ARSF-USA Volunteers -
The Experience / What to Expect
COSTS—The airline ticket will cost around
$1600, depending on the time of year. It is cheapest to go in early
winter. A visa stamp is required, and is usually purchased in advance
by sending your passport via overnight express to the Ugandan Embassy
in Washington D.C. The total cost, with return postage is around $80.
Proof of Yellow Fever immunization is required to get your visa stamp.
You will need to get an estimate the cost of this and other shots
you may choose to get from your doctor or health department. Hotel
costs are $23 per person per night. Bottled water costs $2 per day.
Laundry can be sent out for about $.60 per item. Food will cost about
$5 per day. Transportation to and from the airport will total around
$50. Souvenirs and personal items are very inexpensive.
We try to keep the total cost of the trip as close to $2000 as we
ACCOMMODATION—We stay at a friendly guest house about a 30 minute car ride from the school. It is a modest hotel all on one floor, where the rooms are accessible through the outdoor courtyard. It is clean, and the rooms all have tile floors, mosquito nets over the beds and a table. Some rooms have a TV and/or fan, but some of them do not work. Each room has a small bathroom with a flush toilet, sink and hand shower. There is a tiny tank for hot water with an “On” switch when you want hot water. You can’t always count on the hot water when the electricity goes out. The rooms are not air conditioned. Breakfast is included in the price, served in the dining room by very friendly staff who love the Americans. CLICK
HERE for more photos of the hotel, grounds, dining room, bed and
The guest house is in a quiet neighborhood and is entered through
a locked iron gate. The grounds are well kept; lovely lawn, trees,
and flowers, with patio table and chairs for outdoor dining or relaxing.
There is a covered dining area adjacent to the courtyard where meals
are served. They have a menu that includes traditional Ugandan foods.
If you need a convenience store to purchase bottled water, sodas,
fruited yogurt, snacks, toiletries, etc. there is a lovely Indian
market about 15 minutes from the school, and stops can be made when
out and about with the car.
FOOD—breakfast is served every morning at the hotel and is included in the price of the room. The breakfast menu will include instant coffee, African tea, and spiced boiled milk, eggs, toast and fruit every day.
Lunch served at the school consists of maize and beans called posho. You must bring your own spoon and plastic bowl if you want to sample the posho, and also bottled water. If you want to substitute or supplement, you can bring something you have brought from home (such as power bars or granola bars) or something you have purchased from the convenience store. Most volunteers do not feel hungry until afternoon when it is time to return to the hotel for cold drinks and food.
Evening Meals—We will take our meals at the guest house. The most typical evening meal is French fries with either beef, chicken or fish. It is safer to avoid the beef. There are also street vendors for the adventurous, where you can buy chapattis, roasted corn, etc.
The guest house does sell cold drinks, sodas and beer.
CLOTHING—the weather is tropical, so bring lightweight
clothing that you can layer if needed. Native women mostly wear dresses,
skirts and tops and sleeveless dresses or jumpers with tops. It is
not usual to see a woman wearing jeans or pants. Men wear summer weight
pants or jeans and polo shirts, short or long sleeve cotton shirts
or T-shirts. It is not usual to see a man without a shirt, or wearing
shorts out in public. Wear comfortable shoes for walking and working.
For rainy days, you will need rain gear and a pair of shoes that can
withstand muddy ground, and washed off easily. You may feel chilly
while out at night, so bring a light windbreaker or other long sleeve
jacket. A hat is good for the tropical sun. A multi-pocket vest is
good for carrying stuff and having your hands free. You may consider
buying all your travel clothing from the Goodwill store, then leaving
it in Uganda when you depart. The people there will appreciate it
MONEY—the best way to manage money is to bring
a VISA debit card and get cash from at ATM machine at Barclay’s
Bank. You can also bring cash in a waist wallet and go to a money
exchange office in Kampala. Be sure to bring larger denomination bills
(such as 50’s) that were printed AFTER the year 2000. Traveler’s
checks are hardly used at all, nor are credit cards. People use cash.
TRANSPORTATION—we will have a car and driver at our
disposal for the entire time we are there. It is impossible to describe
the “roads” in Uganda, as they are more like washed out
cow paths. (And they really do share them with cows!) Most cars are
ill-equipped to travel these “roads” but that’s
what we do when traveling as a group. The car will not have air conditioning,
and it will be very crowded. The car will bounce and jerk all around,
so be prepared for that. At times, one or more individual volunteers
may want to go by themselves into town or to school via motorcycle
taxi called “boda boda”. It costs about $.60 for a typical
boda ride. There are also 15 passenger taxis called “matatus”
which are also very crowded and slow and cost about $.20 to ride into
people of Uganda are extremely hospitable, friendly and generous.
They just love mzungus (white people) and strangers. They want to
make friends and do special things for them. Many of the children
have never seen a white person before and may be afraid, or they may
mob you if you are white, just to feel your skin or pet your hair.
They will stick to you like you are a movie star, but none of them
has ever seen a movie. The local language is Luganda and everyone
speaks that at home. The national language is English, but it is African
English, after 4 generations of Africans teaching English to each
other. If you are thinking, “Gee, I wish they would speak English
so I could understand them”, listen more closely. You might
end up saying, “Oh! They ARE speaking English”.
MEDICAL CARE—there is a hospital in Kampala
with some modern facilities and doctors. There are small stalls and
huts labeled “clinic” where you may find a technician
to dispense first aid and sometimes blood tests for various diseases.
Pharmacies do make medicines, but you would probably not be able to
get a prescription filled there. You would need to bring all medications
and supplies, including an extra pair of prescription glasses (if
you wear them) with you. The hospital and clinics are self-pay, in
CULTURE—you will see a culture that is very different
from the western one. The people we will associate with live very
simple lives, with few to no luxuries. They have their own way of
keeping time. (For instance we discovered that an “African”
hour is equal to about three “American” hours.) Their
homes usually consist of one or two rooms, with shared neighborhood
pit toilets, no running water or reliable electricity. They carry
water in big plastic containers for cooking and bathing. Many families
have had to take in orphaned children. Children have no toys to speak
of, but they make up games with things they find, such as a plastic
grocery bag wrapped and squeezed into a ball. Red dust is everywhere,
yet the people try to keep themselves, their clothing and their homes
as clean as possible. You must be careful in sharing any personal
contact information, because you are opening yourself to calls and
emails from people who may be desperate for financial help. You must
know where your limits and boundaries are. Be clear on what you can
and cannot do and be able to say no. You will not be able to help
everyone you see. There are just too many needy people. There is a
thickness in the air all the time, from smoldering trash and cooking
fires, smog, pollution, diesel fumes, latrine odors, etc. Some visitors
experience itchy eyes and/or mild sore throat and cough from the particles
and smells in the air. Bring lozenges.
You can get more information about the Ugandan culture by visiting
some of the links on our “Links” page.
VOLUNTEERS ARE PEOPLE WHO: