Footsteps through Uganda

Social care worker Grainne O’Rourke was one of five IMPACT volunteers who work with Nurture Africa in Uganda earlier this year. She writes about her experience as the charity is seeks more IMPACT volunteers for another project visit in October.

I’ve been an HSE social care worker for 19 years. I work with young teenagers in Naas.

I’ve done a lot of voluntary work over the years. It’s something I enjoy doing. I’ve worked with the Chernobyl Children’s Fund, family projects with farmers in Estonia, Outreach Moldova, which caters for young people with special needs, and with Mother Teresa’s street children projects in Kolkata in India. Without wanting to sound like a martyr or anything, I try to do something each year.

The recession makes it harder to raise the necessary funds to go and work on these projects. Me and my friend Roise Brannick were actively looking for something to do and she discovered this article in Work & Life magazine about Nurture Africa’s projects in Uganda. The opportunity just seemed to fall into our laps at the right time. We were delighted. With only our fare and inoculation costs to cover, we didn’t have to face the stress of fundraising in order to go. IMPACT was sponsoring the rest. So well done IMPACT!

We had to get our various shots done (which costs about €300) for Typhoid, Cholera, Yellow Fever, a Polio booster and Hepatitis A. And you do have to prepare yourself mentally for this type of trip. You need to think about how you’ll respond emotionally to what you see. Having seen deprivation and poverty up close in India, I had some sense of what we might be facing, but Nurture Africa also conducted briefings before we went out.

The poverty is shocking when you see it first. You have to brace yourself and you need to accept the fact that, however much you might want to, you can’t change the world in an instant. Same goes in my day job. The idea is to try and have a positive effect one little bit at a time, but to be realistic about how much you can achieve. The really valuable part is being allowed to bear witness to the type of work that Nurture Africa are doing there.

I’ve been taking part in a child sponsorship programme in Cambodia for a number of years, and when I heard that Nurture Africa also ran a child sponsorship programme I decided to find out more. I met Eric, who I’m now sponsoring through Nurture Africa.

Eric is living with his granny, who’s 83. His mother has passed away and his father has long term health issues, but he’ll be able to receive an education now and meeting him was a real experience. My sister’s taking part in the same programme.

Every day there was something different to see. Each was inspirational in its own way. I was very impressed by the sustainable micro-finance project. I met a group of four women who set up their own business through a loan they took together through the project.

It works a bit like a credit union. It provides a vital form of financing which encourages and supports a sustainable livelihood. It gets people out of poverty, and all the people we met are clearly proud of what they’ve been able to achieve. It’s about empowering people.

I really enjoyed the experience of reading with children in the libraries and listening to them sing their songs. Really inspirational.

I’d encourage anyone who’s thinking about taking part to think about why you want to go and what you want to get from it. It’s a great experience and something that will stay with you. But it’s one you have to prepare for. It’s a culture shock, but it’s a good culture shock.

When I got back, I was able to reflect on how lucky we all are in the western world. We’re lucky to have what we have (and that’s what I tell my children), even though we get wrapped up in complaining about what’s wrong, or what we don’t have. We all do that.

The young people I work with have seen the photographs from the trip and have shown huge interest too. My daughter starts college this year. She’s going to train in social care, and she wants to go and have the same kind of experience too.

Grainne O’Rourke
July 2013