What will I be doing as a volunteer?
As a one day volunteer, you will be helping with our School Infrastructure Programme and will travel out to our ongoing painting site after a short tour of our pre-schools and Amagezi Education Centre.
The beauty of long term volunteering with us is that your itinerary can be flexible depending on your skills and interests, and any other plans whilst here in Uganda. One day could be spent at one of our pre-schools in the morning and at Kyomya Residential Unit in the afternoon, the next out on our ongoing painting site at a local primary school, and the next in the field with our LEAP team observing and assisting.
Before you book to volunteer with us, it is important to consider the academic term dates. During our busy months (June to September), we also need to take into account the number of other volunteers here at the same time to ensure that everyone gets equal opportunity. We do understand that LTVs often come with a specific interest, but as a small organisation we like our volunteers to get stuck in across all of our programmes – it is important to keep this in mind.
As a group volunteer, you will be completely immersed in a local community – living and working on site at a government primary school alongside a team of local builders. The work you will carry out will depend on the site, but could be a combination of demolition of existing classroom blocks, building new classroom blocks, or making the all important small repairs to classroom blocks before giving them a new lease of life with a good coat of paint and creative teaching aids. As a volunteer, you’re free to set your own hours of work, as a group and as individuals, but our foreman will have a schedule to stick to so they will keep you updated throughout each day as to what needs to be done and by when. All that we ask is that you are enthusiastic and are ready to get stuck in alongside the team.
When is the best time to volunteer?
Our busiest time is June to September, as this is when most international schools and universities have their summer holiday. Whilst the rest of the year is not quite as manic as these months, we continue to welcome volunteers and there is always something to do.
However, as most of programmes are linked to the academic term dates, it’s worth checking these before you book your flights, especially if you are particularly interested in working with our pre-school or SEN children who won’t be around during the holidays. Our staff can help guide you.
Why do I need to fundraise?
Fundraising is a very important part of your journey as a SPE volunteer and it is important that you understand our programmes so that you can speak clearly and passionately about you have chosen to work with us. Once you’ve signed up, you will receive a tailored fundraising pack to get you started.
The money raised from fundraising and donations from one day and long term volunteers goes on to ensure the future of all of our programmes long after volunteers have returned home. It also covers any costs that we incur whilst you are volunteering with us, for example the art and craft materials that you may use at our pre-schools.
Fundraising from group volunteers goes directly to pay for the project that they will be working on. For example, for buying building materials and paint, hiring tools and equipment and paying the building team’s wages. Any fundraising that is left over goes on to secure the future of our School Infrastructure Programme, which means that the impact is far wider than just the school that has been worked on.
Fundraising is also a great way for volunteers to raise awareness of our work so that we can continue to run. It’s a great way for You’ll develop your transferable skills, and might even have some fun along the way!
Remember… Soft Power Education is a complete non-profit organisation. We continue to strive to ensure that our overheads are as low as possible and that as much of the donations that we receive as possible is spent on our programmes right here on the ground in Uganda. We have no fancy offices or employees outside of Uganda, and minimum fundraising and marketing costs. We offer exceptional value for money for all volunteers taking part in our programmes, and with almost 20 years of experience in Uganda, implement all of our programmes as cost-effectively as possible. Your fundraising remains completely separate from any personal expenses, allowing for exceptional transparency in terms of where your money is being spent.
Why is there a fundraising deadline?
Preparation for your project starts long before you arrive in Uganda, so it is vital that we receive your fundraising by the set deadline. This also allows you to focus on other preparations in the final few weeks before you travel, and not be worrying about fundraising. If you do not reach your minimum fundraising target by the set deadline, your place will come under review. However, you shouldn’t worry about this! The target is easily achievable in the time leading up to your project and you will have support from SPE staff, your leaders and fellow volunteers.
To help you break down their fundraising into manageable chunks, we also set a number of ‘soft’ deadlines along the way. This is so that we can identify anyone who may be struggling with their fundraising and offer them additional support.
Remember, we set you a minimum fundraising target, but the sky is the limit! Many of our volunteers have gone above and beyond in the past, and the more you can raise, the more we can achieve!
Can I fundraise for my personal expenses?
For a number of reasons, we disagree with and discourage volunteers from fundraising for their personal expenses. We expect any volunteers who do reach their minimum fundraising target, and who wish to ask family and friends to contribute towards their personal expenses, to ensure they are very clear about where this money is going.
Is Uganda safe to visit?
SPE keep up to date with the current situation through national and international sources, and receive regular emails from the United Kingdom Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) regarding Uganda and its neighbouring East African countries. There are currently no restrictions to travel across any parts of Uganda.
Uganda welcomes thousands of tourists each year, and its friendly and welcoming and atmosphere makes it very easy to relax. However, as with anywhere else in the world, there are small risks when travelling. As long as you are aware of them and remain vigilant, there are no reasons why you should have any problems during your stay.
Once you have signed up to volunteer with us, you’ll receive a pre-departure pack which lists our volunteering and health and safety guidelines. You are required to adhere to these guidelines during the entirety of your time with us. You will also receive a hand-held copy of these guidelines in your arrival pack and they will be discussed further during your welcome talk with our Volunteer Programme Managers. Any valuables that you will not need during your stay can be securely stored.
In the unlikely event that the situation changes whilst you are here in Uganda, we will keep you informed on how it may impact your stay.
Where will I stay?
Long term volunteers tend to stay at one of the accommodation options in Bujagali (20 min drive from Jinja town). This means it is just a short walk, boda boda (motorbike with room for a passenger) or car journey to our pre-schools and Amagezi Education Centre. This is particularly helpful during rainy season when it is often difficult to travel long distances!
There are a number of different options to suit everyone’s budget. Once you have signed up to volunteer with us, you’ll be sent our accommodation price guide and our Volunteer Programme Managers can assist you with booking.
During the week, group volunteers live on site at the school they are working. On site, there are no showering facilities, and the toilet will be a pit latrine. It is incredibly unlikely that there will be any electricity or running water on or near to your site, but you may be able to charge your phone and camera in the local trading centre. Drinking water will be collected by the community from a bore hole. There is no WiFi on site, and mobile phone signal may be intermittent. At the weekend, we will arrange accommodation for you depending on your choice of weekend activity.
From time to time, there may be the option for long term volunteers to live and work on site at certain times of the year, but this is largely dependent on numbers and available sites.
What is the food like?
You can now get pretty much anything that your heart desires in Jinja. Local food options are cheaper, but more European cuisines are also widely available and won’t break the bank. Our arrival pack lists a variety of possible eateries in both Jinja town and Bujagali, and our staff are an excellent sources of knowledge about where you can get your favourite meal!
For volunteers living on site, one of our wonderful cooks with prepare your breakfast, lunch and dinner reach day. Breakfast normally consists of fruit, bread, eggs, chapatti and tea or coffee. Lunch and dinner are similar, with potatoes, rice, beans, spaghetti, matooke, cabbage, avocado and a variety of vegetables. You won’t always get everything each day, and certain products often become unavailable due to food shortages and drought, so prepare to be flexible and try everything!
Our cooks are well practiced in catering for any dietary requirements or food intolerances.
What is the climate like?
Most of the time we are lucky to enjoy beautiful clear blue skies and bright sunshine. However, Uganda does have rainy and dry seasons, although the dates of these are very hard to define and seem to change every year. All you need to remember is that it can rain, and when it does, it is often torrential! Remember to pack a waterproof and prepare to be flexible as everything often comes to a standstill.
As we’re located on the equator, the sun is extremely hot so you’ll need suncream, sunglasses and a hat. A jumper will also be welcome in the evenings.
Do I need vaccinations and medication to travel to Uganda?
Yes. Ensure you visit your health professional at least 3 months prior to your trip to check what vaccinations and medications you require, and to ensure you have left enough time to complete a full course of vaccinations.
Country-specific information about travelling to Uganda is available on the TravelHealthPro website, and useful information about staying healthy abroad can be found on the NHS Choices website. All travellers to Uganda must have a valid Yellow Fever vaccination certificate, which will be checked upon arrival.
How much money will I need to bring?
This varies dramatically from person to person and depends on what you want to do, where you would like to stay, where you choose to eat, the activities you want to try etc. The information in our pre-departure pack will help guide you but it is important to have a contingency pot for those little extras you have not accounted for. Costs to consider include:
Flight – the cost of which will depend on when you book, the dates you are travelling, the airline you choose to fly with, the number of layovers and which airport you are flying on. Generally, the earlier you book, the cheaper your flight will be.
Insurance – it is vital that you take out a comprehensive insurance policy when you travel anywhere in the world. Ensure your policy covers any activities you wish to do e.g. horse riding or white water rafting (Grade 5).
Airport transfer to/from Jinja – we can organise this for you and prices start from 180,000 UGX (~£40) for a car.
e-visa – visitors from the vast majority of countries require a tourist visa to enter Uganda. In 2016, Uganda introduced an e-visa, which should be applied for online a maximum of 3 months before travel. A single entry tourist visa (valid for up to 3 months) is $50.
Transport to/from our programmes – we kindly request that one day and long term volunteers pay for their own transport (if required) when volunteering across our different settings. If you’re staying in Bujagali, this should cost on average no more than around £2 each day. Our staff can help you organise this. If you are a group volunteer, this transport is covered by your placement fee. This placement fee, however, does not cover the transport cost to any weekend activities.
Others – accommodation, food, drinks, activities, souvenirs, mobile phone etc.
Please budget for your personal expenses separately to your donation to SPE and see our tailored pre-departure pack for detailed information.
Which currency should I bring?
The currency used in Uganda is Ugandan Shillings (UGX). UGX is a closed currency, so only available upon arrival in country. Exchange bureaus will inform you to bring US Dollars, which are widely acceptable at tourist destinations but relatively useless day-today. Pre-2009 USD are not accepted, so check the date of printing and ensure they are in excellent condition (no pen or highlighter marks, folders, rips etc.) otherwise they will not be accepted. It is also important to note that if you are planning on exchanging USD, ensure that they are large denominations ($50 or $100) as you will get a much poorer exchange rate for lower value notes.
You can just as easily exchange GBP or EUR which may save you exchanging your money twice.
ATMs are widely accessible, and are by far the easiest way to access money. VISA cards are the most widely accepted, but almost all cards will work somewhere. Please ensure you inform your bank that you are travelling to Uganda, and check the charges for international withdrawals prior to your trip.
We advise arriving in Uganda with at least a small amount of cash in case your card doesn’t work immediately or the ATM is out of cash!
Travellers cheques are more trouble than they are worth.
To save carrying more cash than is necessary, long term volunteers can transfer their donation to us directly. See Donating for details.
What is Jinja like?
Established in 1907, Jinja is the second largest town and second busiest commercial centre in Uganda. Its location lies in south eastern Uganda, approx. 87km from Kampala. The town is situated on the shores of Lake Victoria, near to the source of the River Nile. The nearby Owen Falls dam regulates the flow of the White Nile, and generates electricity. Jinja is the largest metropolitan area in the Jinja district, and is considered the capital of the Kingdom of Busoga. there’s a post office, several markets and supermarkets, a variety of cafes, bars and restaurants to suit everyone’s tastes, night clubs, hotels, hostels, craft shops, internet cafes and a variety of tourist attractions to keep you entertained!
Before 1906, Jinja was a fishing village that benefitted from its location on long-distance trade routes. The origin of the name Jinja comes from the language of the two peoples (the Buganda and the Basoga) who lived on either side of the River Nile in that area. In both languages, ‘Jinja’ means ‘rock’.
Kampala is about 2 hours west of Jinja and has even more to offer including large shopping malls and a cinema. It can be reached easily by local bus or private hire car.
What do I need to bring?
Click here to download our kit list.
What else is there to do and see in Uganda?
In 2012, Lonely Planet named Uganda as the top country to visit in the world…
“With a tapestry of landscapes, excellent wildlife watching and welcoming locals, Uganda packs a lot into one small country. It’s home to Africa’s tallest mountain range, the Rwenzoris, the source of the Nile, the world’s longest river, and the continent’s largest lake. Rafting the Nile offers a world-class adrenaline adventure but the country’s most iconic experience is tracking mountain gorillas in their misty habitat. And if you view the Big Five, you’ll see that nature – diverse and resplendent – looms large here.”
Uganda is bordered by Kenya, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania. It is one of the safest destinations in Africa – save for the odd hippo at your campsite – and you will find the best the continent has to offer at good value and with fewer visitors than in longer-established East African destinations.
The weekends are free for you to enjoy and take in as much of Uganda as you can. The great thing about volunteering with SPE is that we are flexible and actively encourage you to see more of the country. We can help you to organise safaris, gorilla trekking, rhino trekking, white water rafting, quad biking, kayaking, horse riding, bike tours and more to ensure you get the best from your trip.