This is the blog for Rhona and Bobby Hogg's VSO experience in Uganda. In August 2008 we applied to do VSO and, following an assessment day in London last October, we were accepted as volunteers . Because of the strong Scottish links, we had set our sights originally on Malawi where we spent a week in June 2008 but joint placements are difficult to find and in February we agreed with VSO to open up the search. At the end of March we were delighted to be offered placements in Kampala, Uganda. We are to work for a HIV and AIDS initiative called Reach Out Mbuya ( where, we hope, Rhona's community nursing experience and Bobby's IT experience will prove useful.

We are due in Kampala on 18th September and have committed to spend a year there. We are very excited about the prospect of living in a very different part of the world and working with Ugandans who, from many reports, are fun to be with. We expect there to be many challenges but our stay in Uganda should be immensely enjoyable.

We are indebted to VSO for giving us this opportunity. Our preparation, including 2 training courses in Birmingham, has been excellent and we are confident about the in-country support that we will get from VSO in Uganda. I understand that it costs VSO around £15,000 to support each volunteer. If you would like to make a donation to support our placements in Uganda please visit the Just Giving site through the link opposite.

Saturday, 11 December 2010

The End of the Adventure

It is now almost three months since we returned home and we have been very busy catching up with family and friends, and slotting back into our lives in Scotland. It just seems strange that two such different worlds, both now very familiar to us, are separated by an eight-hour journey, it’s like Harry Potter’s journey from Platform 9 ¾  to Hogwart’s School. 


We feel that a year was the perfect time to be away. We were ready to return home and we returned with a sense of relief that we had avoided any significant ailment or injury.

It has been just great to get back to old friends and familiar places and possessions. Work is easier with a reliable power supply and the use of diaries and watches. We have enjoyed autumn, seeing the trees turning and having walks in crisp autumn sunshine. Now the snow has come and it has been a novelty at first although this may well wear off, and it is strange to think that in Uganda we would be enjoying warm sunshine and sitting on the porch after work having a  waragi (G&T) and watching the colourful birdlife as the sun goes down. 

There is also a sense of freedom through the familiar and to walk on pavements (maybre not with the snow) in town and in the hills. Both our sons are getting married in the spring and we enjoy being close to our family and involved in our own family events rather than being on the fringes of those of others. It was fascinating and a privilege to be guests at Ugandan events, but it's good to be back in our native habitat, and rejoin our familiar family, social and community activiies. We enjoy the concerts, theatre and film on our doorstep in Edinburgh, and attending them with friends and family. We are so lucky.
However, we miss the day to day life in Africa, the people we saw every day at work and around our Ugandan home. We hope to keep in touch and maybe there will be the opportuniy to see again Chiseveni, his children and Florence and Maria  in Edinburgh or Uganda. They made our stay in Uganda so special. Also we are hoping that two or three of the nurses at Reach Out will be able to come to Scotland to visit and talk to Scottish community nurses about the low-resource nurse-led model of care they use to care for clients.
We have learnt that we are extremely priveleged to live in the "developed world". We'd like to think we always knew this but a year ago we didn't really know what this meant. We also hope we are more sensitive to some of the issues of identity. One aspect of this is the stigmas we create through many of our opinions which are affected by, possibly, a primitive reaction to appearance. ( I have just finished Barak Obama's "Dreams from My Father" and it has underlined my view of this - Bobby.)

We had a very enjoyable day in November when we were reunited with three of our visitors in Uganda.  We attended the graduation of one of the students who completed a project at Reach Out Mbuya and were joined by her supervisor and fellow student  from Queen Margaret University.

But for now we are looking forward to a family Christmas and the chance to meet our elder son’s fiancee’s family before their wedding in the spring. Then we have Hogmanay with a large houseparty in Portugal and our younger son’s wedding in February.
We were very fortunate to have had such a wonderful year with successful placements, great people, lots of visitors from home and a chance to explore such a beautiful and interesting country. We are also very grateful to have been so happy and settled while we were in Uganda, yet so pleased to be back home “among our ain folk”. 

“A man travels the world in search of what he needs and returns home to find it.” (George Moore 1852 – 1933)

Monday, 13 September 2010


We spent last night in Entebbe and two hours ago we took off on our journey home. We are excited about returning home but are subdued after the farewells over the last few days.

Last Thursday we had a great send off from the staff at Reach Out Mbuya, our employer over the last year.

After the usual morning yoga and religious reflection we had a pictorial (slide show) of a selection of our photographs, testimonials from some of the staff we worked with, 
some Scots and Ugandan tunes on fiddle and guitar, community singing, and a cake.

The Ugandans know how to party and this was all before 10 am.
On Friday and Saturday evenings we said our farewells to some of our VSO friends although we expect to see a few in Edinburgh before too long.
On Sunday morning we passed on the car to a VSO couple. It was with some relief that I had avoided damaging the car since selling it and that in the past year we have avoided serious accidents and further incidents with the police.
On Sunday afternoon we said our goodbyes to our landlord, his children and the two maids, Florence and Maria.

Florence and Maria made such a difference to our stay in Uganda. Each of them came in once a week to clean the house and do the laundry but it was the extra care they took of us and Florence popping in for a chat with the children that made such a difference.
At 3pm we set off for Entebbe. We couldn’t quite believe that our year in Uganda had come to an end. Rhona and I were quiet and reflective on the journey as we watched the now familiar street scenes and realised how different it was going to be back home.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Our final word from Kampala

With only five days to go until we return to Scotland after this amazing year, it seems appropriate to follow the example of other VSO bloggers and to reflect on the highs and lows, and to list what we will miss and what we are looking forward to at home in Scotland.
The year has been a package of adventure which is difficult to unpick. It has generally been much easier and more successful than we could ever have imagined. Most of our day-to-day life in Kampala has been very straightforward, we live in a very nice house in a lovely compound, the weather is always like a very nice summer day back home, we shop in supermarkets once a week but go to the market for wonderful fruit and vegetables. We eat at nice restaurants, we socialise with other volunteers and have had had great trips upcountry on safaris and to visit other parts of this beautiful, lush country. We have learned African dances and African songs. Our placements have been real jobs using our skills and providing opportunities to learn new ones. Uganda has been a great experience but as a way of life Scotland certainly wins hands down.

The Highs -

Of the placement:
Getting one nurse to an international conference in Vienna with a scholarship to present two posters, and another to an international conference in Australia to give an oral presentation.
Having two students from the Institute of International Health and Development at Queen Margaret University in Edinburgh working on research projects started by Reach Out (and having one excellent dissertation finished and another in progress).
Having a day of meetings with staff from Reach Out, Makerere University School of Public Health and the Institute of International Health and Development in Edinburgh to discuss and initiate a three-away collaboration

Going into the slum communities we serve to visit mothers and babies and also sick clients, and see community nursing African style, with no welfare state, no social workers, no running water and no sanitation
Spending time with volunteers in the north of the country, visiting rural communities and health centres

Bobby has experienced generous appreciation for his work on the Health Management Information System and travels home with the assurance that there will always be a welcome and work here should he return.

Spending Christmas with Hamish and Morven on safari in Murchison Park.
Having David on safari and spending a day in the clinic at Reach Out.
Having six other sets of visitors to stay with us.

The Lows -
Of course there have been some frustrations, but I think the VSO training in the UK and in-country must have been successful and we have been gently brainwashed into reconceptualising difficulties as challenges (a favourite VSO and African word) and perfecting the art of turning negatives into positives. So in fact I can’t really think of any lows, though plenty of challenges, and positives that started out as negatives!

Barking dogs through the night
Black choking exhaust fumes

Miles and miles of road works on dusty roads with speed bumps every 50 metres.
Frequent power cuts

The dangers of road travel

What we looking forward to -
Having close friends around, with shared histories and with whom we have so much in common.
Hills to climb
Beaches with a sea breeze
The Seasons
Concerts, theatre, dance and opera
Singing and playing music with friends
Meetings taking place as planned and starting on time
Driving without having to worry about potholes, horrendous traffic jams and seemingly no highway code
The Scotsman in print rather than on-line

What we will miss -
The gentle, courteous manner of soft-spoken Ugandans
Pineapples, mangoes and passion fruit

The Matooke Lorries
Sitting on the verandah having a waragi (local gin) and tonic after work birdwatching as the sun goes down
Starting work with yoga, reflection and announcements in the compound
Being able to have meetings outside in a shady spot under a tree
The Friday evening get-together of VSO volunteers
Sunny days and balmy evenings
Sundays spent swimming at a lovely outdoor pool
BBC World Service and Focus on Africa every morning
The wildlife and especially the birds

We are sorry to leave all our new friends in Uganda but hope the opportunities will arise to see many of them again. We are looking forward to seeing all our friends and family back home.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Gorillas

Our final fling has been a trip to Bwindi Impenetrable Forest (the name says it all) for gorilla tracking. Many of our guests have been and so we were well prepared for the long and bumpy journey (our driver was introduced to the word shoogle, the only way to describe it). We travelled down last Sunday – just under 11 hours – and returned to Kampala on Wednesday – 12 hours. (Kampala appears to have suffered the worst tropical storm in history just hours before we returned). 
The last three and a half hours is on dirt track part of which happens to be one on the main routes into the Congo and so is quite busy with heavy lorries.

On Monday morning we checked in at the UWA reception. There were 3 groups of visitors with a maximum of 8 people in each. 

Each group, with a guide, two armed guards and porters for those that wish, is assigned to a gorilla family. 

We had a two and a half hour trek in - up and down precipitous tracks – to find the gorilla family we had been assigned to – the Habinyanja family. 

We spent an hour with the gorillas which made it all worthwhile. It was a really amazing experience having eye-to-eye contact with such gentle giants, by the end we felt they were our new best friends. 





I (Rhona) was very appreciative of my porter, Jonathan, who carried my rucksack and gave me a hand with the steepest parts. Bobby still claims he only hired a porter to help the local economy, he certainly did not engage in the hand-holding bit! (not true – I didn’t fancy being stretchered out)

On Tuesday, I spent a morning at Bwindi Community Hospital, an amazing place (with a good website) which provides medical care and health promotion to the people living in this very remote area of Uganda.

There are two VSO volunteers working there and it is certainly VSO - the extreme version, with very primitive living conditions, no regular transport in or out, and no access to food except the African staples. On the other hand, it is a stunning location and a great hospital with good resources. 

On Tuesday morning Bobby had a guided rain forest walk to a local waterfall. In the afternoon we relaxed with a short local walk.
So now it is countdown to returning home, there is much to do and a very long tick list. Today we went to the village up the hill behind our house where we often walk with visitors, and distributed printed photos of various people who had kindly allowed us and in particular our son David, to take photos of them.

We had to ask around to track them down, but we found them all and they were really delighted to have them to keep.