Much to learn through volunteering

Dhiren Katwa Monday 13th October 2014 06:07 EDT

Volunteering can give an “indescribable experience”, according to university student Amit Puntambekar who recently returned from a five-week charity mission in Uganda.

Amit, 22, was part of a group of fellow students from the University of East Anglia (UEA) who were joined by students from York St John University. Asked how their trip was funded: “We had to raise £700,” said Amit, who ran a sponsored half marathon. Funds were raised through the use of social media, thanks to the local community in Fenstanton, a small village in Cambridgeshire with a population of around 3,000.

During their assignment, the team supported the work of East African Playgrounds, or EAP, a UK registered charity that aims to change the lives of children across East Africa by developing children’s learning opportunities and environments.

“We had a strict work schedule Monday to Friday, with Wednesday afternoons off” said Amit. He explained how they spent the first two weeks digging the foundations for a playground at Wansimba Primary School, a government-owned school with over 1,500 pupils in Bugiri, a district in Eastern Uganda. “Once the foundations were dug, we made cement from ground rocks, sand and actual mixture. We then had to sand all the metal so we could start on the design and painting,” added Amit.

Weekday afternoons were devoted to teaching arts and crafts to around 100 children. This involved simple games like ‘duck, duck, goose’, ‘limbo’, ‘bulldog’, ‘rope jump’ and parachuting. “The arts lessons I found difficult, as I’m no Vincent Van Gogh,” laughed Amit. “We made animals such as fish out of items we found on the ground. The children played with plastic cups and other simple items that we take for granted in the UK,” he added.

Amit explained how over the weekends they enjoyed leisure activities including white water rafting and quad biking and also managed to go on a water and land safari. They also visited Murchison Falls, also known as Kabarega Falls, a waterfall on the River Nile.

Now back at home in the UK, I asked Amit what he found most amazing about his experience: “The culture in Africa is so different to that in the UK.” He explained: “The people have so little, yet are so happy and for me it raised questions about the materialism we have in the West, we have so much, yet people are so unhappy.” Amit, son of Prakash – whose family originate from Uganda - and Jo Puntambekar, is currently studying Politics at UEA. He hopes to go on to do a Masters and then a PhD in International Relations.

Fellow volunteers on this charity mission from UEA were Ellen Blessington, 19, Harriet Rosier, Kirsten Abo Henriksen, Hannah Utting, all aged 21, IIona Moore, 22 and Sam Overy, 25. And from York St John University – Laura Bee, Jannah Robson, Hannah Buckingham, all aged 21, and Nyma Beg, aged 19.

Over two-thirds of volunteers aged between 16-24 see volunteering as a way of enhancing their career prospects and when recruiting, 80% of employers value volunteering on a CV, according to a survey of 700 volunteers across the UK by charity TimeBank. To find out more about EAP visit

comments powered by Disqus

to the free, weekly Asian Voice email newsletter