Stand On Your Own

A Ugandan NGO No:9095

An Interview with Ann McCarthy who is a key donor, fundraiser and creator of Uganda Lodge Community Projects.

Denis the Director of Stand Your Own, explains: who he is ,the origins of the company and where its going in the near future.

Volunteering in Ruhanga Development School in Uganda, is trading place between teaching kids and kids teaching you.

What is Stand on Your Own

Stand On Your Own is an NGO fully registered in Uganda and focuses on improving the Education, Health and livelihood of rural, marginalised village communities in Western Uganda. It consists of a Nursery and Primary School called Ruhanga-Development-School, which offers high quality affordable education to 500 rural children; a vocational training centre for those who have finished primary school and need to bring money in. The latter develops a broad range of skills in young people and has the knock on effect of preventing early pregnancy and unwanted marriage of girls. Also included in Stand on Your Own is: The McNeil Medical Centre, which provides medical services and community outreach work. It evolved from a community based organisation started in 2007 and was registered as an NGO in 2012.

It gets support from the UK charity ULCP (Uganda Lodge Community Projects) but also from the many volunteers and visitors who come and stay at both Uganda Lodge and the cottages in QE National Park. It helps the adjoining fishing villages SOYO also supports people living in marginalised fishing villages within QE National Park. There are two such projects which are: Lake Retreat Kasenyi, which is a fishing Village on Lake George Kasese, where there is visitor accommodation that benefits local villagers through tourism; exactly the same at Lake Edward Retreat Kisenyi Rubirizi – which is also situated adjacent to a fishing village lake and park.

For Gorrilla Trekking, Gorilla habituation, Queen Elizabeth National Park Safaris, Lake Mburo Safaris, Lake Bunyoni trips and safaris, contact Denis -the director of Stand on your Own. He runs this as a seperate business to the NGO but all profits are donated back into helpinhg fund the school, medical centre and vocation training at Ruhanga in Ntumgamo District. His contact details are in the FAQ section at the bottom of this page.


Volunteering is mostly done by International Visitors, because this is not a job offer –there is no payment and in addition volunteers will pay for their own costs for accommodation and meals at our Volunteer Guest House plus all travel expenses.

A video showing school life, what an assembly is like, what the volunteers did including: teaching, constructing buildings, watching the childrens plays and visiting one of their family homes.

Children at the School singing a song to welcome teachers

Ruhanga Development School and Nursery

The Ruhanga Development School is set amongst the rolling hills of South West Uganda, about 40kms past Mbarara, on the main road to Kabale and towards Rwanda. The school is managed by the local PTA and a Ugandan NGO called ‘Stand On Your Own’. It is supported by the UK charity Uganda Lodge Community Projects, (registered charity no. 1150023).

The school came into existence soon after Ann McCarthy travelled to Uganda and came back installing a gravity fed water system, with funds that she raised in the UK. This system feeds 20 taps in the villages and three local schools. The local mums from the villages, then asked Ann to help them start a nursery school; she set one up together with the local director of “Stand on Your Own” called Mr Denis Aheirwe. After raising more funds in the UK Ann and Denis set up a primary school.

Ruhanga Development Nursery & Primary School now hosts around 500 children, 200 of whom are boarders, receiving a good, heavily subsidised, private education. From early beginnings in 2008 the school has rapidly gained in popularity. Part of this popularity is that the school is probably unique in the whole of south-west Uganda in that English speaking volunteers from across the world assist in the classrooms; broadening the children’s horizons as well as offering help with the development of much sought after (and needed) English language skills. This requires ongoing funding for salaries, school breakfasts, educational materials, maintenance and upgrades. Families pay nominal school fees, but the majority of funds are raised through our ‘Child Sponsorship Scheme’, from this website Sponsor a Child. Where anyone from around the world can support a childs educaction while they remain in our school for just £5 a month. Please note that all such donatioins go into school funds and every child is treated equally; bursaries are not given outto one specific child except in exceptional circumstances.

The profits from our volunteer guest house and all safaris etc goes into towards running these projects. Without us many would get very little or no education, but we are managing to get them all through to year 7 Primary. For the past 5 years the school has gained a 100% pass rate for the Primary leaving exams with most getting Grades 1 or 2. This puts these students in the top 10% of the country, but unfortunately many will not afford senior school. By running a support scheme which brings in some International funding we can keep our school fees very low for all the village children and enables them all to get a good education in their own area – unlike most sponsorship schemes the money doesn’t choose one child and send them away to a normal private school, where they loose touch with their village their family and never go back.

Hannah who completed her medical elective through Stand on Your Own (NGO), talks about her experiences.

A video diary of the work and adventures of a group of UK ladies, doing their medical electives with Stand on Your Own NGO.

The McNeil Medical Centre

The £50,000 it cost to build and equip the McNeil Medical Centre, was a donation from a UK company ASE consulting as a Goodbye to a retiring Director (Duncan McNeil) In 2018 ASE were ‘taken over’ and we were not part of the deal. Mr McNeil has personally given some financial help recently, but we can’t expect an individual to fund the medicine and salaries of an entire medical centre. Daviot and Old Meldrum Explorer Scouts visited Uganda Lodge in 2018 and raised £30,000 to build the 90ft x 45ft school hall. They then raised another £15,000 to build dormitories on top of Medical Centre in 2020. The medical centre is now two stories high. It hosts: a permanent nurse, a qualified Lab Technician and has regular visits from a local qualified doctor. It has a number of roles within the community, including the following.

  • Basic primary care for villagers.
  • Regular screening for the children in our own and nearby schools for the early signs of malaria and other life-threatening diseases.
  • A First–Aid post -for passing traffic.
  • An ongoing vaccination programme for the villagers.
  • Training to local health officers and trainee healthcare professionals from the surrounding area.
  • Disease prevention and education addressing, amongst others, HIV/Aids and malaria.
  • Regular Baby Clinics and Antenatal Check-ups.

Many different services have been offered at various times, thanks in no small part to overseas and local medical volunteers these include: dental check-ups, eye tests, HIV and other counselling, plus community outreach work and advice.

We are offering places to students seeking Medical Elective placements abroad. See

A brief interview about the vocational kitchen facilities for teenage girls.

Claudia has been a donor for 10 years. She went to see what work was done at Stand on Your Own and how the money was spent.

Vocational Training

After asking Ann about the importance of funding for the vocational centre, I got this response. “Funding for the Vocational Centre is particularly important, as so many children leaving our Primary 7 classes will not afford even government Senior schools & even those that do – after 4 years there are no jobs & they have no skills for self-employment. Our existing classes are almost self-funding, classes such as tailoring & knitting make school uniforms. In the salon students learn and practice by doing the hair of local village clients”.

We’re currently building a vocational kitchen/restaurant – being on the main trans Africa highway will bring in an income and help fund other training classes. We plan vehicle servicing, (for passing safari vehicles so drivers can have vehicles checked while clients have lunch break) and other traffic on the way route to Rwanda and Congo. Then later building trades such as: carpentry, plumbing, bricklaying, electrician, welding etc. We’re also building dormitories to accept vocational students from further afield.

The main project we are currently raising funds for is the kitchen and restaurant. The top donate button is for the restaurant. The purpose of the vocational centre is to make the school and all other businesses self-funding. The following Donate link will take you to the donate button: Donate Link. This will enable you to donate for the vocational kitchen for teenage girls.

Ann interviewing Denis and a group of lady volunteers who went to safari and slept in a campsite around in a fishing

A video diary of a volunteer at Uganda Lodge from 2014. It shows aspects of life in Uganda as well as including Safaris with Mr. Denis Aheirwe -Director of Stand On Your Own NGO.

Supporting Marginalised Fishing Communities

Currently Stand on Your Own can offer work to some of the communities, by bringing in tourists to the villages. This means locals have an opportunity to sell goods such as snacks & souvenirs. Once fully completed we plan to support local mothers, in making and selling crafts, plus setting up pre-school play areas for little ones and provide books and toys for their use. Most cannot afford nursery school.

At Kisenyi the 1000+ inhabitants rely entirely on the fishing industry and at Kasenyi its very similar, although some villagers do gain an additional small income from salt gardens on Lake Bunyampaka. The NGO has supported both villages by giving them practical advice on how to attract and benefit from low impact tourism. The results in addition to the making and selling of crafts and snacks, have been setting up budget accommodation, plus offering guided community walks.

The Guest House

Working alongside stand on your own is a collection Guest rooms, called Uganda Lodge. It’s known far and wide and is situated on the main road trans African Road. It’s run as a social enterprise business, Mr. Denis Aheirwe is the director and financial help plus manpower comes from volunteers and donors (mainly through Uganda Lodge Community Projects which is based in the UK) . It consists of 20 rooms, with hot showers and nearby western toilets. All it’s profits go to funding the school and other community projects. Volunteers, Medical Electives and tourists pay to stay in the guest house.

You can contact Denis for a “Holiday with a Difference”. This is a mix of some volunteering using Uganda Lodge as a base as well as Gorilla Trekking, Chimp habituation, Queen Elizabeth Country Park Safaris, Lake Mburo Safaris, Lake Bunyoni trips and safaris. It’s for volunteers and other visitors who wish to have the experience of volunteering in a beautiful rural hilly area of Uganda – with easy access to Queen Elizabeth National Park – or simply to have a holiday, that makes a positive difference to other people’s lives.

There are self/contained Bandas or Cottages at both of the QE Lake Retreat sites – as well as basic camping areas. They have solar lighting and facilities to charge phones etc.

Who are the main contacts?

Project Director
Denis Aheirwe (in Uganda)
Mobile: +256 7015 36197
Mobile: +256 7747 68090
WhatsApp: Both numbers above
UK Coordinator
Ann McCarthy (in UK & Uganda)
Tel: +44 1932 562757
Mobile: +44 7867 513588
Whatsapp: +44 7867 998414

Where is Uganda Lodge?

Uganda Lodge is in the small village of Ruhanga in the south-west corner of Uganda, close to the borders with Rwanda and the DRC. Ruhanga is 320km from Kampala (6-7 hours drive) and 55km from the city of Mbarara (45 minutes drive). Ntungamo is the closest town to the lodge, approximately 10 km away (8 mins drive).

What's the accommodation like?

Uganda Lodge has 15+ guest rooms, each accommodating between 1 and 4 people. All rooms have hot water showers and plug sockets (UK 3-pin). Flush toilets are in a separate block close to the rooms. Each room over-looks a pretty garden area with stunning views of the surrounding hills. It is usually possible to have your own room, but you may need to share during busy periods.

What are the rates like?

Full board, including all meals is £140 per person per week (or £20 per day). If you plan to stay with us longer than 3 months, we may be able to offer you a discounted rate. Any profits are reinvested into Ruhanga Development Nursery & Primary School or our other community projects. Please note: if you go on a safari you still pay for and keep your room.

What’s on the menu?

Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner are provided daily on a self-service basis. Meals consist of a variety of different vegetables and sauces with meat or fish being offered a couple of times a week. Mashed or boiled potatoes, chips, spaghetti or rice are the usual accompaniments. Please advise us in advance if you have any special dietary requirements. Alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and bottled water can be bought at the on-site bar. Luxury items Breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner are provided daily on a self-service basis. Meals consist of a variety of different vegetables and sauces with meat or fish being offered a couple of times a week. Mashed or boiled potatoes, chips, spaghetti, or rice are the usual accompaniments. Please advise us in advance if you have any special dietary requirements. Alcoholic beverages, soft drinks and bottled water can be bought at the on-site bar. Luxury items such as Nescafe, Pringles and Cadburys can be bought locally, but we advise bringing your favourite coffee or herbal tea bags and snacks as local options may not be to your taste and are very limited.

What's the electricity supply like?

Whilst there is mains electricity at the lodge, local and regional power cuts can occur sometimes for a few hours at a time. As such, we recommend you bring one or more torches with you. There is a solar charging point, but we advise that you bring a portable USB power bank with you.

How do I keep in contact with friends and family?

You can buy a Ugandan SIM card in town, which you can load with texts, calls and/or data; there is now 4G coverage at the lodge. If you bring a laptop, you can use your phone as a mobile hotspot. There are several hotels in Ntungamo which may have free Wi-Fi and the town also has an internet café.

What monies should I bring?

Uganda’s official currency is the Ugandan Shilling, which cannot be purchased outside the country. We recommend bringing cash in Pounds Sterling, (or US Dollars/Euros) in clean, large denomination notes, which can be exchanged once in the country. There are 2 ATMs in the local town, which accept Visa Debit/Credit Cards. Please do not rely on Mastercard, Travel Money Cards or Travellers Cheques as these are generally not accepted. If planning on travelling to other East African countries, US Dollars would be the best currency to bring.

What's the weather like?

The weather in Ruhanga is usually warm-hot during the day (20-28⁰C), but at 1500m above sea level. It can get rather chilly at night (approx. 15⁰C). June and July are generally the driest months, with October-November and April-May usually being the wettest. When it does rain, it’s usually only heavy for an hour or two before the sun returns. It gets dark at about 7pm each night and light around 6.30am each morning, year-round.

What about laundry?

Plastic basins/buckets are provided in each room for washing your clothes and there are plenty of clothes lines in the lodge grounds. Laundry detergent can be bought locally. For a small fee, lodge staff can do your laundry (except underwear).

Where does all the money from the donations go?

100% of the donations go to the UK charity (Uganda Lodge Community Projects) is transfered out to the Ugandan NGO SOYO -no donated money is spent on expenses in the UK. You can make a donatition using any atm card via the donate link Invest my Community.

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If you would like more information about supporting STAND ON YOUR OWN; how you might help with admin work, how you can volunteer at the School or Medical Centre or simply join a safari that will benefit the local communities, please fill in this application form

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    How do you end global poverty? You start with kids.