A week in guatemala: service and the power of a simple meal

During spring break of my junior year I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Guatemala and serve with Constru Casa for a week through Buck I SERV (BIS.) My STEP experience incorporated the themes of leadership and community service in an international setting. We partnered with a local organization called Constru Casa which is similar to Habitat for Humanity in their belief that everyone deserves access to safe and decent housing. They are devoted to improving the quality of life of impoverished Guatemalans whose poverty rate is at more than 50% (compared to America’s 14.5 %.) They also believe that future homeowners should take an active role in acquiring their home. The families pay a subsidized down payment and are well educated on the responsibilities of maintaining their homes once Constru Casa leaves. The two homes our group worked on while in Guatemala were for two families with young children. The children attended a special school where the principal took notice of their housing situation and recommended their families to Constru Casa. Our BIS group of 7 was split among working on the two houses. My small group worked on building an additional room for a family of 5 who was currently living out of a one room cement block house. We helped level the ground for the addition, dig trenches for the foundation, transport over one thousand cement blocks, mix concrete and cement and build about 3/4 of the wall in our week of service. As one of the two trip leaders I also helped coordinate our evening activities after our service and our day of exploration on Friday. I enjoyed learning more about Guatemalan culture by exploring the city and participating in religious festivals and eating traditional cuisine. I also had the unique opportunity put my Spanish skills to use as a translator for my group. Our host family, the family we worked for and the mason from Constru Casa did not speak English and it was challenging and rewarding to practice communicating with them to accomplish our goals.

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I have always known there was extreme poverty in the world but I had never witnessed such poverty first-hand. I had never walked into a small compound with dirt floors, tin roofs and cement block walls that housed an extended family of over 15. I would have never guessed that people living in this situation would be so full of joy, love and passion. It was easy for me to assume that individuals living in this level of poverty would be dejected but that was the exact opposite of what I found with the family we worked for during our week of service. Our host family made money by cooking food and serving it throughout the neighborhood. Their compound was passed down from their parents to four siblings who each claimed one corner of the compound. The homes are one room with a standalone bathroom and shared outdoor kitchen area. The compound was crowded but bustling with energy and laughter. The cousins were always running around and playing and the family had many dogs and cats that came and go. Although we were there to serve them, the family always went out of their way to bring us home-cooked snacks like guacamole, fresh fruit and grilled corn. Our family brought our group to tears on the final day when they prepared a large traditional Guatemalan meal for us using the tables, tablecloth and glass plates they only brought out for their Christmas celebration. The families selflessness, gratitude and hospitality moved me and has stuck with me to this day. The young children were always eager to help us with our work and would offer to help mix cement and carry the bricks even though they were extremely heavy. The family we worked with welcomed us into their lives and was so grateful for the small amount of work we were doing. I felt guilty that we couldn’t stay longer and we couldn’t do more but the mother of the family told us how appreciative she was for everything we did no matter how long we stayed. One of the biggest takeaways I had from this experience is that happiness does not have a price tag. If the family we served could rejoice in our week of service and a simple cement-block addition to their home, I too can learn to find happiness in more places.

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My week in Guatemala was filled with challenging manual labor and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to fully contribute to the work being done. My group members always encouraged me to try my hardest and supported me fully. We balanced the workload well, managed our time well by taking breaks at different times and relied on each other to complete our tasks efficiently. I was pushed out of my comfort zone by working in an environment totally foreign to me with people I had never met. By the end of the trip I was nowhere near a master home builder but I gained insight on how everyone can be helpful and how invaluable teamwork is. In the short amount of time I spent in Guatemala I grew confident in asking for help, developed my teamwork skills and became more educated on the lives of the impoverished.

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In addition to our work during the day, another important aspect of our trip was our daily reflections. Our small group would go around every day and share our highs and lows, our personal revelations and plans for how we would apply what we learned moving forward. As a leader, I was worried about how reflections would go. I felt a lot of pressure to make our reflections meaningful and to promote healthy dialogue. I was very pleased with how organic our conversations were at the end of each day. Everyone in my group was comfortable with sharing and we were always eager to discuss our experiences. Prior to departing on our trip, my co-leader and I hosted three meetings where we educated our group on the community we were working in and discussed some of our fears, hopes and goals for our trip. This trip education allowed us to be well informed before we landed in Guatemala and helped lay the groundwork for a meaningful week of service.

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Upon returning to Columbus I vowed to participate in more Buck-I-SERV trips but also get involved with other service opportunities addressing poverty within my own community. I started volunteering at Columbus Metropolitan Public Library’s MLK Branch where I tutor math and science and worked with the Department of Social Change to lead activities with the students focusing on science, art and literacy. Through my experience with this program at the libraries I became more in tune to the needs of my own neighborhood and how I could apply my passion for service I gained through my first Buck I SERV experience to individuals whom share my zip code.

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My experience in Guatemala was truly eye-opening as someone who aspires to achieve a career in medicine. The opportunity to better understand poverty on a global scale further encouraged me to pursue a career in primary care medicine. I hope that in my career as a physician I will have the ability to travel frequently and donate my services to communities like the one I worked with during BIS. I better recognize the wide-spread consequences of poverty which include lack of access to healthcare, poor quality of education and increased risk of mental illness and exposure to crime. My experience has also opened my eyes to things that poverty does not hold absolute control over. Poverty does not always have to equate to sadness and hopelessness. The children I worked with in Guatemala were some of the most joyful and grateful children I have ever met in my life. Every day when we finished our work, the children would teach us hand games and walk us to our bus. They loved taking pictures on our phones and looking at pictures of our families at home. When we left, we gave them small mementos like headbands and bracelets. I left knowing that the addition to their home was just a small step in improving the quality of their lives. I can only hope their condition will continue to improve through their education and connection with Constru Casa.

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Buck-I-SERV: Costa Rica

This past Spring Break I traveled with sixteen OSU students and one faculty member to Costa Rica through a collaboration with Buck-I-SERV and the Outdoor Adventure Center. We engaged in various meaningful acts of service including painting the exterior of a local school and restoring a greenhouse to full function in order to provide fresh produce for the students’ lunches. While in Costa Rica, we also participated in a variety of high adventure outdoor activities including backpacking, white water rafting, caving, cliff jumping, rappelling a waterfall, swimming, and surfing.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project?

Even months after the trip, I can honestly say that this experience in Costa Rica continues to impact my understanding of myself and my view of the world. First, this trip continually made me step outside of my comfort zone in the best ways possible. To explain, before this trip, I was fairly familiar and comfortable in all my life plans and experiences, having served in other areas of the United States on a variety of service trips through my church and through Buck-I-SERV.  However, in each previous trip I knew at least one person going on the trip with me.  Going to Costa Rica, I did not know a single person in my group and this would also be my first international trip, which was a huge deal for someone who has spent their entire life in Columbus, Ohio.  As you can see, this trip truly challenged me to go outside my comfort zone socially, physically and mentally.  Being totally among strangers forced me to reach out more in friendship with students living and working alongside me. Because of this trip, I want to continue to seek out service that exercises endurance and perseverance as this one did, both physically and mentally. I want to continue to continue to seek adventure and the unknown.  Costa Rica was exquisite and exotic, even if far away and a little scary at first. I feel that this trip has transformed me into a braver person.  In addition, this trip has taught me that service can happen anywhere and anytime.  Before this trip I had largely only engaged in preplanned, organized service events, but after this trip I now plan on stopping and opening my eyes to how I can make the world around me a bit nicer.

The Costa Rican people also completely altered my view on life. Over and over again, my fellow Buckeyes and I would remark about how much happier everyone in Costa Rica seems to be despite having so much less. This optimism is reflected in the popular phrase “pura vida” or “pure life” –  a phrase that basically means that life is good and everything is alright. What an amazing and inspiring mantra to live by anywhere!  Life IS good, despite all the worry and stress that attach themselves to our minds here in our frantic and fast-paced way of life.  If we all just shut off our cell phones and electronics, breathed in the fresh air, gazed at the incredible skies that are everywhere in the world, and let this phrase soak in, we would be far more at peace, and hopefully, pass this peace and joy to others as was done to me by the Costa Rican people.  This phrase and way of life has stuck with me since then, inspiring me to be more positive, focusing only on the good all around, and to try to live a simpler life.

What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed and how did those affect you?

During this trip I stepped outside of my comfort zone socially, physically, and mentally. Socially, I tend to take a while to open up to other people. However, with this being such a short trip, I pushed myself to engage and talk to every person in our group each day. Moreover, even though I felt uncomfortable, I forced myself to use the various Spanish words and phrases I learned in high school in conversation with Costa Ricans. I stumbled and used improper conjugation, but the people I spoke to seemed to appreciate the effort. These interactions made me more attentive to and appreciative of all my patients in the hospital who speak multiple languages, being far more cognizant of the importance of hand gestures and expressions to help convey meaning. In addition, I was nervous about undergoing the various high-intensity outdoor activities, particularly white water rafting, cliff jumping, and waterfall rappelling. We always had the option to say no to an activity, but I am proud to say that I participated in every one.

As I mentioned above, during the trip I realized the significance of service being able to be both planned and spontaneous. We happened to experience the latter in a beautiful way.  To describe, on one particular day we had decided to head to a market one mile down the beach.  When a trip leader noticed that there seemed to be a fair amount of trash along the way, we all quickly agreed that we should clean up the beach that we had spent the whole afternoon enjoying. It was completely spur-of-the-moment and I think that this is a main reason why it has stuck with me so long after. As one can see, service comes in many forms. It can happen anywhere and anytime, planned or unplanned. I know that I want to widen my eyes to my surroundings at all times and actively seek out opportunities to truly leave each place better than it was before.

Additionally, as I mentioned before, almost every Costa Rican person that I had encountered seemed perfectly content with life, unusually cordial, and more at peace than an average American I have come into contact with on the street. Their happiness with having so little has inspired me to live more simply by getting rid of all those clothes and items I do not need – and be happy with what I do have. Moreover, their optimism and joyous faces have taught me how truly noticeable and contagious a positive attitude and smile are. I plan to try to be a more positive person now. I want to bring others the joy that they have brought me.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? 

For a long-time now I considered participating in some type of international service organization after college such as the Peace Corps or Nurses without Borders. I have always been passionate about service, which is one of the major reasons I chose an international service trip for my STEP Signature Project.  While I had gone on many week-long service trips throughout high school, it was with people I knew and to Southern Ohio and Northern Kentucky. Before I went on this trip, I had been debating that a more long-term international service trip may be too much.  To explain, I was worried that being so far from home may be too far out of my comfort zone. After having experienced this trip though, I now am enormously eager and excited to apply to these organizations. I appeased and overcame some of my fears.  I know that these types of organizations would be far away, and a longer commitment than a week-long service trip; however, this longer spell would allow for more time to stretch my endurance, perseverance, work-ethic, and stamina farther than I have ever stretched them.

In addition, a lengthier stay in a foreign country would grant me enough time to explore a new culture and people, to truly delve deeply and more fully into it and them by surrounding myself in it.  If I choose not to stay abroad someday, I will bring back much valuable learning and wisdom, I am sure.  As a future nurse, I believe that nurses should strive to learn about the various cultures of our patient population so as to provide optimal care, as well as to connect in a way that only experience can bestow.  To describe, I feel an impetus to develop a foundation of cultural knowledge of others while I am young and have less obligations.  To explain, this is to examine closely a subculture that heavily populates the U.S., to learn its customs, traditions, sayings, inspirations, habits, and even language(s) in order to call upon these, in a patient’s hour of need, to come to their healing and comforting aid.  If I were to live in a foreign country and were injured or sick enough to require hospital care, I would hope that others had done the same.

Engineering Service Learning in Haiti

Culver McWhirter

For my STEP project, I participated in a humanitarian engineering project in Haiti. This project involved an engineering course where we designed a solar power system, did fundraising to pay for components, and then spent a week in Haiti to install the solar power system on the school.

Going to Haiti for this engineering project was the first time I had ever flown on a plane or traveled outside the country, so it was a big step outside of my comfort zone. Spending a week in another country and working from sunrise to sunset to install solar panels is something I never could have imagined myself doing when I first arrived at OSU. However, this experience has transformed me into a more adventurous individual; I now want to travel to other countries to work on more engineering projects like this one. My whole career outlook has also transformed since this project has made me want to use my electrical engineering degree in a way that can help people all over the world by providing them with off-grid electricity from renewable sources. This project has also transformed me into a better engineer who can succeed even with limited time and resources, which is a skill set that will be useful to me for the rest of my life.


My STEP project involved travelling to Fauge, Haiti for an engineering project that provided power to a local school using solar energy. I was part of a team of 12 OSU students who worked alongside local Haitians from Fauge and Haitian students from the American University of the Caribbean (AUC). We completed the end of a several-year-long project by reorganizing the power system to make better use of resources, and by adding an additional three 300 W solar panels, four 12 V deep cycle batteries, one 60 A PWM charge controller, and one 2.2 kW inverter to the system. The power system provides the school with electricity for water pumps, outlets for charging devices, and indoor and outdoor lighting. While we were installing the power system, if we needed to get more supplies it took almost a whole day to travel to the closest town, Les Cayes, purchase components, and come back. This limited access to resources forced me think on my feet and work with what we had, which was a great learning experience and made me a better engineer.


While in Haiti, we also presented lectures on electricity basics, solar power systems, and the physics of photovoltaics to the AUC students and did a fun learning activity with the children at the school to teach them about solar energy. These were possibly my favorite moments of the trip because seeing how excited the kids were to play around with little solar powered cars showed me how much of a positive impact engineering can have; just by having electricity, the education of these children can improve drastically. Also, teaching them how solar power works might inspire them to become engineers themselves, and in turn they can help even more people. Seeing the effect this project had on the kids at the school is the main reason that this experience has transformed me and made me want to become a humanitarian engineer.


Some of my favorite parts during my week spent at the school came from just joking around with AUC students while working, teaching them about solar energy, and learning from them about the civil engineering aspects of the project like mounting the solar panels onto the school’s roof. I also enjoyed playing soccer with the kids who lived near the school; it was something I looked forward to every day even though it was incredibly hot outside. On top of forging new relationships with people from Haiti, I also became incredibly close with my fellow OSU students who were working on the project and I now consider them some of the best friends I’ve made during my time here at Ohio State. This is one of the reasons why I want to participate in more projects like this while I’m at OSU, and I am planning to go on a similar engineering trip to Ghana next fall.


Overall, taking part in this project was a life-changing experience. Travelling outside of the country for the first time and working day in and day out to provide a school with off-grid electricity was a big step outside of my comfort zone, but I feel that it has made me a much better engineer and person. Learning to make the most of what you have and being able to think on your feet are crucial engineering skills, and these are definitely some of the biggest lessons I learned in Haiti. The experiences I shared with the people from Haiti are something that I’ll never forget, and working on this project has given me a new direction in life to be a humanitarian engineer and use what I’ve learned about electrical engineering at OSU to help provide people with electricity around the world.

Riobamba, Ecuador !

My STEP signature project was a MEDLIFE service learning trip to Riobamba, Ecuador during this past spring break. During the week excursion we toured the country, went zip lining, and assisted in providing medical care to those who otherwise had no access to it.

I have always viewed myself as a humble giving person. If I were ever asked to describe myself and the things I like to do, I would always talk about my passion for helping others. Going to Riobamba made me realize I do not do nearly enough and I am not as self-less as I would like to think. While in this third world country, we were helping families who had very little to no money. They were still willing to give us a part of everything they did have. I have a new appreciation for those in the medical profession as well. The doctors I was fortunate enough to work with were completely devoted to assuring these patients received the care they desperately needed. It was amazing to see how they interacted with the locals and how thankful they were to us for being there.

Aside from the medical clinics we participated in, we also worked on an additional project. For this project we were tasked with assisting in the final phases of the construction of a house for a local family. All of the volunteers on the trip were separated into groups and spent one entire day working on the house for this family. At the end of the week family was presented with the house. When I worked on the housing project, we were sanding walls, painting the walls, and laying the concrete for the front porch area. The work was hard and grueling and I wanted to sit down and take breaks throughout the day.

When I had the urge to rest I looked around at the native Ecuadorian people assisting us with this house, they had so much heart and they were determined to make the house look good for the family moving into it. I was too embarrassed to rest even though I was deathly tired. The local people were so proud of the work they were doing and it truly showed in the final project. Just being around everyone was such an inspiration for me.

Before we showed the family their new house we took a brief tour of the house they had been living in. The lower level was all one dirt floor room. There was no furniture present except for blanket pallets on the floor. There was no kitchen and the stairwell leading to the second floor was a ladder missing about half of the stairs. When the family saw their newly constructed house they immediately started balling. That moment had the greatest impact on me. It felt amazing to be able to have such a huge impact in someone’s life.

This signature project was life changing for me. Whenever I find myself complaining about coursework and exams, I think back to my trip to Ecuador and convince myself that I have absolutely nothing to complain about. I now realize that my life could be ten times harder than is.




HL&D Service Learning Trip to Ecuador

Name: Nicholas Motz


Type of Project: Service Learning Trip


  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

There were three main segments to my service-learning project, the first of which being allowed the opportunity for roughly two weeks the shadow doctors in various fields including surgery, ER, Gynecology, Sports Medicine, and Radiology. Secondly for a entire week completed a service project of converting many shipping containers into homes. Lastly interspersed throughout the trip we were able to tour and immerse ourselves in the culture and land of Ecuador.


  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

I honestly see in myself that I have changed from this trip. What has really transformed with me is a very internal thing within me; my way of viewing the world has changed. Not an entire frame shift, just more of a widening or even focusing of that frame. Having spent that time in Ecuador I have learned to really appreciate and enjoy the smaller things in life because people there really do appreciate that. They have often so much less than we do here and they just the same with that and they enjoy it too. To be specific, watching surgeries the OR is extremely simple in comparison to what we would have in the US, no fancy machines, just the simple OR with a surgeon, scrub nurse, a circulating nurse and the respirator with life support. Which is literally all you need and they get the same thing done that we do here. It just really has taught me to appreciate what I have and am blessed with. To really employ the opportunities I have here and rejoice in the small thing.

Additionally also learned so much on being open to teaching, that it isn’t always a competition. That together we will succeed through helping each other to succeed.


  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

As I mentioned earlier the experience in the hospital in the OR was quite eye opening. Majorly just watching a surgery being done was quite a rewarding experience. It helped me to affirm that I do in fact want to continue on the track that I am to become a doctor. Just getting to be so hands on to was impeccable. It wasn’t just the OR though during our ER days we got the opportunity to do rounds and go around from patient to patient and take their vitals and review their charts just allowing us to get our feet wet in the realm of being a doctor. Additionally a way that I got to get my feet wet was on one of my last surgery days a surgeon allowed me to help him hammer a persons knee replacement into place, which I was extremely grateful for that opportunity. This leads into another realization and transformation I had.

Just the entire mentality down there in Ecuador is completely different from ours here in the US. Here it is all about competition; on who is the best of their class, who is smarter, who is better. The mentality here is all about that you have to be the best and in order to do that you need to beat everyone else and not help them. In Ecuador it is something totally different. In Ecuador the mentality is to be more than grateful to help your fellow peers that together we will succeed. That if you help those under you, you make the next class even better and so on so on. This is something I had the opportunity to discuss with one of my tutors, Ramiro. We talked for a while on this difference between each other’s mentalities. He commented upon how there the idea is that of course I will help you, aid you over time to get to my level of expertise, but then also by the time you get to my level I will have already moved up myself in my knowledge. So there is still this idea of competition but with a different view entirely.

Finally another big transformational experience for me was the touring of the country. We got to see everything from downtown upscale housing, to rural shacks on the sides of mountains, to the jungle, to the harbor beaches. Just getting to see the way that some people lived down there was so powerful. The most of which was meeting one of the prior communities that HLD had helped. Upon our arrival we were immediately greeted with hugs from the local and cheering. People we had never ever met in our lives were so happy to see us and meet us. We played with the children for a long while. Then the town’s people were gracious enough to have prepared us a feast of food of corn and chicken. They gave us a huge amount of food of the little they had. This just taught me that those who have the least are willing to give the most and that honestly was a moving experience for me when we did have to leave them. Just the willingness to give and also to be so happy of people with the little they had. It really fueled me for the volunteer part of the trip to really churn out those homes for these people.


  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life?  Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

This change or transformation is valuable to me because it has already affected my life. It is something that I feel I will keep with me my entire life. For one the opportunity of getting to shadow is valuable because it made it evident to me that I am on the right path, that I am in fact doing what I want to do. Getting to see the end career was extremely rewarding and gives me drive to get there. The other things I learned also are extremely valuable because I have begun to employ them. I already feel happier just taking the time to think my day over and really appreciate the things I am learning and also what I am blessed with. Also the opportunity to help and teach others is I have found to be an extremely gratifying experience but when coupled with the stepping back to appreciate what has happened is great.

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HL&D Service Learning Experience

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

The STEP Signature Project I chose to participate in this past summer was a Service Learning and Community Service Project. The project consisted of serving the Jama community in the country of Ecuador while working alongside the community to build homes for the people of that community to live in. In return, we traveled along the beautiful country of Ecuador and even shadowed physicians, surgeons, and medical students for two weeks!

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

I would approach this question in two separate ways. First, when I read “your assumptions” or “your view of the world,” I automatically think how most Americans who have never left the country would picture a “3rd world country” such as Ecuador: run down, very poor infrastructure, out dated maybe, etc. However, I believe I have had a different experience growing up than most Americans. I am of Colombian decent, which is a country that borders Ecuador. Since infancy to my adult life, I spent almost every summer for the entirety of the summer in Colombia. Thus, I grew up often seeing places like Quito (in Ecuador) whilst in Colombia. However, now as an adult in college, I find that my views have since changed tremendously. Though I’ve always been grateful for all that I have, I have gained a new appreciation for my Hispanic culture and a deeper understanding of the beauty the world offers. Not only the physical beauty of the world, but how many people who have it “worse” than we do approach life and how they make life work for them.
Secondly, I would approach this from the perspective of personal growth, within me. This Project absolutely affirmed two things that I have come to recently learn about myself since becoming an Ohio State student. I have two passions in life: to serve my community and fellow human, and to study medicine. It also gave me the courage to live my life to the fullest and discover the world and all it has to offer.

3. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

For this, I will talk about how my personal growth and affirmed desires were realized through my STEP Project. Throughout my trip, I met incredible people in all kinds of positions. I met doctors, medical students, nurses, and children and families in impoverished neighborhoods and communities in need. From the time I landed in Ecuador to the time I left, I felt nothing but happiness and high energy. I will break it down experience by experience week-by-week in order to demonstrate how this experience led to the changes felt in my answer to question #2. The company that we went through, Ecuaexperience, has three main components to its program. They go by HL&D and each letter describes a component that when placed together creates an amazing experience.
The “H” stands for Help. Through this, I definitely confirmed my passion for helping others. The Help component has a heavy focus and emphasis on building homes with a selected community by working WITH them to produce these homes. This year was a strange yet very much needed year for HL&D. The reason being is because in April of 2016, a massive earthquake devastated Ecuador. The areas affected included those along the west coast of the country, which included the community of Jama, the recipients of our efforts and homes. This earthquake was so destructive, we weren’t even able to go to the community to see and interact with them. We had to completely adapt the plan for building the homes. The way that this helped transform me is by seeing firsthand how in need these communities are and how I have a DIRECT impact in helping them feel a little more; a little more safe, a little more relieved, and a lot less desperate. We also were allowed to visit a community that was displaced by the earthquake which gave us time to interact with those who have lost their Although each situation is not the same, the principle stays the same: there are many ways to help people, and helping people makes me feel needed and alive, it makes me feel good. I related this experience back to my work with Camp Kesem at OSU and how I am helping these families affected by a parent’s cancer overcome the stress of cancer and cope with that.
The “L” stands for Learn. This component of HL&D is where I saw the most growth in terms of assurance for my future plans as a healthcare professional. For two weeks, we got to interact with medical students who did everything for us! These students translated for us, took us to and from the hospital, taught us workshops in several different things, and answered any questions we may have had. It also showed me personally that I could achieve my goal of being a physician if I put my best foot forward and try as hard as I can. In this component, I also interacted with physicians and nurses who were very eager to teach us what they know and help us with any questions we had. They wanted us to learn as long as we wanted to learn! The amount of hours put into those two weeks was incredible! We were given a case study each week that made us look deep into research to find the answer to a case that had multiple solutions. It allowed me to work with fellow students that went on the trip and foster relationships with awesome people that I stay communicate with to this day! It also definitely assured me that I am pursuing the right field and made the right choice to want to become a physician.
The final component of the program is the “D” which stands for Discover. During this part of the program, we spent 11 days traveling around the country of Ecuador. This truly gave me an appreciation of life and the world around me. In an age consumed by technology, this allowed me to interact with humans and build relationships with people in breathtaking and beautiful places that one can only dream of or see through photos on Google. I tried things I have never done before, I learned what it was like to discover myself, and I hiked through the Amazon rainforest. This may not seem like a big deal, but I struggled heavily and persevered through it and it made me realize that I can do anything I set my mind to and made me extremely proud of myself. On the trip, we had a motto with our group. It was “Feel the fear and do it anyway.” Which I think is applicable to life in many ways and I am grateful for this experience.

4. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

This transformation is significant to my life because it now assures me that I am on the right path for what I want to achieve in life. For about a semester during my second year, I questioned whether or not I wanted to be a physician. I questioned what was important to me. Classes were difficult, and I wanted to take the easier route out instead of fighting for what I was meant to do. This experience confirmed that I was on the right track initially, and I needed to continue the tract at all costs. The pure joy and excitement I got out of every single interaction with physicians, patients, or even members of the community that we worked with to build homes was immeasurable!
I plan to continue to recall on this experience to rekindle the fire in my passions so that they may continue to burn bright, regardless of what it takes to achieve my goals. My appreciation for my Hispanic heritage, other cultures, and traveling doubled, and I cannot wait until the next experience that allows me to immerse myself in another culture. This experience also allowed me to interact with people from other schools, and Canada (majority of the participants are Canadian), which was just incredible! This is something I am very fortunate to have been a part of and cannot thank Ohio State enough for the incredible opportunity.





Guatemala 2016 STEP Reflection

This past summer, I spent a month in Antigua, Guatemala volunteering in a daycare for working single mothers (working parents). I aided the teachers in providing a safe and loving environment for the children while helping with daily activities. Through taking on this responsibility and traveling alone I was able to further develop my leadership skills and independence.


My time in Guatemala was eye opening to say the least. It is one thing to be aware of underprivileged populations, but to live like a local in one of those areas is much different. I was able to get to know many locals and make meaningful relationships that broadened my outlook on life. I often let my anxiety control my decisions, but I was able to learn to let go and enjoy life as it comes. I am the type of person who always needs a plan; after getting to know other volunteers and surround myself with different people I realized that is not the only way to live. I learned about other cultures, religions, and countries. Hearing the other volunteer’s and local’s stories was inspiring and lead to one of my biggest take aways from the trip: Life is just too short to limit it/yourself to a pre-determined plan; there are so many other things out in the world that one cannot possibly pencil in, and consider themselves “happy” or “fulfilled”.

I often made spontaneous trips while there, and had the most freeing/adventurous experience. I have the rest of my life to be in the workforce, but there are only so many opportunities to travel, immerse one’s self in a new culture, and enjoy life. I constantly challenged myself to try new things and go with the flow. I kept a journal throughout my trip and I was able to see myself grow and move more and more out of my comfort zone until I had finally broken that anxious barrier.

I had the opportunity to get to know the women I worked with at the daycare pretty well. I mainly worked with two ladies everyday in the toddler area, Reina and Senora Melida. They shared their stories with me and asked me about my life here, and it just amazed me how cheerful and hardworking they were after everything that had happened to them. Reina, who was my age, was balancing having a full time job and going to high school. She told me that her parents had no money to send her to school so for a few years she had to take a step back from her studies and focus on helping provide for her family. She now was able to go back to school, but was very behind for her age. She said she had dreams of becoming a doctor, and though she was the best in her class she did not have the money for medical school. Reina told me she would probably have to settle and find something in business/finance, and though that was still very respectable it was not her dream. She had brothers and sisters to feed and had to be practical. It broke my heart to see someone so motivated who yearned for something more, but was forced to let go of their dreams. It made me appreciate the amazing opportunities Ohio State has given me, and the memories I have made. That night I also messaged my mother thanking her for always supporting me and forcing me to take risks and follow my dreams. Senora Melida had been previously been a professor before coming to work at the day care. Her husband who lived far away for a long time due to work had become ill so she had to move there to take care of him so she switched jobs. Well now, she had injured her shoulder and she had to get surgery, which would cause her to lose a few month of work while recovering. She shared that she was scared not just to leave for the surgery, but also because since her husband was ill she was the main provider in her home; with both out of work she did not know how they were going to even buy groceries. Though, the next few months of her life were going to be very stressful no one could ever guess because she was always so positive and loving towards everyone. She was one of the best teachers in the day care and made each child feel important. They both taught me to be present, grateful, and take what is handed to me and make the most of it.

All of the experiences and things I learned in Guatemala have made such a positive impact in my life. Throughout this trip, I learned new things about myself and stepped out of my comfort zone. I have gained a new view on life and have learned to embrace the path I am on in life and take it as it comes. I truly appreciate all that I am blessed with. It is so easy to get caught up on small setbacks and obstacles, but in the grand scheme of things most of the time they are not as important as they seem in the moment. I hope to continue to have this new joyful outlook and will never forget the people I met on my trip. Guatemala was indescribably and I would highly recommend it to anyone to go at least once to this country where its people are so open and loving. I will never forget this once in a lifetime trip, and am looking forward to when I can return.

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Nicaragua Buck-I-Serv

Jonathan Robinson

My step experience was a Buck-I-Serv trip sponsored by the Pure Water Access Program and AMOS Hope & Health in Managua, Nicaragua. AMOS is a Christian non-profit that works to improve the health of impoverished communities by working alongside them in health, education, and development. I participated in a global health practicum and assisted in the design and implementation of community-based field interventions such as Zika outreach, clean water filters, and a clinic for women and children.

Going into the trip, I thought that Nicaraguan health needs would be drastically different from those in the United States.  I was exposed to rural and urban global health issues and I learned about the importance of empowering communities in improving their health. Not only is community empowerment implemented in Nicaragua, but it is also being utilized in the U.S. My experience with AMOS Hope & Health has broadened my perspective on addressing public health problems.

I learned a great deal from participating in the global health practicum. This practicum helped set the stage for the outreach work we would be performing on the trip. I was given a crash course in global public health and learned about the theory and practice of community-based primary health care. The practicum reoriented my mindset of looking at health issues from the Nicaraguan perspective through reading literature, evaluating case studies, and self-reflection. I believe that many health problems around the world are not properly being addressed because those providing care do not understand their patients and the unique social determinants of health affecting their wellbeing.

An interaction that contributed to my transformation was working with the community health workers in rural Matagalpa. I was able to observe how they acted as liaisons between the community, volunteers, and AMOS. They play an important role in reinforcing the health initiatives AMOS implements by continuing their work when AMOS is helping other communities. The community health workers are also of value because they are trusted and respected because they can help connect people to the health services they need and come from the community being served. I see great potential for community health workers in the U.S. and helping to reach out to vulnerable communities.

An event that contributed to my transformation was hearing the story of why one member of the community decided to become a community health worker. She told me that she could not read or write and used to feel useless because of her limited occupational options. By becoming a community health worker, she now has a purpose and strives to empower others in the community by serving as a role model that doesn’t let their situation control their life. This is an example of how building on individual and community strengths can develop resiliency and contribute to improving health.

This experience has solidified my interest in combating health disparities and alleviating poverty. I gained experience working with low-income and diverse populations and learned how I can utilize relationships and community leaders to better reach people in need. These insights have further inspired me to pursue a career in healthcare administration where I can work to eliminate barriers that prevent people from accessing healthcare. In the future, I hope to reflect on this experience to lead outreach initiatives that educate and empower communities to improve their health and to develop, implement, and evaluate programs that address health disparities.

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Buck-I-SERV in Antigua, Guatemala: Spring 2016

This past March, I joined ten of my peers in a Buck-I-SERV trip to Antigua, Guatemala where we spent a week working with a local service organization, Constru Casa to expand and improve the living spaces of two local families. Constru Casa is a non-profit organization whose mission is to serve impoverished citizens of Guatemala by providing “basic housing, support programs, and community development projects relating to health and education.” As volunteers, we assisted professional masons in laying the foundation and constructing walls for additional rooms on the families’ homes. In our free time in the evenings, we explored the city and experienced a new culture first-hand.

What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? 

My entire life, I have wanted to explore foreign countries, immersing myself in their cultures, meeting new people, and tasting unique cuisines. I constantly dreamed of leaving Ohio for European tours and African safaris. My first opportunity to travel abroad occurred last March with my Buck-I-SERV trip to Guatemala. Though Guatemala may not have fit my glamorous expectations for world travel, I was excited for the new experience. I was aware, to some extent, of the poverty with which many countries in Central and South America, such as Guatemala are riddled. I believed my experiences with various types of service in the US prepared me for the types of issues I would encounter in Antigua. I was mistaken though, and the level of poverty in Guatemala was far beyond what I had envisioned. I distinctly remember driving through the Guatemalan country-side on our 3 hour drive to Lake Atitlan and trying to estimate the number of shacks we passed. Shocked by the sheer amount of poor neighborhoods we drove past, I could not even wrap my head around how many people in the country, let alone the areas we drove through, were touched by poverty. I wanted to help all of the families who were living in these inadequate homes. I felt discouraged by the fact that we could only help two families in our time there.

Personally, it was challenging to put into perspective just how privileged I am to live in such a prosperous country until I witnessed extreme poverty firsthand. Seeing just a small fraction of the world’s poverty forced me to confront the harsh reality that there are thousands of people worldwide who will never be able to afford a nice home, a full education, a car, and other luxuries that are readily available in American culture. I still hope to travel the world, but I feel now that I have a responsibility as a global citizen to seek out ways in which to use my skills and resources to share the fortune I have been so lucky to have in my life. I know it’s impossible to rid the world of poverty in my lifetime and I understand that there is a fine line between “voluntourism” and meaningful international service. However, I cannot in good conscience go about life doing nothing to combat global poverty. Organizations like Constru Casa, whose service is sustainable, effective, and flexible for outside volunteers can make that happen


What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you?

While working on the houses with Constru Casa, it was easy to be discouraged by the difficult, slow, and tedious manual labor, especially after realizing that this hard work would only result in a couple additional rooms. I felt that my work was only a small drop in a huge bucket. I tried not to lose sight of our mission, but the importance of my service was difficult to envision with so little progress made. However, a number of smaller interactions with people in Guatemala revealed to me just how valuable my time there was. For instance, once when I was walking through the neighborhood, a local woman recognized me as a volunteer for Constru Casa and communicated to me how desperate she was for the organization to assist her family and expand their homes as well. She was impressed by the work done by the organization and apparently, it was a well-known service group in the area.

Our presence was especially appreciated by the children of the families we were serving. They were thrilled to spend time with us and did not hesitate to find small tasks that helped us get our work done more efficiently. On our breaks, we would take the kids to a nearby grocery store to buy them snacks or play music and dance with them. I like to think that our work with the kids meant a great deal to them, not only because of their improved living space, but because we were able to bridge the gap between cultures. Despite a language barrier, a large age difference, and obvious cultural differences we were all able to connect and enjoy our time together, regardless of how exhausted we were from the difficult manual labor. Their enthusiasm motivated me to work harder so that I could depart from them, knowing I did all I could to give them the most comfortable home possible.


Perhaps the most meaningful connection I made, in retrospect, was that with the mother of the family with which I spent my time. Claudia was a single mother raising two children and watching several nieces and nephews as well. Always smiling, she greeted us every morning, then disappeared into the house to clean, do her children’s laundry, or prepare lemonade for us. Every one of her actions was intended to benefit someone other than herself, but she never complained or asked for recognition. However, I did not fully comprehend the magnitude of her altruism until I received the tragic news of Claudia’s death just a few short weeks after our visit. It became apparent that during our time in Guatemala, Claudia was in constant pain as the result of what was most likely pancreatic cancer. I looked back for clues pointing to her suffering, but not once did she need to lie down or stop working. I could only recall one instance where she asked for an Advil. In the meantime, I complained about the heat or physical exertion, having no awareness of her condition. Claudia’s dedication to caring for others is a quality I hope to one day emulate in my future career as an Occupational Therapist, as a future mother, and in my future experiences in serving others.

Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Discuss why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

I felt that my participation in Constru Casa’s mission played a key role in making my experience as influential as it was. In all honesty, I envisioned my first time traveling abroad being on a luxurious vacation, touring popular sites in Europe. However, I know now that an experience such as this would have imparted little information regarding the true nature of a different culture. This is not to say that participating in popular tourist activities is wrong or a waste of time, but I personally felt that my days spent working with Constru Casa in the suburbs of Antigua revealed more of Guatemala’s culture than any other days. This is because I was able to experience and participate in the familial environment adopted by many of Guatemala’s citizens. There is a spirit of compassion and care in Guatemala that is very different from anything I have ever witnessed in America. Families spend more time together, people are proud of their nationality, and religious faith unites many native Guatemalans. In the less wealthy neighborhoods in particular, I was reminded of how valuable time spent away from TVs, social media, and video games can be. I left the country motivated to eliminate these negative influences from my life in favor of more personal face-to-face interactions with my peers.


More importantly, my growing awareness of the impact of poverty worldwide will now influence several decisions in my life. A heightened knowledge of what poverty actually looks like will affect my political opinions when choosing between candidates who may or may not plan to implement changes that will benefit less privileged populations. As a future Occupational Therapist, I may choose to work in locations that are more accessible to people who cannot afford expensive therapies. I can seek out opportunities to volunteer my services to these populations as well. When planning future trips abroad, I can research effective service organizations nearby and attempt to get involved. In any case, this trip invoked a sense of responsibility to give back everything I have been given in this life in the hopes of one day seeing drastic changes in the rates of poverty worldwide.

As a first-time world traveler, my high expectations for cultural exploration were exceeded. Antigua is not necessarily a city frequented by tourists and world travelers the way that European cities might be. I had not met anyone who had traveled there to tell me what to expect. I felt that this worked in my favor, however, because I was able to enter my journey with few expectations and I could form my own opinions on the city, without any preexisting biases. As a result, Antigua became my own little treasure that few others got to share with me. I was immensely impressed by the vivacity of the city, with its colored buildings and gorgeous landscape. I could spend my afternoon in the quiet suburbs in a friendly neighborhood environment and experience the nightlife in the downtown area all in one day. I was able to spend a relaxing day at Lake Atitlan, but also worked long days to serve a local family. I felt equally selfish and selfless. I got the best of both worlds, and could not have asked for more for my first journey outside of the US. Had it been planned differently, I may not have received such a holistic image of Guatemala’s culture.



MEDLIFE Trip to Lima, Peru

Name: Taylor Moore

In early August 2016, I went on an amazing week long trip to Lima, Peru with MEDLIFE. MEDLIFE, which stands for Medicine, Education, and Development for Low Income Families Everywhere, raises money and provides resources to help increase access to healthcare in impoverished communities. On my trip, I participated in several mobile medical clinics, which provided doctor visits, dental care, OBGYN services and public health education. Along with health services, each group worked on a community development project. Most of the impoverished communities in Lima, live in poorly constructed homes in extremely steep mountains. In order to move up and down the mountains, they are forced to take dangerously steep paths carrying food, water or even children. We built 5 staircases and remodeled a new home for one of the residents. For the majority of the day, we were either at our clinic or project site. In the afternoon and on the weekend, we were allowed to experience the Peruvian culture and explore Lima. Whether we were educating children on proper tooth brushing in Lima or sand boarding down the sand dunes of Huacachina, every day was new and exciting.

I am majoring in Microbiology and minoring in Epidemiology, so I have learned a lot about diseases in the developing world and the health disparities seen in international health. It is one thing to learn and read about it but it is completely different when you have to see and experience it. The conditions that the people of the community had to live in and the problems that they had to face on a daily basis were extremely disheartening. To think that people have to live without the most basic resources makes you question everything that you have and take for granted. We most certainly have poverty in the United States but there is another characteristic of developing world poverty that leaves you in awe. The majority of us don’t have to worry about where our next meal or drink of water is coming from or worrying about being able to get a doctor’s appointment because we may have a cold. Some of those people hadn’t been a doctor in years or have never been to a dentist in their lives. For me, this trip allowed me to think more about what I am privileged with and urges me to find more way to help those in my community and abroad.

Before our days in the clinic began, our group leader took us on a reality tour of some of the communities that we would be working in. Our hostel was in Mira Flores, one of the wealthiest parts of Lima. As we drove an hour away, we passed through varying degrees of poverty. The farther we got away from the city, the more apparent the economic disparities were. I couldn’t help think about what kind of resources disappeared as you moved farther away and just how different the people’s lives were. We went from beautiful modern apartment locked away behind wooden and stone gates to homes made of nearby material and obvious infrastructure problems.  We no longer saw grocery stores and shopping centers, only food carts. The paved streets turned to dirt roads on the side of cliffs. We learned that not only were there economic disparities as you moved away from the city, but also as you increased in altitude. In the mountains, those that lived farther up the mountains had less money and resources. There was no central electricity or water systems so those further up had to pay more to get access to it and still had to carry large containers up and down the mountains to get the water. Just seeing what they have to deal with on an everyday basis made me realize just how important this opportunity is. We may only be in their community for one day, but we would have the opportunity to provide resources that haven’t been available to them for most of their lives. I believe that the reality tour humbled all of us.

The actual clinics were the most valuable part for me. What always seemed like a slow beginning quickly turned into a block full of people all waiting in line to receive some kind of medical care. Seeing the joy and gratitude on their faces, whether they just got a physical or had their first OBGYN appointment ever, led to sense of purpose and excitement in the air. I talked to some of the doctors that volunteered their time for the week. All of them told me how much programs like MEDLIFE are appreciated and needed in areas like this. MEDLIFE not only provides mobile clinics, but they also have follow-ups on patients to make sure they can continue to get the care that they need.  While I alone couldn’t change the health care system of Peru, they appreciated that there were people that wanted to come to help them.

Throughout the week different groups worked in development projects in one of the Peruvian communities. My group worked on building a staircase on a steep side of the mountain that essentially ended at a cliff. When we got to the site, the site leader explained to us the importance of the staircases. A couple years ago, one of the residents fell down a dangerously steep and muddy slope while carrying water up to her home. She almost lost her baby. After hearing the story, he lead us down some of the really bad paths in the community, which was a terrifying experience. The soil on the mountains was very loose in some parts and muddy from the dew of the high altitude. The only thing between myself and the edge of the cliff was a community member that tried to guide us through something that they experience several times a day. During the stair construction, we worked side by side with the residents to truly make it a community experience. While we were working, one of the lady’s whose house was at the bottom of the hill, made us all tea and brought us crackers to thank us for our work. Something I have always loved about the attitudes of those that do suffer from poverty is their ability and willingness to give to others even though they may not have much themselves. The last day of project development was truly the most special. To commemorate finishing the staircases, the community held a celebration. At each staircase, a bottle of champagne was broken for good luck, Afterwards, they performed three traditional dances. Having this moment end the week of service solidified its value. Even though I may have only been in the community for a couple of hours a day, I truly felt that what I was doing would have a lasting effect on these people’s lives.





Of all the places I have gone and things I have done in my past 3 years in college, this trip may be the most valuable and significant. Being a part of this experience has confirmed my desire to pursue a career in public health. After I graduate from Ohio State, I plan on getting a Master in Public Health with concentrations in epidemiology, infectious diseases and global health. I do understand the dire need for access to healthcare both in the United States and abroad. One of my dreams is to be able to open many free or reduced clinics around the world to bring those much-needed health care services to those who may not be able to afford it or have access to it. Being able to see what it takes to put together a successful mobile clinic and understanding that improving someone’s quality of life is more than just swooping in to provide assistance and leave forever. It is about building a strong relationship with the communities and understanding what they go through in order to be able better address what they need. This trip will drive me to continue my pursuit of higher education, community service and the appreciation and acknowledgment of what it is like to be privileged. This trip has allowed me to put a lot of my past work and hopefully future work into perspective. I will never forget the time I had there.