“Home-made peanut butter as a goodbye present”

29-year-old Svenja Bloom from Münster went to Uganda with the Team works! programme. The educational consultant, who works for Eine Welt Netz NRW, spent a few weeks on assignment with a non-governmental organisation - and came back with some useful tips.

The interview

Hi Svenja! Could you tell us a little bit about what you did on your assignment in Uganda?

My assignment was with the Grassroots Women's and Men's Association for Development (GWAD). GWAD is an NGO in North Uganda and its main aim is to provide support for rural communities. My assignment had two aspects to it - learning and helping. The learning came through accompanying the GWAD volunteers during their work, meeting other people involved and finding out lots about the region’s history and society. And I helped by supporting and developing the organisation’s PR and fundraising activities and helping out in their day-to-day work.

Why did you choose Team works! and the AGYO?

The main thing that attracted me to the programme was that it’s based on sharing knowledge and experience. If it hadn’t been for that, I wouldn’t have bothered applying. Because I think international development can only work if it’s a two-way sharing process based on equal partnership. I felt quite at home in Uganda right from the outset because I had a partner with similar interests. I also really enjoyed showing him my work and Germany (Ed: After Svenja’s assignment, Solomon, her exchange partner from Uganda, went to Münster on a Team works! Assignment with Eine Welt Netz NRW).

The photo shows four people sitting next to each other, smiling. The four people are one of Svenja’s colleagues, her tandem partner (SES expert), Svenja and her Ugandan exchange partner, Solomon.
A visit to a North Ugandan village near the city of Gulu, where GWAD (the organisation Svenja volunteered with through the AGYO) provides support for the local community.

Travel abroad to learn, not to “help”. Listen, observe and ask questions. You’ll never have this opportunity again.

What were the advantages of being in a tandem team with a senior expert, in your case Robert Haas?

It was useful to have someone around who was familiar with the local infrastructure, helped me prepare and introduced me to everyone. It meant I wasn’t “thrown in the deep end”. It wasn’t my first time travelling alone so I would have managed without a tandem partner but it’s always nice to be able to build on other people’s knowledge and experience. I also discovered different ways of seeing things through my tandem partner.

The photo shows Svenja and her exchange partner. They are both smiling at the camera.
Learning from and with one another - after Svenja’s assignment in Uganda, her exchange partner, Solomon, went to Münster...
The photo shows Svenja and her exchange partner, Solomon, in front of a laptop.
...on a Team works! assignment with Eine Welt Netz.

What would be your advice for other young people interested in an assignment abroad?

Travel abroad to learn, not to “help”. It might sound like a platitude but we’ve all grown up with the image of the “white saviour”. So be better and use your placement to challenge yourself, discover new lifestyles and to meet people you would otherwise never meet - on an equal footing. Listen, observe and ask questions. You’ll never have this opportunity again.

To finish off, can you tell us three things you took away from your assignment in Uganda?

1)      Three kilos of home-made peanut butter that I got as a goodbye present. Three months later, it’s almost all gone.

2)      Gratitude for the friendly welcome I received in Uganda and for the privilege of having the life I have.

3)      A friendship with my exchange partner, Solomon, that’s certain to last a very long time.

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