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Volunteering experience: a level playing field?

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Volunteering experience: a level playing field?

The experience of going to volunteer for one year in Uganda with a sport NGO gave me an insight into all the skills I have to offer and positive things I can contribute but it also showed me the vast inequalities that exist. It led me to question: do sport for development programs always best serve the people who are its recipients?

Inequality

Despite the dynamic, capable version of Uganda being presented to me once I got there, and in contrast to what I was expecting, I knew that there was a gap between me and many of the Ugandans I came into contact with.

During the second part of my volunteering year I was asked, by the NGO I was working for, to go to a district of Uganda which had been affected by various conflicts over the previous 25 years to kick start a health and education based sports program for young people.

Divide
The sense of divide between me and the other volunteers from the district was brought home to me on a Saturday afternoon on which the final set of league games of our first season were being played. Due to an error I made, in a letter sent to 20 or so coaches, there was a belief among them they were to get an additional amount of money at the end of the season, on top of money they had received weekly, as part of their transport reimbursement.

Only some careful words, including admitting my mistake and a promise of a meeting to sort the problem out calmed the situation and averted what would have been an embarrassing moment in front of the donors. It did, however, give a sour end to what as a great closing day to the league program.

Reflections

My experience as a volunteer brought home to me the level of inequality between my home in the UK and in Uganda, what I saw was a programme that was trying to do something good but felt at times like an apology for a global system that sees people in countries like Uganda valued in an unequal manner to those in the UK. Likewise, it seemed as though instead of addressing such issues this program and other development programs seem to tell people to change their behaviour without addressing the reason that people might find themselves in that situation in the first place.

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Author

Thomas Howie

Published

Sunday, April 15, 2012 - 23:00

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