What it’s Like to Volunteer at Malayaka House

This post was written by Asa Waterworth, an American woman who volunteered at Malayaka House for several months between high school and college.

As a senior in high school, I had no desire to go straight to college. I didn’t know what I wanted to study, and while I love(d) Vermont, I was curious about other countries, cultures, and cuisines. I decided to take a gap year and while some people thought spending time abroad was a great idea, others didn’t quite understand my somewhat non-traditional choice, or worried unnecessarily about my safety before I’d even left. Either way, I knew I didn’t want to be one of the individuals whose response had been “Oh I should have/wish I had done that when I was young.” Besides a budget backpack trip through some major European cities, and some stints WWOOFing on organic farms in France, I was determined to spend an extended period of time in an African country markedly different than my own. 

Though I didn’t know much about the concept of, or somewhat controversial aspects of “voluntourism” at the time, I knew that I didn’t want to pay an American company thousands of dollars I’d saved catering to spend two weeks surrounded by high schoolers whose parents wanted to give their resume a boost in preparation for college applications. I wanted something more genuine and more sustainable. When I mentioned this to a close family friend, she connected me with a friend who had recently visited Malayaka House as part of a Champlain College service trip (ah, the wonders of being from a small state).

Not long after, I met Robert, dressed in a signature well worn white linen outfit, at a Rotary Club Meeting in Ludlow, VT. After hearing him speak and learning more about the unique philosophy and goals of Malayaka House, I decided that I would go to Uganda. And I’ll forever be glad that I did.

Over the three months I spent at Malayaka House, from December 2013 to March 2014, I enjoyed every moment I spent with the kids. We read, colored, did homework, painted murals, got covered in sticky jackfruit and played with puppies at Kigungu, and frequently piled into the van to visit the beach or a park. I had the chance to help with the introduction of a structured reading program, which morphed into a literacy and library project that continues to gets stronger every year (thanks Sara Baker!)

Another volunteer (Christa Preston) introduced me to students at the Entebbe Children’s Welfare School, which sparked my interest in and future studies of perceptions of “difference,” including handicaps and mental illnesses, in sub-Saharan contexts as an Africana Studies major at Connecticut College studying abroad in Cameroon three years later. I also gave rugby a try, but quickly decided to stick to cheering for the Sharks and Mongers. I lived alongside an ever changing group of incredible, adventurous, kind-hearted individuals from around the world who continue to inspire me today in all their pursuits, Malayaka House related or not. And while everyone assured me that it I’d grow to dislike them after three months, I never got tired of eating the aunties’ rice and beans every single day!

It’s incredible to see and read about the ways in which Malakaya House and all those who call it home (or a home away from home) have continued to grow and change over the years. I’m so grateful for all of the people who have played a role in making it the constantly evolving, supportive, and loving place that it is today, and I still feel so lucky to be a teeny tiny part of it.

Amy Carst


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