Guest post: Building playgrounds & gorilla treks in Uganda, Africa

Hi guys! This is the very first of hopefully many guest posts to be featured on the blog!

I first met Ming via a mutual friend, shortly before he took off for his charity trip in Africa. 
Below is his experience from volunteering, teaching and trekking for three weeks in Uganda, Africa…

There is a tendency for many spontaneous “Yes I’ll do it” moments in my life. One such moment was a drunken agreement in a bar with Raising and Giving society recruiters, combined with my stubborn nature of doing what I had promised I would do, resulted in myself falling into becoming a charity volunteer and fundraiser. I’m a research student in medical technology, I shouldn’t be doing random things undergrads should do, but here I am a year later, after finishing 3 weeks of volunteering, building, saving gorillas and a trek challenge.

These spontaneous “Yes I’ll do it” moments have always been life changing in some ways: meeting new people, seeing new sights and doing new things. The whole “I will figure how I’m going to do it” comes as it goes, after raising £500 of the £2200 target. The break down of the target is £600 going towards community playgrounds, the other parts of the target is divided into living costs, trek, gorilla science permits, food, flights and the overheads of the charity and their brilliant staff members. With that in mind, I paid for the rest myself, due to the fact it’s pretty much a holiday and an experience, I morally don’t fundraise for holidays.

East African Playgrounds (EAP) is famous in Uganda for providing their schools, nurseries and orphanages a playground that would last 15 years, as well as playgrounds built in refugee camps in and near war torn areas of Africa, working with UNICEF to provide educational play and creative learning. Creativity is central to early childhood and later childhood development, it improves social skills, and communication skills as well as confidence.

I’ll attach a donation page we made at the start of the year if you would like to donate to our cause:

Do visit EAP’s website for more information on how to get involved.

One of the major fundraising challenges worth a mention, is my involvement in a “Jailbreak”, where teams from both University of Portsmouth and University of Cambridge had a charity challenge of which team could run away the furthest from the UK in 36 hours without spending a penny for travel.

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We weren’t one of the winning teams, but we were the first to escape from Portsmouth, thanks to the lovely people on Southwest Trains for putting up with us and giving us travel tips. But we did it for a laugh and returned as we bagged us free travel on P&O Ferries to St Malo, were we met up with another team in the same boat, which we joined up with the next day, as we knew we lost by the morning.

On a side note though, we as a team set a ‘no fly’ rule because it was too easy, the winning team did make it to Istanbul as they flew.

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It is recommended that if you are doing jailbreaks, do contact travel companies days beforehand, please don’t turn up and ask for free travel if you just want a get away. It ruins jailbreaks, making them harder, and air travel is not free for charity events anymore because of too many people asking for free flights.

When we arrived at St Malo, we Hitched a ride with 2 guys going to fetch their base guitar from the south of France, who were Southampton University students, who knew that rival cities would be happy to do such a thing!

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We ended up agreeing to stay in Nantes for the night on the ferry and which is slightly further away than Paris, which is brilliant, because we didn’t lose. When we got there, the people were way nicer, in fact everywhere aside the usual tourist destinations we had so much help.

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Team “We Somehow got a Villa in Nantes for the Night!” Thank you to all who help us and fed us on the way. And thank you to Jean-Marc and Michelle Lecarpentier for the ride to the ferry port home.

Trains in France are seriously comfortable! And so smooth!
Fast forward to June, arriving in Entebbe Airport and the heat wasn’t as bad as the heat in Dubai some hours before, though still hot. Though nothing had prepared us for the nightmare experience that was about to hit us.

Two words “Kampala Traffic”

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Our destination was 2 hours away, at the Nile River Explorers Camp in Bujagali. It took us 7 hours to get there and by that time it was 10pm, and we pretty much crashed upon arrival.

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We didn’t know that the Nile River was behind us at the place we stayed at overnight. Not a clue until the next morning. I usually wake up early when I’m around unfamiliar surroundings, and this time was greeted with an hours worth of the most relaxing views I had experienced. Then time came to leave and travel to our project location 45 minutes away, at a school named St Paul’s School.

Look, Cat!

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We ended up calling The Nile River Explorers Camp “home away from home”.

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The immediate thought of arriving is there are cows, I mean there are cows everywhere back at home, but never in touching distance from the school playground. To spend 7 days here is all right, it’s like camping and 2 of the classrooms where temporarily used as our lodging, so at least there was a roof.

What were really different were our toilets, aptly named Long Drops, its up to your imagination at this point. Since you as readers are not part of our group of volunteers, our number 2 discussions are probably a bit too open to be written about.

After introductions and orientations, day 1 of volunteering came to a close. As volunteers, we were briefed before we went, to not give anything away to the children or local people, it promotes a culture of tourism begging and the Ugandan Government doesn’t want their population reliant on free aid.

Day 2 was full of energy at first, but that energy was spent digging the holes for the structural foundations of the playgrounds. They were many 1.5 feet to 2.5 feet deep depending on what playground features it was to be built in the area. I may have dug a few holes in my life, but now at least I can say “I went to Africa to dig some holes”.

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We had such a good team working together, that the digging was ahead of schedule, So Bolt, our build supervisor decided that it was time to put up the swings.

Meet Bolt…

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The other side of us building a playground, was providing, participating and hosting Arts and Play Sessions. Learning through play is the easiest and simplest form of teaching that comes naturally to children.

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Duck Duck Goose was never so stressful and funny.

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And the Hokey Cokey, was never so dangerous.

Slowly through the week, things started to take shape.

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We were so ahead of schedule we were allowed to wander off to see the sights near by, so here’s us further up the Nile

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And here’s some of us at EAP house on a visit, we’re all there but all over the place.

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At this stage, we had done what we came to do; the rest was in the hands of the charity’s safety inspections and quality controls. The builders had their last bits of build work that as volunteers we could not do.

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East African Playgrounds decided we should have a treat, so we bought ourselves entry to a fancy hotel to relax by a pool, which ended up as a few hours being our jolly bunch of Brits abroad.

Knowing that our challenge lay ahead of us, a freaking 100km trek across Uganda. Which started off pretty chilled. We began at Lake Bunyonyi

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And the views are enough to stop everyone from doing anything for 2 hours

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Then fast team sped ahead, practically sprint walked up hill and what a mistake that was. Tired of climbing uphill for 3 hours, we only stopped at tops of hills, which was a great test of will power.

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2 days later, trekking to Lake Melehi, then trekking to Lake Matanda the next day.

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We got a boat to an ECO island camp, which used to be a punishment island for females that got pregnant outside of marriages and whom were left to starve, last used around 15 years ago for the purpose.

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The next day, on Lake Matanda we took a boat ride across the lake to our new starting point. Chameleon Hill Resort, and had lunch there with a view to match! Three volcanoes in the distant background with the lake in the foreground, what a moment.

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The day after, we trekked into the jungle to see where a portion of our fundraising went to – for mountain gorilla conservation. We encountered 5 different black wasp nests, which tare the most evil creatures I have ever encountered in my life! Their stings feel like being stabbed and the fiery pins and needles is not a thing to repeat, it was relentless.

After a 5-meter vertical drop down a muddy cliff and running for our lives from more wasps, we encountered a group a mountain gorillas that we were tracking. Safe to say, even though we felt like we were annoying them, it was an experience that I’ll never forget!

You can check out more of Ming’s photographs on his instagram account @mrmcwu

One Reply to “Guest post: Building playgrounds & gorilla treks in Uganda, Africa”

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