Incredible, Amazing, Wonderful, Perfect – Reflections of a Balloon ICS In-Country Volunteer

We often host blogs here at Balloon which focus on our entrepreneurs, or are written by our UK Volunteers. However, since last week we featured a profile and interview with one of our ICS In-Country Volunteers, we thought it would be great to continue that focus with a blog written by one of our Ugandan volunteers, James Boanergest Mutai, who was with Balloon ICS in Jinja in July 2017.

Incredible, amazing, wonderful, perfect –  that’s the impression of the UK and In-Country volunteers of their first four weeks on the Balloon ICS programme in Jinja. I’m writing this while seated at the BUNNA Café along one of the town’s main roads, with the sun streaming in and the busy sounds of the traffic and pedestrians on their way to work keeping me company.

Since we’re a third of the way through our programme, I thought it would be good to reflect on different aspects of my time in Uganda so far, to give you a flavour of everything me and my team have done since arriving.

Our time began with a week of curriculum training, hosted at the Brisk Recreation centre. The training was very interactive, and we discussed a whole host of topics related to entrepreneurship, specifically Balloon’s focus on testing and iteration. Each session begins with an energiser activity, and ends with a breather, which means you’re never just sat still in a classroom for too long! We were taught by Timm, one of Balloon’s curriculum facilitators, who made sure each activity was fun, as well as answered all our questions.

At the end of that first week was a cultural activity, designed to help the international team of UK and In-Country volunteers to bond even more than we already had. We Ugandan volunteers gave presentations on our tribal backgrounds and traditions, introducing our traditional tribal dress. We then had the opportunity to hear about the UK Volunteers’ lives back home, and for them to give a flavour of their background.

One of the unique aspects of the International Citizen Service programme is that we, as volunteers, live in the community, in a host family’s home, for the duration of our stay. The experience of staying in a Host Home has exposed us to everything that’s the same about life in Uganda to life in the UK, but also really reinforced some of the differences. I love our Host Home – the matooke is so sweet, and I think it’s the best in Uganda.

Every Friday morning we have out PSLD (Peer Support Learning Day). The most memorable PSLD for me has been visiting the Kakira Sugar Factory. Kakira was started by an entrepreneur called Madhivani in 1920, and has been running ever since. I was amazed at the machinery used on the farm, which is over 5 hectares in size! It took us over 1 hour and 30 minutes to tour the whole process of making sugar from the sugar cane. It was great fun, and really interesting thanks to our team leaders Fiona and Flavia – I love PSLDs!

Every Saturday afternoon we have a social event, which helps us grow closer together as a team. We have done everything from a movie night (“How to be single” –  I didn’t really get it!) to attending the Stonefest festival, and attending the local agricultural show. We’ve also started a Balloon ICS football team and are entering in a local league – wish us luck!

Well, it’s now 1:55 pm in Jinja town and it’s about time for my lunch. I am off to my favourite restaurant – ‘Uganda Taste’. This is my story, and I hope it’s given you a flavour of what it’s like to be an In-Country Volunteer on a Balloon ICS placement!

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