I have just returned from my three month internship in Uganda and it was quite the ride. I was working with a local NGO, the Uganda Volunteer Development Association, who partnered with UNESCO’s World Heritage Volunteer Initiative. The project was aimed at sensitizing local communities around Uganda’s two main Natural World Heritage Sites; Rwenzori Mountains National Park, and Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, about the importance of environmental conservation. I also had the opportunity to work with another grassroots project in Eastern Uganda to build a cultural museum to help promote sustainable tourism opportunities for a very remote village near Mount Elgon. I learned so much about Uganda while traveling across the country and living in many different communities and I was amazed by how beautiful the landscape and people are. I also had many frustrating moments during my stay, whether it was getting sick with Malaria, waiting days for a signature from the local government authorities just to be able to start working in a community, or trying to cook basic meals on a little charcoal stove. Regardless, I am still thankful for all these challenges because they showed me what life is really like for the majority of people living in Uganda and many other parts of the developing world.
My first project was in a small village called Bumasobo near Mount Elgon in Eastern Uganda. It was one of the most beautiful and lush places I’ve ever seen; surrounded by mountains and waterfalls. This was a very interesting experience for my team and myself since we were the first Bazungu (white people) to ever visit this community. As a result, there were a lot curious locals staring at everything we did. Our team helped plan a site to build a cultural museum and guesthouse that would bring sustainable tourism opportunities for the community. The objective of the project was to use tourism as a driver to bring other development needs to the area such as improved roads, energy access and health care. I quickly learned how difficult it can be living in such a rural and remote community with no electricity, toilets, showers and other amenities I take for granted in Canada. I also learned how frustrating and slow it can be working there because of limited resources and disorganization.
My next two months were spent in Western Uganda at the two World Heritage sites in Rwenzori and Bwindi. Our team partnered with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, who operates both of these National Parks to work with the different communities living around these parks. In each community, we had the chance to meet with many community conservation and development groups to hear about what kind of impact they have had and the different challenges they face. It was both very interesting and sad to hear these groups speak about their work. Many conservation groups were essentially volunteers helping with things like border management tree planting, keeping wildlife inside the park and sustainable agriculture. These groups had very limited resources and were rarely given any financial support by the Uganda Wildlife Authority or local government. Almost every community around the parks had similar issues and it frustrated me seeing how corrupt and inefficient the state authorities are. I did get to hear about many positive community development stories too through organizations involved in women’s development, wildlife conservation groups and education. These groups inspired me by how resourceful and dedicated they were and I was amazed by the positive initiatives they created in their communities.
Overall, my time in Uganda was one of the best experiences of my life. There were many highs and lows but I got to meet some amazing people I will never forget and it taught me so much about everything that goes into community development.
Craig is a student in the 5th Cohort of the Master’s of Development Practice Program. His research interests are Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation, Natural Disaster Preparedness and Risk Reduction, Poverty Alleviation, Community Development, Environmental and Social Justice.