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The pearl of Africa, a place of contrasts

When you arrive in this wonderful state nicknamed "the pearl of Africa" for its rare beauty, the Ugandan population is immediately particularly warm and welcoming towards all foreigners who arrive in the country, and it is nice to see how the love of this people for their homeland, puts visitors in the conditions after a few days to learn the culture and traditions of this people, allowing anyone a rapid integration, up to establishing a fraternal relationship with them.

On the way from Entebbe airport to Mutungo, where Making a Difference in Uganda's "home base" is located, you get lost in the magnificence of the dense forests and once you arrive, you find yourself in an environment full of nature, trees, flowers, a stunning views of Lake Victoria (the second largest freshwater lake in the world) and a starry sky that you will hardly see in Europe. All the people of the staff made me feel immediately one of them, it really feels like family.

After the briefing, my first day of volunteering with MDU, took place in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, here modernity has made its way, but is always accompanied by the poverty of the suburbs and slums. We walked through the dusty streets of the city, looking for youngsters and children who, for reasons of poverty or family problems, do not have a place to sleep. The goal is to make them carry out some playful activity with the aim of making them socialize and keep them off the streets for a while and possibly medicate the wounds they have.

The kids, who cannot afford an education, are exposed to conditions that are not suitable for their young age, including the use of the "mafuta", a handkerchief wet with Kerosene, which is used to get high to "escape" from daily difficulties - The MDU staff tries to fight this habit, educating children and young people on the danger of these substances, which are neurotoxic and can cause permanent damages -. The first time you come into contact with this reality, it is particularly difficult to accept it, but the smiles of children and young people who have fun for a few hours, as it should be normal for them, just fill your heart and make you understand immediately how much the work of the volunteers is important.

The next day, I did my first Medical Outreach, in a small village surrounded by plane and banana trees. Together with the staff we have prepared all the work stations (pressure check, disease test, medical examination and diagnosis, distribution of medicines). Specifically, I was involved in carrying out tests for HIV and Malaria. Even if the people visited are so many, the hours pass quickly and the effort is almost not felt, on the contrary, working with the MDU guys is really a pleasure, the mood is always high and the motivation, given by the awareness of performing a useful job, that's a lot.

Uganda is a controversial country, it has incredible landscapes, dense forests, waterfalls that take your breath away (personally Murchison Falls are one of the most magical places I have ever visited), immense lakes, mountains and the savannah inhabited by fantastic creatures such as giraffes, elephants, lions and rhinos. At the same time, unfortunately, within Uganda there are very poor realities, real slums, where people do not have access to the most basic services, primarily health and education. I remember very well the feeling I felt the first time I entered Katwe, one of the poorest ghettos.

Yet here people continue to smile, to be strong, to face life day by day and have hope. Here people want to do things, kids want to study and redeem themselves from a world that is too corrupt.

I would do this experience with MDU a thousand times over. Volunteering here means getting a lot more than what you give. You never want to leave and as soon as you return home, your head will bombard you with memories:

Trips in Boda Boda (motorbikes taxi) - huge fun, but be careful; trips by van with the staff and the other volunteers; the very good Rolex (no not the watches, the rolled eggs inside a chapati); the nights spent looking at the stars; sailing the Nile in Jinja aboard a canoe; the nature that surrounds you; the sunsets of fire.

But above all: the smiles. The smiles of people who truly care about you, even if you are a “Mzungu”, a foreigner, and make you feel welcome. Happy to be there.

It is difficult to forget all this and I believe it will not happen. These are all things that remain in the soul and volunteering for Making a Difference in Uganda was one of the best choices I could have made.

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