Tuesday, 31 March 2020

It's a reverse culture shock

On 26th September 2019, I wrote a blog article with the title "It's a culture shock". It was my second article, 12 days after I had arrived in Uganda.

Since 10 days I am back from Uganda. Due to the Corona outbreak, I am stranded in Germany and cannot yet return to my adopted home - Portugal.

This is going to be my second last article. The title is similar, but it is a whole new story. This is a reverse culture shock.

It is very hard to explain to my friends and family about reverse culture shock. Many of them never lived abroad. And only a few of the ones that did, experienced the harsh conditions of a developing country.

Reverse culture shock is nothing new. It happens to many people that come back from an experience abroad. It does not even need to be a developing context.

The W Curve illustrates the ups and downs of culture shock (source: interexchange.com)

But still, people around me don't understand. They say things like: Germany is your home, how can it be a "shock" to come back?

Maybe they forget that I haven't lived in Germany since 2016?  Germany has not been home for a while.
And how can they understand that the difference between Uganda and Germany could not be any bigger?

People around me don't understand and can't relate to things I talk about. Or understand my thoughts. Some are not interested in what I'm thinking either. My experiences are too abstract to follow.
I feel people ask the wrong questions, make the wrong comments. I get frustrated. 

The inconveniences of a developing country

  • The past six months I showered with cold water, I got used to power cuts and lack of internet. 
  • I learned to survive in the crowded and polluted streets of Nansana and Kampala.
  • We had to filter the water we drank and boil the water we brushed our teeth with. 
Perfect water filter, to go!
  • The selection of food was limited and banana was the main element of our diet. Sometimes I lived with two meals per day, and food was not always very nutritious. I lost 4 kg while I was there.
Typical food (from the left): Beans, Casava, Matoke (plantains)
  • The temperatures were warm, we never had less than 18 ° Celcius. I learned to deal with the rain and how life stops when the streets get flooded.
  • I had to bargain for prices at the market, for public transport, for clothes, basically for most the things. 
  • I got used to overcrowded busses that don't follow any timetable but come whenever they feel it is appropriate.
  • I washed my clothes by hand, in cold water.
Handwash. With soap and cold water
  • I saw malnourished children, spoke to women that had been raped.
  • I worked with people that had to flee their country and experienced violence we cannot even imagine.
  • I was surrounded by people with HIV/ AIDS and met people that could not afford medicine that cost not even 0,25 Euro.
  • Some people in my neighborhood earned 40 Euro per month and had to feed a whole family. Many struggle to pay school fees because, despite severe poverty, education is not for free.
  • I visited children that were neglected by their parents.
Visiting kids that were left by their mum

Many people I met in Uganda don't have an easy life

The glass is always half full in Uganda

And yet! I saw a lot of happiness. I was surrounded by children. I heard laughter and saw children playing in the streets every day when I came home from work. People smiled and greeted. Everyone was always curious to talk. 
Most of the people were happy with the little they had. And yet, it goes without saying that everything is shared in Uganda.

My friends from the neighborhood, always up for a game. 
It took me quite a while to adapt and understand the different contexts in Uganda. Sometimes I was overwhelmed by all the impressions and differences.
But one thing is for sure: I felt ALIVE and work felt meaningful sometimes.

Coming back to first world problems

Now I am back in Germany. I have a hot shower, I can drink water from the tap. Our fridge us full and my mum doesn't stop feeding me, serving me 5 meals per day. I know she means well but she is sometimes overwhelming me with her care.
The roads here are in amazing condition.
People worry about the perfect shape of a cake, about toilet paper and changing the clock.
There are 30 different kinds of cheese. Actually, I don't even care which one I eat, I am just happy to have cheese at all.
Life is much more comfortable and yet I have moments when I am overwhelmed by a deep sadness.
It feels like I live in a bubble.

How to overcome a reverse culture shock in a Pandemic?

There are a lot of recommendations on how to overcome reverse culture shock, such as:
  • Keep busy
  • Share your experience
  • Connect and network
But how can I keep busy if Corona locks me in the house? How can I share my experience if everyone is only worried about the virus? How can I connect and network with friends, when everyone is isolated?

Lost in transit

Times ain't easy at the moment, for nobody. I have to be patient with myself, my friends and family and people around me. I hope they are patient with me too.

And I know: Germany is only a temporary destination and I hope I will be able to return to Portugal soon, to the comfort of the ocean, which feels a little bit more home. Then reintegration can begin!

Saturday, 28 March 2020

Let's go digital!

From 24.02 to 28.02.2020 the Uganda Pioneers went all digital.
With a one week training, we aimed to increase the level of digital competences. This will allow participants to improve their ability to use digital tools and online information.

On the first day, before we started with the training, we asked the participants why they actually want to participate in the training. One answer we got was the following: "I am interested to learn digital tools because I want to be on the same level as others. I don't want to stay behind".

It is this kind of answer that touches my heart and makes me put a lot of effort into what I do. People here in Uganda don't easily have access to computers, let alone computer training. What is taught in school is basic and not very profound.
People realize that they miss out when not having the necessary IT skills.

As a volunteer, we always wonder about the impact we can have in this short amount of time. But this training felt meaningful.

So I was glad to be able to dedicate a full week of teaching to the members of UPA. Altogether we had 15 participants joining the 6 different modules. The training was financed by SudHAV 2 and the EU Aid Volunteer Program.

Motivated Participants, right from the start!

The content was based on Mondos Digital Competences, which I got to know during my stay in the refugee settlement in Rwamwanja. But in Rwamwanja my task was to evaluate. This time I got to teach!

Hanna, another EU Aid Volunteer from Adice and Siisi a local Mondo employe helped with the training and we split the sessions between the three of us.

Monday started with a little introduction, a pre-assessment, and the first module: Digital Safety and Hygiene. Hanna gave important safety tips to remember when using digital tools and explained possible physical threats when using digital technology. All participants created a Gmail account and learned to sent correctly formated emails.
Hanna helping to create Gmail accounts

Tuesday was all about Google tools and it was my turn to teach. We checked out Google Docs, Google Sheets, Google Translate and of course how to do a proper Google Search. Furthermore, I explained how to use Google Drive and I loved the moment when they shared documents between each other realized how easy it can be to share data. "It's magic," they said when suddenly a shared photo appeared in their Google Drive and they could access it from the laptop and the phone!
Let's talk Google!

On Wednesday, Siisi took over and taught the ABC of Smartphone Photography. In this module, the participants learned the to differentiate between good and bad quality photos and how to edit photos with the free app Snapseed. They had so much fun taking pictures of each other :-)
They had so much fun taking pictures of each other.

Thursday was my turn again. It was the module ABC of Design. This module was a mix of digital skills and life skills. In an attempt to give an idea about design thinking, I showed the participants how to ask questions for design, how to define a problem and how to offer solutions. Participants actually had to come up with their own business idea in this module. And in the end, we had a cultural dancing group, a community library, and a continental restaurant. We then had a look at canva.com together and everyone had to create a logo and a business card for the business idea they had.
Groupwork: creating a business case!

was packed. In the morning we continued working on that business idea and participants had 4 hours to create a website with Google Sites. In the afternoon we went through the ABC of Social Media. The last task I gave my diligent students was to create a social media post about the training. We made a little competition out of it and had a proud winner in the end.
Click here >> to see the post.
Obed, proud winner of our social media competition

It's been a great week and we had a lot of fun together with the participants. Every module was evaluated and it was great to read their comments, thoughts, and suggestions for improvement.

One week later I was happy to hand over their certificates, which will be a great plus for everyone's CV.
Kisses and hugs for our smart students
Proud certificate holders

It comes with nice logos and a watermark! Fancy!

I cordially thank everyone who supported and made this training possible. We act, we care!

Friday, 27 March 2020

Communication is not for everyone!

"The definition of an expert is someone who knows what not to do" [Charles Willson].
I have been working in communication for more than 10 years. Communicating is something we do on a daily basis. We talk, we use our body language, we write, we use social media, we sing, we draw to transmit messages to family members, business partners, and friends.

A cobbler should stick to his last

But just because we communicate in our private life, doesn't mean we are qualified to do so in a professional context.
Unfortunately, I have met many people in my career that felt qualified to do social media marketing, just because they have a Facebook Account or build a Newsletter just because they know how to send emails.
But like Charles Willson said: it is not always about knowing what to do, but also what not to do.

There are a lot of stumbling blocks in communication. In the worst-case, there can be severe legal consequences. GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation), Privacy Policies, Imprint, Consent Forms for the use of pictures, etc. are things that need to be taken into consideration

Organizations don't own their communication

While in Uganda, I noticed that many organizations don't have the necessary knowledge in Marketing/ Communication and leave it many times to inexperienced volunteers.

As a result, many organizations have multiple websites, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, and other social media channels, they are not even aware of. Of course, hardly anything is maintained properly. Volunteers come, create and leave. They neither share their knowledge nor passwords.

Let's fix it!

Defining target groups
When I started working, I spend a good amount of time closing accounts, deleting websites, trying to regain passwords. Unfortunately, I did not manage in every case. For some pages, it was impossible to find out who set things up and there was no way to go.

But it was not only about cleaning. Organizations need to be able to manage their own communication and not depend on volunteers.
Therefore we built a proper communication strategy to communicate in a target-oriented way. We spent a lot of time identifying and describing target groups. The result of the 5-month work was a budget sheet and a clear action plan with systematic communication measures for each month.

I also spent afternoons training staff to maintain the website, use canva to create designs and explained Facebook to be able to regularly publish on social media.

It was small steps we did, but the biggest goal was to make everyone understand how important ownership is. I left the organizations with a good feeling and am now curious to see everyone communicating, even from the distance.

Braining storming about communication objectives

Everybody was involved

It has been a great teamwork

New website www.kifad.org was launched

First marketing material was created together (condom packaging)

Tuesday, 3 March 2020

When volunteers promote volunteering

A world without volunteers would be a sad world

Every day, millions of individuals across the planet engage in development initiatives through volunteer actions – both large and small – in order to improve conditions for others and for themselves, their families and communities.

Personally I gain a lot from working for free

I have always been involved in some sort of volunteering and dedicated free time to be involved with some kind of social service; supporting a family of immigrants in Germany, working with refugee women and children in Greece, feeding homeless people in Portugal, etc.
Amongst other things, volunteering makes me feel more connected to others, and I become less absorbed in the normal stresses of daily life.

For me the advantages of volunteering are obvious, but what about the organizations I have worked for, e.g. like KIFAD?

Volunteers allow organizations to cover their specific staff needs

KIFAD - Kiyita Family Alliance for Development is an organization based in Wakiso, supporting people infected and affected by HIV/AIDS. Since 2008 they are regularly hosting international volunteers. 

Volunteers had a huge impact on the work of KIFAD in the past. They have brought valuable skills, enhanced capacities in all kinds of areas, delivered basic services, made their expertise available to members of the team and helped to collect donations and funds.

Without volunteers, KIFAD probably would not be where they are today and program manager Bob is well aware of this fact.

But not for all team members the benefits of having a volunteer within the organization are so obvious.

Therefore we organized a workshop on volunteering during my deployment, together with Uganda Pioneers Association and EU Aid Volunteer Hanna (Adice).
In a three hour session we discussed different aspects of volunteering and clarified: 
  • what it means to be a volunteer,
  • why it is important to volunteer and to receive volunteers and
  • how everyone can make the most out of it?

At the end of the day, KIFADs' staff had a much clearer picture on volunteering, its benefits and potentials. 

We certainly have created a few more volunteering ambassadors

Sam and me, ready to go!

Sam is giving the definition of a volunteer

Little game in between: making sculping emotions