Volunteering on Bugaba Island

“Firefly Uganda has something really special going on, and I’m so lucky to have been a part of it for a short while.” – Charlotte (Intern at Firefly Uganda)

Charlotte was an intern/volunteer at the Firefly Camp on Bugaba Island. She joined us only a couple of months after we moved to Bugaba Island. Which means she was there to witness the very beginnings of our projects on the new island!

Sunday Activities: Exploring the island on a mountain bike!

Here she writes about her experience:

Daily life at Firefly Uganda

My internship placement in Uganda was the time of my life. The location was incredible. A small, pretty undeveloped island on Lake Victoria, teeming with beautiful and diverse wildlife and no shortage of places to explore. I spent my days doing community and environment-oriented projects, laughing with the most hilarious kids I’ve ever met, and being fully immersed in the local culture.

Discovering new skills!

My primary responsibilities included working on the website and social media platforms, assisting with the construction of a new schoolhouse and workroom, and teaching. There was plenty of goofing off and running around, as well. Because I was the first intern at the new location, some things took patience. For example, my accommodation was a simple camping tent, though it was comfortable and spacious. Also, rather than focusing on one specific area, I did a lot of running around and helping with small pieces of lots of projects.

Playtime with the kids is always a blast!




My favorite part of the whole experience was hanging out with the children. We had so much fun together, I can’t put it into words. They were so energetic, skilled and curious. I don’t think I’ll ever meet cooler children in my life. We spent all day making each other laugh and learning so much from one another. I already miss them so much, and it’s only been two weeks.



During my stay IMG_2313in Uganda, I also did some traveling alone, which was the most empowering week of my life. I went to a small town called Jinja and overlooked the Nile from there. After, I went to Murchison Falls National Park, where I got to see the most powerful waterfall in the world. I capped off the trip by spending some time in Kampala, the capital city, the most energy-filled place I’ve ever seen.

Overall, I feel like I have made an impact on the community and myself. This experience helped to solidify my desire to work in the nonprofit or NGO world.

Firefly Uganda has something really special going on, and I’m so lucky to have been a part of it for a short while.

International Math 2.0 Day

This week, we discuss the importance of Mathematics education and literacy for future success.

Take a moment to think about everything you’ve done today. Chances are, you used basic mathematics at least once. It could have been counting out money, measuring something, or figuring out how many hours you had left at work. Whether consciously or subconsciously, math is an integral part of our every day lives. Each July 8th is Math 2.0 Day, an opportunity to celebrate math and its importance to our success!

Not only is math the basis of all science and technology, it is hugely important to the economy, as well. Here on Bugaba Island, the three villages, as well as Emily’s Orphanage, are productive in farming, fishing, and creating things to fulfill basic needs. Everything that isn’t consumed or used by the residents is sold. This means that the economy and livelihood here, and in many other parts of Uganda, is largely based on the independent selling of goods, such as rice, coffee, sweet potatoes, or handmade crafts. Believe it or not, running a small business of this sort takes a lot of skills in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. Knowing how much your product is, how much money to expect after a transaction, and how much to price different quantities, all relies on mathematics.

20190705_074805Pictured are two eager learners during a math lesson.            In addition to running a small business, math is used in countless other trades. Construction work, for example, uses fractions, percentages, and ratios for almost every job. Bakers also use the same skills to follow simple recipes, and double or triple quantities. Tailors, teachers, potters, boat builders, etc. all use math in their daily lives. An understanding of these skills is integral to economic success, financial security, and independence.

Math is important for producers, as well as consumers. People who have math skills find it easier to lead independent lives. Being proficient in math allows people to better understand when they’re getting a good deal on a product, or whether they’re being swindled. It is important in managing a budget, creating a daily schedule, applying logic skills, and so much more! All of these skills transfer from the classroom into everyday life! 20190705_082114

Unfortunately, many children in this region, as many as 40%, never have the opportunity to go to school to learn these increasingly important skills. Additionally, many more drop out of school before they can become proficient in these areas. This is why so much of our work revolves around providing quality education to as many children as we possibly can. Pictured is Teacher Nora leading a lesson on different place values, and reading large numbers.

Here at Firefly Uganda, we understand how important it is to set children up for success and independence, which is why we strive to provide a fun and wholistic learning environment for mathematics. We help children to learn, not just for an exam, but to carry these skills with them into the world. A foundation of mathematics is important for any child! Happy Math 2.0 Day from the Firefly Family!





Storytelling for Teaching English

This week, our volunteer, Charlotte, describes how using stories enhances learning English.

One of our goals here at Firefly Uganda is to cultivate spirit of curiosity, and an appreciation for learning. One of the ways we do that is by engaging the children in stories during English lessons! Studies have shown that storytelling can play a vital role in English education, as it teaches children a deeper understanding of the language, as well as grammar and sentence structure in a fun and familiar way.

story 1story 4

Our students at Sanyu Junior School will often take turns reading pages from a storybook, as pictured (left) with Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. Not only does reading stories improve literacy, it introduces children to words they wouldn’t otherwise hear in an English lesson. Putting these words in the context of a story allows children to better guess the meaning of a word, and formulate an understanding of what is written beyond just individual definitions.

story 3

Pictured (right) is Teacher Nora walking students through a storyboard of Little Red Riding Hood, while they tell her what happened in the story they just heard. Unfortunately, the way English is taught is too often based on simple memorization, rather than a deep understanding of abstract concepts. Storytelling helps students to grasp these concepts, clearly visualize a description, and predict what might happen next. All of these skills are vital to an appreciation for language, and being able to fully and clearly articulate oneself. Implementing stories into the classroom has already equipped our children with a curiosity for language, as well as an eagerness to have fun while learning!



Big Move to Bugaba Island

Just over one month ago, after completing projects on Banda Island, the Firefly camp packed up and moved to Bugaba Island. Bugaba is the second largest island in Lake Victoria, at roughly 275 square kilometers in size. There are three small farming villages on the island, with a combined population of approximately 2,000 residents. Our current new camp is pictured below.

The main reason we moved to Bugaba is the local orphanage. Our team has visited them many times before and has had plans to support them for a long time. The orphanage got started about seven years ago by Emily, a Ugandan woman, who happened to own some land on this island. She is now taking care of about thirty orphans of all ages. Her whole philosophy behind the orphanage is that they live as one big family. They all call her their mum and see each other as siblings.


Emily and the older kids farm many things, to sustain themselves. Everything that doesn’t get used in the orphanage gets sold on the mainland. They have been living without access to toilets, clean drinking water, electricity etc. for this whole time. A year ago they started their own little primary school in a simple building, built with local timbers that Emily’s brother cuts.


They struggle to keep up with the costs of running a school and taking care of their children. Our plan here on Bugaba is to support them as much as we can, by providing them with safe drinking water, a toilet-composting system, power supply through solar, and by building a proper, weatherproof school house. All of this we plan to build as environmentally friendly as possible, using as many local resources as we can. During our time on Banda Island, we have had the chance to design, implement, test and perfect all of our systems, making the whole process here on Bugaba a lot quicker and easier. Orphanage owner Emily has done so much all on her own, and she more than deserves as much support as we can possibly give her.



Teach Swimming, Save Lives.

We are looking for confident swimmers to help us provide swimming lessons to adults here on Banda Island. Read below to find out why and how your support could help us save lives.

Our projects are currently based on Banda Island, one of the smallest inhabited islands in the Ssese region of Uganda. Lake Victoria is an essential part of life here on the islands.: it is the main resource for food, freshwater and irrigation, as well as serving as supply for alternative energy, a route for transportation and a sink for human, agricultural and industrial waste. You can read more about the vital role of Lake Victoria on our previous blog post here. However, it is also the body of water with the most deaths caused by drowning per square kilometre in the world, which affects the communities of this region terribly. In the last three years only, drowning has caused us the loss of 25 people from our 3 neighbouring villages, 9 of which were fishermen from Banda Village itself. Banda has a total population of around 400 people only, and these high rates of accidents cause incredible loss to the community.


In a community where the economy depends mainly on fishing, not being able to swim puts the people and fishermen in terrible danger, and yet most people living on the Ssese Islands cannot swim. This is through no fault of their own, but the simple fact that fishermen risk their lives each day and night highlights the ever pressing importance of this issue. It is not only fishermen who are at risk: the islands suffer from a lack of important infrastructure, such as hospitals, health facilities, and schools, which means that a lot of people need to travel to the mainland or nearby islands to have access to their services. Moreover, economic opportunities on the islands are limited, so people also regularly travel for trade, carrying goods and livestock, or commuting between the mainland and the islands to balance work and family life. This adds up to a lot of people, traveling regularly on open canoes that don’t exactly emanate the greatest sense of safety. Most drownings occur because when the canoes capsize, people can’t swim nor float, themselves to safety.


Through our school, Banda Island Primary School, we have been teaching regular swimming classes to the children, which is proving to have great results. We are extremely proud to say that Sumayiya, 9 years old, is officially the first female swimmer on the island; whilst Gerald, 13, can now comfortably cover the distance of 4 Olympic pool laps. However, swimming classes for adults are urgently needed to prevent the loss of further valuable members of our community. We are looking for confident swimmers to help us provide these lessons as soon as possible, especially for the fishermen who depend on the lake for an income and are therefore most at risk. Please get in touch if you, or someone you know, would be interested in joining us in providing this support to the community of Banda Island. You can contact us at info@fireflyuganda.com.


A Day At The Uganda Wildlife Education Centre 

This week our volunteer and teacher Rachael, tells us about the Primary School children’s trip to the zoo. 

Since my arrival on Banda Island in September, we have been talking of how great it would be if we could take our children to visit the zoo to aid their learning of animals and habitats. Well, last Thursday we were finally able to make the trip a reality, thanks to donations from Germany and England. Many of the children who attend our school spend most, if not all of their time on Banda in the village. For some, they may travel to the mainland to visit family, or may have stayed on the mainland in another small village for a short time, when there was no work for their parents in Banda. For others this was their first time on the mainland, and for all this was their first time to the zoo and first time seeing some of Africa’s amazing wildlife.

We visited UWEC, Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, an organisation that runs off donations and provides homes for animals who cannot return to the wild. UWEC is home to lions, giraffes, rhinos, leopards and many many more beautiful creatures. This trip was organised after the children have been studying animal classifications, animal types and habitats in their social study lessons. It was not only a chance to broaden their knowledge, but also to give them the opportunity to visit somewhere they would most likely not have the chance to visit in the future.

The whole day was an amazing experience and the children loved every minute of it. The look on their faces when they saw each animal was one to treasure, they showed pure excitement and amazement. As we all hopped off the boat outside of the zoo, the kids instantly started asking “teacher, where are the elephants?!” They were a bit disappointed to learn that they had to wait until we were inside the zoo to see any animals. But once we were in and we saw the zebras and ostriches they were happy… well happy for 2 minutes until they realised the lions weren’t hiding behind the bush. Our guide, Sam decided it would be best if we went to visit the Lions first to prevent the kids asking “Teacher Sam, where are the lions?!” Or “Lions? Lions? Are the lions in there?”.

Despite the initial desperation to see lions, many of the other animals turned out to be the kids favourites. The giraffes, rhinos and elephants proving popular choices. On top of these, the highlight of the day for many was the fight between two chimpanzees that broke out over a piece of aubergine during feeding time. The kids, especially Sunday, have developed a very good chimpanzee impression and certainly remember the noise that these amazing animals make (and won’t let us forget it).

So after we had spent the day running from enclosure to enclosure admiring elephants, crocodiles, snakes, hyenas and loads of other African animals. And asking Teacher Sam how old each animal was, how long they could live for and what food they liked to eat, we were ready to make the journey home.

We set off for Banda on the boat with some very happy, excited but sleepy children. We were very happy with the trip and glad to hear that the children enjoyed it. It was even better to hear from one of the village leaders that the kids were on the microphone at karaoke that night, telling everyone what they had seen at the zoo and how much they had enjoyed their day.
We hope that we will be able to repeat this trip each year as the younger children begin to learn about animals too. I would like to thank all of those who have supported us and as a result made our trip to UWEC Zoo possible. It was hugely worthwhile for the children and really helped bring to life what they have been studying.

World Toilet Day 2016: Preserving Global Water Sources

Earlier this week we shared the secret behind our toilet composting system. Today, on World Toilet Day 2016, we want to tell you all about why a system like this is so important to us, and why it should matter to you too.

Toilets and water go hand in hand. Building toilets that pollute our water sources is dangerous and counter-productive. Across Uganda, toilets are a rarity and sewage infrastructure is lacking. Building toilets is key to provide people with equal rights and opportunities, to live empowered and dignified lives. But building toilets isn’t enough, we need systems that preserve the water that provides all life.


Lake Victoria is the second largest freshwater lake in the world, with a surface area of 68,800 sq km and an average depth of 40m. The area in and around the lake offers rich soil and the ideal climate for agricultural purposes, as well as extraordinary biodiversity with around 500 species of fish, of which more than 50% cannot be found anywhere else.

Lake Victoria is bordered by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania, with tributaries extending all the way to Rwanda and Burundi. It is estimated that 120,000 fishermen earn a living from it, and 30-40 million people depend on it for economic and living puposes. The lake is not only a source of food, fresh and irrigation water; it also serves a variety of other purposes such as alternative energy and transportation, and consequently serves as a sink for human, agricultural and industrial waste. For this reason the benefits and importance of the lake are not just local, but touch upon the entire global community.

Unfortunately, the consequences of modern living have had a disastrous impact on the well-being of the lake. The exploitation of the lake, caused by a combination of things including over-fishing, urbanisation, pollution and changes in land use have caused serious environmental threats to the lake, with repercussions already being felt by local communities and national economies alike. One of the most-felt consequences of this exploitation is the exhaustion of fish stock: although precise data is hard to come by, it has been calculated that more than 50% of the lake’s native species have already gone extinct, and 200 more are facing possible extinction.

As mentioned above, there are many causes contributing to the destruction of the lake. However, one encapsulates them all: the quality of water in the lake has been progressively declining, and is quickly reaching a critical state. Many areas in and around the lake are considered at severe risk of becoming “dead zones”, as proclaimed by Uganda’s National Environment Management Authority. Murchison Bay, one of the main lake inlets where the national capital Kampala sits, is one of the areas most at risk today:

“Often, Murchison Bay is covered in a green floating blanket of algae that is as viscous as wall paint. Algal blooms clog water treatment plants, deoxygenate lake water causing fish die-offs and cause a skin condition known as swimmers itch. Murchison Bay is home to water treatment plants that supply Kampala city and neighbouring towns.”



The “green floating blanket of algae” here described is becoming increasingly common throughout the lake, affecting even the most rural areas that contribute least to the pollution. Industrial and domestic waste from major urban areas is regularly discharged into the lake without treatment, whilst the wetlands that once worked as natural cleansers are being destroyed for the purpose of development. The result is clear: water oxygen depletion, increasing water-born diseases for humans and animals and a continuous loss
of the lake’s once rich fisheries and biodiversity.

With 30-40 million people’s lives depending on the quality of its water, preserving the lake’s health is of critical importance:

“Lake Victoria is in danger of becoming the world’s largest pool of dead water.”

(American University)

This is why we built a toilet with a positive impact on the environment, and why all of our projects are developed with that same goal in mind. It is not only important to build an environmentally friendly toilet and water system, but to educate others as we do so. In doing this we hope that we can set an example to the communities of the Ssese region, Uganda and the world which highlights the importance of protecting our water sources.

So why should you care? Lake Victoria is the second largest body of fresh water in the world, which as mentioned earlier not only feeds many countries in the African continent, but also the major source of the Nile river. The Nile is one of the most important and treasured waterways in the world, which means that Lake Victoria indirectly affects 800 million people.

You may not wake up by Lake Victoria each morning, and see the increasing effects of pollution, with the lake turning greener and greener each day. However, it is still crucial that we all take responsibility for the downfall of our water sources. Just because you live in Europe or America or Asia or wherever, it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care or can’t help to provide change. If Lake Victoria becomes a dead pool, it is not only the communities that rely on the lake that will suffer, but the entire planet. The world is a beautiful and diverse place that we all have a responsibility to protect. Wether it be your local park, your nearest mountain range or the second largest lake on the other side of the world, we all have the power to work together and protect the environment that we live in.

We all live in this world together, and through education, support and respect, together we can protect this incredible resource that provides for all living things.

We are a small determined organisation that is committed to making global positive impact. The communities around us inspire us with their involvement and commitment every day, and now we need you to get on board too. Have a read of our previous blog posts
for an insight into our work, and look at our website to find out how you can get involved.


If you are interested in our water Toilet Composting and Water System, please do not hesitate to get in touch at info@fireflyuganda.com

Follow our Facebook and Instagram accounts for regular updates on the progress of our work!

World Toilet Day 2016: How To Make Your Poop Matter

This week, to mark World Toilet Day, Mara explains how Andrew’s environmentally friendly toilet design works:

World Toilet Day is coming up this Saturday 19th November, so in its honour we have taken the opportunity to share with you the magic behind our toilet composting system, designed and engineered by our Founder and Managing Director, Andrew J. Smith. Currently situated  in our volunteers camp, the toilet system serves as an environmental test model for future projects across the region. However, we hope that by sharing our achievement with you today we can inspire others across the globe to take the plunge towards more environmentally friendly solutions.

In fact, our toilet test model is easily adaptable to suit varying purposes and environments, as well as different levels of water access.

View of the toilet from outside

On the outside, it works like a classic Western flush toilet (with an incredible view of Lake Victoria as a bonus): bowl, rim, tank, flush handle – you get the gist. It is in what you don’t see, where all of the magic happens. The toilet is connected to a composting system, running purified water, a solar energy system and an eventual methane gas supply for hot water.

The view from the shower


The water is collected from the soil and stored in the Sand Filtration Well, a well coated by a layer of sand and netting for the first round of purification. The water is then pumped up into the Filtration Water Tank, which sits on the roof and is the highest component in the system, thus allowing enough pressure for the water to travel throughout the system. The Filtration Water Tank collects, stores and filters the water once more, through layers of charcoal, stones, pebbles and sand which are previously cleansed and left to dry in direct sunlight. The sun’s UV rays are extremely effective at killing any viruses and bacteria that might be left after cleansing.

The water in the tank is then ready to be used: in our test model the water pipes link to the toilet, the shower and the kitchen tap, as well as a future outlet for a basin in our bathroom. In the shower, a Copper Coil System heats up the water giving access to both hot and cold water.

Building the reed purification bed

The toilet, a Western-style flush toilet, is connected to a catchment tank where the separation of solids and liquids takes place. This happens through a series of aggy pipes, walls and filtration components. The liquids, together with any other waste water, are run off into a Reed Bed Purification system which cleanses the water before reintroducing it back into the soil.

Solids remain in the Separation Tank, and once it is about 3/4 full, we quickly remove it and replace it with a fresh one. This takes about 10 seconds and is the only time we need to come close to it; this takes place about twice a year. The tank is then set aside to dry for a couple of weeks: because of the lack of liquids, the solid waste that comes out of the tank is absolutely free of smell. We then start adding ash, moss, cow manure and any other organic waste, rolling the tank every week or so. Within 3 months the human waste degrades, and turns into a highly nutritious and effective natural fertiliser for farming or gardening use.

Emptying the catchment tank after composting

Overall, there is no smell and no contact involved, and the whole structure is extremely cost effective. It also suits our needs ideally in terms of providing irrigation and fertile soil for our future permaculture farm. However, you do not need a permaculture farm to switch to a toilet with a positive environmental impact: everything we do nowadays can and should be environmentally friendly and effective, and our water and toilet composting system is suitable for any residential home with just a few square meters of land. Our projects are not just about providing education to the children of this region, but finding global solutions to the environmental issues that threaten the world we are leaving to the children we say we love.


Safari Day 1: Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary

After going on a weekend Safari, our volunteers tell us about their experience exploring Uganda’s National Parks. In this post Mara tells us about their visit to Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary.

Under the dictatorial rule of Idi Amin in the ‘70s, the already scarce population of White Rhinos in Uganda was completely wiped out. This terrible extinction was caused mostly by the extensive poaching that saw masses of rhinos killed for their horns. Believed to hold aphrodisiac powers, the horns were highly sought for and sold to lucrative markets across the world.


Last Friday was the beginning of our Safari weekend, and all of our volunteers left the island for a 3-day tour across some of the most beautiful National Parks in Uganda. First on our itinerary was Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, an Ngo “committed to the restoration of Uganda’s rhinoceros population”. The Sanctuary was founded in 2001 and received its first 4 rhinos from Kenya in 2004, and 2 more from Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Florida in 2005 . In June 2009 the first healthy calf, Obama, was born, announcing new hope for the rhino population of Uganda after 27 years of extinction.


Since then, 10 more calves have been born in Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary, which now has a total population of 16 rhinos. Today the Sanctuary offers 70 square kilometres of safe land and has guards on 24 hour watch to protect the animals from poaching. This means the rhinos have a secure place to grow and breed, with the hope to see their gradual re-introduction into Uganda’s National Parks.


We entered Ziwa Rhino Sanctuary after a 170km drive from Kampala, through a variety of landscapes and sceneries that left us in awe before even reaching our first destination. After a taste of Kabalagala (delicious local pancakes, made out of banana and cassava flours – which also happens to perfectly suit my gluten-and-lactose intolerance) and Gonja (a local variety of banana roasted on an open fire), we were ready to begin our rhino hike across the park. At the briefing we were told that, because of the wild nature of the animals, we would probably only get to see a rhino or two from up close, so we didn’t begin our walk with huge expectations. Give it 5 minutes, however, and there we were, facing a family of 6, standing no further than 10 meters from these astonishing, giant creatures. No need to describe the looks of awe on our faces, nor the number of incredibles and wows that were uttered in the hour we spent with these rare animals. We were so lucky, not only to see such a large group of rhinos but also to see them roaming freely around such a beautiful park away from the threat of predators and poachers.


This unique experience, getting so close to animals of such rarity and magnificence, reminded us once again how strongly consequential human interference with the planet can be. After 27 years of man-caused extinction White Rhinos may have a new chance to prosper. It is our responsibility, today, to make sure our future actions generate freedom and growth, and no longer cause destruction.

Dan, our safari guide, organised our tour to an excellent ethical standard. If you ever want to visit Uganda (and we suggest you do), please make sure to look at his website.