Cape Town, South Africa

Joshua Berry

Service-Learning and Community Service


1.)        In May of this year, I had the tremendous opportunity of going to Cape Town, South Africa with Buck-I-SERV. There, we worked with a local organization called Sakhulwazi Womens’ Hub, whose mission is two-fold: nourishing their disenfranchised community with fresh, organic vegetables, and teaching their community skills in gardening, sewing, and even in speaking languages necessary for getting jobs like Afrikaans or English.


2.)        The most transformative part of my trip was learning that even though I occupy a small space in the world, I still have the power to create and activate change globally. I had the privilege of travelling with the Vice President of Student Life, Dr. J, and this was a point she continuously worked to impress upon our group. It really made the work that we did and the experiences we shared that much more impactful.

I’ve always tried my best to be humble in service. In this age of selfies and social

media self-promotion, a trend of “selfish service” has broken out. It’s really easy to go into a service project, particularly abroad (in less-developed countries), and make insignificant change while shamelessly self-promoting and exploiting the people who you are meant to serve for your own gains on social media. I went into this trip knowing what boundaries to not overstep, but I also feel like even doing a service trip abroad for the first time taught me more than I could have known about how to make a sustainable impact.


3.)        Having the tremendous opportunity to do service abroad was very humbling. I was very proud to take part in this trip, as I learned about how it was a sustainable project prior to going. The Hub we worked with was very resourceful, using compost techniques as opposed to fertilizers and other chemicals, producing organic veggies. The relationship between the organization and our university is also a sustainable one: 2017 will be the 6th year that an OSU group will travel to Cape Town with Dr. J. The heads of Sakhulwazi as well as the children of their township all look forward to our arrival each year.

As previously mentioned, Dr. J emphasized that we can be worldwide actors of change, and that even our small actions here in Columbus can carry global weight. It was really rewarding, as someone who tends focus so much on their future that I forget that I have to navigate through the present day to get there, working through the various stages of the STEP program. Dr. J’s point, coupled with the work that I put in researching, interviewing, going to meetings, and writing my proposal, really cemented the concept in my head that I have the power to make things happen in my life, even when they are far away, and even when they are intangible.

The structure of the entire STEP Program really helped to guide me in the ways of creating goals for myself and accomplishing them. Working with the wonderful people of the Sakhulwazi Hub and their entire township was the real fruit of my efforts. Also helpful in coming to the realization of my abilities to create change in my life and in the world was the fact that I was able to do service abroad versus at home. It put things into perspective (warning: this might get a bit philosophical), that in travelling from my typical, day-to-day microcosm here in Columbus, into another group of people’s microcosm in Cape Town, I was also able to create change on a macrocosmic level. It made the world seem a lot smaller and my perception of my place in it and the things that I am able to carry out significantly larger.


4.)        Realizing my power to enact change in my life and in the lives of others is possibly one of the most meaningful life lessons I could ever learn. As stated prior, I tend to focus so much on my future goals that I neglect to focus on the steps in the present that I should take to get there. STEP and the Signature Project in Cape Town really helped me along the road to better understanding how and what kinds of steps to take (no pun intended) and how to recognize opportunities when they arise, in order to sculpt a future for myself. It was also tremendously rewarding to be able to give my services to people who do nothing but serve the people in their community. Serving and helping others is a pillar of my personality and even if my future career doesn’t involve that aspect of myself in some way, this trip has showed me ways that I can implement service in my life.


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STEP Reflection

  1. For my STEP Signature Project I went to Antigua, Guatemala on a BuckISERV trip. While we were on the trip we spent four and a half days working with local masons to build an additional classroom at a local school.
  2. Before I went to Guatemala I didn’t have that much desire to travel and see the world. However after going to Guatemala I find myself far more interested in seeing the world, and seeing all the different ways people live throughout the world. My STEP project allowed me to grow and become far more accepting of different cultures. My STEP project also allowed me to become more of an extrovert. I spent a lot of my sophomore year by myself, because I lived in a single person dorm room, and was just generally not very outgoing. While doing service in Guatemala I got the chance to make 12 new great friends. I had no choice but to talk to the people I went to Guatemala with, and in doing so I realized they were all great people. Now that I am back in the United States and back at school I find myself being more outgoing and willing to talk to people I do not know. The trip helped me understand that I am a social person, and that I’m always going to enjoy life more when I am able to overcome my fear and apprehensions about approaching and meeting new people.

    My STEP project also helped me understand there’s a difference between helping people and doing service. Helping people implies that they aren’t able to do the activities without your help. Whereas service is all about being there to support people. It’s about working with the community that you’re trying to impact and figuring out the best way for you to provide support to them. I think the difference between service and helping will stick with me for a long time. I want to make sure that when I am doing service in the future and not helping. This way I will be able to make sure my actions are only positive to the communities I am serving and there aren’t unintended negative consequences.

  3. I actually went to high school with one of the people I went on my trip with, and she was actually one of the student trip leaders for BuckiSERV, and it was great to be able to talk to her and feel more comfortable in our group settings because I already knew her. The first thing we did once we got to our host family’s house was as a group go into the town of Antigua. We were all hungry and thirsty from all the traveling we did and we went into café Condesa. Inside café Condesa we were able to start interacting as a group and talking about food and drinks that we wanted, and it was just a great unplanned ice breaker. Then that same night our host family made us dinner and we sat and talked as a group and were able to get more comfortable with each other. Dinners at our host family’s house were a highlight of the trip actually. Our host family was actually an older woman named Ampora (I’m not positive that spelling is correct), and then her one adult daughter lived with her, and she had two other daughters that came over while we were there. However Ampora and her daughters were great to us, they made us feel so welcome, and we were able to have genuine conversations about the differences between the way of life in Guatemala and the United States.
    BuckiSERV group at the top of a volcano

    BuckiSERV group at the top of a volcano

    The conversations we had with Ampora and her daughters made a big impact on me. It was abundantly clear that Ampora and her daughters wanted the same things in life that we wanted. They wanted their family’s to be safe and happy. They wanted to find joy in life and help their community. The things people in Guatemala want out of life are the same as what we, in the United States, want there’s just a significant difference in our way of life. It was very impactful for my view of the world to go several thousand miles away to a country where I don’t speak the language and there’s very obvious differences in everyday life, but to see Guatemalans want the same thing as Americans. The work we did with the masons on the job site further enhanced my changing view of the world. The masons were for the most part young men doing back breaking work to provide for their children, but also because they wanted to help all Guatemalan children by building schools. It was also very noticeable how highly skilled the masons were. I was impressed with how much sophisticated work they were able to get done with rudimentary tools and hard work. The job site was also another way of bonding and becoming more comfortable with my fellow Buckeyes. Once you’ve spent a day sweating and working together it’s a lot easier to feel like you know someone. You’ve worked with them to accomplish a task and that joint knowledge of what you’ve accomplished is a great feeling.


    The work we were initially told we were going to do was build a house, but when we showed up on the jobsite our first day we were at an elementary school. Which turned out to be a great surprise, because not only did we get to help build a classroom, but we also got to spend time playing kids at the school. I remember on our second to last day working at the school me and another woman on the trip with me got to play soccer with the kids and it was a great time. The kids were having fun and we were having fun, and it’s one of those moments that will stick with me for a long time.


    That last story I want to bring up about why my trip was transformative happened on our first full day in Guatemala. It was a Sunday and we had the day to go see Guatemala, we didn’t have to do any service that day. On Sunday we drove about an hour and a half along terrifyingly narrow mountain roads to get to lake Atitlán. Lake Atitlán was great, but while we were there I had the first real chance to push myself. We went to three different villages/cities on the lake, and at our last one we had the chance to go to an overlook of the lake, that you were also allowed to jump off of. The overlook was approximately 30 feet high. Now is an important time to note that I am relatively scared of heights. The entire BuckiSERV group went back and people we jumping into the lake, and I really wanted to, but I was really scared about doing it. However I mustered the courage and I jumped, and it was an important part of the trip to me. I know it seems relatively insignificant, but it was a very important part of the trip for me. It was an indication to myself that I could be braver and I could be the guy that takes risks.

  4. The way I spent my summer when I got back from Guatemala speaks to why my STEP project was transformative. When I got back from Guatemala I was scheduled to work at a Boys and Girls Club of Columbus. It was only going to be a four week program where I spent about 3 hours a day with kids for four days a weeks. Which is not an insignificant amount of time, but I didn’t consider myself very good with kids, so I was nervous. It was almost time for me to start my job there when my boss called me and asked if I could fill in for a day at another club where I would be with kids for six hours for that one day. I said yes apprehensively, but was thinking it was just a day, it couldn’t be that bad. However I worked there for two days, and then was given the opportunity to have that position permanently (that position was six hours a day five days a week for eight weeks). I ultimately decided to take that position and push myself to develop new skills and try new things in life. I have absolutely no regrets about the time I spent there this summer, and have even been considering trying to get involved in some type of after school program now that school has started. The experience I had working with those kids this summer was fantastic and if I hadn’t been given the opportunity to do a STEP project I probably would have never taken that job.


    My point is my STEP project has already helped influence my decision making. It has already helped me realize that I get a great deal of joy from serving other people. I enjoy knowing I am making a positive impact in people’s lives. I truly see my STEP project as a starting point for being the man I want to be as I continue to age; someone who is willing to take risks, someone who wants to serve the people in his life, someone who can connect with people.

    BuckiSERV group with local Guatemalan masons

    BuckiSERV group with local Guatemalan masons

STEP Reflection

Name: Kaitlyn Hill

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service


I traveled to Panajachel, Guatemala with a group of students from OSU who are in my scholar’s program; humanitarian engineering scholars. In preparation, we worked together to engineer solutions in order to aid the extremely impoverished. In Panajachel, the team completed comparative studies, carried out STEM education projects for many school-age children, and installed cook stoves in many families’ homes.


I had never had the opportunity to go out of the country or experience any other cultures or people outside of the United States. This was a new and exciting chance for me to merge my passion for helping others with my love of engineering. I had the chance to experience a community, very unlike any community that I have ever been to, while applying my knowledge and engineering skills to benefit the people who live there. This was exciting for me.

This trip allowed me to gain a new perspective on life. There are many things the I, and the people around me, take advantage of everyday that those living in Guatemala do not have. It’s interesting because although we may have more, here in America, the people of Guatemala seem like they are genuinely happier than us. Most families don’t even have the luxury of electricity yet were so kind and generous to everyone around them. The children were especially joyful and full of life and energy. It made me realize how little material items really matter when it comes to living a happy and meaningful life. I am so thankful to have had the opportunity to go on this trip and experience the beautiful country of Guatemala and its kind people.


While in Guatemala, I had the opportunity to meet and help several impoverished families that lived in the Lake Atitlan region. One of the key aspects of the trip that made the experience so great was traveling around the lake region to build cook stoves and meet many of the extremely impoverished families. Many families cook in their homes with an open flame. Not only does that cause a safety hazard, especially in homes with very small children, but breathing in the smoke constantly is very harmful for a person’s lungs. Cooking with an open flame is also very financially taxing for a family, as it requires the need for a lot of fire wood, which can be expensive. Having a cook stove is a much safer and cheaper method of cooking. It was very rewarding to provide this for the families. Seeing the mother’s joy in each family was priceless and made me feel like I had truly made a difference in the family’s life. Below is a picture of Mateo and a picture of the cook stove that we built in his home. We had the opportunity to meet Mateo and his family when we installed the cook stove for them. He was very sweet and waved to us as we were leaving.



Another key aspect of the trip was traveling to different elementary and middle schools and working with the students on a STEM project. It was incredible just how smart the children really were. The language barrier did make it challenging, however. The children speak the native language of Kaqchikel in their homes. Many learn Spanish, but many of these students did not understand Spanish very well yet, as they were still young. It made the project difficult in the beginning but relationships were able to be made using smiles and gestures. The children were so sweet and caught onto the project impeccably fast, despite the language barrier. I was truly touched by each and every one of the children I met and worked with over the week. They were some of the happiest and purest souls I feel I will ever meet for the rest of my life.

The final key aspect of the trip that made it life changing was hiking up Indian Nose. This was one of my favorite things I have ever gotten to do in my life. I thoroughly enjoy outdoor adventures and hiking, and the views of Guatemala that we were able to see were like nothing you would ever see in America. On one of the days we were in Guatemala, we were able to explore the country and really appreciate its magnificent beauty. We hiked up about 2230m above sea level and some 620m above San Pedro. The views over the lake were absolutely breathtaking, like many of the sites all over Guatemala. Below is a picture that was taken of me sitting on the “nose” and top of the mountain.



Although this was not particularly an academic study abroad trip, I was constantly learning. This experience gave me a ton of life lessons that has since changed me as a person and shaped me for my future. I am currently an engineering student at The Ohio State University. It may seem like going to Guatemala to help those in need is completely unrelated to pursuing a career as an engineer, but when you look closely, they have their similarities.

While in Guatemala, we installed cook stoves in several different families’ homes. This was a great project that utilized my problem-solving and engineering skills while providing a service to the natives. My skills of communication and collaboration were tested many times, but improved greatly throughout the trip. My methods of communication and my Spanish grew stronger through working with the Mayan families in Guatemala. Engineering and service are both challenges that have unexpected consequences. In both situations, you have to think on your feet if something grows wrong, and the more experience you have, the more confident you will become with your actions. Going through these challenges allowed me to trust myself in unforeseen situations.



STEP Reflection: Cape Town, South Africa

My STEP signature project was that I traveled to Cape Town with Buck-I-Serv to participate in service with Sakhulwazi Women’s Hut. We spent three weeks in Cape Town learning about the culture, exploring the city/country, and continuing the bridge built five years ago with the non-profit organization.

I went into this trip in a really rough place. I didn’t achieve all I wanted for the semester and I had a lot of home stuff going on. But, I wanted to go into this embracing change. I wanted to grow and become someone I never was before. With this trip I did just that.

Europeans and America has a really horrible view of Africa. We generalize Africa, instead of actually educating ourselves and naming the countries in Africa. We have this idea of famine, children who aren’t eating, zebras and giraffes walking around people’s homes and this is completely false. I personally didn’t have this view, but this is a common image fed to people. Cape Town, South Africa looks like Columbus, OH or Cleveland, OH. It’s a well developed city with people who speak english who aren’t living in famine. Zebras and giraffes are at the zoo or in the wild.

Traveling from Philippe to Cape Town every day was a bit of a struggle. The damage of the apartheid is still apparent and many Black people are still trying to get their live together from that pain. But, the people in the country have the strongest sense of community and forgiveness I have ever experienced. To see people who have lived under a government that has socially and systematically divided them and to be forgiving and hopeful, pushed me to forgive and love all that’s around me.

Mama Rosie is a woman who inspires you to never give up on your dream. She was 45 years old when she quit her job to form a non-profit and pursue her dreams. She started her non-profit in Philippe which is one of the poorest townships in South Africa. She wanted the non-profit to actually be in the community it’s serving. She understood the importance of actually interacting and living in the community you’re serving to because you know what they need and how to make the community better.

We got to help in the Pre-K to 1st grade schools within the township. Every other day or so, we were with the children in the township. Every other day, my heart was fulfilled. Again, we have this image of a people who let their children starve, don’t have clothes, and are dirty. The children look like children. They hold no really physical difference from American children. It took me awhile for them to warm up to me when we initially would get there because there is a language barrier, but the children caught on quick. Still didn’t understand much, but what they did understand was love and attention. They loved playing and always were smiling. Some tears if they fell every now and again, but that’s normal. They know how to latch on to your heart and you never want to let them go. Every time I had to leave each school, my heart hurt and I only wished I could stay.

The women in Sakhwulzi age ranged from 19-60 something. It was a pretty big gap. Mama Maria was the women in charge of the garden of Sakhwulzi. She’s probably in her late 50’s, but moved like she was 16. We were there to help them in any way we could, but she was always moving and going. Never letting herself sit down and relax. She was always appreciative and one thing that stuck out to me was that she said, “Work you have done in a couple of hours, would’ve taken me three weeks.” I stopped. It hit me, that while to me this is easy gardening, the is their life. The same love and appreciation they have for their career, only made me love their career and be enthusiastic about every day we were gardening.

*Kyle was a young man from Miami University who was also working with Sakhulwazi. I initially am always open to giving people chances and meeting new people, but on the first day he rubbed me the wrong way. He bragged about himself a lot and he had the volun-tourism mentality that most people have about countries they deem third-world even though South Africa is extremely developed. There was a community celebration of the five years OSU and Sahkulwazi have been together. Members of the community came and it was beautiful to see the love and support Mama Rosie was receiving. As we’re serving members of the community, Kyle makes himself a plate before everyone else was served and hides it away. Now, being real, poor is poor wherever you go. Some people probably wouldn’t have ate if it wasn’t for the celebration, him knowing this and did that act really taught me to control my temper. To act so selfishly, when he has a roof and food everyday and the people in the community don’t, made me angry. But, the love and forgiveness taught to me over the two weeks helped me acknowledge his faults, put the plate back so someone can eat it and continue serving to the community. That’s why I was there in the first place.

I have always been someone that finds it hard to forgive. I look at the world and life really half empty, have been since I’ve been 10 years old. I never saw a lot of positive and while I understand the meaning of sacrifice, I didn’t appreciate it. Going to South Africa and being able to look at the face of a woman who is working in the field I want to work in and see the love she has of her everyone around her, taught me to be more open to love. I learned that your dream can be reality. To those who claim it’s ambitious, don’t see that it can be done. I am still working on this thing called college and life, but I am very grateful I was able to get to know people that help me look back and breathe. They are loving the life they live, so I learned to do the same.

*Name was changed

STEP Service-Learning and Community Service Project -Kyla Beecham

  1. My step project fell under the Service Learning and Community Service category. The National Down Syndrome convention was held this summer in July in Orlando, Florida and I volunteered as a counselor in the kid’s camp. I also visited Universal Studios with some of the kids and traveled around Florida.
  2. My views are different after completing this trip. I was immersed in a world I never thought possible. There were so many self-advocates at this event and so many independent people with Down syndrome teaching me. The convention showed me the amount of resources there are for people with intellectual disabilities and that people have been fighting extremely hard to create these resources. I have come away with a greater understanding in the multitude of people who graciously advocate and fight for a better world. I’ve become discouraged in the past with the lack of opportunities for people with disabilities but this event made me see the world different. This made me excited to see that the world is changing and people are out there changing it. I learned about myself that I am immensely passionate in being an advocate for those with disabilities and working with children. I was in the classroom with many children that I made great bonds with. I assumed that I would do more macro work in the future and work in policy making but this made me open up to the possibility of micro work and working with children specifically.
  3.  A specific event made led to the change I previously discussed and that was the reading by an author who wrote their own book by 19 years old. This woman was incredible and inspiring. She has Down syndrome and thought more people should know what her life is like so she wrote a book on her life. I sat there and listened to her thought process and what she’s gone through. It was shocking to me some of the adversity she has faced in her life and the people who did not think she would succeed in her writing.It made me reflect on the work I’ve been doing and what meaning it has to me now hearing her thoughts. I have been trying to advocate for individuals with Down syndrome and was reaching out for more ideas and other ways to help. She helped me beyond anything anyone else could have. This woman has been advocating for others with Down syndrome with her courage and thoughts. I began to understand that I need to believe more in those people who could possibly be a writer like her or even a fashion model.

    Another event that led to my transformation was hearing a parent tell me that their child has not let another person hold them and interact in play with other kids until under my supervision. It was heartwarming to learn that this child felt comfortable with me and that his parents were overjoyed to see progress in his social skills. I made connections with these kids and wanted to help them grow. These children were incredibly intelligent and great to counsel.

  4. This change is significant in my life because I plan on advocating for individuals with Down syndrome in the future. I am an advocacy events coordinator and needed this experience to expand my horizons and make a more successful program. This inspired me to go beyond what I have in the past and work even harder to advocate. I am going to be a social worker and a lot of the parents I talked to have worked with social workers with their children and spoke to me about what they thought they need in a social worker and what I should strive for. This experience was extremely helpful for me with setting up for future goals
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Guatemala Engineering Service Project

Frank Keller


My STEP signature project consisted of a semester long research course during Spring 2016 and concluded with an 8day trip to Guatemala in early May 2016. The project was through my scholars group, The Humanitarian Engineering Scholars (HES), and was done in collaboration with the nongovernmental service organization (NGO) Mayan Families. During spring semester, Mayan Families tasked me and group of my fellow scholars with coming up with an alternative septic system solution. The course consisted of research into the project and the trip consisted of further research and final presentation to Mayan Families. Also during the trip, I helped teach STEM lessons to preschools in the area, built cook stoves for families in need, and explored the country of Guatemala.

My Transformation Experience 

During my project I realized just how different the world is in comparison to the small town Ohio I grew up with. I experienced poverty and hardship growing up. But nowhere near what I saw in Guatemala. I thought growing up only being able to eat Ramen was bad. Turns out I was lucky to have food. I loved school growing up but coming to college I felt like I was at a disadvantage because I came from a small country school. In Guatemala I would probably have stopped my education after middle school or maybe not have gotten one at all. It’s not a competition to see who has it worse. But my trip to Guatemala put a lot of things in perspective. It made me realize how grateful I am for what I have and have been able to experience.

I would say the true transformation I experienced though, was I fully realized what I want to do with the rest of my life. Growing up I loved volunteering, helping others anyway I could, and always trying to help those less fortunate than me. This drive to help others is why I joined the Humanitarian Engineering Scholars group here at OSU. I wanted to get a degree in Engineering and I wanted to use that degree to help others. On paper that sounds all good but how was I actually going to do that and would I stick with it? This project was my first step in participating in actual humanitarian engineering and making a difference. Going to Guatemala I had an idea of what I wanted to get from this trip. All of my experiences in Guatemala were far more moving and transformative than I could have hoped for. I realized when I was coming back from Guatemala, I would go back one day and I would do as much as I could to help the wonderful people I met.

Key Aspects

I met a lot of wonderful and thoughtful people on my trip to Guatemala that helped create my transformative experience. One person who was truly inspiration to me was our tour guide throughout the trip, Alisa Bryce. She was a 24-year-old from Britain who had pretty much spent most of her life traveling the world. She spoke Spanish and was hired by Mayan Families to work with all the groups who worked with them and came to Guatemala. Throughout the trip I got to talk to her quite a bit and learned a lot about her life and experiences growing up. She was born in Hong Kong when it was still under British control, she went to school in Indonesia for a few years, she lived in Memphis, TN for a few years, and is now traveling Central America as a professional dancer. She also shared a lot of her work experiences that she experienced while working for Mayan Families. She helped me learn a great deal about Guatemala, it’s people and culture, and really made the trip a great one. I think if I didn’t have such a passionate and knowledgeable tour guide for the trip, I don’t think the trip would have been as great or memorable.


Alisa and I on my last night in Guatemala. My group mate Ricky Renner in the back. 

Alisa was just one of many people I met during my trip to Guatemala that made it such a a great experience. Mayan Families employed a lot of diverse and interesting people that we got to meet throughout our trip. Some were from America, some Britain, and a lot were locals. On our Saturday of the trip we didn’t have any work planned so we hired a local tour guide named Henry who took us across Lake Attitlan and up Indian Face Mountain, a local mountain peak near the village of San Pedro. The trip to and up Indian Mountain is a story that would take me a few pages to tell alone. In short, when I stood at the top of Indian Face Mountain, I got to see the greatest view I have ever seen in my life and it really made me appreciate the beauty of Guatemala. Henry was also able to buy us the greatest coffee in world from the local area for us to take home. I took it home and gave it to my dad as a gift and he said he’s never tasted coffee as good as it. Guatemala had so much to offer from its landscape, its culture, and its people and all of it made my project a transformative experience.

There is one experience from my project that has stuck with me more than any other experience was because of a small Guatemalan boy named Pablo. It was on either the second or third day of the trip, my group went to the Mayan Families workplace and there they ran a preschool. At this preschool we taught two classes a STEM lesson using popsicle catapults. I was helping a young Guatemalan boy build this catapult. I was using hand gestures and very bad Spanish to try to explain how he was supposed to build the catapult. He was having fun though and was excited when I showed him how to launch the pom poms we gave the children as ammunition. After the group was getting to leave for our next adventure, I realized I never got the young boy’s name. I asked him and he told me Pablo with one of the goofiest smiles I’ve ever seen. I said my goodbyes to Pablo not realizing it wouldn’t be the last time I would see him. We went to the Mayan Families carpentry school where they showed us how to assemble cook stoves. These cook stoves are given to families who are sponsored by donors and they help the families greatly. They provide a chimney which filters out smoke and reduces the amount of firewood needed for cooking by 70%. So the Mayan Families workers load us and the supplies up into some trucks and we go to different villages to build cook stoves. The village my mini group went to was called Las Vegas and it was government built housing for families displaced by a landslide from a nearby village. We pulled up to one of the concrete houses and there I see Pablo standing in the doorway of the house we were going to install a cook stove in.  He ran up to me and hugged me so I like to think he remembered me from the preschool. We talked to his mom and they told us where they wanted the cook stove. They decided we would build it at the back of the house so we set about building. We built it without any trouble and the family was extremely grateful. It was during the building of the cook stove that the most important part of this experience happened. To the left of where we were working I noticed a sink full of nasty, green looking, and awful smelling water. I didn’t think anything of it when I first saw it. Later Pablo went up to the sink, filled up a big bowl with the gross water, and drank it all. He went back to playing and everything was normal. I just stood there for a couple minutes going over in my head what I just witnessed.


Las Vegas, Guatemala. Pablo’s house is the gray one top right. 


It was at that moment of seeing Pablo drink that unhygienic water where I realized that I was going to dedicate my life to trying to help those in need like Pablo. I made a commitment that day to do as much humanitarian engineering work as I could for the rest of my life. We left the village of Las Vegas and I saw Pablo for the last time. I realized when I got back to the US, I never took a picture with Pablo. The only thing I have to remember him by is a bracelet he gave me; a bracelet I haven’t taken off since he gave it to me. But his memory has been driving me in my academic and career goals. The plan currently is to graduate with my degree in Civil Engineering, obtain a job in the construction industry and then hopefully one day start my own NGO to help those like Pablo.


The entire Humanitarian Engineering Scholars group at Mayan Families HQ in Panajachel, Guatemala. 

STEP Reflection

  1. My STEP project fell under the Service-Learning and Community Service. Over the summer I had the opportunity to volunteer as a teaching assistant for a Human Anatomy course, a valuable experience in the area that I want to build a career in. I also maintained a job as an Office Assistant and student taking summer classes while teaching and proctoring exams. I used my STEP money to pay for room and board in Siebert Hall so that I could spend my summer volunteering, gaining experience and networking, taking class and working as an Office Assistant in that residence hall.
  2. While completing this project, I learned a lot about myself. After working with the course’s teacher, graduate teaching assistant and students, it became clear that I was on the wrong career path and I finally found what I really want to do for the rest of my life. Before this project, I was on a pre-med track and putting an immense amount of pressure on myself to maintain this track because it’s what I’ve always told people I wanted to do. I was no longer happy but couldn’t admit it because I felt like a failure. This project introduced me to a multitude of resources that showed me that just because I no longer wanted to be a doctor, there were still many ways that I could help people and stay in a field that I am interested in. I made the decision to drop my pre-med track and instead began making plans to attend graduate school in order to become a Nurse Practitioner.  During the summer, I shared my concerns about my career path with the students and found that many of them were in the same place I was. Before coming to college, it is hard for graduating seniors to understand the multitude of different jobs that are available in healthcare because we have only ever discussed doctors and nurses. Having the opportunity to talk with people of similar age and interests as mine helped me come to the realization that my life goals no longer aligned with the pre-destined schedule of a medical student and later doctor. Not only did my students help me realize that I was not alone in my concerns, my graduate teaching assistant shared how she found her path with me. We had multiple talks before and after class and exams and she helped me realize that what I wanted from my career was still related to healthcare, just not on the path I was on. I am so thankful for this summer because it pushed me to question what I really wanted, finally leading me to find the track for me. I am so much more confident in my career path than I ever was while I was pre-med. I now feel that I will be able to help people heal in a setting that best utilizes my personal skills, all while being able to have time to raise a large family and live the kind of life I want. Without this project, I am certain that I would have come to this conclusion too late and would not be nearly as successful in school and life as I am today.
  3. This pivotal decision would not have occurred without my STEP project. While completing this project, I met a lot of students that were interested in the same areas that I am interested in. They were key players in my decision because they taught me that there are so many more careers in medicine than just doctor or nurse. While I was always aware of this, I always thought that the avenues to get these careers were out of reach and obscure, but my students combined with the graduate teaching assistant I worked under encouraged me to talk to my academic advisor, who in turn helped me address my worries and figure out a career path I would be happy in. This summer forced me to take a hard look at my aspirations in life and how medical school, residency and later career as a doctor fit into this plan. I have always known I wanted to help people and have always had a love for science, but the students and my graduate teaching assistant offered alternative ways to get exactly what I want out of my career. Had I gone home this past summer and not stayed in Columbus volunteering in an area I have interest in, I would not have met people who encouraged me to consider different paths and to speak about my concerns with my counselor. I may not have changed post-graduate plans and could very well have been just as unhappy now as I was last year about my academics and life. The people I got to know this summer opened new doors for me that ultimately led me to path that I am in today.
  4. As I’ve mentioned before, this summer was critical in my life because I found where I really wanted to be headed. Without this experience, I would most likely still be unhappy and constantly worried because I chose a track that I no longer felt successful in. Today, I am much happier and feel more confident than ever about my future. This decision has helped me rediscover my love for science, in turn improving my grades and confidence for my future. In addition to benefitting my overall career goals, my time spent as a teaching assistant was so invaluable because without it, I would not have gotten the position at the Wexner Center that I have now. Being a teaching assistant was a huge resume booster and has allowed me to gain an invaluable opportunity at the Wexner Center where I am networking with professional staff in the career field I hope to one day work in. I am now developing relationships with staff in the medical field while also developing critical professional skills that will give me an advantage over other candidates when applying for a job or graduate school. STEP has given me the freedom to build my professional skills, network with professionals, and most importantly, find the career path I truly want to be on. Without it, I would not be nearly as confident or happy in the decisions I have made and the outcomes that have come from it.

Buck-I-SERV in Guatemala


Katie Krile

Service-Learning and Community Service


My STEP Signature Project consisted of an international service trip to Antigua, Guatemala with Ohio State’s Buck-I-SERV program. In Guatemala we partnered with a non-profit organization known as Constru Casa where we worked to improve the living conditions for families there. During our stay we were able to build an additional room onto one of the schools there which was called Niños de Guatemala.


This signature project was an opportunity of a lifetime for me in which I will be forever grateful for. This trip marked several big first time events in my life as I have never been out of the country or have even flown on a plane before. It was truly an eye opening experience to travel to a third world country as my first out of the country experience. Before this service trip I hadn’t been too keenly aware of the lifestyles of developing counties, but this experience has definitely allowed me to become more understanding and appreciative of my surroundings. I didn’t really know what to expect at the start of this project, but I had imagined my stay in Guatemala to have been more rugged and challenging than what it actually was. Having grown up in a developed first world country my whole life, I had pictured my experience to look like the images I had seen on television of undeveloped nations. I had tried to prepare myself for any anticipated hardships or challenges that I thought would face us in regards to our living conditions. However, I was extremely surprised with the arrangement of our host family’s house. It was a very nice stay where everyone had their own beds, enough food, and even running water for the restroom and showers. Although I know that this wasn’t the case for the majority of families living in Guatemala. We were residing in a touristy town know as Antigua and many of the homes there were nicer than what we witnessed on our travels to other parts of the country.

From this experience, I learned that it is important to not take the simple things in life for granted. So many of people here in the United States have access to clean water and food and live in safe, stable homes. However, the number of people who can make that claim in Guatemala are just a few and they would comprise a minority subset of the population. By completing this STEP Signature Project I am now more aware and appreciative of the life that I live here in the United States and want to help make more of a difference in the lives of others who may not have it as fortunate as we do. I am more willing to participate in future Buck-I-SERV trips after this one as I have been able to better recognize the positive impact these service trips make on the organizations and people that they are assisting. Living conditions can improve globally through increased health promotion and collaboration with others while taking advantage of the advancements in technology along with further education opportunities.


As I mentioned earlier, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect upon my arrival in Guatemala as I have never been outside of the country. I was greatly surprised once I got there though and saw Guatemala City for the first time. The first thing I noticed as I stepped off the plane was the heat that surrounded us. It was hard to put into perspective that this eighty to ninety degree weather we was experiencing was their everyday setting and that it was even their winter season. The city was busy and was packed with street solicitors and homeless individuals and families. The infrastructure there was much different than anything I have ever experienced in my life. The side of the main highway was just lined with these small shacks that people had assembled from abandoned and excess pieces of wood and metal. The air quality in the city was also very poor as smog was present throughout from the pollution as they were without any means of proper sanitation regulations. Traffic laws were also not abided by there as motorcycles weaved in and out of all traffic and horns were used for all means of communication, good and bad. I was surprised that there were as many vehicles in the city that there was because I thought that with it being a third world country, technology such as automobiles would have been more scarce. Guatemala is more of a developing country though and wasn’t at all what I had envisioned the city would have been like.

I was amazed by the city of Antigua, Guatemala. The roads were set up in a grid fashion with streets only running parallel and perpendicular throughout. There was also a large, beautiful town square located in the center where many families could be found trying to sell their handmade crafts and woven accessories along with fruit vendors and other vegetable and food sellers. This was one of the main sources of income for many families in this area as Antigua is known for being more of a tourist city. I was further surprised with the host arrangements during our stay there. I had imagined our stay to have been what one may consider rugged but our host family was extremely amazing and so kind and generous throughout our stay. She had a wonderful home where she had enough beds for all twelve of us on the Buck-I-SERV trip and even had indoor plumbing with three working bathrooms. The hospitality that was provided to us on this trip by the Guatemalans also greatly contributed toward my experience on my signature project.

While working at the construction site at the school we were able to interact with masons and kids as well during our breaks. I speak very little Spanish but was still able to make out certain phrases and play along with the children at the school. This was probably my favorite part of the trip being able to engage with the people that we were helping. It was rewarding to see the kids that go to the school and see how happy they were to be there and have this opportunity. I also hold a great amount of respect and admiration for the work ethic of these masons and the labor they put into their jobs day in and day out. They are some of the hardest physical workers out of anyone I’ve ever met and I aspire to further develop and strengthen my work ethic like theirs. The teachers, masons, and helpers at the school were all also very appreciative of the work we did to help with the addition of an extra room to the school. They were so kind and it was nice to see that our work and service was going to help improve the living conditions and the educational process for those in Antigua, Guatemala.


This was an opportunity I’m so glad I was able to take because I would have never experienced anything like this if I never went to OSU and got involved in the STEP program and became interested in the Buck-I-SERV service trips that they offer. This was transformational for me because I got to experience another country that I would have otherwise never traveled too. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do a service learning project for my STEP signature project and when I came across Buck-I-SERV and their summer trips I knew that this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m so grateful to attend a school that has a program like STEP that makes it possible for students to achieve their goals while providing financial support. This service trip has impacted me and my life and the future for the better. I now possess this greater sense of awareness and appreciation for the things in life that I would have normally taken for granted. I’m extremely grateful to have grown up in the environment that I have and to have got where I am today. I will carry this mindset with me into the future as I continue to grow and reach toward my academic and career goals. Along the way, I hope to get involved in an organization like this again and further broaden my perspective of the world around me. As I continue my education to become a health care professional, I also like to think that I will strongly advocate for health promotion. I know that the experience, knowledge, and awareness that I’ve gained from this international service trip will help me in the future and that I in turn can use it to help make a positive difference and impact on the lives of others.

AMOS Nicaragua


I travelled with BUCK-I-Serv to Nicaragua to work with a non-profit public health organization known as AMOS Health and Hope. Over the course of our three weeks abroad, we took part in a global health practicum course in which we did extensive studying of community based health interventions, international health care policies, the history of Nicaragua, and much more. After our first week in the AMOS compound, we were given the opportunity to practice what we had learned in the rural community of Tapasle. We collected data on water purity, surveyed the community on issues that may effect their health, as well as performed health screenings for the children and pregnant women of the community. This culminated in a presentation of our findings to the community leaders with a discussion of possible future interventions.

While performing  STEP project, not only did I gain memories I will never forget, but my view of the world became forever changed. I was immersed in a culture and language I did not know and I was challenged to adapt to the new environment. One of the main reasons I decided to come on this trip was to experience for myself some of the stories that my grandfather had told me of his service trips to Central and South America. I was always greatly humbled hearing what conditions the communities he worked with lived in and the types of basic health care that were unattainable for so many families. I was so proud to have a grandfather who I knew had done so much good in the world and I wanted to be able to say I’d attempted to live up to his example. Although he had prepared me for what kind of poverty to expect to see upon arrival to Tapasle, I could only truly understand it seeing it first hand.

Nearly every house we visited were one or two room wood and sheet metal structures with dirt floors. Some of the houses received running water however our studies from the week showed that it was not potable. The standard of living was very different from what I’ve become accustomed to, however, it was one of the most vibrant and loving communities I have ever been in. The children of the community were always smiling and playing, and I was fortunate enough to be able to join them on a couple occasions. One of the most touching moments of experience for me was on our last day in Tapasle following our presentation to the community leaders, the children lead myself and a few of my group members to the top of nearest hill and began to teach us several of their games. One of these games involved clapping our hands in a circle singing a song similar to “down by the banks” with the last person, instead of being eliminated, needing to give a hug to person of their choice in the circle. Without knowing us at all, most of the children gave me and my group members hugs before anyone else. It was a display of unconditional welcome and affection that I will never forget. Compared to most American children, these kids had nothing, and yet they seemed happier than many children I’ve seen in the U.S with more toys than they could ever need.

Another very humbling moment came when we sat down with the community leaders one evening and did an activity put on by the AMOS staff. We were asked to draw pictures describing what we were thankful for, what we believed our strongest traits were, and what obstacles have made us who we are today. The activity was meant as an empowerment tool for the community members, and to help us all relate to each other.  As I began to draw my pictures, I realized this activity was about more than that and I was forced to stop. I could not think of any obstacles I had faced that would compare to anything these people have been through. I realized how privileged my upbringing had been compared to the others around me. I was forced to think hard and I ultimately answered that my grandparents passing away was one of my biggest obstacles. The woman who went after me nearly immediately broke into tears. While I didn’t want to talk about my privilege growing up, she didn’t want to burden us with her misfortunes. Her parents had taken her out of school in the second grade and she had never learned to read or write. She was very insecure about her education and had always felt trapped by it, yet she had no opportunity to do anything about it. She had no money, no resources, responsibilities to her children, and no time to dedicate to herself. We all followed her in emotions and most of our group began to cry as well. I spoke with the volunteer coordinator, Desiree, that night about the experience and how guilty I felt about the lifestyle I’ve been allowed to live in a middle class U.S household. She helped me realize that even though most of us have been given opportunities most people here have not received, it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take them. Limiting our opportunities won’t change the way the world works, however appreciating them knowing how special your opportunities are will help you enjoy them so much more.

As much as I learned from my first hand experience in Tapasle, I learned even more from my BUCK-I-Serv team mates and the AMOS Staff. We spent every day together in close proximity learning about different topics of global health, policy, privilege, and stereotypes and by the end of our time together I realized how much those lessons changed all of us. Although I’d always hoped I remained without bias or judgement, I had never thought about it in as much depth as I did with that group. Everyone had come from very different backgrounds and with their own experiences that have shaped their views of the world. Listening to their stories and realizing together how our perceptions effected our reality made many of us very emotional during some of our discussions but in a way that made us all more open-minded and considerate in the end. I will always be thankful to the other members of my group and the staff of AMOS for opening up so much to us.

Through this project, I was given a new perspective on how I live my daily life. I have grown to appreciate everything more and  I have changed the way I interpret others, particularly on their appearances. In addition this trip has given me a new perspective on global health as something I would definitely like to become more involved in later in my life, whether it would be with Doctors without Borders or any other organization. I value what I learned and experienced too much to not want to do it again later in my life.


Volunteering at Columbus Metropolitan Libraries- Kezia Sta-Ana

For my STEP signature project, I volunteered at two different Columbus Metropolitan Libraries locations and helped with their Summer Reading Program and other programs they offered for children in different age groups. I sat down with multiple children who came in to read for 15mins. and were awarded with a prize after. I also helped out with the Play To Learn program which was designated for children ages 0-4 accompanied by their mothers and did different activities like learning new letters each session and relating that to different books and themes.

Being a student living on campus, I found really no need to venture off campus for things that I can easily access nearby. If I did have to leave, I usually traveled by bus and while riding on the bus the difference between campus and the rest of the Columbus area is very clear. The building styles change and there’s the section between campus and short north where homeless people stay. Some people I know don’t venture very far because they feel that those areas are dangerous but originally coming from Cleveland I’m used to seeing those types of areas. I just didn’t realize that areas like those could surround campus because I never bothered to look around and explore. I assumed that the whole area was filled with college students and we dominated over everything but that’s not exactly the case. I decided to be volunteer at the Columbus metropolitan library because I wanted to get more involved with the Columbus community and not only be secluded on campus community.

I first started working at the Franklinton Branch and so how they have a small collection of books, dvds, computers, etc. compared to my public library in Cleveland. The kids I met there were amazing and so easy to get along with. They were all passionate about reading and most of the teenagers volunteered at the library as well. I was able to get close to the kids and talk to them about school and family life. I knew before I wanted to work with kids for my future career but now I know for sure that I do. I was also able to work with the different staff members and saw how hard they worked to provide as many programs and incentives for the kids to stay in school and to read more with a very low budget. The second branch I worked at was in Linden, which was slightly bigger than Franklinton. The kids there were less open to new visitors but eventually opened up after a few weeks. Communicating with so many different people with different backgrounds made me realize that I have the ability to make that connection with someone in my future career as a doctor as long as I put the same amount of motivation and persistence that I did working at the libraries.


I built a very strong relationship with the teenager volunteers. They were open to talking to me about everything like school or family life. They are such smart and bright kids and knowing that they are part of the volunteer program at the libraries here shows that they genuinely enjoy helping others and learning how to be more responsible by treating their volunteer job as a real job. This program teaches them discipline, promptness, responsibility, and respectfulness towards the volunteer coordinator. My library back home in Cleveland may be bigger but they never had a teen volunteer program to teach us all these necessary traits.

Jedi Master- kids play with DIY toys

Jedi Master- kids play with DIY toys

Magician comes to visit

Magician comes to visit. Some of the Teen Volunteers

COSI comes to visit

COSI comes to visit

Tug of war with books

Tug of war with books


I also built a strong relationship with the younger kids who I worked with during the Reading Buddies program. I enjoyed talking to them about their goals and dreams because it motivates me to never give up on mine. They are all filled with hope and genuine joy that is so hard to come by as people get older. I remember one of the kids named Darryl (aka DJ), wanted to read for 30 mins. instead of 15 mins., which then changed into an hour of reading and eventually it was just us talking and enjoying each others company. Some days I spent extra hours talking and playing games with them and I had the best time. A lot of the kids came to the library because their home situation is bad but it can’t be seen in their attitudes or faces. There is only complete happiness.

Another relationship that I built while volunteering was with the staff members. Since I worked longer at the Franklinton branch, I was able to really get to know most of the members. I saw how passionate they were when it comes to the kids and their jobs. They don’t have much to work with when it comes to their budget but they make the best of it so that the kids can have the best experience. I really fell in love with the staff when they did a training session and I had to help. I thought that it would just be like any other meeting where we just sit in listen but they wanted me to play the music because they were doing a fun superhero skit to kick off the training session. It surprised me completely on how playful they can be which is a strength especially when working with kids.

Training Meeting (aka Summer Reading Superheroes)

Training Meeting (aka Summer Reading Superheroes)

This change is important to me because I don’t want to feel like I’m secluding myself to things that around me. A lot of people aim to volunteer internationally and I’m not saying that’s a bad thing at all but if they want to get involved as soon as possible, I suggest volunteering locally. Personally, I want to be completely aware of my surroundings and be open to meeting different people with different backgrounds. I want to really putting myself out there and get out of my comfort zone. I plan on becoming a pediatrician and working at the library was the best way to start learning the basics which is communicating with kids and knowing how to talk to them and how to build that mutual trust. I learned that working with kids is something I really want to do and enjoy doing. The kids weren’t always joyful and they don’t do well with authority but during these difficult situations, I learned how to calm them down and resolve the problems. Some problems I couldn’t resolve, but they mostly just needed someone to talk to.