Our Spirit of Volunteerism
I remember, quite starkly, in my early days as a first year student at Makerere University’s School of Law, we were settling in for an afternoon lecture when our attention was drawn to the podium at the front of the lecture room. Our class president stood waving her hand for us to give her our attention. Next to her was a young lady I had never seen before. These were the days when first year students had their classes in the basement floor of the Senate building. It was common to see someone you did not and probably would never get to know. With the class now silent, the class president proceeded to tell us that the young lady was a member of our community in need of our help. This young lady, who was tiptoeing to be visible above the podium, introduced herself and went on to express the saddening and adverse circumstances of her life and family. She and her siblings were orphaned, out of school, there was never any food at home and the struggle to make it through the day was always hard. Any amount of money and any form of assistance would go a long way in helping them. We were moved. She went around the class collecting notes and coins, expressed her immense gratitude and left. We had contributed to bettering someone’s life. I believe we experienced a sense of pride for our generosity at the time; we were givers, but we did not quite see ourselves as such.
Shortly after this young lady walked out, a student who had started a fund to help students with tuition debt walked in with a similar request: financial help. He was polite but direct. It got us thinking. I know we were all having the dilemma of choice - wanting to assist and balancing monetary needs with our tight budgets as campus students. We could only give so much. This concern or as some said ‘limited ability’ plagued me quite a lot especially in my first and second years until I discovered volunteerism and how to make it work. For most of us on campus, we discovered through various conversations, public lectures and internet searches that we could do volunteer work as a positive contribution to the change we wanted to see or in my case to help the people around me who were in need. We soon figured out that there were more ‘affordable’ ways of giving back like availing ourselves and using our different abilities and skills to help out where we could. It solved our financial dilemmas and kept our giving spirits alive.
On campus there is overwhelming evidence of giving through volunteerism. Students are often engaged in the next charity drive, rotary community activity or even free medical camps and offering free legal assistance. As Uganda’s youth, we are constantly evolving and becoming more aware of who we really are, learning about the generosity in our history, and the need to acknowledge what is happening around us and how we can be apart of making the world better. We would not be able to claim our millennial title if we were unaware of events happening around us in this robust age of information.
By the time we got into our third year, my colleagues and I had accumulated more than four months of volunteer experience with the Public Interest Law Clinic where we offered legal assistance, raised awareness about human rights and in turn got a chance to practice what we had learnt at school. As we gave our time and support to members of our community in Makerere, we gained experience in practicing law and promoted social justice, medical students improved their clinical skills, and the social work students were more grounded in empathy. I can confidently say that everyone that was involved benefited in some way as far as their education and experience was concerned. Many more of us at the university are interested and involved in volunteerism; we are giving time to support charity drives, signing up to facilitate the smooth running of community activities, spending time with children at babies’ homes and assisting at refugee centers.
We may not give as much money or any at all to the various causes that come our way but we are offering to help. This initiative is not just a plus on our resumes but it is also impactful. If you scour the Ugandan landscape today, university students are volunteering almost everywhere to try and change our communities for the better. From students pooling resources and giving time at 40/40 events, to those at refugee law project raising awareness about refugees’ plight, through photography and film at The Ghetto Film Project and nurturing children’s reading culture while promoting Ugandan literature with Sooo Many Stories. I could go on and on. We are continuing to give and we share in this joy.
If that young lady and young man from my first year experience came before me today, I think I would want to do more for them. I would give my time to direct them to someone who could further assist them past my Ugx 2000 because even giving information counts. We have given, we have been given and we shall continue to give. How are you practicing giving?
By Joel Lutimba Lumala, Law student at Makerere University – Kampala. #OmutimaOmugabi