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The pay may be low, but teaching English in Uganda is one of the most rewarding experiences you'll find with a TEFL certificate.
One of the most stunning forested nations on the planet, from its snow capped mountains to its tropical rainforests, Uganda’s incredibly diverse landscape is just one of the reasons it’s known as ‘The Pearl of Africa’. Its famous forest sites include Budongo Forest Reserve, Kasyoha-Kitomi Forest, Kalinzu Forest Reserve and Bwindi Forest. There’s also enough wildlife and open space to fill 10 national parks, the best of which are in Mgahinga, Bwindi, Ruwenzori and Murchison Falls. Kibale National Park is particularly worth a visit as it has 12 different species of primate and plenty of opportunities for wildlife tracking.
In a country full of lions, hippos and crocodiles, adventurers will find more than enough challenges and an abundance of heart-racing activities. The wetlands and mountainous landscapes lend themselves well to climbing and trekking and if that's your thing, Mount Muhavura and Mount Mgahinga are a good starting point. Popular treks include the Karamoja and Central Circuit trails, though experienced climbers may prefer to traverse the summits of Mount Elgon, a daring endeavour as the highest peak, Sudek, reaches over 14,000 feet. Mount Elgon’s National Park is also famous for its waterfalls, gorges and hot springs, which reach temperatures of over 118 degrees. Adrenalin junkies can find further thrills on the white water rafting trip of a lifetime through the rapids of the White Nile. Composed of 2,300 miles of rivers, its path runs through Owen Falls Dam near Jinja, which is considered by some to be the original source of the Nile itself.
Experiencing the sheer variation of Ugandan culture can be an adventure in itself. Many of the country's ethnic groups can trace their roots to ancient and stone age ancestors; the Bantu were some of the earliest people to come to Uganda and still constitute nearly half of the population as they are spread across a large number of tribes, mainly the Banyoro, Batoro, Banyankole, Baganda, Basoga, and the Bagisu people. Uganda is also the home of a small population of Pygmoid people, the closest modern relatives of stone age man, many of whom live far from civilisation on the by the Congolese border. The rest of the country is mainly populated by Nilotic people who have lived in Uganda about 1000 C.E. Modern groups include the Luo Acholi, Alur, Langi, Lugbara, Madi and the Kakwa. A rich intertribal and cultural history are the main elements of modern Uganda and make travel throughout the country a voyage of natural and cultural discovery.
Cultural experiences in Uganda are many and varied, with 40 different languages spoken amongst the Bantu and Nioltic populations and a combination of tradition and commercial progression. The cities are in stark contrast to the lush green forests, though the capital of Kampala is a perfect example of the old and new living side by side. Spread over 10 hills it is a mixture of Victorian red-tiled homesteads, modern skyscrapers and breathtaking natural views. Built on the remains of the old Kingdom of Buganda, plenty of evidence of its origins can still be seen. Tradition is, however, still kept alive in several parts of the country; travel west of the capital to the Mbarara District and you may meet the Bahima, a race of Ankole people. Their lives are focussed on their cattle, and with such importance placed on finding good grazing ground, they live a nomadic life and have been largely untouched by modern influences, still wearing traditional dress and living by tribal traditions.
Many modern tribal groups keep tradition alive with a love for dance and music, which is never more apparent than on ceremonial occasions; the banyankole perform the Kitaguriro dance, the Banyoro perform the Runyege and the Acholi have the Bwila and Otole dances. On the western side of the Nile the Alur perform the Agwal dance and Bagisu have the Imbalu dance, although this is only performed at circumcisions! Festivals are an important part of life and occur throughout the year; while at personal celebrations and national holidays such as Independence Day and Peace day, music and dancing carries on for days.
Following several years of political unrest and warfare Uganda is at last beginning to get back on its feet and improving the educational system is an important part of that. Prior to 1986, education accounted for 15% of the national budget but had risen to over 17% by 1990 and has now risen nearer to 30%. The Government also brought about the vital change of 10 years of free education for primary school children with the Universal Primary Education (UPE) of 1997. Though this is limited to only 4 children in each household, it has meant an increased number of children have access the education: two years after the act as passed it was estimated that 6.6 million children were enrolled in primary school.
In 2007 the Government also made secondary education free. The country’s biggest problems are now an ever-increasing pupil to teacher ratio and the subsequent low standards. Teachers often work with classes of more than 75 pupils and resources in rural areas such as the Bugiri District are limited and the system is in dire need of organisation. The Government is working towards improving the standard of the curriculum and encouraging students towards higher education but progress is slow.
Despite the state of its economy Uganda’s investments in education have meant that there are more schools to teach in, even if resources are a little stretched. Though English is the official language of Uganda, Lugunda is the most commonly-spoken, closely followed by Franca Swahili. The importance of English for both education and trade means that it is in high demand throughout Uganda. Kampala is a popular place for teachers, as are nearby towns such as Entebbe and Kyotera, where growing industry and larger populations mean better resources and better organisation. Private teaching is an option but the average salary for a Ugandan is around 250 dollars a year so pay isn’t high, though the scenery and pupils make it very worthwhile.
Poorer and rural areas such as Nyakasiru in the depths of the Kabale region are also in great need of English teachers. Volunteer projects supported by the Government can be found in this area and have more funding and resources due to the contribution of the volunteers. Teach Inn offers teachers the chance to work with underprivileged children from the villages of Nyakasiru and Karorwa and improve their standards of education. Working in the valleys also has the benefit of excellent trekking opportunities and even the chance to get a closer glimpse of the country’s most famous resident, the mountain Gorilla. If you are planning on travelling, do yourself a favour and don’t forget to check the terms of your visa!
Accommodation in Uganda can varying greatly. Living and working in the more central areas usually means a better standard: hostels with running water, electricity and facilities for cooking and washing. Not all areas of the city will have the most modern facilities, staying in areas such as the Kawemple slums and Sese Islands on Lake Victoria may not be luxurious but accommodation will be comfortable and bring you closer to the community you’re working with.
If you are planning on volunteering then your accommodation will usually range from a shared room in a guesthouse, to a hostel or volunteer house, or a homestay with a local family. Most guesthouses and hostels will have basic facilities and project co-ordinators will offer access to larger towns and adventurous activities in your time off! Whether your position is paid or voluntary, it’s a good idea to look at locally-owned accommodation; homestays offer local cooking and culture, while hostels are likely to be more modern and offer the chance to meet other teachers working in the country.