2018 is going to be the year of what may well be my biggest adventure yet. The day after tomorrow I’m off to Uganda, and I won’t be coming home again for nearly four months. Eeek!
You might think a huge trip like this is something I’ve been planning for a while. When I climbed Kilimanjaro in 2016, that was only after at least five years of thinking about it and then a good three months of preparation. This is arguably an even bigger endeavour – so surely embarking on such a big trip requires careful consideration and planning?
But in fact it was the opposite. To be fair, I’ve been itching for a new adventure for a while now (pretty much ever since I got back from Tanzania, to be honest!), but I had no idea what it was going to be. Maybe I’d go and improve my Spanish in South America. Maybe I’d hike to Everest Base Camp. Maybe I’d do a photography trip to Madagascar (all of these are still on the bucket list, by the way). But then I remembered a former TV production contact who now runs a children’s charity in Uganda; she’s always looking for video producers who are willing to volunteer their services. It seemed like an interesting opportunity, so I contacted her to find out a bit more, and she was so enthusiastic and persuasive that somehow I ended up signed up and booked before I even really had a chance to catch my breath.
And so I’m going!
What I’ll be doing
For the next three months I’ll be working as a volunteer video producer for Child’s i Foundation.
Child’s i is a charity that works with institutions and government in Uganda to get children out of orphanages and back into loving family homes. I was astonished to learn that there are a staggering 50,000 children growing up in orphanages in the country, 80% of whom actually have relatives they could live with. Sadly many Ugandan families struggle to support an extra child, so instead they place them in orphanages where they think they will be better cared for. But research has shown that growing up in institutions actually damages children, so Child’s i works to trace the children’s families and support them, so that the children can be returned to a safe, loving home environment.
It’s a great mission, and one I’m incredibly excited to be playing a teeny tiny part in.
My role will be to work with the team in Kampala to develop, produce, film and edit short films which the charity can use for either fundraising or educational purposes. It’ll be a fantastic experience for me, a great learning opportunity, and a chance to put my skills to good use. I only hope I don’t let either myself or them down!
In my free time, and for a few weeks at the end of the trip I’m also hoping to be able to explore as much of the country as possible, including, of course, trekking to see Uganda’s famous gorillas. You simply can’t go to Uganda and not see them – it’s basically THE LAW.
Where I’ll be staying
Child’s i is based in Kampala, where they have an office. About 15 minutes by motorcycle taxi from there is their volunteer accommodation. I looked it up on Google Streetview, and I think this is it, though I’m not 100% certain. It looks very secure, don’t you think!
The downside is that when I arrive there won’t be any other volunteers living there – I’ll be all by myself. But the team seem super friendly, and I’ve also been put in touch with a couple of other friends-of-friends who live in Kampala, so I’m pretty sure I won’t be stuck for company when I need it.
Even so, I’m pretty nervous now. How will I find my way around? How will I figure out the crazy Kampala transport system of boda-bodas (motorcycle taxis), matatus (minibuses) and special hires (taxis) without getting too badly ripped off and without getting lost, robbed, or worse? Where will I buy my groceries and what will I eat? Will it be stupidly hot? Will I be able to get that all-important wifi and will it actually work? All very important questions I’m sure you’ll agree – and I’ll be sure to post regular updates as I find out the answers.
I’ve only had a few weeks to prepare for this, so my planning has been somewhat rushed. Fortunately I’m freelance, single, and child-free, so there’s no leave to book, and no one to ask permission. I can just pack my bag and go!
I have had help though: the lovely folk at Child’s i sorted my flights, transfers and accommodation; meanwhile I already have all the jabs and clothes I need for Africa, and if I get it wrong I’m sure I can buy stuff out there. There was just one thing I did treat myself to, and that was a new camera…
Yes, dear reader, I splurged on a new (second-hand) Canon 5D Mark IV. My trusty Mark II has put in a sterling performance over the last seven years – in fact almost every photo in all my previous blog posts was taken with it, and I think it’s done me proud. But it’s pretty bashed up now, and technology has come forward in leaps and bounds since I bought it, so it’s time to put it out to pasture and embark on my new adventure with a shiny new toy in my backpack!
Hopefully this means you won’t be disappointed with the quality of the photographs in blog posts to come.
Since then it’s just been a question of sorting out the other bits: camera kit insurance (an absolute MUST!), travel insurance, finding someone to rent my flat while I’m away and give me a little extra cash injection (since I won’t be getting paid for the next four months). And then, last but not least, the dreaded packing.
I have a confession: I’m terrible at packing light. I’m not, nor even have been, one of these people who can sling two changes of clothes into a tiny rucksack and off I go. I’m indecisive, and I like to be prepared for every eventuality. What if there’s a surprise cold snap? What if I want to go away for the weekend? What if I get invited to a smart event? Not to mention all the other stuff: camera paraphernalia, backup medical items, chargers, toiletries and so on that need to go in.
The airline gives me a luggage limit of 30kg, in just one bag. Into it I need to get everything I need for 4 months! I found this terrifying, so I started by putting everything I thought I might need to take onto the bed in my spare room, stared at it for a while, added some more bits, had a panic attack, tried to see if I could persuade Qatar Airways to give me an extra bag (they won’t, and excess baggage is a brain-melting $40 per kilo!). Then took a deep breath, spoke to my Uganda contact about what I might actually need, weeded it down, and then squeezed it as tightly as possible into these fantastic Pack Mate Compression Bags that I discovered when I went to Tanzania. Then I put everything into the case, zipped it up, took a deep breath, and put it on the scales.
Success! I haven’t been so happy or relieved in a long time.
So now I’m almost ready to go. I’ll take me 14 hours of flying, via Doha, to reach Entebbe airport, and then the charity is sending a driver to pick me up and take me to the volunteer house, where someone will meet me to let me in. After that, well, I’ll just have to wait and see…
It’s the beginning of a new adventure. I’m hoping to be able to post updates here regularly, so come back soon (or better yet, subscribe by email) to find out how I get on.
If you want to read about how I got on in the first week, click here.
Have you been to Uganda? Do you have any top tips or contacts? Please comment below, I’d absolutely love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!
And if you want to know more about the work of Child’s i Foundation, you could start by watching this video.