A Volunteer’s Reflection on Volunteering and an Unequal World

A Volunteer’s Thanks to Those of You Who Donate to Facilitate Life-Affirming Exchanges and Volunteering Experiences

Volunteer in Africa

The anticipation and excitement of volunteering

VMM International short-term volunteer, Phoebe Pennington, reflects on her experience in Uganda, the excitement of volunteering, the insights and how important it is to connect with, and convey this to, others. This is especially true for those who donate to help her, and others, to experience life in a different place, in a different way, learning and giving of themselves, as global citizens. This is her reflection.

I haven’t written anything about my travels yet. I’ve decided it’s finally time to get around to writing something down, especially for the people who donated to my fundraising and helped me go to volunteer. Yesterday, we had a debrief about our trip to Uganda. We talked a lot about how to express your trip to other people. It’s so hard when you come home and you’ve had the craziest whirlwind of a month to answer the question ‘How was it?’. Hopefully this post will help me answer that.

VMM Short-Term Volunteer Placement

Physical Education Schoolyard Uganda

P.E. classes in the baking heat of Uganda

Rewind to 22nd July – We have landed in Uganda, Entebbe airport, and we’re driving to our accommodation. Driving through busy African areas is crazy if it is your first time travelling there but I felt settled by the beeps, the bikes and the hustle and bustle. I missed this crazy atmosphere from my previous trip to Nigeria. It was good to be back in Africa.

I was volunteering with VMM International and we were assistant teachers in two primary schools. In one we facilitated outdoor P.E. sessions and in the other we helped with English lessons. P.E, in the first school, was on the curriculum. However, class sizes of 60+ made it difficult for one teacher to take the class. So generally, aside from a small break and lunch time, these children were in the classroom from Monday – Friday from 6am – 4pm, not doing much physical activities throughout the week. We made sure to see as many classes as possible through our stay and did 1hr sessions of circuits, netball, football and games for the younger children. Strenuous in the heat but worth it as the children were active and enjoying themselves. Education there was noticeably taken very seriously (understandably) so it was nice to see the students letting go for a little while and having fun.

VMM Short Term Volunteer Teaching Assistant

Phoebe Pennington, VMM short term volunteer as assistant teacher in Uganda

In the second school, the head teacher wanted to focus on English and dialogue. These classes were of a much smaller size. It was nice to get to know the children by name, as there were a lot less than in the first school. It was more rural and a lot more stretched for resources. Infrastructure was pretty dire, but the children were more than eager to learn. It’s easy to forget the luxuries we have coming from the United Kingdom. Education is key and it’s easy to take it for granted. Yet these children, with the most basic education available, appreciate it so much. Perspective is so important and with these experiences that I have had mine is ever adapting. Within this school we helped with conversation and comprehension, even just talking to the children whilst they asked questions about home was helping their language skills. We talked about possible construction teams helping the school in the future and I think this school has a lot of potential for progress.

Lesson Learned by a Volunteer Teaching Assistant


The proximity and disparity between rich and poor can take some getting used to

Something that really stuck out to me and something I struggled with in Kampala was the wealth disparities. One minute we’re in a fancy shopping centre eating well, then on the drive home, 5 minutes maximum away from this consumerism, there are people clearly struggling to make ends meet. How can there be such a contrast on such a massive scale within minutes? This then hits home and I felt bad for giving into it and buying from the fancy shopping centre. I think if I’ve learned anything about myself it’s that I really struggle now to not look at the bigger picture. My thought process always looks behind everything now. ‘Will people suffer from this?’ ’Will this keep funding this wealth disparity?’ It’s annoying at times but I think if there was no concern from me after seeing these things, if there was no feeling, it would be a lot more worrying.

I’ve taken a lot of positivity from this experience and a lot of learning too. Africa is not what you see on the television, not everybody is drastically ill. The media portrayal of never-ending horrors is distorted. The two African countries I’ve visited have been full of happiness. Yes, they might need help. Yes, they might have less. However, they are happy and beautiful countries that have my heart and hopefully hold a small piece of impact from my volunteering experiences. The experience has only reinforced my love for development and confirmed how excited I am to start my degree in development.

VMM Short Term Volunteer Phoebe

VMM Volunteer, Phoebe Pennington

Click the links to see more from Phoebe’s blog or read more blogs from other VMM International volunteers on different projects, learn more about VMM International and our volunteer opportunities and to donate to VMM International. Keep up with the latest news and opportunities by following us on Facebook: @VMMInternational, Twitter: @VMM_Int

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