We’ve come to the end of a jam-packed training week, and are now settling in to our host homes over the Easter weekend. Here’s a bit about the first few days…
Older and wiser
We arrived early on a very wet morning in Kampala. I was immediately reminded of the big, heavy raindrops that fall in tropical countries. They are so different from the silly drizzle we get at home, but they immediately drench you, and leave a sweet, earthy, damp grass smell in the air afterwards. We were greeted at the airport with a welcome smile from our lovely team leaders: Katherine, Thomas, Nana Anna and Patience.
For this first week of training, we stayed in Peace Cottages hostel, a peaceful spot in Bweyogerere town in the east of Kampala. On a walk that evening, we wondered along the old rail line, which runs through the town up to the National Mandela stadium. Local residents and teeny kids stroll along the tracks at a suitably slow Ugandan pace. The land is so lush and green here, and the rolling landscape provides picturesque views of hills littered with colourful houses.
It was a chilled weekend, and a personal highlight was celebrating my 24th birthday on Sunday! The 12 Ugandan volunteers that we will be working alongside joined us for dinner. They all surprised me with a big card, birthday cakes and tasty presents (including a creme egg from home which I’m saving for a sugar emergency!). Aunty Swag (Agnes), the owner of Peace Cottages, sorted us out with some jugs and we mixed up a tropical punch to enjoy alongside some boogeying in the hostel!
Learning from one another
As I said, it has been a very full week of training! Here’s a little bit about what we covered and discovered:
Monday – ICSE
Herbert, Challenges Worldwide’s Country Manager, came and spoke to us about the ICSE programme. Learning more about the socioeconomic situation in Uganda meant the purpose of the programme really clicked for many of us. There were a couple of things that really shocked me, of which I’ll go int to more detail in the next blog post.
Tuesday – Sharpen the Saw
After a dusty run in the morning, and the classic boiled eggs, sweet bread and milky tea for breakfast, we cracked on with some learning. Dr. George is a Business Mentor from Afri Banana Products Ltd and Director of the African Graduate Entrepreneurship Institute. On Tuesday he spoke to us about Business Consultancy and Project Management. We covered the basics, from how to construct a business plan, to using a simple Gantt Chart, to habits for effective time management. Having spent time working in Germany, George was quick to stress the importance of punctuality, a concept which seems to be somewhat stretched here!
Wednesday – ‘Busyness’ or business?
Today we were matched with our counterpart volunteers and businesses! I will be working with Naira (to be introduced in a later blog), for a Waste Management business. Though not as glamorous as some of the others’ businesses (banana wine, honey or coffee – I wish!), waste disposal is very important here. The local government does not provide the service, instead it is run by private companies.
In terms of learning, we went over Business Planning with Maria, and Business Operations with Prince, a facilitator who has previously been an ‘Entrepreneurship Development Expert’ for the UN agency UNIDO. He highlighted the importance of efficiency and effectiveness in operating a business, and begged us to consider whether ‘busyness’ in our SME’s operations was actually good business. Not usually!
Thursday – Marketing Mix
Sales and Marketing was today’s focus, again with Prince. Having never thought about it much before, it was interesting to consider the idea that the customer’s needs are the real basis for any good business and marketing strategy. First you have to identify what is wanted and needed by the customer, and then work out how to create and product or service to meet that customer’s requirements. Only once you’ve done that can you start to consider how to sell it to them. Simple stuff, which many of my fellow volunteers had already covered, but it was new to me!
We had a little social in the evening, complete with tropical fruit (the mangoes and pineapples are so tasty here!), rum and coke, pretend Pringles, and The Theory of Everything projected on the white wall.
Friday – Money money money
This morning our facilitator was Agbas, a former Ugandan Team Leader for ICSE in Kampala. He is now working as a private consultant, which just shows the kind of opportunities the programme opens up for young people here. We covered the financial side of business, including the importance of recording financial data for good accounting. At lunch, we nervously met our new host families. As it’s the Easter weekend, many people travel back to their home villages in the more rural areas of the countries. So some volunteers didn’t have a family to take them home, but will be house-sitting instead! It was a strange and rather emotional day, as we left our little Peace Cottages bubble, where we had been looked after so well, and headed off on individual adventures. Added to that, our lovely Iman has had to go home, so we sadly said goodbye to her. It has all got a bit more real, and we will all miss being able to hang out every evening and share as a group.
Let’s hope everyone settles in well to their host families. Happy Easter!