Africa is a complex and unique continent that every year attracts thousands of volunteers ready to support local communities and their territory: among these we find our Michela Latini from the Finance department who chose to spend her recent sabbatical period in Uganda. In collaboration with ONG Big Beyond, Michela has followed many projects bringing her smile and her energy in that country: find out more about her experience in this beautiful interview
Back from Africa, tell us more about this incredible experience: What did you do on a daily basis In Uganda? Which project did you embrace?
“The projects that I followed were actually two, although I would call them one big project, one unique experience of life, because they were linked in some way: the first project concerned the production of Arabic coffee, while the second was focused on education.
The goal of the coffee one was to make the community of farmers self-sustainable and independent, thus incentivize the coffee production and create a structured farmers’ cooperative close to the impenetrable forest area of Bwindi. Thanks to Big Beyond, I set up the cooperative and drafted the first documents regarding the crop in order to help other farmers and volunteers’ work (btw, I have been the first Big Beyond volunteer who worked on this topic!). That meant also reach the local farmers to check their plantations cultivated with Big Beyond’s seeds and the coffee itself. I also met the Uganda Coffee Authority that manages the production who moreover stated a very good quality of the coffee and the land. We wanted to strengthen the community because union is economy: just think about the other local productions such as honey, jam, handcraft…there is a lot of work to do but I am very proud of what I’ve done and of Big Beyond’s next steps.
On the other hand, the other project was related to education and storytelling: another volunteer and I went to the near school and we read fairytales and local stories every afternoon – the storytelling is very powerful there, especially written in rukiga (local language). For this reason, in the past Big Beyond translated them to English in order to be transmitted to the lodges and to other volunteers. During the encounters at school we tried to give attention to the kids, drawing or talking with them, and they appreciated a lot: an easy activity such as the storytelling was perceived as a huge act, so they were very thankful. Their ‘thank you’ was so pure”.
How have you been welcomed as a ‘white’?
“They were all very curious, each one in its own way: the kids were happy to see me, that’s why I used to say hello to everyone; women too, even if they are more suspicious… so it was amazing when they trusted me and said hello, especially the old women. Their greeting was a sort of ‘thank you’: it was because all the community appreciated our work.”
Did your legal background help you in your work with the community?
“It helped me a lot, that’s why they suggested me to embrace the coffee project…to help them structure it. Anyway, apart from this I did a lot of things!”
Did you learn any brand new skills from the experience?
“I found an interest for botany and nature! If my mom knew that I worked on the coffee project (me, who cannot keep a plant live), she would laugh out loud! In fact my comfort zone was the legal world, but I soon understood that I had to step out and go further. So I studied plants and plantation, I spoke with farmers running up and down on the mountains, I analyzed every coffee seed…It has been hard, also physically, but I wanted it at all costs.”
Expectations vs reality: considering your first ideas and hypothesis, tell us the main differences you faced during these three weeks, if any.
“I am always positive when I face a new experience, so I had a serene and enthusiastic approach when I went there. Now, after my sabbatical, I can affirm that it has been more incredible and positive than expected: when you have the right type of sensibility and the true willing to have an impact, you can do everything and face every challenge. In Africa I often had low moments, you know, when you want to beat the anger and the frustration related to what you want but you cannot do: overall I can say that I lived a marvelous reality made of failure, respect for traditions, simplicity and emotion.”
And what about the impact with reality?
“Now I feel like in a soap bubble and I am readapting myself! Before the trip I thought that the challenge would have been the rural Africa and its difficulties, but it wasn’t true: coming back to reality is the real challenge…so for example walking in paved streets or working in clean and modern offices, with no connection problems has been quite bizarre! I know that I was born in an Occidental world, that’s true, but I would like to keep the simplicity that I learnt in Africa. As Proust says, ‘the real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes’, and I totally agree.”
Finally, what was your biggest takeaway from the trip?
“The landscapes, the silence of the nature, gorillas’ eyes, but also the African music and dances, the warmth of the people, and the simplicity of living with anything…the list is infinite! There are lots of little things that I jealousy guard.”
…and what advice would you give to Filippo, our colleague who will go to Uganda in October?
“I would say to be as much positive as he can, having an easy and energetic approach, and to let emotions flow, leaving worries behind. I would definitely say to remove any mental structure!.”
Curious about life in Neomobile? Check all the interviews!