The International Writers Magazine: Working together
Most of us indulge straight back into our home comforts, but some choose to do things differently. Mike Willet, 63, left his luxuries behind him, and set off to spend the next 2 months volunteering in Uganda.
Working together to make a difference
Sad expressions of sympathy arise as another charity appeal screens shocking images of some of the world’s poorest children. So shocking, yet ten minutes after empathising we develop amnesia.
'I have long believed that the best way to help is to go and do something yourself. We in the west who use many of the world’s resources have a duty to try and least give a little back'. Mike spent one year fundraising money for his trip, equipped with a serving spirit and a heartfelt plan. He had a vision.
'Like most I thought that money was the answer, I was able to take the focus off money and on to self help'. Confirmation of his vision was soon revealed. As he wandered through the village forest he was greeted by three small abandoned children, the oldest being around six. None of them had parents, they were just another statistic, along with the countless number of orphans who have lost parents through HIV/AIDS.
158,858 was the scandalous number of orphans living in Uganda in 2004 (Uganda Bureau of statistics), and this number is increasing. AIDS has already orphaned more than 11 million African children, half of whom are between the ages of 10 and 14. (UNICEF) Moved and motivated, Mike decided it was time to put a plan in action. He and other volunteers made good use of a rather small existing building which was soon to be a new school for 70 village orphans. He was far from ostracised in the preparation of this project, locals were more than keen to become involved.
People united, donating their time, skills, and greatest efforts into building up the hoped for school. As Mike instructed the local people the best way to use their resources, villagers began making up their own bricks and sand. One farmer and his wife were so inspired by this they decided to donate a years supply of bricks they had been saving. They continued to live in their small mud hut until they were able to make more bricks for a home. Building back their community seemed to be paramount,
'They do not want hand outs as such, but help with projects that will enable them and their families to break out of the poverty trap'. As Mike watched the building blossom, he stretched his helping hand out even further and got involved in some other projects. This included organising and even participating in a very successful fashion show in aid of woman’s rights.
'It was a quirky idea I had when I first got here to help promote creativity and women’s empowerment. The show turned out to be very successful. '
It’s the drive, attitude and creativity of volunteers, which makes everyone individually unique. Most importantly it is friendship and the team building which is formed along the way. As Mike experienced it’s about working together to make a difference and helping out in ways you would never dream of to get the message across.
'It made me realise just how much we had lost from our society, I did not see a single bored child, yet they had nothing. I felt safe wherever I went, I can’t say the same about many areas at home'. Mike was so moved by his experience he is continuing to set up projects, including a Jewellery project, chicken and pig project, and maybe a hairdressing project in the near future, whatever way he can help he is more than ready.
'If local people are given presents for nothing, we are teaching them how to beg. Many villagers told me that they would rather be taught to fish than to be given the biggest fish'
Mike volunteered with Global Volunteer Network. GVN connects people with communities in need by supporting the work of local community organisations in countries through the placement of international volunteers, for further information there website is www.volunteer.org.nz.
© Nooshin Shabani May 2006
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