Remote Volunteering? A Value Exchange Across Borders.

Remote volunteering, is this possible? Can we use the Internet to help people in need? Clearly, there are many questions poppoing up: Should we help? Can we help? What value shall we provide and many more? Tune in to what I found out about this topic.

What connects Martin and me is kind of a normal friendship, or let’s say normal within the time of the Internet. If he needs me, he can reach me via various channels and yet our friendship is probably the strangest one I have ever had in my life.

Martin lives in Uganda, in the capital Kampala to be more precise. I was introduced to him through Growmovement, a charity organization which helps young African entrepreneurs. I became a volunteer consultant and offered my business advice, thanks to Skype all things seem possible these days. From afar I helped Martin with the marketing of his clothing shop, set up a Facebook Page and during our weekly sessions we discussed strategies to grow his business. Despite the end of our official working relationship, our friendship is not following the expiration process and so I learned a couple of interesting things the other day.

He tells me about Uganda’s dictator Museveni who first came into power back in the 60ies. At first, people were pleased and loved him, as he developed the country’s infrastructure system. The economy boomed. However, now he is 70 years and things have changed. I listen carefully to Martin’s description, but can’t believe my ears when he starts to talk about the current state of corruption.

Martin told me about how the dictator lives off false support. So during election times he had bought people to support him. With many people living in poverty, the human species proofed to be capable of anything for money. According to Martin, there are gunman everywhere in the country. Why? Well, only gunmen are able to live a prosperous life where one’s children will be able to go to school, special gunmen school that is. Schools were the children learn to become a gunman themselves. Sure, “normal” schools exist as well but they cost money. Or if one’s father is not a gunman, then one would rarely find a job. Sure, you could become a ghost worker and blindly work for someone in the hope that they would pay you, but likely they won’t. All in all, the life of a gunman sounds promising. All one has to do is ensure the dictator will stay in place, be brutal, kill people, look after the entire monetary flow and take others belongings. Just keep the system as it was back in the 60ies.

To take things further, Martin talks about the food and health situation. By far there is not enough food for everyone and the population decreases because of cancer, malaria or various other diseases. There is also a lot of AIDS and men not only do money business with girls but have many girls at the same time, knowing that some of them may be dying of AIDS. Martin doesn’t have it, that’s what he says. Treatment? Well, you do the maths: Only gunmen can count on getting medical care.

Will the situation change? Martin is not so sure about it, he can’t imagine how and any former opposition leader are now sitting in jail. His voice seemed hopeless since the police system consist of gunmen themselves. Consequently, there is no execution or entity who ensures a certain degree of objectively defined justice. I’m trying to put my mind into the situation, how would I behave if I would be living there? Would I as a parent choose a path for my children wouldn’t enjoy education because you don’t have the money? Is it really so easy to stand up for humanity and morality as we as Westerner would like to emphasise? My heart says it would go the path which would serve the whole country but many people only live for their own sake, I am well aware.


Again and again I keep telling him though that maybe he really is living the better life on earth, that he should not by all means think of Europe or other places to be better off than he is. I mean come on, living in Africa under the sun? Not starring at a screen all day long? A place where time does not really exist. I don’t think my message gets trough to him though, I think I can hear it in his voice. What inspires me about Martin is his positive outlook. Even though the clothing business is too volatile to the currency, he is looking into other ways. Maybe he will bring bananas from the plantage into the city soon.

I ask him about his dream for Africa and he says that it would be to have good leaders. He points towards Modawi, the leader of Zimbabwe who was horrible with his 92 years of age and still governing its people. He really wants it to change! According to Martin, Tansania’s new president is the best president. The things that he’s doing shows that he loves his country but I don’t know the exact details here.

Before we hang up he also tells some jokes about Kim Kardashian and David Cammeron’s politic and I have no real idea who this friend of mine really is. He suprises me again and again.  To put in another way, I’m definetely looking forward to many more cultural exchanges now that the age of the Internet is here.

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  1. A very interesting blog.The phrase ‘global village’ was coined long before the Internet came into being and described how modern communications had put us all in touch with each other.How much more true that is now! I still marvel at the thought that I can pick up my phone and speak to somebody I know in Australia.

    We still forget how fortunate we are in the so called civilised countries,we don’t have to fear the secret police knocking on our door in the middle of the night and dragging us off to be tortured and killed for no reason,this is what they have had to put up with in Uganda for a long time,people in this country of a certain age will remember the evil dictator,Idi Amin,who ruled Uganda in the seventies and dispossessed and expelled many Asians to this country,he tortured and killed many of his fellow countrymen.Some people in this country thought he was a bit of a joke with his medals and military uniform but not much to laugh about if you were unlucky enough to live in Uganda,I suspect that not much has changed in the country and this seems to be confirmed by what your friend says.

    I am truly touched by the fact that you have helped and befriended him,he is very lucky.I sometimes ask myself whether friends on the Internet who you have never met are true friends but you are a true friend to Martin.

  2. This is not a typical “travel” blog post—and that’s a good thing! I love your frank and concise recounting of this complex personal relationship and global situation. Thanks for the engaging and unusual read!

  3. This post isn’t what I expected from the title, but I certainly learned a lot about the political situation in Uganda through this peek into your conversation. I had no idea. It’s really interesting friendships across country borders can open our eyes to so much more of that country’s reality that the bits and pieces we get through the news.

  4. The title is misleading! The situation in Uganda is very tough right now, but the people should stick together and fight for better life. I hope the things will get better soon.

  5. This is interesting! I never gave this much thought. Thanks for sharing a thought-provoking post.

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