Community Transformation and Volunteer Abroad Programs

I’d like to take you through a story about community transformation through a volunteer abroad program.

This story starts out with a family founded primary school, and ends with a village transforming education, conservation and farming program. A venture that may not have come to be without a number of individual short-term volunteers traveling to Uganda to work in a locally led program, staying in touch after their programs, and getting behind the vision of a local leader.

A story in which I am proud to be a part.

Christian Heritage Centre (CHC) was founded in 2003 by Robert Lutaaya and his wife, Judith. Its main goal has always been to bring educational and social development to Najjembe, in Uganda’s Mabira Rainforest. They opened a humble, wooden, neighbourhood nursery school.

By the time The Real Uganda found them in 2009, they had primary classes up to fifth grade. Since then, CHC has expanded to include new brick buildings, a dormitory, electricity, a full primary school class schedule, and 2 demonstration farms. Not bad.

Our initial volunteers worked at CHC giving kids a break from the traditional rote learning found in many Ugandan schools. They led interactive classroom lessons, team building exercises, arts and crafts, and even yoga out in the forest. We hosted a number of men and women from Australia, Mexico, America, UK, Canada and New Zealand. They were newly graduated high school students, university kids studying education, social workers and even a retired teacher or 2.

Over the years, CHC’s teachers were trained in proper lesson planning and early childhood development. Robert gained his Master’s degree in Ministry. Judith ran the school, gave birth to 3 boys and a girl, acted as mediator in the community, and made sure our volunteers were kept clean and well fed.

Volunteers coming to CHC are given a room in the home of Robert and Judith. Volunteers live, work, eat and sleep with the family. They learn firsthand the situation on the ground in Najjembe and build a relationship with its people. They hear about CHC’s vision for the future and immediately want to be a part of it.

This is what volunteering abroad is all about. Coming to support a locally led project, getting behind the local leaders, and doing what you can to help them achieve their goals.

Here’s what happened:

In 2012, I introduced 6 interested former volunteers to each other by email. Together, they raised $6,856. A further Children’s Needs grant was given by GVN Foundation in the amount of $5,000. From this CHC built 3 classrooms, 2 offices, and installed electricity in the school.

In 2013, The Real Uganda was host to a group of visitors who had taken part in GVN Foundation’s Eat So They Can (ESTC) fundraising campaign. They traveled to Uganda for 1 week, visiting our projects to really see how their funds were used. A unique initiative I value.

In 2014, a calendar, showcasing the beauty of Uganda and its people, compiled from photos taken during 2013’s ESTC trip, was published. The ESG Foundation Suubi Calendar raised $4,649 for CHC. Crazy, eh? Robert attended a 5 month course on sustainable agriculture and purchased 2 plots of land at the edge of the forest.

Since then, CHC has been hosting international volunteers regularly.

Volunteers work in the gardens in the morning and at school after lunch. Under the direction of Robert and Judith, they are coaxing life from the land and helping kids get the encouragement, creativity and love they need.

They are supporting a local community’s transformation.


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