Volunteering At Nyaka School: An American’s Experience in Uganda

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The 24 year-old American still remembers how reluctant she was about volunteering in a country she had never visited before, let alone a country that she wasn’t very familiar with. But with a little push, a young student decided to volunteer in Uganda not only once, but twice.

Brittany Erin Linville learned about the Nyaka School and Uganda when her mother, writer Susan Urbanek Linville, worked with Jackson Kaguri on “The Price of Stones,” a book about Kaguri’s experiences in building a school in his village.

The book tells the story of how Kaguri, a Ugandan human rights advocate living in the diaspora, was moved by the plight of one million AIDS orphans in his nation of 30 million people, and decided to return home to his village in Nyakagyezi, part of southwestern Uganda. He wanted to build a school for children who had lost one or both parents to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Linville was just a freshman at Indiana University when Kaguri suggested that she pursue an internship at Nyaka School. She was reluctant, but decided to volunteer in 2007 when she was for a month in Uganda, when she was 21 years old, and then again for two months in 2008. Many of the photographs inside “The Price of Stones” are those she took during her second visit to Uganda.

For Linville, volunteering in Uganda was a learning experience. ”I learned many lessons in Uganda,” she told Ugandans Abroad. ”The first was that no matter who you are, how much money you have, or how much stuff you have, you will never be happy unless you have a positive attitude. Seeing hundreds of children that come from such dire circumstances but have a smile on their faces every morning is a very warming and humbling experience.”

Some of Linville’s duties at the Nyaka School were teaching English, physical education, music and art to primary school children in grades 5-7.

As an American, Linville had to adjust to several things while staying in Uganda. First off, in America, she does not stand out, but in Uganda she was easily noticed. “The major adjustment for me in Uganda was being the minority,” she said. ”In the U.S., a white woman with blond hair is very common. In Uganda, however, children were fascinated with my blonde hair.”

However, Linville did not have to adjust to the Ugandan diet because she really enjoyed the food. “The food was delicious, so I didn’t have much trouble there!” she said.

Linville enjoyed the weather in Uganda, which is very different from the cold winters she was used to in Indiana, a Midwestern state in the United States. “The weather was wonderful. I come from Indiana in the US where it can be very cold,” she said ”But the temperate climate in Uganda was wonderful!”

As an American volunteer, Linville said that the message she wants to give to Ugandans living abroad about her own experience at Nyaka School is to have hope, faith and keep a positive outlook on life. “The kids at Nyaka have been through so much and they still smile,” she said. ”Also, education is the key! Keep working hard in school and you can overcome anything.”

Some of Linville’s challenges as a volunteer were being far away from her family, adjusting to new people and making new friends. However, Linville said that the experience enriched her life. “I learned so much and made so many new friends that I miss so dearly now!” she said.

Arao Ameny is a New York-based journalist for Ugandans Abroad. She is interested in issues like Ugandan cultural identities, Lango and other Ugandan languages, and women’s rights.

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