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"One of the best decisions I have made!"

Helen O'Flinn is working in Kampala, Uganda. We asked her to describe her experiences so far and tell us a bit about her placement.

What made you decide to volunteer with VSO?

The roller-coaster ride in deciding whether to take up a placement offer was one of the best decisions I have made. Ending up in Uganda, in the capital city Kampala, has been an amazing experience so far. I had wanted to do development work on a voluntary basis from as far back as I can remember. When I eventually looked into it seriously for a longer term placement, I decided that VSO fitted best with my views towards development. Sharing skills and working in a sustainable way were the main attractions for me and I was delighted when I was successful in the recruitment process.

The reality of arriving in-country and getting stuck in has been amazing and challenging. I was surprised that I had a good bit of ‘culture shock’ in the first few weeks, having travelled in developing countries previously. Learning about a new organisation in a development context, new ways of working, adapting to a different pace – in the sense that differing constraints limit the speed to which results can be achieved, meeting so many great new people, getting to know my way around a new city, starting to build a new life routine, learning about a new culture and absorbing the huge difficulties faced by people on a daily basis in such a beautiful country kept the mind ticking over in the initial stages. Adapting to all of this has been a fantastic experience but not without its ups and very manageable downs.

Tell us a bit about your placement

Day-to-day life here seems so normal now after nearly three months. To be honest, in Kampala volunteers are spoilt for choice in comparison to those living outside the capital city. However, the choice comes at a price so access to variety is not always possible as a volunteer. Kampala is a tale of two cities; modern commercialism and wealth exist alongside slums and extreme poverty. Discussions regarding the level of NGO input into Uganda take place regularly (an NGO exists on nearly every corner and pocket of the country) and the dependent behaviour that this has helped to create among some of the population is an attitude which Ugandans recognise needs to shift. This view is reflective of the empowering and sustainable way in which VSO works with partners.

Travel in Uganda is accessible and the tourism potential here is vast with amazing places and neighbouring countries to visit. Ten Ugandan national parks ensure that some beautiful scenery and safaris can be experienced. Ugandan people are amazingly friendly (and up for the craic as much as the next Irish person) and putting the effort in to speaking some of the local language goes a very long way. Security is not a day-to-day issue although, as in any large city in the world, common sense needs to prevail.

My placement involves working with a National Ugandan Network whose vision is to build synergy for an HIV free Uganda. Membership of the network is open to local government and civil society organisations (CSOs) working at village, town, district and regional levels with most-at-risk populations (MARPs). Members come together in their specific regions through a technical working group forum to work on common issues of concern. My role involves working directly with all staff and board members at the network secretariat in an organisational and network development capacity.

Interested in following in Helen's footsteps?

Find out more about our current volunteer vacancies now.

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