Lawrence and I had been home from Uganda for well over 6 months and had thrown ourselves back into work and study. We relished in the luxury of regular running water, hot showers and sleeping without having to hide in our mosquito nets, but I didn’t think we experienced major culture shock from coming home. When we were invited to the re-entry weekend, I wasn’t sure who was going to be there or what to expect; but remembering the usefulness of the orientation week, I decided to trust in the ‘Palms process’.
Over the course of two and a half days, as we had the chance to hear the other returned volunteers’ stories, I felt humbled by John’s achievements, inspired by Kathy’s resilience, empathy with Carmel missing those she left behind and intrigued as I listened to some of my own experiences told through Lawrence’s eyes. As Sister Marlene guided us through our reflections, I realised that in the rush to settle back into every day life, I had boxed up and put aside my Ugandan experience.
It was refreshing to bring out the photos and share these again, and also cathartic to vent, discuss, and ponder issues that the others in the group had also gone through. I found that I was sometimes hesitant to fully explore some of the local issues we encountered with family and friends, for fear of causing misunderstanding. However, with the other returned volunteers, there was a safe and responsive group where we were able to have these discussions about our experiences.
As we wrapped up the weekend, I realised that I had been given a rare chance to relive and reflect on my time in Uganda during the re-entry weekend – I did not expect to get as much out of it as I did. Thank you to the Australian Bishop’s Conference for supporting this weekend, I hope others might also take up this opportunity when they return, even if they don’t think they need it!
Edith and Lawrence Chan volunteered in Uganda with Palms Australia in 2012.