My time volunteering

I was posted to Uganda to do information work with the country's Co-operative movement -- mostly agricultural and trading co-operatives and credit unions. With my Ugandan colleagues, I started a newspaper -- Co-op News -- and helped co-operative societies around Uganda produce their own newsletters on Oxfam-funded manual Gestetner machines. We championed co-operative ways of working and doing business wherever we could -- such as at the popular district shows held across Uganda. 

The impact of my placement

I hope I brought some useful skills from my three and a half year training as a journalist on newspapers in East Anglia before I did VSO. If it is not too grand a sentiment I hope, too, that the volunteer ethos made for good and effective relationships with my Ugandan colleagues -- it felt to me as if it did. I think we all felt there was a thirst for more information among farmers and small traders across Uganda about what co-operatives beyond their own area were doing and were planning and about how co-operatives could help them boost their own livelihoods and we did our best to deliver that information. Idi Amin was to seize power a year after I left and, sadly, years of political turbulence were to take their toll on the Co-operative movement. But today there are co-operatives or similarly run organisations that play their part in the household economy of Uganda.

My unforgettable moments

One unforgettable moment was at one of my first district shows. We had constructed a Co-operatives stand and float and I remember painting a banner or two as a final flourish the night before the event. The next morning we discovered that it had rained heavily during the night -- and as the floats assembled for the parade and grand opening our banners were reduced to limp, sodden streaks. It was an early lesson in taking into account and respecting The Rains.

Fifty years on from the start of my VSO assignment, the memories are of every single day opening my eyes further in some way or other to the way people lived there...often with the odds stacked against them....often prioritising education for their children however challenging that might be. It was constantly humbling and constantly an education for me.


The impact my placement has had on me

It impacted totally on my life. I went on to a career as a broadcast journalist -- and my first foreign posting was back in East Africa...others later were in southern Africa and South Asia. So much of my reporting and programme-making has been influenced and informed by what I witnessed and learnt working as a VSO volunteer. International development has always been a major interest beyond journalism, too. And some no doubt would say that I still drive like I did when we were working with co-operatives the length and breadth of Uganda.


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