Nicola Swann, fundraiser, Uganda

Nicola Swann was a fundraiser for an autism charity in London before volunteering with VSO in Uganda. She’s sharing her skills and expertise in fundraising with the Uganda Society for Disabled Children, a charity that provides crucial support to disabled children and their families across the country. Here, Nicola describes the highs and lows of life in Uganda and dodging goats on her way to work…

Starting out in a new job can be difficult, let alone starting one in a new country and a completely different culture. How prepared did you feel?

VSO’s pre-departure training prepared us pretty well. We were told to expect to feel quite a few highs and lows – to love it at first, and then to get annoyed by everything. I do think when you arrive everything is new, and exiting, and different; and then as time goes on the things that were new and exciting start to really get on your nerves. Eventually you move through to more of an acceptance and it all starts to feel like home.

What did you find hardest to get used to in Uganda?

Uganda is really noisy - if it’s not the ‘boom boom’ of the music, it’s the generators or the dogs at night. It was quite a challenge to go to sleep at night. And the bugs! I really hated the bugs.

Any particularly unwelcome six-legged guests?

The number of times I’d come home and find a cockroach sitting on my toothbrush was a bit too much to bear at first!

How has living in Uganda been different to living in the UK?

Definitely the way animals are so integrated into daily life. Back home, you rarely see chickens and goats and cows wandering the streets, but for me it’s now normal - goats wander through my office on a daily basis! Certainly one of the highlights here are the children on my street. I live on a really small street, which is overcrowded with little shops selling charcoal and washing powder and is littered with literally hundreds of children. When they see me everyday, they say the same thing, they say ‘Muzungu! Bye, bye! Muzungu!’ and I never tire of it, I just love it and I say it back.

Has everything gone as you expected on your placement?

At the beginning I would get quite frustrated by what I saw as a lack of motivation. Nine months into my placement I have reached a level of acceptance - now I see more positives, and I’m happy when I see that the team is working together. I’ve accepted that I’m a small cog in the grand scheme of things, so although I’m not going to make big changes like I had initially hoped, if I can make just a small change then great.

What have you learned about international development through VSO?

I think it’s important to realise that development is not just about bringing money in from overseas, it’s about building local staff capacity so that organisations can raise money for themselves, both locally and internationally.

Are there any skills that you have picked up that will be useful in the future?

I’ve moved into a managerial role since I’ve been here which is something I’ve never done back home, so I think that in itself has been a really good experience for me, and possibly one I could use when I return home.

What would you say to someone about to do VSO?

I think if I had to give any advice, it would be to be realistic about what you hope to achieve, and remember that small changes count, they really do.

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