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Niamh Arthurs and volunteering with UCDVO in Africa

Niamh Arthurs, one of our MSc in Clinical Nutrition and Dietetics students writes a few words about her time volunteering with UCDVO in Africa.

"Although they say 'A picture tells a thousand words', I don't think it's possible to sum up my time in Africa with the wonderful community in Kisiizi, extraordinary people in Kisiizi hospital and the magnificent 13 other volunteers that I had the pleasure of going with.

Although the UCDVO training days had prepared me a lot for project, answered a lot of my questions and provided me with an insight of what to expect, being over there was so far from what I had imagined. It was even more incredible. The vivid colours that surrounded us, the exotic sounds, the natural scents and smells. It was stunning and felt so much like a dream.
There were many heart-breaking moments, sad stories and shocking realisations that hit us hard. But there were also so many heart melting euphoric times that have made the most gratifying, uplifting and joyful memories that I will treasure forever.
This experience has really developed my understanding and appreciation for building rapport and working alongside the communities, local people and employees in the hospital in order to enable long lasting changes to occur. It would be similar if someone from another country came into Ireland and told us how to do things better. They may have a point, but we would be reluctant to completely change our ways all at once. We would probably be more open to ideas and to listening to others if we felt our own voice was heard and understood. UCDVO are well known and appreciated in Kisiizi. These connections and established relationships really helped us in implementing change and encouraging developments a lot quicker.

 Another thing we were advised before travelling there, was to teach and do things that could be continued after we left. Otherwise things would shortly return to the way they were before we arrived. No short term fixes. This also stimulated my thoughts on the value of short-term volunteering. Since returning home I have been asked by so many if I would do it again. My reply is absolutely, I would spend the rest of the day packing resources and things that would be of use over there and fly there tomorrow IF AND only IF there were specific roles and work that I could contribute to. Otherwise I wouldn’t be contributing or benefitting the people over there. And that must be the main reason for going.
I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity with UCDVO. I have always been eager to volunteer in this way and being out on project and speaking to other volunteers really drove home how brilliantly run and organised UCDVO is.

"Life in all its fullness" is the motto of Kisiizi hospital. I certainly have a greater appreciation of how little we can live on and yet be so happy as the people in these communities do. I hope I don’t ever forget this.
Niamh Arthurs
MSc Student Dietitian

UCD School of Public Health, Physiotherapy and Sports Science

University College Dublin Belfield, Dublin 4, Ireland.
T: +353 1 716 7777 | E: public.health@ucd.ie