the clay bricks that surround them. Next up will be the concrete slab and of course the construction from ground up! This work will be aided by a group of volunteers that will be on site this month, with the classroom block expected to be completed by the end of August according to the building plan.

Here is an update picture that Soft Power Education provided only yesterday… It shows the start of the brickwork above ground being under-way at Ngwedo Primary as we speak!

Update 2: The completed 3 classroom block

Before going on to speaking about the next chapter, I must again thank everyone involved in the project including:

Fellow Volunteers from both Aston and Leeds Universities, as well as those that we met from around the world!

Soft Power Education staff and co-ordinators

Local on-site builders and our foremen who along with the children, teachers and wider community were the highlight of our journey and truly make Uganda the Pearl of Africa.

Lastly, but most definitely not least, YOU the donators and supporters of the program who made it a reality. Without you this would not be possible. I thank you for playing a vital role in improving the lives of children in two Ugandan primary schools, helping solidify their chance for a bright and prosperous future.

(If any donators wish to stay anonymous then please tell me, and also remind me if I missed you out! Note: the order of the list is not by size of donation)

Special thanks to donators who together raised £666 for the project:

Mr & Mrs Raichura (Mum and Dad)

Neha Hathalia

Jaskirat (surname escapes me)

Paresh Jansari

Jaanvi Vadher


Vimel & Bina Budhev

The entire Tanna Family

Nilam and little Rohan

Kunal D. Mehta

Somaya Turk

Gopal & Vimit Popat

Bena, Sandeepa, Neil, Niall and baby Aanya

Dhaval Jogia

Mukesh & Karina

James Kennedy

Nitesh Chandarana

Bhupen & Kalpna Tailor

Russol Eraibi

Shreyank Mandoda

Bharti Raichura

Navin Ghelani

Jaz Gill

Sergey Bychkov

Roland Hagan

Mandy Kallah

Amit Popat & My Grandma

The Extended Popat Family

What Next?

As a I mentioned earlier, whilst in Uganda I was able to get a first hand view of life in the developing world. This enabled me to gain an understanding of what is truly important to the people on the ground by listening to them talk about the key issues that they face everyday.

Aside from what we generally perceive are the main issues across Sub-Saharan Africa (lack of clean drinking water, below standard levels of nutrition and widespread disease) things are not this clean cut. This is because each country has its own individual problems, individual culture and individual ambitions which need to be aided in a way that is sustainable to one day make them self sufficient and in line with the stage of development they are currently at.

For Uganda and much of Eastern Africa, the word you will keep hearing the most from the mouths of the people was OPPORTUNITY. People want opportunities. An opportunity to pursue ambitions like we can in the west; to enter higher education, to access funding for businesses, to access specialist knowledge, and most importantly to grow up in a socially inclusive society that gives an equal chance to everyone.

Making opportunities more socially inclusive can help create a solid foundation of human capital that will one way lead the sub-continent into a strong position where it has the land, labour, resources and capital that will enable the indigenous people create industries and commerce that carry forward sustainably into the future.

What does this mean?

So, being as keen as I am to continue working in the developing world, and work even harder than I already have for donators like you who also want to help make a difference, I set myself an even bigger challenge in east Africa before I arrived back in the UK…

At the end of September (in under 6 weeks) I will be travelling back to East Africa; this time to Nakuru in Kenya for 3 months under the charity ‘Balloon Kenya’ as part of International Citizen’s Service and Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO). VSO along with The Department of International Development, aim to promote sustainable development and eliminate world poverty. They do this by taking volunteers to work on the ground with organisations that serve local people in the developing world. Volunteers like me have one aim: do whatever needs to be done to break down the barriers that trap people in poverty.

What needs to happen?

One of the best and most sustainable ways to change the future of a community in the developing world is to feed the fire of entrepreneurship. By developing an entrepreneur’s ideas, giving them the confidence to launch an innovative venture and through providing them with a seed of investment, people in developing countries can address problems in their own local community and lead a change for the future. This approach can help build a sustainable model of development that can be scaled across the globe.

What will I be doing?

As part of a screened and selected team of young entrepreneurs from across the world, I will be thrown into the lives of locals in Nakuru to work alongside them in launching and develop businesses in Nakuru Town

I will be the bridge that helps these entrepreneurs to obtain the funding they need to build a better life for themselves, their community and their local economy. Our team of volunteers will be testing, refining and developing their businesses ideas, with the ultimate aim of securing them an investment towards the end of our 12 weeks in Kenya, then going on to put the investment to use.

Balloon Kenya has been sending volunteers to do this work for 3 years in the region, and so far have funded 652 Kenyan Entrepreneurs and their businesses, with over £18,000 of investment. Some examples of their success stories can be found here:

Why I need you to get involved!

In order for this program, and programs just like this launching in Uganda next year to continue, VSO needs funds which will enable them to keep volunteers from the UK directly contributing to the fight against poverty in the developing world.

Money from donations will go directly to VSO’s core four development areas which are linked to the priorities of international development targets and each charity’s areas of expertise: Health, Participation & governance, Secure livelihoods and Education. Along with this, VSO is commitment to gender equality in all of its work, meaning that men and women alike can have equal opportunities to realise their potential.

Examples of such life changing projects include:

  • Training small-scale farmers with technical skills, whilst giving them access to markets and opportunities that will secure the future income for their family.
  • Training Nurses and Health workers with vital medical skills to improve the quality of care in areas such as medication administration, paediatric life support, midwifery, cleanliness and nutrition for patients.
  • Creation of leadership training that supports women in remote villages to pursue education and realise their rights as equals.

Along with hundreds of other successful projects you can read about here!:

How you can help

In order for me to undertake 3 months working to create opportunities for people in Nukuru, I need to raise money for VSO for them to continue with the life changing work they do in the developing world.

Without donations, volunteers like me cannot go to work in projects under VSO which is why it is so important for me to raise £800. This will enable me to reach out and put my skills to work, creating a tangible difference for the futures of disadvantaged people in Kenya, as I work on behalf of you the donators.

Any money you wish to donate will not be going to me or going towards paying for my 3 month working period. 100% of your donations go to VSO to help run the programs on the ground. (Money that will be used to get me to Kenya and for the living costs for 3 months are entirely separate and your donations will not be paying for this).

Ultimately this project cannot happen without you, and I ask humbly that you donate what you can for this project on my new JustGiving Page for Balloon Kenya

Please help me reach my target of £800 and go on to secure the futures of local Kenyans.

Donating to VSO through JustGiving as a platform is a method that you can trust; confidently knowing that your donation will be going directly to funding programs like those above and the one I will be a part of in Kenya.

If you have family members who are from East-Africa, or know of anyone who would like to support this project please introduce them to what I am doing and send them a link to this page! If you would like to get involved with helping me raise money through other means please let me know, your help will be highly appreciated and valued.

Thank you again to everyone that helped make Project Uganda a reality. 

Our work as the fortunate people in the world does not ever stop, as we are bound by responsibility to those less fortunate. To make a change in this world we must embody a cause and act upon it at the best possible chances presented to us. I believe this to be one of those chances, and put myself forward to work on the ground in East-Africa again. I ask for nothing except requesting your support directed towards helping people in the developing world; those in most need. Donate for them, it’s not for me!

If everyone who reads this makes the decision to contribute (no matter how big or small) in creating a change by donating, they will be helping see through initiatives which are derived from the highest act a human being can display: an act of selflessness and kindness towards our fellow humans. They would be demonstrating our most noble quality in action: our ability to exercise power to affect change for the better of our planet and people.

Thank you in advance to everyone who donates and supports this cause.

T-minus 6 weeks!