Ghana Buck-I-SERV, May 2018

My STEP Signature Project consisted of participating in an international Service-Learning experience through Buck-I-SERV. I traveled with a group of OSU students to a small childrens home in partnership with the Akumanyi Foundation where we assisted with everyday chores, helped teach kids in school, and aided in homework and afterschool activities. On the weekends we traveled around Ghana which brought a greater exposure to the surrounding culture.

 

One of the most influential parts of the Ghana trip was experiencing the Ghanaian culture. When thinking of the African nations, it is easy to group all of the countries in Africa as one. It was familiar to only know the stereotypical attributes “Africa” carries in America. But during my time over there, I found many of those stereotypes not to be true.

Prior to the trip I did not have any expectations in particular, however, I innately carried with me the perhaps common beliefs that West Africa is poverty-stricken and under-developed, with endless acres of dry desolate land.  This viewpoint was far from true. Immediately after stepping off the plane, we were greeted with 3 large busses similar to those found driving down High Street. Once departed from the airport, we endured rush hour traffic surrounded by 20-story buildings and business men in suits crossing the street. The capital, Accra, did not fit the believed stereotype.

A few hours outside the capital, we approached the dirt roads. We passed rows of small mud houses that had a sheet of metal for a roof. But around these areas was a landscape filled with hills of bright green. With it just being the beginning of rainy season, the color in the flowers, trees, and sky filled me with amazement with the beauty in the country and how polar it was from my original perception of West Africa.

 

As mentioned before, this experience exposed me to the many false stereotypes I had prior to the trip. This fact emphasized that these stereotypes are just that, stereotypes. They do not accurately display a place or portray a group of people. So in short, my experience allowed me to not only be more aware of stereotypes I may have, but it reiterated the negative generalizations that stereotypes come with.

Because I had found these stereotypes to be false early in the trip, I was able to disprove them and fully engage in the culture of Ghana. This began with forming relationships with staff in the Akumanyi Foundation and in the children’s home. We shared stories of our upbringing, learned some of the Twi language, and exchanged views on each of our home country. This exchange provided a new global perspective. I saw both the similarities and differences people my own age have in a different culture. Just experiencing their everyday responsibilities provided a new insight that can be used for personal growth.

These invalidations of stereotypes along with the engagement in the Ghanaian culture also promoted cultural awareness. Learning about the poverty that some areas in Ghana face and the efforts of the Akumanyi foundation, I gained a better understanding of the differences in daily responsibilities and activities.

 

The value of this experience lies in the global perspective and cultural awareness attained. This trip has given me the experience of international travel, and an exposure to a place and people that was unknown. The feelings, emotions, everyday activities and relationships that have come from this trip will continue to have a lasting impact on my views and I have journal entries from my time abroad to remind me of those things.

Looking to the future, this trip has confirmed my passion to continue service. It has showed me that when you help others, no matter how small the task, you are in turn helping yourself. This trip also has taught me that travel abroad is crucial for personal growth. However, it has proposed the idea that volunteering while you travel can have the potential to make your time abroad even more meaningful. Lastly, this trip had unexpectedly sparked a passion for incorporating my academic endeavors in engineering with volunteerism abroad. I plan to keep relations with the Akumanyi foundation and look forward to taking all I have learned from this trip and sharing it with others.

NYC Buck-I-Serv

Name: Sathvik Ravindran
Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service, New York City Buck-I-SERV
1.)For my STEP Signature Project, I went on a service trip to New York City to serve the HIV/AIDS populations. We helped to serve food, assist with administrative tasks for fundraising initiatives, learned about harm reduction and risk prevention and create safe-sex kits for the community outreach projects.
2.) This trip was transformative for me on many levels. I thought I had an understanding of the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities but I returned to Ohio with a deeper understanding of these communities. I learned about one of the first organizations in the world since the start of the AIDS crisis aimed at HIV prevention, care, and advocacy for the afflicted communities. This organization has a deep history of advocacy for the HIV/AIDS afflicted communities. I was exposed directly to the HIV/AIDS communities and learned about the issues that they face. Through the transgender sensitivity workshop, I learned how to be respectful of others in the LGBTQ communities. I was also able to engage in direct service to this population by serving food during lunch service. Through the various trainings and workshops, I learned about the substance abuse, and transgender communities. I got the opportunity to learn the importance of Naloxone and how to administer it to save the life of someone who is overdosing on a narcotic/opioid. I now have a better understanding of the issues that HIV/AIDs populations face along with issues within the populations that are at a higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS. I thought I was well educated about Trans issues, HIV/AIDS, and substance abuse before embarking on this trip. At the end of the week, I had an even deeper understanding of these demographics and populations.
It was also transformative to be able to participate in a cause and idea bigger than I am. The HIV/AIDS populations face various marginalization’s in our society. Some of these compound to create an increased risk of homelessness and lack of access to a proper diet amongst other issues. Health equity for all marginalized people is something I have been passionate about. To help this organization reach its goal to help serve its clients by serving food to assisting in various needed administrative tasks was eye-opening and fulfilling. I came to NYC excited to serve, but I left having served as well as gaining lots of important knowledge that will change the way I interact with these populations in the future.
3.) One experience that deeply affected me was while serving food to the clients. It was the end of the shift and the amount of patrons flowing had decreased. One patron seemed very disoriented and confused. The person ahead of me asked me what they wanted to eat for their main dish. The gentleman mumbled at first and then asked for everything. He then said that he wanted as much as possible because he had not eaten in 7 days.
I do not know if this was true, but I believed it and gave him pasta tuna salad and regular salad. I could not believe what I just heard and I wished it wasn’t true. I helped to serve this man’s first meal in days. He may have died if he had not made it to the cafeteria. I thought about him for the rest of the day and I have since frequently. I did not know his story or anything else really. GMHC helps to serve the HIV/AIDS community in so many ways and I was profoundly touched by helping to accomplish the mission statement.
Another event that affected me was being part of the diversity of workshops and trainings. I was able to learn about trans-sensitivity and inclusivity from an actual transgender person. I learned how to administer Narcan/Naloxone to someone who may be overdosing (I learned how to save a life). I learned how HIV/AIDS ravaged and still affects people today as well the little things we can do to decrease the stigma. This wealth of knowledge I will carry forward in my future experiences. Knowledge is truly power in that I can take away these experiences to help educate others and to combat the marginalization that the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS community faces.
4.) It’s been a month since I was in NYC and my heart is still full. I aspire to be a medical professional one day. I saw first-hand how these individuals were treated and are continued to be stigmatized due their identity and the status of a disease. I realized that health equity is a goal of mine. I hope one day, I can directly help to provide inclusive and affirming care to anyone regardless of class, race, romantic orientation and gender identity. I hope to carry forward the knowledge I have gained on this service trip to provide care that isn’t stigmatizing to members of the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities and other marginalized peoples.

 

GMHC Buck-i-SERV

Name: Sathvik Ravindran

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service, New York City Buck-I-SERV

1.)For my STEP Signature Project, I went on a service trip to New York City to serve the HIV/AIDS populations. We helped to serve food, assist with administrative tasks for fundraising initiatives, learned about harm reduction and risk prevention and create safe-sex kits for the community outreach projects.

2.) This trip was transformative for me on many levels. I thought I had an understanding of the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities but I returned to Ohio with a deeper understanding of these communities. I learned about one of the first organizations in the world since the start of the AIDS crisis aimed at HIV prevention, care, and advocacy for the afflicted communities. This organization has a deep history of advocacy for the HIV/AIDS afflicted communities. I was exposed directly to the HIV/AIDS communities and learned about the issues that they face. Through the transgender sensitivity workshop, I learned how to be respectful of others in the LGBTQ communities. I was also able to engage in direct service to this population by serving food during lunch service. Through the various trainings and workshops, I learned about the substance abuse, and transgender communities. I got the opportunity to learn the importance of Naloxone and how to administer it to save the life of someone who is overdosing on a narcotic/opioid. I now have a better understanding of the issues that HIV/AIDs populations face along with issues within the populations that are at a higher risk of contracting HIV/AIDS.  I thought I was well educated about Trans issues, HIV/AIDS, and substance abuse before embarking on this trip. At the end of the week, I had an even deeper understanding of these demographics and populations.

It was also transformative to be able to participate in a cause and idea bigger than I am. The HIV/AIDS populations face various marginalization’s in our society. Some of these compound to create an increased risk of homelessness and lack of access to a proper diet amongst other issues. Health equity for all marginalized people is something I have been passionate about. To help this organization reach its goal to help serve its clients by serving food to assisting in various needed administrative tasks was eye-opening and fulfilling. I came to NYC excited to serve, but I left having served as well as gaining lots of important knowledge that will change the way I interact with these populations in the future.

3.) One experience that deeply affected me was while serving food to the clients. It was the end of the shift and the amount of patrons flowing had decreased. One patron seemed very disoriented and confused. The person ahead of me asked me what they wanted to eat for their main dish. The gentleman mumbled at first and then asked for everything. He then said that he wanted as much as possible because he had not eaten in 7 days.

I do not know if this was true, but I believed it and gave him pasta tuna salad and regular salad. I could not believe what I just heard and I wished it wasn’t true. I helped to serve this man’s first meal in days. He may have died if he had not made it to the cafeteria. I thought about him for the rest of the day and I have since frequently. I did not know his story or anything else really. GMHC helps to serve the HIV/AIDS community in so many ways and I was profoundly touched by helping to accomplish the mission statement.

Another event that affected me was being part of the diversity of workshops and trainings. I was able to learn about trans-sensitivity and inclusivity from an actual transgender person. I learned how to administer Narcan/Naloxone to someone who may be overdosing (I learned how to save a life). I learned how HIV/AIDS ravaged and still affects people today as well the little things we can do to decrease the stigma. This wealth of knowledge I will carry forward in my future experiences. Knowledge is truly power in that I can take away these experiences to help educate others and to combat the marginalization that the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS community faces.

4.) It’s been a month since I was in NYC and my heart is still full. I aspire to be a medical professional one day. I saw first-hand how these individuals were treated and are continued to be stigmatized due their identity and the status of a disease. I realized that health equity is a goal of mine. I hope one day, I can directly help to provide inclusive and affirming care to anyone regardless of class, race, romantic orientation and gender identity. I hope to carry forward the knowledge I have gained on this service trip to provide care that isn’t stigmatizing to members of the LGBTQ and HIV/AIDS communities and other marginalized peoples.

Staten Island Ferry

Group Picture at GMHC

Cherokee Nation Buck-I-SERV

For my STEP Signature Project I decided to go on a couple Buck-I-SERV trips. Luckily I ended up getting to go to the Cherokee Nation over in Oklahoma not once, but twice. On both of these trips I got to work on projects around the Cherokee Nation such as building ramps and clearing out areas while learning about the history and culture of the Cherokee Nation.

Leaving Ohio to go do service in an entirely new setting taught me so much about myself and the world around me. I am used to either living in a suburb or the city of Columbus. For these trips, I went out to a place that has a much slower pace of life. It kind of made me realize that every place is different in its own way and sometimes it is better to get out of your comfort zone. Being in the Cherokee Nation definitely changed my view on my own assumptions and the history I had learned previously. I grew up hearing about the “Indian Casinos” and how they were just ways to take money. While I was in the Cherokee Nation we passed a casino and learned that they use the money to fund things like schools and community outreach programs. Being around the people also helped break stereotypes that I was used to. For instance, I grew up with the idea that it is the norm to go through school, go to college, then move away and get a job. In the Cherokee Nation that is not always the case. Many people we met would leave and come back after school. Some even moved far away then came back to homes in the same neighborhood. This really showed me how much of an emphasis these residents put on their families and communities and made me appreciate mine a little more. Being in this completely new setting helped me experience a little more of the world and made me evaluate what I already had in my life.

One thing that was deeply emphasized on both of my trips was the sense of community in the Cherokee Nation. This community was not just those who lived there – it included relatives, others who were Cherokee, and even visitors like my Buck-I-SERV groups. My best example of this comes from my second trip. Unfortunately, our trip started off with our van being broken into when we stopped in St. Louis for lunch. The people in St. Louis, from the police to the people at the hotel we were forced to stay at for the night, were pretty apathetic to the whole situation. When we arrived in Oklahoma the next day everyone we spoke to was genuinely concerned about our trip and made sure that we were all okay. The community just had this overarching sense of compassion, even though I was the only one in my group who had been there before.

Another great example of this community comes from someone who is not in Oklahoma all the time, Robert Lewis. Robert Lewis is an actual National Treasure of the Cherokee Nation. This title means that he is nationally recognized in a craft that comes from the Cherokee culture – his being storytelling. I have been lucky enough to see him perform his stories on both of my trips and even had him teach basket-weaving. When I came back for my second trip he remembered me, even though I had not seen him for about seven months. He opened my eyes to a part of Cherokee culture that I had never heard about in school, such as the storytelling and basket-weaving and just other little things that had meaning. I am so grateful to have gotten to meet this man and every memory of him puts a smile on my face.

I think the rest of my transformation came from everyone else I had the chance to meet during both of my trips. I learned so much from everyone while I just sat and heard their stories. I also learned that while I live in a completely different place, we still had things in common. I quickly learned on my first trip that one of our program coordinators was also a wrestling fan. When I came around the second time when college wrestling was actually in season we got to talk about something we both loved. I learned history, not just of the Cherokee Nation, but of the individuals who lived there. I helped stain a ramp for a man who carved figures into wood. I met a man who worked in the government office for the Cherokee Nation who taught my group that carrying a buckeye is actually considered lucky in their culture. The people taught me that no matter where I go, I can always hear other’s stories and make connections.

I think the transformation that I went through while dong this project helped immensely in my life and my future plans. I aspire to be an occupational therapist, which would include working with various people all the time whether that be patients, therapists, or other healthcare professionals. Going on these trips to a completely different place and being able to adapt to the setting and the people there made me realize just how easy it is to get to know and form relationships with people. I think this project also gave me a more broad view of the world which will definitely help me if I am thrown into other situations that push me out of my comfort zone. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to do this and learn more about myself and the world around me.

STEP Reflection

Name: Meghan McErlean

Type of Project: Service Learning and Community Service

For my STEP Signature Project, I spent a week working with Special Olympics Maryland along with other Ohio State students through a Buck-i-SERV trip. We spent a day at an orientation, getting to meet many of the athletes and learning about Special Olympics, followed by three days volunteering at the Special Olympics Spring Games Track and Field Meet, and one day working with a swim program run through Special Olympics.

 

Prior to completing my STEP Signature Project, I had very little experience working with people with intellectual disabilities. I also was fairly uneducated about the Special Olympics organization in general. I know that one of the assumptions about Special Olympics is that “everyone wins” and that it is not competitive, and people think less of it because of that. I myself once thought that way and was surprised and impressed by the athletes that I met as they told me about the many medals that they’ve won and the many sports that they compete in. I learned that every athlete in Special Olympics does receive a participation ribbon; however, none of them are satisfied with just that— they all strive for that gold medal. Seeing the athletes compete really made me realize that I was wrong to think that they wouldn’t approach sports, and daily life for that matter, the same way that everyone else does. This new knowledge and understanding has definitely made me excited to inform others about Special Olympics and correct any misconceptions that there may be.

My personal interactions with the athletes impacted me more than anything else. I knew that I would be hesitant and unsure of how exactly to begin a conversation with them. I was also aware that some of them would not be able to communicate with me in the way I was used to. It seemed as though there was this barrier between us; however, as soon as my trip began, I quickly realized that there would only be a barrier if I put one there. Most of the athletes were eager to meet and talk to myself and the other students on my Buck-i-SERV trip. For those that weren’t, being in this sports environment made it easier to find something to bond over.

 

My experience with Special Olympics Maryland began with an orientation during which I learned about how Eunice Kennedy Shriver started a backyard summer camp for people with intellectual disabilities, which after fighting for rights and acceptance for them, ultimately turned into what is now Special Olympics. I was introduced to many other aspects of Special Olympics Maryland such as the number of athletes they currently have and how many they wish to have by 2022, the variety of sports they offer, the fast-growing Unified Sports which brings together disabled and able-bodied people to compete together, the way the athletes train, and their biggest competitions— the Winter, Spring, and Summer Games. Learning about Unified Sports was the most interesting thing to me and something that I wished I had been aware of as a middle school and high school student. It is something that I would have loved to get involved in and would still like to if there are any opportunities.

At our orientation, we also spent a period of time introducing ourselves to a specific group of athletes that are on the board for Special Olympics Maryland and are involved in making decisions and such. They all told us a bit about themselves including how long they’ve been a part of Special Olympics and the sports that they participate in. Some of the athletes had been competing in Special Olympics for 20-30 years and competing in anywhere from 1 to 15 different sports. As someone who has only competed in 5 different sports in my entire life, I was impressed by their dedication to training for so many different sports. It was also great to hear from these athletes about experiences that they shared when competing. You could hear in their voices how proud they were of themselves and of each other. Three of the athletes specifically had competed in a triathlon together and praised each other for how well they had done.

My Buck-i-Serv group spent 3 days of our trip working the Special Olympics Maryland Spring Games. The Spring Games consisted of a track and field meet with adaptive sports athletes on the first day, elementary school athletes on the second day, and high school athletes on the last day. We would head to the meet early to set up all the events and then spend the day working them. As someone who competed in track and field for all of high school, it was very interesting to see how events were adjusted for these athletes. My time these 3 days was split between working the long jump event and the mini/turbo javelin event while still supporting the athletes competing in the running events as they made their way around the track. The biggest difference that I saw between this Special Olympics event and any typical school sports event was the true support that the athletes had for each other. Typically athletes have a “tough guy” exterior when competing in sports and may not even talk to other athletes. The athletes I saw participating in the Spring Games all encouraged each other and did better because of it. One athlete that participated in the long jump event, for example, was being very hard on himself because he knew that he was doing worse than the other athletes competing against him. He wanted to give up and be done, but the other athletes tried to cheer him up made him realize that he was not far behind the rest of them. Although he ending up not beating the other athletes, their support did help him improve individually.

My final day with Special Olympics Maryland was spent working a swim event. There were a variety of different level swimmers— beginner, intermediate, and advanced. I worked with the advanced swimmers which I really enjoyed because they were fairly competitive with me and with each other. We would switch off with a couple different groups of us racing each other to swim a lap back and forth. I was happy that I felt my being there gave the athletes more incentive to swim their best. I was also able to work with them on specific things to help them when they are competing such as starting by pushing off the wall, making sure they keep their faces in the water and take breathes when they need to, and making sure they touch the wall at the end. All of the athletes thanked me at the end of the practice, and I was happy to feel like I made an impact.

 

This transformational experience will be very valuable in my career as I plan to go to medical school and eventually become a pediatric surgeon. While I am not looking to pursue a job to specifically work with people with developmental disabilities, I know that I will interact with them often in my future. Many patients that I encounter while interning or as a resident may be disabled and this experience will make me more comfortable and knowledgeable about how to communicate with them. Also learning to treat someone who is intellectually disabled just like anyone else is an important lesson to learn and something that takes time. I know that this will extend to people that are physically disabled and even people that are not disabled at all but just “different.” As a doctor, patients will feel more comfortable around me if they know that I am treating them the same as everyone else, and I think that that is very important.

          

 

Buck-I-Serv Trips: Habitat For Humanity (Lafayette, Louisiana) & Solomon’s Temple ( Atlanta, Georgia)

I was once told that you never truly know something until you can teach it to someone else. With this mentality, I set out to complete two different service projects but from two different perspectives, participant and leader. My goal was to go on a Buck-I-SERV in the spring as a participant to learn what the program was about and learn from my leaders so that I was able to come back in the summer as a trip leader and provide an amazing experience for other participants. I am lucky that I was able to achieve my goal and learn a lot from the experiences I had.

A more detailed overview of each of my trips is as follows. On my first trip we were all hands-on deck when we went to Lafayette, Louisiana to work with the local Habitat For Humanities (H4H) group to help finish and work on houses that community members will eventually live in. On this trip I was able to gain a lot of real world skills that I could use when fixing my own house but I think the more valuable information was the things we learned about the program and the effect it has on the lives of the new residents.

My second trip was less physical labor and was focused on combating homelessness of women and children in the Atlanta, Georgia area through a shelter called Solomon’s Temple. Our day to day task primarily focused on playing with the children but we also helped serve food every day, helped with evening activities, and other miscellaneous tasks that needed to be done, this is how I got poison ivy. The most impactful part of this trip was the human interactions as it gives us a chance to not care about ourselves but someone else. It was also interesting to hear the stories, each being radically different, yet they end up in the same place where they can rebuild from.

However, on both trips we were able to do and try new things that I have never done before which help create so many lasting memories, but these were also the times where we bounded as a group and became friends.

 

To understand how my views and assumptions have changed based on these trips, we should discuss what my perceptions were before my trips again we will consider both trips separate.

Regarding my first trip, I came in knowing that we will be working with Habitat for Humanity and that we would be building houses but beyond that I did not know much about the program or the people we will be serving. A lot of thoughts flooded my mind once we were driving to our location as we were staying in a previously built habitat house. I thought the house we will be staying at wouldn’t be that nice and that the surrounding areas would be run down and struggling. Much to my surprise the house was much better than I expected and the area where we were was not bad but there was definitely places that we passed that were struggling. Regarding the program, I was unfamiliar with the process but talking to Brandi, one of the leads at this chapter location, I learned that there is a lot that goes into making the house and how much work the new homeowner puts in to the process. You may wonder how my perceptions changed, and the simple answer is communication and conversations.

Now you understand my perceptions going into my first trip, which was my first Buck-I-Serv and this could have affected my overall perception, but there were some key moments during this trip that I will cherish forever and have made a lasting impact. One of the first things that comes to mind is the level of group bonding that we were able to achieve only in one week and this could be attributed to a variety of things but I think the most notable one was our game nights. It showed me that even though we were sixteen different people who we have never met before, we were able to mend so well together which helped us work a lot better during our service parts and achieve that common goal of finishing a house. Another notable aspect of the trip was everyone willingness to be actively engaged. I have been on other trips where you don’t have everyone willing to do whatever is asked. On this trip it was different, even if someone didn’t know how to do something or it wasn’t the most desirable job, they were putting their best effort into it. The final thing that contributed to my perceptions changing were the interactions with the different people of my group and the organization.  Some of the notable interactions that I had were, as I mentioned before, Brandi who was so willing to share about the program, the logistics that go behind it, and how she became about helping the program and her rational behind her actions. It really put the program and cause into perspective which was something I was lacking coming into the trip. Another valuable interaction I had was with my leader of my trip. As I was planning on leading a trip in the summer, and being in the unique situation where I had all my leader training before my spring trip, I was able to talk to my leader on the two-hour car ride about the details of being a leader. This gave me valuable insight and a point of contact when it was time for me to plan my trip. We talked about things that worked, didn’t work, and things that she suggested for when I be a leader. The theme of our discussion was that you can plan out the whole trip but that is not what makes it memorable. Having a dynamic trip where you plan as you go makes the whole experience more personal and more memorable for the participants in your group.

 

On my second trip, there were more preconceived notions about the people I would be working with because of the way homeless people are portrayed in society. They are constantly seen as dirty, beggars, not self-sufficient, etc.… and this was mentality that I went into it with. I was hopeful that my previous trip and knowing the details would help get rid of these notions but unfortunately, I was still hesitant going into this trip. I thought that since we would be staying in a shelter for homeless woman and children it would also be dirty, meals would be very simple, and the people would be struggling more than they were.  Again, upon arrival all of these notions were mitigated because of the friendly and welcoming environment that we were greeted with. The staff was very appreciative of our help and I think this initial interaction set the tone for the remainder of the trip.  Most of the changes that I saw, not only for myself but also the residents, came about from the individual interactions. The more notable ones are the interaction was with Anaya. She was fourteen years old but she was the oldest child there by a few years. Due to this and her upbringing, she grew up real fast and secluded herself from the rest of the group, rarely interacting with the other kids. When we came, it took only a day before she warmed up to us, and us being closer in age to her, she was able to take a minute and be a kid again. This showed me that we should value our time as a kid as the fun we have. There will always be work and things to do but there is not always time to have fun and be a kid. Another interaction was with a girl who was too shy to sing, but this concept can be applied to all the kids. In the beginning of the week, Madison, was too afraid to sing in front of everyone but throughout the week we kept reinforcing her with positive affirmations and by the end of the week she sang in front of a bunch of people at karaoke night. Sometimes we forget to give people positive affirmations which you can see can go a long way. We forget that people go through so much and we can be the small ray of sunshine in their day. This is something I am going to try and do more often and more consciously, give positive affirmations in hopes that it can be the start of something of amazing, and the cost to me is only a few seconds.

          

Change is inevitable, but sometimes you get to choose how things change. This is where I think STEP but also in my case, and Buck-I-Serv are such great platforms for ensuing change in an individual. The most prominent form of change that I think these programs gravitate towards are personal change, perhaps because of the service aspect that I decided to pursue but either way you utilize these assets change will occur. I not only experienced personal change but I also had a confirmation in my professional field of middle childhood education that I think is invaluable.

In regard to why my personal change matters, it matters because it dictates how you interact with the world but more specifically the people in it. I am referencing more my experiences from my second trip but there will always be snippets I can take from both. Before we dive into my personal change, take a moment and imagine how you interact with a stranger. Now imagine how you interact with a homeless person. My guess is that you act more negatively to the homeless person. The reason we feel so afraid is that we don’t know the person but even they have a story worth sharing but also listening to. This is where my personal change matters. It shows that I care for the homeless but I could be doing more to help them, even if it is to lend them ear to talk to. I learned this from the stories I heard while at the shelter. It challenged me to not view a person by their situation but view the situation from the person. To me this means not to view a person as a homeless person as this puts a lot of negative stigma behind them, but rather view them as a person without a home. The second way is more inspiring and shows that even though they may be down on their luck, there will be a chance to come back, unlike the former.

I will start challenging myself to be more adventurous and take risks while meeting new people because sometimes the stories and experiences you will have will outweigh the risks. It’s also super simple as a conversation just starts with a “Hello”.

Regarding confirming my career path, middle childhood education, I saw and heard what happens to the children at school but also away from school. As a teacher I want to be able to help each kid see their potential because during my second trip, we kept giving each kid positive affirmations and we could see their demeanor change and they were more willing to try new things and be themselves. The best example of this was Madison, one of the children in the shelter, sang but thought she wasn’t good so she didn’t sing in front of people. We as a group collectively kept saying she was great and later in the week she sang in front of a bunch of people at karaoke night.

Since kids are so impressionable and teaching provides a platform to directly interact with them, I want to the well-being of the child to take precedent and then the education aspect of school will follow.  Therefore I only see the opportunity to build on the core values I have as a person but also as an educator, and these experiences help me become a more holistic and understanding mentor, friend, and educator.

Ghana: The Akumanyi Foundation

For 2 weeks I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Ghana to volunteer at a children’s home. We spent our days helping around the home through chores along with helping in the children’s classroom and spending time with the children. We also traveled to towns along with a weekend trip to Cape Coast where we visited and toured a slave castle.

After this experience and seeing the culture and getting to interact with Ghanians I learned about myself as well as my view on the world. Going into this trip I didn’t enjoy spending long periods of time with children. However, after this trip that completely changed. The children in Ghana specifically at the children’s home are raised very differently then the children here in the U.S. In Ghana the children are very independent at a young age. With over 50 children living together they are taught to help each other and care for one another. It was beautiful to see an 8 year old caring for an a 2 year old and making sure they got their food and were okay.

The privilege that I have became even more apparent to me during this trip. As we spoke with staff at the home while we assisted with dishes they would ask us how we do our dishes at home. Telling them that we have dishwashers and them not even knowing what that is was very new to me. However, even though we have the equipment to do things easier they take pride in the hard work that they put worth when it comes to cleaning. They may not be aware of all the resources they are missing out on but they are proud of what they have and how they do things which truly is beautiful.

One weekend we traveled to Cape Coast where we visited a slave castle. This is where the African Americans were taken once they were captured and before they were put on a ship to be taken to the Americas to become slaves. Walking through the castle and seeing where the people were stored for months was horrific to see. Visiting the castle was frustrating to see and know that people did that to African Americans, but it was a reminder of our history and put into perspective how important each person’s live is and everyone needs to remember that back in U.S. We should be treating everyone the same no matter what their race, religion, gender, etc. is.

Going on this trip with 14 other Ohio State student’s led to the quality of this transformational experience as well. 15 people all brought together in a whole new country was incredible. I got to learn from all of them, and hearing new perspectives on things happening in the world and even just at Ohio State was amazing. Everyone brought something to the trip through their past experiences and without this trip I wouldn’t have met these amazing people. Going back to campus I now know of 14 other people who share this experience with me and I can have conversations about what we experienced on the trip.

On our trip we had 3 Ghanian staff members that helped us throughout our trip. Tina was one of them and she was our cook during the trip. I was able to spend some time helping her cook and talking to her about her life. She taught me a lot about the Ghanian culture including relationships and feminism. Hearing her talk about her culture I found a lot of similarities in it with my culture. Being Indian is an important part in my life; however, I haven’t had the opportunity to visit my country in over 13 years. After talking with Tina and hearing about her culture I want to go learn more about mine by visiting my home country of India soon.

2 weeks in Ghana brought me insight into what felt like a whole new world. The people even strangers are beyond kind and welcoming. The children brought me more inspiration in 2 weeks then I feel like I have had in a year. All those children are a constant reminder for me to know how lucky I am that I get the opportunity to work hard, go to college and be successful. Those children have been dealt an unfair hand and there isn’t much they can do to fix it. After this trip I plan to stay involved with the Akumanyi foundation so I can keep helping these kids in anyway I can.

 

Buck-I-SERV – Guatemala

For my STEP project, I spent a week in Antigua, Guatemala serving through Ohio State’s service organization, Buck-I-SERV. Alongside the eleven other Buckeyes on the trip, I helped build one of three houses that would be given to a local family.

For some reason, I always doubted that I would find a project for STEP that was truly transformational. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I came into this trip thinking I would have a wonderful time performing service in Guatemala, learning new culture, speaking a different language, and meeting new friends in the locals and the Buckeyes I was serving with. However, I left this trip believing this was one of my favorite weeks ever spent as a Buckeye, and having learned more about myself and the world around me than I originally expected.

Never having been to Guatemala before or any Spanish speaking country, gave me a new perspective being in a place where I am not fluent in the language. Being thrown in a new culture only for a week made me extra appreciative of everyone and everything around me, the food, the buildings, our home-stay family, the masons and families we were working alongside, and every local I encountered, since I only have seven days to soak it up. Because I spent my time between two extremely different cities, Antigua and Alotenango, I learned not only about Guatemala’s more affluent communities, but also villages that are in the most need. From everything I saw in Guatemala, I learned that places are in need all over the world, I world is bigger than I originally thought, it is scary to be in a place and not entirely know the language, and most importantly serving in this country has been one of my favorite life experiences.

Something that impacted my trip from the beginning, was being called to lead the trip by one of the Buck-I-SERV advisors. This took my off guard and after having lead a previous Buck-I-SERV trip to Staten Island, New York, I had decided to be just a participant on this trip. However, after being talked into it, I changed my mind and decided to lead the trip. This interaction changed the trip because now I was called into a new role with more responsibility. Something that made raking this role easier was the flexibility and knowledge of my co-leader, Ryan, who has been to Central America before. Being a leader transformed me because originally, I was pushed outside of my comfort zone having never been to a different country and now having a role to lead in a different country, but realizing after all the ups and downs that I could do it, and a more confident person because of it.

Another event and activity that was transformational for me throughout this trip was visiting our service site on the first day. The site we would be serving on was nothing like I have ever seen before. We walked through a tin door to find a small metal house and the beginnings of the concrete block house that we would be building throughout the week. Seeing the family of four we would be serving with, living in these conditions yet being so happy, down-to-earth, and welcoming was eye-opening to me. Although I can’t speak much Spanish the small conversations and interactions I had with the members of this family were heart-warming. The locals were so welcoming, appreciative, and kind that it made me forget all my fears of being in a new place. I had felt like I was walking into a new home every time I walked through that tin door through the patience and kindness of the masons and families. Building the house was a special part of the trip, but so was playing soccer with the kids in the small space behind the house, or smiling at Carlos, the father of the house, as we crossed paths, or simply learning a new word from Luis, our mason. I didn’t take anything that week for granted.

Finally, eating dinner each night and reflecting on our day was transformational for me. Enrique and Elvira, our home-stay Mom and Dad were incredible throughout our entire stay in Guatemala. Elvira was sure to feed us typical Guatemalan food and tell us all about it – something that I really appreciated. Not only would they teach us and involve us in their culture, they would love to learn about ours, asking a few people about their lives each night at the dinner table. After each dinner, Ryan and I would take our group into a small room in Enrique and Elvira’s house to have reflection. Occasionally, Enrique and Elvira would join us either to participate or to laugh with us and take pictures. I learned a lot about myself each night at reflection. All twelve of us Buckeyes would engage in conversations about small things like the service we had performed that day or larger things like the social problems that exist around us in Guatemala or the United States and how we think we could solve them. Talking about not only the service we had performed on the trip, but also everything larger happening around us got me thinking big not only how I had made a difference in this weeks’ time, but how I can continue to make a difference, too. At the end of the week, my group signed Elvira’s giant Ohio State flag that has been signed by all the Buck-I-SERV groups that have come before us. This moment was the cherry on top of a wonderful trip – to see all the Buckeyes that came before us and all the space for more Buckeyes to come.

All the changes or transformations I have experienced on this trip have impacted my life incredibly. I have started to live more simply after spending a week in Guatemala and I feel inspired to go back and serve through the same organization, Constru Casa. I will take what I learned about the Spanish language with me in life and my career as a nurse, which I know that I will interact with someone who may only speak Spanish. I feel inspired to see more of the world and do what I can to help after spending some of my summer break in Guatemala. I can’t wait for my next journey. Thank you STEP for playing a pivotal role in me being able to attend this trip!

Costa Rica GVI Trip

For two weeks in May, I had the opportunity to travel to Quepos, Costa Rica with GVI. GVI runs service-oriented programs throughout the world which have a focus on community development. In Quepos, I had the opportunity to work with children of the community who are disadvantaged. I assisted with an educational program five days a week for school-aged children that focuses on teaching life skills, emotional development, and empowerment along with conversational English.

I was very nervous to go on the trip before I left for a few reasons. I didn’t know anyone on the trip, I speak barely any Spanish, and I didn’t really know what I would be doing while in Costa Rica. However, once I arrived, I knew I was in safe hands. I met people in which I never would have met if I did not go on this trip. They were from all around the world, and I was able to converse with them about global issues and differences between our countries. I even taught them a little bit about basketball and Lebron James, to which my surprise, no one knew about him.

I became close with members of the community even with the very little Spanish that I did speak. I was able to still interact with them and learn about their lives, even when we could barely communicate. It was all about the subtleties that made such a big difference. I learned how to cook from Eneyda, a Nicaraguan immigrant who traveled with all 12 of her children for a better life in Costa Rica. Though she did not know English, I learned a lot from her by working in her kitchen and through translation done by others. Her life story was inspiring to me, and I will still think about her even though I have left.

Working on the childcare project required a lot of patience from my end, but I wouldn’t have changed it for the world. Throughout my two weeks there, I saw change within the children we were working with. Although it was such a small amount of time to see change, I was moved by the way the children wanted to learn from us. They were accepting of the fact that we were much different from them, and they wanted to take part in all of the activities we had planned for them. In particular, one of our students, Saray, was always so eager to answer questions we would ask of her. She was always prepared for the next question, and I was inspired by her work ethic and ability to relate to us and her peers.

By working with these individuals, I saw a transformation within myself that I am very grateful to have experienced. I am now able to appreciate the smaller things in life, to only use what is necessary, and to be thankful for all opportunities that I have been given. To even have the opportunity of receiving a college education is something that I am incredibly thankful for, and I am now inspired to use my college education for the good of larger groups. I found that I can use it to educate others. I also found that I was able to use what I had learned in my college classes and relate it to things I was seeing in Quepos. I also learned how easy it is to relate to someone who may not seem the same as you, regardless of race, first language, or geographic region. We can all relate to something, and it is important to not keep biases with you as you interact with new people.

I am empowered to continue on with various service and volunteer opportunities throughout my life. With the career goal of being a dentist, I hope to work in areas such as Quepos to serve underserved areas which may need help with dental issues. I hope to be able to work in areas such as these and around the world to make a difference in people’s lives. It is important, however, to view these people at the same level as myself and not as though I am only there to help or fix the current situation.

This trip also gave me the urge to travel more. I am inspired to see more of our amazing world after seeing all the beautiful sights that Costa Rica has to offer. Though it may seem daunting before, being able to immerse yourself in a culture must different than what you are used to is a great source of being able to find yourself and experience a transformation. I am excited to see where my future career goals take me, and I hope they are able to take me back to Costa Rica.

In the middle is Eneyda, the woman I learned how to cook from.

This is a picture from the childcare project, with Sarah sitting up in the middle.

Costa Rica Buck-I-SERV/OAC Spring Break 2018

Jana Owen

 

Community Service-Costa Rica Spring Break 2018

 

  1. For my STEP project I went to Costa Rica through Buck-I-SERV/OAC. During the trip we did community service in the town of Brujo, Costa Rica and also did adventure activities.

During my time in Costa Rica, I learned a lot about myself and the world. There were many activities that we did during the trip that I had never experienced before. This included propelling and duckying. Both of these activities, especially propelling, are potentially very dangerous and all around thrilling and scary. I am typically a little afraid of heights and almost decided to not take part in the propelling. However, I knew I would have regretted that decision. I learned how to challenge my fears and try new things.

My view of the world also changed. The main question we were asked in Costa Rica and one that we were asking ourselves was, were the people living in a town with a population of 150 with little electricity and no amenities actually living in poverty or paradise. Originally, I think we all would have said poverty, but after spending 10 days there and learning about the simplicity and bliss that filled their lives, we all said paradise.

3.

I think the biggest thing I learned from my trip to Costa Rica was appreciating the simple things in life and not worrying about things you cannot control. This related back to the poverty vs. paradise debate. Life in Costa Rica is very simplistic, something that I had very rarely experienced before. I experienced many things during the trip and spoke with many people all which led to my decision of paradise.

We stayed with various families in the small town of Brujo. These families did not have electric stoves, wifi, and other various amenities that we take for granted every day. I lived without my cellphone for 10 days, something I have not done since I got a phone. I learned to prioritize face to face relationship over texting conversations. I did not have social media for 10 days. I paid more attention to the things going on around me and not what people on my phone were doing. This taught me to live in the moment and take the whole experience in.

Not only was living without basic amenities an experience, but also conversing with the families we stayed with, especially in Spanish. I am conversational in Spanish and learning how to speak it with native speakers was such an amazing experience. The family I stayed with was able to tell me what they did for fun and how they spent most of their time outdoors. They all said that they prefer the Costa Rican lifestyle versus the lifestyle in the United States. They all seemed genuinely happy and happy to have us learn about their culture.

  1. This transformation has taught me to live my life to the fullest, appreciate the little things in life, and “not sweat the small stuff.” I now appreciate the many amenities in my life that I did not have in Costa Rica (such as screens on windows to keep bugs out of my house) but also to live more simply and not worry about the things that I do not have. I used to worry about stressful things in life that I ultimately could not control. Now I try and focus more on the things that happen in my life and how I handle them. I believe that Costa Rica has made me a more well-rounded person.