If you pack like I do, you probably like to cover all your bases and bring something for every possible occasion/disaster. That means you end up coming home with 70% of your suitcase contents untouched.
So I thought it would be useful to let you in on how to pack only the essentials and travel light, both in mind and luggage.
Here’s the thing, when you’re volunteering in Africa, the greatest gift you can give both to yourself and those you meet on your journey, is an empty cup. To come without expectations or a toolkit for fixing lives is the way to gain the very best experience and equip yourself with knowledge for life.
I don’t mean to poach into Avatar territory here, but there is truth in the idea that those who come filled have nothing to learn, and nothing to give.
So please, if you have never travelled before, if you have never volunteered before, and if a project like volunteering in Africa is leaving you feeling a little inadequate, I promise, you have the most to bring with you, and the most to bring back.
So, let’s look at the contents of your expectations, and see if any of them can be left at home.
Expectation number one. There is an impending disaster
We all love a good hero story, we like daydreaming sometimes that we will be called upon to save the day. Maybe that’s why you think volunteer work is the go. If that’s the case then, unfortunately, there is no disaster to leap to here.
That’s okay, because there doesn’t need to be one for you to change a life. The truth is, we are all potential heroes in what we do and what we say every day. How we treat each other and what we share is everything. We have great power in the choices we make and the impact we have.
Your presence in Uganda will leave untold ripples for generations to come. All you need to do is show up, that’s enough. Come with a smile and an open mind and you will automatically empower change and inspire growth.
Yes, you will do great deeds and good work, but equally important are the stories you tell, the questions you ask and answer and the way you listen to a people not many have taken the time to hear. So pack both ears, both eyes and a ready smile and leave the self-help advice behind.
Expectation number two. The rules are the same
What you think you know about the world, the rules, and the way to do things only applies when you are in your own environment. Be prepared for things to be ‘not normal’.
Be ready to go with the flow, watch, and learn from your new environment. Allow yourself to be impacted and let ‘wrong’ things in your world, be right here. This is easy to do when you trust the people you are with.
Trust your tribe, trust your hosts, trust your trip organiser and most importantly, trust in yourself. It’s okay to be silly, it’s okay to be wrong, it’s okay to laugh, dance, share and do things differently. The more different the better. Pack your flexibility and leave your planner and code of conduct behind.
Expectation number three. The people of Uganda need our culture
Culture is something incredible, unique and breathtaking to be seen from the outside. When we bring aid and assistance to people, we only want to do so in a way that makes those people’s lives richer and enables them to thrive.
They do not need to adopt everything from the modern Western world, actually, that would be a crime on our part if we abolished the culture of other nations. The way of life in Uganda is well suited to the climate, the history of the people and their unique culture.
We are not looking to create paved streets, have televisions in every room and send kids off to Harvard. We are here to make a positive difference; which means big impact, little footprints.
The more you submerge yourself in the culture of your environment, the easier it will be to see how you can help at ground level. So pack your love of culture and leave ‘comfortable’ at home.
Expectation number four. I have to know what I’m doing
You are in a whole new world, a different country culture and doing tasks you will probably never do anywhere else. You are not going to have any idea what to do.
That’s perfect, that puts you in the best position to interact, ask questions, learn and grow. You are a teacher and a student at the same time, which makes you equal. Equal is best. If you knew what you were doing it would be easier just to walk in, do it and leave.
Or even worse, walk in, instruct, walk out. By not knowing you give the community you are with a chance to teach you too, everyone bonds, learns, creates and builds together.
This is what being in a team actually means so roll your sleeves up, get clueless and find your place in the world. Leave you education, knowledge and resume at home, back your creativity, can do attitude and prepare to get some dirt on your kneecaps.
Expectation number five. The outside world is important
It’s tempting to want to stay connected. Life as we know it sort of evolves around our devices and being in touch with the rest of the world 24/7.
I promise nothing bad will happen if you leave your equipment in flight mode. Make plans to email or post once a day and stay connected to the world you are in. The rest will be happily waiting for you when you touch back down.
If you like, take photos, make videos and keep a diary of your experiences so that you can go crazy with info when you get back. Write blogs, host a seminar, whatever you want to do to share what you know in detail, do it later. For the moment, where you are is the most important place in the world. Be here. Love it. Leave your web-based cravings at home and pack a sense of adventure.
What not to pack when volunteering in Africa
Hopefully by now you have an empty cup and lots of excitement for submersion into a new world. Of course, this is a what not to pack for volunteering in Africa, if you plan on going on holiday in New Zealand, Thailand or America, you will probably need to find another guide.
For those looking for an adventure rather than a holiday, an experience rather than a walk, come and volunteer in Uganda and make a positive impact in the communities of beautiful Africa. If you want to experience something life changing, resume building and authentic, we can give you the road map to get there.