In 2009, Ogilvy & Mather, in partnership with International Needs, set up the Many Ogilvy Hands (MOH) project to build a school for 450 local children in a town in Uganda. Every four months, volunteers from across the Ogilvy group travel out to Uganda to get involved in the project.
Sitting at my desk in Paddington, sifting through emails, writing status reports and completing my Maconomy timesheets seems like a million miles away from my afternoons a few weeks ago…6,247 miles to be exact as I was in the small town of Buikwe, Uganda, with the Many Ogilvy Hands project. Along with 11 of my fellow Ogilvy colleagues, I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to head off to Uganda in March to get involved with the project and see firsthand what Ogilvy has been doing in this distant land for the past four years.
The comfort of nine hours’ worth of British Airways-strength air conditioning hadn’t prepared me very well for the equatorial humidity that hit me in the face the moment I stepped off the plane, and any thoughts of keeping my well-straightened barnet looking anything short of “beachy waves” were quickly dashed as soon as the first strand of hair came into contact with Ugandan air (I now know why all the local women choose to keep their hair short, rather than face an ongoing battle with a pair of hair straighteners!). Despite this initial shock to the system, spirits in the Ogilvy camp remained high as we picked up our backpacks and 20 extra bags worth of donations and headed to our guesthouse for the night, before making the two-hour journey to Buikwe the next morning.
After hearing stories from previous trips and seeing photos from colleagues, it was great to finally see the project site for myself. Alongside the original classrooms first built by MOH, there was also an admin block, and now the foundations of a new set of classrooms lay waiting for us to put our building skills to the test. Despite being somewhat challenged in the DIY stakes, I really enjoyed the building work, which involved lots of brick throwing (no JCBs on-site, surprisingly, so building materials have to be moved entirely by hand!), brick laying, mortar mixing and ground levelling. Our days were split between the building site and teaching in one of the classrooms, both of which were physically (trying to control a classroom of excitable teenagers was by no means the easier option of the two) as well as mentally demanding but still incredibly rewarding.
One of the most challenging aspects of the trip was not trying to resist the platefuls of delicious food knocked up by Barbara, the amazing cook, it was travelling with the project’s social workers into local villages to visit some of the families that the charity works with. Despite their cheery and excited demeanour at school, the harsh reality is that many of the local children come from homes torn apart by HIV/AIDs, malaria and extreme poverty. Whilst they may be able to attend school (for many, this is thanks in part to sponsorship), their siblings may be missing out on an education either because they are too sick or too poor to go. Eye-opening doesn’t even begin to cover what it felt like to visit some of these families, but it definitely boosted my MOH experience, especially meeting the child that I had sponsored and seeing what the project can do to help local families.
Despite the full schedule of building work and teaching, we managed to fit in a trip to the source of the Nile and a trek through a nearby rainforest, as well as countless hours of post-supper parlour games. Despite all working for the same company, one of the best parts of the trip for me was meeting colleagues from different corners of the Ogilvy group, all of whom I would consider great friends now. From visitors in the night, warm Nile beer, killing Tony at cards (on more than one occasion), Barbara’s carbs, mosquito nets, skipping club, feeding the 5,000, birthday G&Ts and so many other great memories, my trip to Uganda with the Many Ogilvy Hands project will certainly be one I won’t be forgetting in a hurry.
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