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Wanjee means something like huh or what? A word you will hear a lot like kale, bambi and hmmmmm.
FAQ: questions you get all time and for that reason you create an extensive FAQ page on the website. And what do you think? You just keep getting them! Do I have to vaccinate myself when I go to Uganda? What about a visa etc etc.
New website and oh well, we have just copied the information on the new website even though we know that it is hardly looked at. Enjoy reading and we can’t wait to refer everyone to this page with simple questions;)
First of all, where is Uganda located?
We have noticed that many people have a weird idea about security in Africa. The first problem is that the enormous continent is seen as one country in which everyone is the same. Obviously, that is far from the truth. Just like their are big differences within states in the United States the inhabitants of the countries in Africa differ from each other.
To get to the point; in Uganda there are certainly areas that you are best to avoid after sunset. Even though Uganda is one of the safest countries in Africa we still advise you not to go around in a poor neighborhood on your own at night. A big advantage to Uganda is the fact that social control is very important here. Despite the overall poverty theft is therefore relatively rare. Many people know each other and everyone pays attention to each other’s belongings.
When a thief is caught everyone gets involved and the thief running away will be stopped by bystanders. On the one hand, this is nice because it makes a potential thief think twice before stealing something. The other side is less nice because the whole group will also punish the thief and this is something you do not like to experience. Not as a thief, but certainly not as an unsuspecting volunteer or tourist.
We have picked Masaka and the surrounding areas as our working area because it is a smaller city in which social control is very high because almost everyone knows each other. This is much less the case in the capital Kampala; about as many people live here as in the whole of the Netherlands and because it is an urban area, food prices are higher and fewer people have their own vegetable garden. Unemployment is high, which, combined with poverty, hunger and greater anonymity, means more theft and other crime.
All these points do not apply to Masaka; the main reason we chose Masaka is safety, but that is not the only reason. The city is also very beautiful. It is located in a hilly area and it is a very green city. Big enough to have a little bit of luxury (like restaurants with western food and good Wifi or a nice pool) but small enough to guarantee you’ll probably never be stuck in traffic here.
It is important to take into account that there are many poor people in a country like Uganda. So.. Don’t show off your ‘wealth’. You should not do that anywhere because it makes you a douche but in a poor country it can have dire consequences. So do not take your entire collection of gold jewelry with you, make sure that you do not have your entire budget for your stay in your wallet.
When you are in the capital be extra aware. For example, when calling someone make sure you are aware of what is happening around you. When in a car, keep your phone away from the window. Always use the Safe Boda’s or Ubers when going out to a club or a restaurant. If you observe these rules and use some common sense, you will be fine. Our chairman has been living in Uganda since 2016 and he has never had a bad experience.
We follow the travel advice from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding national security. Especially during election time (the next one will only be in 2021), tensions can arise in Uganda, especially in the capital Kampala. During the elections, our volunteers are therefore not allowed to go to Kampala for a trip and we also keep a close eye on the situation in Masaka. If real problems arise, we ensure that the volunteers do not go to their project during those days and stay safely with their host family or in the hotel/guesthouse. We are in contact with the Dutch and Belgian embassies. In the event of tensions, we immediately take precautions to ensure that the risks are limited to a minimum. We are always available by email or on one of our telephone numbers for those at home who are concerned.
Preparing is actually very easy and therefore very difficult. You simply have to be completely open to a new experience and yeah, how do you do that? Uganda is completely different from any western country. But how do you prepare for this?
Our advice is to first type in Google the words ‘experiences volunteering africa’ or ‘experiences volunteering Uganda’. In addition, it is also interesting to simply search for ‘information Uganda’ or ‘advice volunteer Uganda’.
In our experience, the vast majority of visitors bring far too many clothes. Most do not wear them and drag them senselessly back and forth. In addition, it also takes up space that you can use for all kinds of nice souvenirs! If you’re afraid you don’t have enough with you; you can buy all kinds of good (often used) clothing here for great prices. This also helps the local economy!
To make it easy for you, here is a list of garments that we think are a must to take with you;
- a warm cardigan (it can get a bit cooler in the evening)
- a summer coat
- one or two sweaters
- 5 or more t-shirts / tops
- one or two shorts / skirt / dress
- enough underwear and socks
- sneakers (a pair you don’t mind to turn light orange)
- nice slippers (you will probably wear these the most)
- optional sweatpants (just comfortable)
- two long trousers (also applies to ladies who come to volunteer on a Catholic project)
- for the ladies who want to wear a skirt on hot days on the project; bring a skirt that is well below the knee
- for the ladies; you may wear tops or t-shirts on the project as long as you are not showing a too much cleavage. Outside of the project it doesn’t matter as the average Ugandan woman shows a lot of cleavage. In Uganda it is mainly the leg that is sexy, so make sure you don’t show too much leg when you are among the locals!
- swimming gear
- two towels
- a scarf (shawl) as it can still be chilly in the morning and evening (especially in the rainy season)
Be aware; it is quite dusty here and this dust makes everything orange. So either bring only orange items of clothing or items that you always wanted to paint orange. Another thing; it will be difficult to find a washing machine or a dry cleaner. Clothes are hand washed and therefore they don’t last so long.
In any case, take the following things with you;
- good sunburn
- a spray against mosquitoes (preferably without DEET)
- sunglasses with good UV protection
- English three pin adapter or world plug
- remedy for diarrhea / paracetamol
- cap or hat (also available here)
- travel wallet
- if you wear contact lenses; sufficient contact lens solution
If you are unsure whether or not you should bring something, please contact us.
It is wise to take out travel insurance. When closing, make sure that voluntary work is allowed. The conditions differ per country and insurance company, so pay extra attention. If you are not sure whether your insurance company covers voluntary work, you can ask the question on Facebook (post the name of the insurance company with a # in front of it and you will receive a quick answer).
It is also important to think about a cancellation insurance.
At the moment it is mandatory to have proof of yellow fever vaccination. But.. Very important; always look for the latest data concerning mandatory vaccinations online. We know that our Dutch government has a special page dedicated to this subject and we have found one for travelers from the States but please, do your own research!
Malaria occurs in Uganda, that is a fact. This is a bit of a weird subject for us because we can’t really advise you. Our chairman has been living in Uganda for years and he does not use anything to prevent malaria other than long pants in the evening and sometimes a spray (without the toxic Deet). The same applies to almost all the expats he socialises with. It is not because they want to get malaria but because they don’t want to use medicine every day. In case you get malaria, Uganda is a country that has extensive experience treating it.
But again. We can’t advise you because we would put you in harms way with whatever we would advise. Taking the medicine is not good for your body, getting malaria is also not a nice experience. So, please do your own research.
Masaka has a large and very well equipped hospital. The doctors who work there are well trained and they have all the facilities to help you in case of problems. Our chairman lives in Masaka and is available 24/7 to accompany you to the hospital in case of illness or complaints. He also has standard tests at his disposal to see if you have malaria or just a flu. In the case of malaria, you don’t have to worry too much either; it is not a nice disease but the hospitals have so much experience with malaria that the treatment is very good.
Public transport is of unprecedented importance in a country like Uganda. The most common means of transport is a motorcycle taxi, the so-called bodaboda. Many volunteers use the bodaboda to get to their project. We can’t make it mandatory, but please make sure you always wear a helmet when traveling with a bodaboda. Since hardly anyone in Uganda rides with a helmet, good helmets are only for sale in Kampala. A good helmet costs about $ 75 and if you want us to buy it for you, please let us know well in advance.
If you want to travel from city to city by public transport you have three options. The matatu (taxibus), the coaster (small bus) and the large touring cars. The matatu is the cheapest and for that reason we advise our volunteers not to use it. The taxi vans are often overcrowded and the drivers are always speeding. We recommend taking the coaster or possibly the touring car.
There are quite a few differences between our Western culture and Ugandan. As a Westerner it is a nice country to reside in but there are some things we want you to prepare for.
The word Mzungu
It literally translates to “white person” and this is a word you will hear a lot. We directly associate this with racism but this is not (really) the case. Where we are told as a child that it is not good to stare or shout “hey black person” to a colored person, it is exactly the opposite here. Children learn at home and in school to warmly welcome the white person, resulting in waving children (very cute) and adults who like to say hello.
With the mzungu comes the hunter. Really! These are young Ugandan men who do everything they can to hook a white lady. And they are good at it; some have “girlfriends” in different countries, all of whom they receive money from. We mapped most of them in Masaka and we warn our volunteers about these young men. The female variant does not really exist in this form. You can assume that many Ugandan men or women would like to date a westerner. They may see it as a status symbol or, worse yet, an means of making money. And no, this is no exaggeration. We therefore advise our volunteers not to date locals during their stay in Uganda.
This sounds worse than it is but still good to take into account. Uganda is a poor country and also very corrupt. It sometimes seems as if the mindset is that if you can get some extra, you are stupid not to. So you have to be on your guard and haggle a lot. It is also important to agree on a price in advance, for example with a taxi. Our employees are now quite experienced in this area; just call them if you’re not sure!
Unfortunately, it is still the most normal thing in the world in many homes and schools to beat annoying or underperforming children. The teachers are simply unaware of the alternatives because they themselves were also beaten as a child. So it is normal to beat your own children and the children in your class. As a volunteer you can always start the discussion (in a neat way), alone or together with your coordinator.
Yes! You should definitely explore Uganda. The country offers you so many different landscapes; from the beautiful lakes in the south to the rugged mountainous north.
Public transport is pretty good if you don’t mind waiting a lot, being not so comfortable for a long time and you have to be a good negotiator (or overpay all the time).
If you want to be sure that you are in a good car with a good driver, just arrange these trips with us. Yes, you pay a little more but it makes the trips a lot more comfortable.
You can buy a local meal for 3,000 shillings (about 70 cents). Usually you get (sweet) potato, rice, matoke and a bean sauce. For about 6,000 you can order a meal with meat or fish.
A western meal at a local restaurant is often limited to spaghetti and this is quite tasty if you have forgotten how spaghetti normally tastes. If you want really good western food, it is best to go to one of the western restaurants in Masaka (15,000 to 25,000).
It is advisable to buy a Ugandan SIM card if you plan to stay in Uganda for a longer period. The costs of this are very low and it has many advantages; for one you can call (true story) but even better.. You can buy data bundles so you can whatsapp or skype or facebook or youtube or or.
There are many public toilets in a city like Masaka and they can be pretty clean. And they can be not so clean! They charge you anything between 100 and 500 shillings. Most of them are squat toilets so start practicing so you are prepared when you reach Uganda.
There are a lot of shops in Uganda. Really, a lot! Almost everyone is an entrepreneur and has their own shop where they sell almost the same things as the neighbours. In larger cities (such as Masaka) there are also a number of larger stores where you can buy items that are not generally available in the small shops.
To give you an idea about the prices of common products (beware; prices change quite a bit during the year. One dollar can buy you:
8 avocados or
8 big mangoes or
2 big clusters of small sweet bananas or
20 large bananas (200 shillings each) or
1.5 bread or
between 20 and 25 tomatoes or
2 big pineapples
We hope this gives you a bit of an idea! Do you want more examples? No problem, contact us and we will tell you how much rice/beans or onions you can buy for one dollar.
This word probably means nothing to you.. At the moment that is. When you return from Uganda it will be one of the few Luganda words you understand. The word mzungu simply means ‘white person’. Where we are brought up with the idea that you should not address people about their color, that is exactly the opposite here. Children are told from a very early age to greet the white people happily with ‘Hello mzungu!’ or “See you, mzungu!”. At a later age this is sometimes followed with the words ‘Give me a soda’ or ‘Give me some money’. Yes, a bit more annoying.
The purpose of FAQ item is to make you realize that there is no point in getting too annoyed about it or to feel offended. It is meant to be sweet and not racist! That does not mean you can’t discuss this with locals. I sometimes take the time when I see parents telling their young children to say ‘hello mzungu’. I ask them to envisage themselves living in a country that is 99% white. Would they like it if many people would point at them and say ‘I can see you, black person!’ They almost always say they wouldn’t like that. I hope that these parents explain this reasoning to their children, family members and neighbours. But one very important piece of advice; don’t let it offend you.
When you think of Africa you think of lions and all kinds of other deadly animals. And yes, there are plenty of animals in Uganda that can kill you, but most of these you will only find in a national park. However, the most deadly animal in Uganda is the mosquito and that is why we ensure that you as a volunteer always have a mosquito net around your bed. In addition, you will probably not be happy with snakes and large spiders. You hardly see these in everyday life; in the four years that our coordinator has been living in Uganda he has seen a snake twice. So do not worry but make sure you pay more attention when you walk somewhere in a forest.
The Republic of Uganda
Uganda is a landlocked country in East Central Africa. It borders Kenya to the east, South Sudan to the north, the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west, Rwanda to the southwest and Tanzania to the south. The southern part of the country includes a significant portion of Lake Victoria, shared with Kenya and Tanzania. Uganda is located in the African Great Lakes region. Uganda is also located in the Nile river basin and has a varied but generally adapted equatorial climate.
Almost everyone in Uganda speaks English because everyone had to speak this language during the English
occupation colonial period. Besides English there are an incredible number of dialects of which Luganda is the most widely spoken.
Most people in Masaka speak Luganda. You can easily get by with English but you will see that it is very nice to have mastered at least some Lugandan phrases. Locals are very happy when they see you and they become even more happy when you speak their language. Thanks to Joe M on Youtube there is a small Luganda course here so you don’t have to arrive unprepared!