Volunteers of ROM 2016: Bodas, Blogging and Border-Crossing – being a “Muzungu” volunteer in Uganda

By: Geraldine Kauma and Annika McGinnis

Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative offers a holistic approach to HIV/AIDS support and care through medical, spiritual and social support. ROM’s unique model makes it a hub for social research on HIV/AIDS and those infected and affected by it.

The uniqueness of ROM’s work and its great community involvement has also attracted a series of volunteers and well-wishers from around the globe.

In 2016, three young people traveled to Uganda to volunteer with ROM: Noah Kersting from Germany, who was at ROM for 11 months, and Mattia David and Emily Butzakowski from Ontario, Canada, who were both in Uganda for 3 months.


Noah worked in the laboratory for most of his time at ROM. We interviewed him to find out more about his experience:

ROM: “How did your placement at Reach Out Mbuya Parish HIV/AIDS Initiative come about?”

Noah:There is a Catholic Church in Germany called Bistum Osnabrück that partners with many countries all over the world, sending high school graduates to volunteer for 11 months. Through this program, I was able to make a wish of where I wanted to be placed. I wished to volunteer in Uganda. I found out I would be working at Reach Out Mbuya in the capital of Uganda and I was very excited.

He even won himself a local name, “Kiggundu,” from the Ganda tribe.

Noah(in green shirt) enjoying tea and chapatti with other volunteers at the ROM staff day out in July

When asked about his stay in Uganda, Noah had this to say:

“I will miss the people at Reach Out Mbuya. I’ve made great friendships here, it will be hard to say goodbye. I will miss the Comboni house, going to Zone 7 on Wednesdays for the live band, roasted chicken from the street, and traveling by BodaBoda. I love the weather and relaxed lifestyle in Uganda – it is very different back in Germany. All of the people I have met in Uganda have such a happy and positive outlook on life I will miss that too.”


Emily working at her desk in the communications department during her stay at ROM

Emily worked in the Communications and Public Relations department at ROM’s Mbuya site. She was instrumental in setting up the new organizational blog and other tools to make ROM more visible.

Emily: “My university has had a partnership with ROM for a few years through a program called Beyond Boarders. Through this program, students are placed in various countries in various organizations based on their interests. I just finished my degree in English Literature and Professional Communication, which made Reach Out the perfect place for me to exercise my skills in the Public Relations department.”

We asked Emily about her first impressions of Uganda and Reach Out Mbuya. The first thing she noticed about Uganda was “the heat,” she said, as it was still quite cold in Canada.

“Our first day in Kampala was a lot to take in with all of the traffic and markets along the streets,” Emily said. “It was the first day that I learned the word “muzungu” and I very quickly became used to being called that. It was nice to be welcomed so warmly as part of the Reach Out organization. I really felt that they were a family and that each person who joined them would be treated as family.”

Emily canoeing during one of her trips around Uganda

When asked about the highlights of her stay in Uganda, she reported:. “I have loved experiencing and adapting to the culture of Uganda. Some highlights include trying the different local foods, experiencing local music, learning how to dance like a Ugandan, and having the opportunity to listen to so many people’s stories. I have enjoyed working in the Communications department because it has given me the chance to really understand Reach Out as an organization, which has made me feel very involved and attached to the work at ROM. Exploring Uganda on weekends has been amazing. I loved seeing the diversity of the Western and Eastern parts of the country; my favourite spots were Murchison Falls and Lake Bunyonyi.”

“What have you learned at Reach Out?” we asked the young Canadian.

Emily: “I have learned the value of generosity and the importance of putting yourself out there. During my time here, I’ve really tried to live in the moment and relax. The people I’ve met have inspired me to trust that God has a plan. Through my work I’ve improved my writing and editing skills and have learned the inner workings of an NGO.”

MATTIA DAVIS on the other hand, worked in the laboratory for her time at ROM and was greatly involved with the clients in Reach Out’s various centers. She even had the chance to move around on the Mobile Van to conduct medical outreaches in other communities.

Mattia came to Reach Out through her university, St. Jerome’s, which has had a partnership with ROM for a few years through a program called Beyond Borders. Participating students are placed in various countries in organizations based on their interests.

“I am studying Kinesiology with the hope of continuing my medical education when I return to Canada. The laboratory at Reach Out Mbuya seemed like the perfect fit for me to explore my interest in the medical field,” Mattia said

Mattia observing blood samples in one of the ROM laboratories

Inevitably, she faced some challenges in the new environment:

“The language barrier when conversing with the clients has been challenging at times, and I can imagine it was challenging for the clients as well. When traveling on weekends, figuring out how to navigate the public transport was difficult, but by the end of our stay I was used to it.”

We asked Mattia what she had learned at Reach Out.

“I have learned the many aspects of how a clinic functions in Uganda as well as learning to conduct TB tests, Malaria tests, and RTDs,” she said. “I have learned so much about the challenges of HIV and the facts and myths that surround the virus. Ugandan culture has been a learning experience in itself, learning how to wash my clothes, how to roast corn, and how to get around by Boda Boda.”

When asked about the highlights of her stay, Mattia pointed out the following:

“Having the opportunity to learn from Patrick (ROM staff) in the lab has been a great experience. Being able to conduct the various tests has made me feel like I am contributing to the team. Life after work has been fun as well, I love coming home and drinking tea and eating roasted corn with Santa(caretaker) or going to Zone 7 on Wednesday nights to watch Janzi Band. On the weekends we have been able to travel the country; my favourite places were Sipi Falls and Jinja.”

On Emily and Mattia’s last day, we celebrated their time here with cake, soda and “sambusas” – the Ugandan version of fried Indian samosas.

Emily and Mattia posing for a photograph with Dr. Betty Nsangi, the Executive Director of ROM (2nd from left) and other staff

ROM greatly appreciates the efforts of its volunteers and is always seeking new ones. If you are interested in coming to ROM as a volunteer, either from Uganda or internationally, please contact us at reachout@reachoutmbuya.org for more information. We are open to short or long-term stays and offer enriching academic, professional, and cultural learning experiences. Join us!

Mattia and Emily at the Equator during one of their tours

3 thoughts on “Volunteers of ROM 2016: Bodas, Blogging and Border-Crossing – being a “Muzungu” volunteer in Uganda

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  2. Mattia, Emily and Noah you were volunteers who served ROM clients with a true heart. ROM family appreciates your dedication and flexibility.


  3. Emily,Mittia and Noah thanks for choosing to spend your time with us in Reach out.Each of you contributed differently to ROM family especially your selfless heart and zeal to serve the community,positive attitude and the fun time.You will always remain in our hearts.May God bless you with good health and long life as you continue to serve his people.


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