I volunteered with Soft Power Education for just over six months in 2013. It’s tough to break down what I saw and experienced into some sort of hierarchy of personal reflection. It isn’t necessarily the big stuff like the festivals and celebrations that stick in my mind. Although they were definitely a sight to see. Sometimes it’s the smaller moments that leave the most impact. Sharing a meal at my friend’s house and having a kick of the football with the neighbours is the sort of stuff that I think will stand the test of time in my memory. I had so, so many great conversations with people while I was there. We talked about the contrasts and similarities in our cultures, the power and significance of skin colour and the many and varied flaws in my dancing technique. Yeah, we covered all the big stuff.
One of Soft Power’s draw cards for me was the opportunity to live in the community that they work with. I don’t know if I would have met as many people or had as many wonderful conversations if I hadn’t been staying amongst the very people that make the charity worthwhile.
I spent a lot of time on the building site of Kyabirwa Children’s Centre as the Soft Power builders and volunteers constructed a new classroom and Special Needs clinic there. To see it get built was definitely interesting but I had also got to know a lot of the kids who would be having their lessons there. I’d helped out in their existing classrooms a little bit, we’d hung out a lot and I had met their parents and their grandparents and their many brothers and sisters. It changed from being just a useful new building to the room that Juma would learn in and that Adam would do his physiotherapy. I was able to get to know the builders a little more too because I didn’t just see them during my time on the building site. I saw them in the morning as they walked past the house where I was staying and in the afternoon as they bought supplies from the shop. I met their families too and we talked about jobs and school and what Australia looks like. I didn’t just have to take Soft Power’s word for it that their work was beneficial, I could see it in so many areas of the village that became my temporary home.
When I arrived, people told me that you get hooked on Uganda. That the place kind of draws you in and doesn’t let you go even once you’re back in wherever it was that you came from. I totally get that now. I was shown such an overwhelming degree of acceptance and generosity by so many people who didn’t have any obligation to be so welcoming. I was still very much a tourist and my skin would always make me stand out but, for the time I was there, I really felt like a part of the community.
Looking from the outside, you can check out the stats and read testimonials like these and see that Soft Power Education does beneficial work with the communities it is involved with. But when you’re right in there with the people that make Soft Power work as well as the people it is working for, you really start to understand how incredible this charity is and why it’s so important. But don’t take my word for it. I think you should see for yourself.