The Richard and Annie Volunteer and Travel (RAVT), a six-month-old non-profit organization, began as a collaboration between UC Davis second-year biological sciences major Annie Ashmore and Ugandan resident Richard Ssali to rebuild small businesses in Uganda.
RAVT works with local university volunteer groups and Ugandan business organizations to help grow Uganda’s economy by offering international volunteering opportunities for UC Davis students and funding Ugandan businesses that aim to bolster their communities.
What makes RAVT unique with its approach to humanitarian work is its commitment to being a Ugandan-run organization.
“It’s completely locally grown,” Ashmore said. “The vision and the mission staff are almost entirely Ugandan. We’re really trying to make it a Ugandan approach with aid from international groups.”
As stated on RAVT’s website, the group takes a grassroots approach in reaction to the recent trend of “voluntourism,” where people from industrialized countries like Canada, United States and England visit developing nations to volunteer while experiencing the local culture. Since RAVT acknowledges that voluntourism actually yields little benefit for the country in need, their volunteers and organization try and remain respectful of the culture or – “minimize their influence while maximizing their impact.”
Ashmore and Ssali came up with the idea for RAVT while Ashmore was visiting Uganda during the summer after her first-year at UC Davis and met Ssali. The pair realized they shared similar ideas regarding efficient volunteer work and a desire to expand local social service project sustainability in Uganda.
While Ashmore and other students work from UC Davis, RAVT has a Ugandan team working directly with local businesses and organizations. Most of the businesses are devoted to public welfare and, to either expand their services or keep their businesses afloat, RAVT will help them by raising money for essential equipment or funding lucrative side projects like maintaining farms or building wells.
“If they don’t have space to grow, they are forced to work within a really small sphere of influence,” Ashmore said.
RAVT’s main goal is to expand that sphere of influence to a larger group of businesses. RAVT is currently certified in Uganda and is working to get its certification in the United States to achieve greater prominence. Working in conjunction with RAVT are other smaller campus clubs, like Invisible Children – a well-known international non-profit organization that also works in Uganda.
Prior to this summer, Ashmore had been volunteering and working with Invisible Children in some form for six years. She started an Invisible Children’s club at her high school, a club that second-year international relations major Colette Barton joined as well. Since attending UC Davis, Barton has also become a part of RAVT.
“We’re looking to focus in our efforts more on the new organization, RAVT,” Barton said. “We’ve been with Invisible Children for a very long time but their U.S. operation more or less moved to Uganda.”
This quarter, the student-run group is working on fundraising and awareness campaigns to bring attention and aid to their cause. Right now the organization is raising $500 to fund a tailoring machine for a vocational school in Uganda, helping the locals foster skills to create their own businesses. In addition to the tailoring machine, RAVT is also running a drive to collect electronics from the UC Davis student body to be distributed to the vocational schools.
RAVT also runs many other projects including funding HIV/AIDS clinics in Uganda and schools that teach English.
“There is a good range of things that RAVT focuses on,” Barton said. “It’s not just one single thing.”
Ssali, leader of the RAVT Ugandan team, said that the fundraising and volunteering is crucial to maintaining many of the important local businesses.
“All in all, the list of challenges are endless but the biggest challenge is the shortage of funds to run RAVT activities,” Ssali said.
Ssali said that this lack of funding has real tangible consequences. Many Ugandan children and adults need treatment from HIV/AIDS clinics that currently can only serve small number of people. Since education is of particular interest for RAVT, a huge concern for them is the high national dropout rate among students, and serves as the reason why RAVT had chosen normal and vocational schools as a large portion of their focus.
Ashmore is hoping to meet up with the Ugandan team this summer to do more hands-on work for the organization, but for now she and the rest of the Davis team are just working on getting the word out in the campus community.
Ashmore echoed Ssali’s sentiment of the importance of RAVT, saying that there were real lives being affected by the organization’s work. She also said the main reason she had decided to become so involved with Uganda centered group was because of the people and culture.
“I got really inspired by their beautiful culture,” Ashmore said. “I think being able being able to be apart of that is really rewarding.”