Belfast Telegraph

How charity volunteering in Africa reflects on my philosophy at work

Richard Donnan, head of Ulster Bank in Northern Ireland, talks about helping out at New Beginnings and ‘building hope’ in Uganda

Many people are benefiting from the work done in Uganda
Many people are benefiting from the work done in Uganda
Many people are benefiting from the work done in Uganda
Many people are benefiting from the work done in Uganda

In my day job, we talk a lot about providing help for what matters to our customers and being part of the communities in which we serve. It's easy to talk in platitudes.

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Recently, I had the opportunity to live it first hand in a context very different to Northern Ireland.

Working with the local not-for-profit Christian charity New Beginnings, I was fortunate enough to spend two weeks in the Nakansongola district of central Uganda.

It's a country with more orphans than there are people in Northern Ireland - 2.3 million under the age of 17 - through war, Aids and famine.

Our activity on this trip focused on the New Beginnings Children's Village and in particular its orphanage and adjoining primary school. Around 6,700 miles from Belfast, and at the same altitude as Mount Snowdon, the team I was with worked from dawn until dusk alongside local people to add additional facilities to the village that offers care, protection and education for some of the most vulnerable in society - orphans, victims of domestic violence and abandoned babies.

The objective of this trip was to build two dormitory blocks, with associated teacher accommodation, and an additional classroom block to install a library, classroom and some dining space - all to sustain the growth and success that the school has seen in just the past two years.

I travelled as part of a group known as 'Hopebuilders' - a diverse team of around 40 volunteers, primarily from around Northern Ireland, who give their time and skills to build properties that deliver vital local services.

While many of the team have strong, practical skills to help with the construction, there is also room for people like me who have a willing pair of hands, care passionately about the charity, and are prepared to raise funds and enable this activity to continue.

I'm under no illusion about the scale of the challenges faced and the scale of the impact that we can have in just a small part of the country - but the principle I live by in my working life is to control the controllables.

I know that I can give my time and energy to help make this project a success and for New Beginnings to give some children a new hope and future, one they wouldn't otherwise have.

So therefore I feel inspired and motivated to do what I can to help.

The help of the people at home is invaluable in this regard - their encouragement, guidance and practical support.

As a bank we offer up to five days of paid leave to enable community and charity volunteering for things such as this, or building financial capability among young people, or working with the Prince's Trust.

Personally, my next challenge will be supporting Young Enterprise and their Business Beginnings Programme, helping build the budding business skills of primary school children.

If you're interested in finding out more about this particular charity project or learning how you could become part of the work it does, find us on Facebook or visit

Belfast Telegraph