Emma Schoepf’s STEP Reflection

For my step project, I decided to take the opportunity to live in Columbus for the Summer and gain experience in the nursing field. I took my whole summer and dedicated it to working as a PCA or patient care associate for the Ohio State Wexner Medical Center. As a PCA, I worked in the float pool which allowed me to have experience of many different units throughout the hospital. Thanks to STEP, I was able to afford the living costs to sublease a room and grocery expenses. Another aspect of my STEP project was advocating for my service group on campus. The organization I am a part of is called NSPIRE. This stands for Nursing Students Promoting Initiatives to reinforce equality. Over the summer, I worked with the co-president of the organization to fundraise. We put on a scrub sale at the College of Nursing to raise money for the supplies we needed to purchase to help the underserved population.
My understanding of myself definitely grew over the summer. I have a better idea of who I want to be and what I want to do. I also think this summer taught me the value of hard work. I put in 36 hours almost every week of the summer learned more and becoming acquainted with the hospital. I also got to observe nurses and their roles on many different units. I think I can better understand and have patience with patients after hearing some of their life stories. I am now a more empathetic person to an individual’s needs and wants. I believe these characteristics will help mold my career as a nurse practitioner one day.
Due to HIPPA regulations I am unable to disclose much of what I experienced while working in a hospital setting. However, there were a hand full of patients and experiences I encountered that shaped my transformation. First would be the positive attitudes, even in the sickest of patients. It made me stop and regret the times when I have a poor attitude for the most insignificant of reasons.
Another transforming experience was working with wonderful nurses who gave me great advice on everything from patient care to applications for graduate school. This really helped motivate me starting a new semester and giving me hope for the future. One nurse in particular was in the Family Nurse Practitioner and she explained to me the entire application process and the pros and cons of taking a gap and going straight to graduate school.
Another significant event was our fundraiser for NSPIRE. This organization is something I hold close to my heart. As a part of NSPIRE, we provide care to the homeless community of greater Columbus. Being able to be a part of the behind-the-scenes work it takes to make this services group. This has taught me that I can combine my nursing skills, service, and leadership.
Ultimately, this summer has been a significant growing experience for me. I learned more about my work ethic, commitment to others, and goals than I would have ever thought possible if I did not use my STEP funds to live in Columbus this summer. I’d like to thank the STEP Program for providing this life changing experience.

Serving the City: Columbus Connections

My STEP signature project involved working as an intern with H2O Church in Columbus, OH. During this internship I was given the opportunity to serve the city through various different organizations. I volunteered with the Wexner Medical Center, OSU Hospital East, Stowe Mission of Central Ohio, Scioto Community Center, and Pelatonia. I specifically participated in a Leadership Training program this summer through H2O and was able to grow in social skills, leadership abilities, and experience.

My project allowed me to have an incredible opportunity to serve many different people this summer. As an intern with H2O, I was entrusted to complete administration work with Community Engagement, which is a service-focused monthly event that the church sponsors. From this I was able to learn about the planning that goes into setting up service trips for multiple people as well as learning how to interact and grow relationships with various partnerships. This particular portion was transformational because it allowed me to gain experience in a potential career path for me and taught me administration skills that I may not learn through my coursework as a Sociology major.

By serving with so many different organizations this summer I feel as if I was challenged and stretched in ways that forced me to learn more social skills. I learned how to be sensitive with patients in a hospital setting, to be sympathetic to those struggling financially in the south side of Columbus, to be attentive and caring in a nursing home/rehabilitation center, and to be thankful at a charity event. Overall, this summer transformed my heart toward people. I am excited about using my passions to help those around me and to make my community and city a more loving place.

As I previously mentioned, I participated in a program called Leadership Training, or LT. This program is intended to help students grow as leaders, particularly in a church setting, but the skills can also be transferred and applied to other life situations. For example, I learned a lot about reflective and active listening during this program and this semester I am working as a Telecounselor for the Undergraduate Admissions Office–where these skills can be easily applied to another aspect of my life. During this program I also met many people with whom I formed lasting friendships. We mutually encourage each other and provide emotional and spiritual support to one another. This affected me in many ways, particularly by showing me that I intend on pursuing a career in ministry post graduation and then after a few years returning to school to receive training in counseling. I am excited about meeting new people and helping to support them in any way possible.

While volunteering at the Wexner Medical Center, specifically in the Electro-convulsive therapy department of Harding Hospital, I learned many social skills focused on being sensitive and supportive for people. This department was challenging for me to be in because it showed me a lot of people who were desperate for improvement. During my time here I learned how to be supportive of patients and talk with them about their fears and anxieties as well as providing small helps, such as getting them water or food, to show them love. This experience really grew me in a passion for working with mental health and helping to reduce the stigma behind it even more than recently reductions. I also volunteered at University Hospital East on a nursing unit this summer. This experience was particularly difficult for me because I primarily answered call lights and did not have any interpersonal interactions with patients. Though this was challenging, I learned how to be patient and understanding with the people who I talked to. I think that this skill will be transferable to my current position with Undergraduate Admissions.

While volunteering with Stowe Mission of Central Ohio, I worked mostly with children in a summer reading program with the hope that more children will be excited to read during the school year. The school district in which I was volunteering only has around a 47% high school graduation rate and the hope is that starting at a young age, that pattern can be halted. I have always enjoyed working with children, and this experience was really enjoyable for me. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I also volunteered at Scioto Community Center, which is a nursing home and rehabilitation center. While volunteering there I had the opportunity to speak with elderly folks and really get to love them through conversation and genuine interest in hearing about their lives, as well as sharing our love for the Buckeyes. I definitely believe that I was presented with a unique opportunity to serve many different populations.

Lastly, I was able to serve with Pelatonia, which is a 25, 45, 55, or 100 mile bike ride that raises money for cancer research. While this event technically fell after the end of my project, it was something that I was really excited to do during my project. Cancer has been running its course through my family for many years now, and has really been a difficult challenge for me with my father being diagnosed with two different cancers within a year of each other during my first two years of college. With that being said, serving at this event was something I was extremely excited to pursue. I desire to see an end to cancer and support the research that could make that possible. The dynamic at this event was very interesting to me; I was able to meet people who also share the vision to see an end to cancer as well as people who were there volunteering because it was a paid work day for them. But during the time there, I felt extremely humbled. Seeing so many men and women participate in this bike race made me overjoyed and full of excitement. It was truly a privilege to be able to participate in this event. It was transformational because the event overall softened my heart and allowed me to see the goodness in people and their desire to improve our world.

Overall, my STEP signature project taught me a lot about myself. It clarified my professional aspirations and revealed some true passions that I have. I am extremely thankful for the opportunity that I had to serve in so many different capacities and continue this in my personal life during and after college. This project also showed me that I want to advocate for others to take a role in serving the community in which they live. It is so easy to think that one person’s contribution is not enough to make a difference, but if every person bands together, then change will happen–and that is such an encouragement.

Below: these are the men and women that I was teamed up this summer during my Leadership Training!

STEP PROJECT

My STEP signature project was completed at the Cleveland Clinic Emergency Room in Twinsburg, OH. I applied for a volunteer position in the College Student Volunteer program at the Clinic. I spent a great deal of my time of the two months aiding both patients and staff around the emergency room for whatever needs. My main role was to do what I was asked whether that be retrieve a warm blanket for a patient, pass time with a family by talking to them, stock medical supplies, or learn about the multitude of roles in a hospital.

 

As a College Student Volunteer, I was obligated to serve a minimum of 75 hours throughout the summer of 2017 in the hospital. I was able to select the department I served in and couldn’t have been more pleased with my decision in the emergency room. The Emergency Room at the Cleveland Clinic was astonishingly busy. Every day, I was eager to see what types of illnesses or other events I would learn about. It was quite a thrill being able to be a part of a team at the Cleveland Clinic who works day by day to improve patient’s health outcomes. The most thrilling part of my experience was the inability to predict what will happen. Within a span of an hour there could go from having not a single person in the ER, to having not enough rooms. I witnessed everything from small laceration, to even death. It was a real life Grey’s Anatomy.

 

Volunteering at the Cleveland Clinic solidified my passion for helping others. Every day I was able to go into the hospital and make someone’s day a little better or a bit easier. The different people I met, and the events that I saw, ensured me that I want to be working in a profession where I interact with people. I appreciated good health each and every day and learned how to be empathetic. You never know what someone could be going through and it is important to think about that when working in health care. I think I used to struggle with this prior to working with the Cleveland Clinic. I think often I would take good health and my condition of life for granted.

 

Like I said, I was able to interact with both the staff and the patients. I met several doctors and was able to appreciate the ones who are truly selfless individuals. Their role as a health care professional is to essentially save lives, and that was truly all they wanted to do. I was able to interact more so with the nurses and medics. The nurses and medics shared a lot of insight regarding how the Clinic works, some past events that have occurred, and what medical terminology means. I was thankful for what I learned from talking to individuals, and they were more than willing to teach me. I witnessed a few tragic events that genuinely made me stop and think about not only how lucky I am, but also about how much I want to make a difference on other people’s health. Interacting with the patients exposed me to the amount of different people there are in even a city next to mine at home. I learned about different family backgrounds, relationships, financial status, medical status, cultures, and so much more. I learned to appreciate small talk and what difference understanding a little about someone can do.

 

The terminology I learned, the knowledge I acquired, and the empathy I was able to share with patients and their family ensured a transformation that will linger for a lifetime. I was able to see things that not every can bear or get to see in their life or ever. Witnessing several patients die, some be transferred via life flight in critical condition allowed for me to sit back and understand the importance of not only living every day like it could be my last, but also treating people like it could be my last day as well.

Mitakuye Oyasin: We are all Related

Name: Mary McGrath

Type of Project: Service-Learning and Community Service

Brief description of STEP Signature Project

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to the Pine Ridge Native American Reservation for a week-long service trip in support of the Oglala Lakota tribe. Traveling through an organization called Re-Member, my week had a mix of manual labor, such as trailer skirting and bed-building, and cultural immersion. Fellow volunteers and I were able to have direct contact with countless Native Americans, their unique culture, and the struggles they constantly face.

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

My understanding of all three of these aspects, myself, my assumptions, and my view of the world, were drastically upended during my project. The week was, overall, a major opportunity to grow, learn, and appreciate. About myself, I was given a lesson of peace through the beautiful Native American way of life, which is generally slower than typical American culture. They are precise, thoughtful people. They take their time. When someone asks, “How are you?” they genuinely answer. They listen. They stand up for their beliefs, but always serenely. These are values that I want to bring to my life as I transition back to bustling Columbus. My assumptions and view of the world has become much more merciful and “big-picture.” I realized that much of the formal history I learned in grade school and high school is highly incomplete. The atrocities that Native American people have experienced for years at the hands of the government, soldiers, and settles are almost unspeakable. I feel like my time in South Dakota has equipped me with the tools to truly question, hold unwavering belief in morality, and continue to use education as a means of change.

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

Among countless injustices that I learned about during my project, one of the most representative events was the Wounded Knee Massacre, which happened on December 29, 1890, just three miles from the service organization’s headquarters. At the battle site, which now contains a cemetery, mass grave, and unofficial memorial—all barely noticeable to a passing car—we listened to a descendant of Wounded Knee survivor recount the happenings of the genocide. American soldiers stormed into the area and murdered an estimated 300 unarmed Lakota men, women, and children. Mockery, rape, and mass burial—alive—played roles in the massacre. Soldiers chased the Native Americans for miles, all to “fix” this “Indian problem,” as the soldiers saw it. Over 20 Medals of Honor were issued to the soldiers for this mass destruction of weaponless people. As the speaker tearfully told us the gory details of his ancestors’ struggles, I felt myself getting angrier and angrier. Just one aspect of the inequalities put upon the Native Americans, the Wounded Knee Massacre and its description were a major source of my transformation during my project. As a college student and believer in education, I want to be an advocate for the beautiful Lakota way of life and for the people who are still recovering from their harsh exclusion of proper treatment.

The organization, Re-Member, which facilitated my volunteer week, holds “Artisan Night,” every Wednesday, where local Native Americans can come, sell their handmade crafts (for many, this is their only sources of income), and enjoy a meal with volunteers. I ended up talking to a middle-aged Native American named Dennis for much of the evening. From him, I was able to get firsthand experience of the Lakota culture, pride, and history. The first thing that struck me was his vast knowledge. He was able to recount the Lakota creation story, speak in fluent Lakota language, retell Wounded Knee Massacre details, and give reservation history. For me, this was a huge validation of my belief in and appreciation for the Native way of life. These people, children and adults alike, are tremendously in touch with their past. Despite the hardships they face, their values have endured thousands of years. They live out their beliefs. They are rich in traditions. Each person seems to know their race’s significance, and this is the essence of their impressive pride and dignity. My discussion with Dennis affected me in that it gave meaning behind my decision to volunteer on the reservation. It certainly contributed to my “big-picture,” wholesome view on life. Their values of peace, inclusion, gratitude, and respect for all living things has seeped into my own philosophy.

One last experience leading to my transformation was the general encounter of poverty that I witnessed on the reservation. Both via the drives that I took around the reservation, during which the lack of adequate housing was all-encompassing, and via the actual work days, during which I worked on one trailer home all day, the destitution was apparent. This kick-started my transformation of emotion, mercy, and appreciation (with a bit of guilt) for the home and situation in which I was raised. Many of the Native Americans have never left the reservation, and their circumstances can be described as none other than third-world. Pine Ridge has ranked within the top three poorest counties in America for several years. It is a food desert with little opportunities for employment, healthy eating, or non-corrupt leadership. From a perspective of sympathy and my duty as a citizen to help those in need, these people deserve more than they have. Combined with their rich cultural beauty and fortitude, the cause had a significant impact on me.

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

This transformation is highly valuable for personal, academic, and professional reasons. Personally, I feel like I gained a new perspective on the human condition. I am more compassionate, open, and, for lack of a better word, wiser than I was beforehand. The Lakota people helped me to understand a bit of what is important in life, and how I can really attempt to make an impact on this world. The lessons I learned are certainly none that I could have absorbed in my Cincinnati or Columbus home. From an academic standpoint via my public health major, I was given firsthand experience to the health disparities about which I have been learning in my textbooks. Behavior change, public health programs, environmental health, and socioeconomic status—all of these concepts, among others, were relevant during my project. As I continue to learn about the complex world of public health, I know that I can draw upon my Pine Ridge experience as a real-life example of certain practices and their effects.

Regarding my professional goals of attending medical school and becoming a physician, I have gained a new lens. This lens will allow me to see patients in a light of acceptance, rather than judgment. As a worker in health care, it is imperative that I am aware of the conditions surrounding my patients, and of why they might be in a certain situation. I have gained moral clarity and cultural awareness through my project. I would absolutely love to come back to the reservation one day as a health worker. Clearly, the need is there, and I believe that this would provide both some degree of fulfillment to both me and the Lakota people. Dennis, the man I talked to on Artisan Night, planted the seed for this idea. Overall, my project has revitalized multiple aspects of my life, and I hope to maintain these key tenets for years to come. Mitakuye oyasin: we are all related.

Little girls danced at the Pow-Wow on our first night

The beautiful view as we drove through the reservation

Coaching Athletes

For my project I connected with the football team from the high school I used to go to and became a lifting coach for their summer program. I was qualified to do this because I am a certified personal trainer. Furthermore, I knew there was an actual need for someone to help out because I used to play football and I knew that there were some holes in the programming and practices that could have led to injuries.

Coaching athletes obviously requires a great deal of leadership and a good leader would be able to command better results from athletes. A big transformation happened with how I viewed the qualities of a good leader, my understanding of my own leadership ability, and what I could do to be a better leader. As the summer progressed and the athletes made improvements in their lifting technique and physical shape, I realized I would sometimes receive resistance form certain athletes. They seemed to just not want to really take the information that I was giving them that would helpfully improve their technique and hopefully reduce injury and improve performance. I realized that it probably came down to my ability to inspire the athletes to do what I was saying. I realized this was a quality of a good leader and a good coach. As the summer progressed I picked up on different ways to improve the responses to my coaching. I tried to make lifting more fun for the athletes and tried my best to try to get athletes to adopt a better way of doing things without any negative connotations for their previous ways. Overall, I realized ability to inspire and to connect with the athletes were as much an asset to a good coach as the knowledge of proper training and programming.

I started to think more about leadership and its relationship with my coaching when I was trying to give pointers to an athlete on his back-squat exercise. I remember vividly seeing his buckling in while doing the exercise with considerable weight. Immediately the possible torn ligaments and other possible injuries entered my mind. Since trying to help the team prevent injuries was a big part of why I was there, I pulled him aside and mentioned the issue that I saw with his form and the possible injuries. His response was “Yeah, I know that. The other coaches tried fixing it but I can’t help it”. I was dumbfounded by his response. I couldn’t believe that he actually knew about the issue and just believed that it wasn’t possible to fix. I’m a huge proponent of self-determination, and the idea that any individual can do anything within reason as long as they put their mind to it.

A short while after the back-squat incident I really began thinking about if there was a way to persuade him that he could in fact change his technique and it probably wouldn’t have been that difficult. I realized that there was probably some way I could have explained it or shown him to get him to really attempt at changing, but I just didn’t know how to persuade him. At the same time came the realization that a good leader is able to persuade. The benefits of persuasion are plentiful. Being able to persuade can help reduce conflict, move things along more efficiently, and illustrate that people believe in you. Since I was unable to persuade the athlete, I realized that I needed to add persuasion to the list of attributes of a leader that I need to work on.

While thinking about leadership I picked up on two other traits that I noticed from another coach: leaders need to be able to get people excited and need to maintain a good relationship with who their working with. When I started my project I kind of saw myself as a dynamic source of information. I had learned all this great stuff over the years with my own training and reading, as well as recently becoming a certified personal trainer. I figured my role during the project would be to observe the athletes and provided feedback to them. The necessity of being able to get the athletes excited didn’t cross my mind until seeing the other coach truly getting excited and in return getting the athletes excited. It makes the work they had to put it easier and better.

The other coach also had known many of the athletes for a while, so he had a much better relationship with the athletes than I had. I noticed they were more receptive to input since they knew him so well. Furthermore, he didn’t always make it seem like he was the coach. He behaved more like just another athlete on the team doing his best to inspire his teammates. This stuck with me because I didn’t see the importance of the relationship in being a good leader. I realized that it would probably do just as much good trying to get to know the athletes rather than just give them insight on ways to improve.

Realizing what some of the characteristics of a good leader is and comparing that to how I performed as a coach for the football team has made me into a better leader. I have held positions of leadership before, such as in student organizations on campus, but never something where people and performance relied so heavily on my abilities as a leader. It made me realize that I was not great leader, and that’s alright. The project allowed me to see where my weaknesses are, and that alone has allowed me to already become a better leader.

Realizing ways for me to become a better leader, and what characteristics a good leader possesses will hopefully result in better leadership experiences in the future. Experiencing first-hand what it is like to have real responsibility as a leader has made me want to get more involved in more leadership intensive activities, and to really test my ability to lead. Most importantly I want to go to get my MD and MBA after undergraduate, so realizing now what I need to work on will make me hopefully a better doctor and leader in the future.

This was the glamorous location for my project: the Lima Central Catholic High School weight room.

Valuing Education: A Lesson from Tanzania

For my STEP Signature Project, I volunteered in Tanzania for four weeks. I worked with kids ages three to five in a school where I served as an English and Math teacher.

 

I am a fairly introspective person, so my understanding of myself really did not change from this trip. I always knew that I loved working with kids and that education was a passion of mine. However, after being in Tanzania for four weeks and listening to people tell their stories, I have a new appreciation for education in America. While our country’s education system surely has many issues that need to be addressed and fixed, receiving an education is always a given. We – Americans – do not have to worry about if our children will be able to go to school or not. As a matter of fact, it is mandatory that we send our children to school. However, in Tanzania, decent schooling is expensive and families have to work extremely hard to be able to send even one of their children to school. On top of that, the child has to work very hard to get good grades and pass their tests so that they can continue on to the next level/grade. Schooling in Tanzania is a privilege and people have to put in a lot of effort to get into school and do well in their classes. So, when they would tell their stories, I would get quick anecdotes about their families, but the majority of what they said centered around their journey through the education system and how they got to where they are now. Receiving an education in Tanzania is something to be proud of because not everyone is blessed enough to go to good schools and have the time to focus on their studies. This really made me appreciate both the public schools that I grew up in as well as, being able to attend Ohio State.

 

The people that I met and worked with in Tanzania had a huge impact on adjusting my perspective on education. Obviously, going into a third world country you know that the education system will not be as effective as a country like America, Canada, England, etc.  However, the media often portrays the kids going to these schools as poor and helpless beings that are in desperate need of help. While these kids could use some more school supplies, they are not at all sad or desperate. The kids I worked with were some of the happiest, most loving, most accepting, and well behaved children I have ever met. They love going to school, working with us, learning new songs, and practicing new skills. The look on their faces when they finally figured out how to solve a math problem was priceless.

Working with the kids and the teaching staff helped to adjust my previous thoughts of what a school would be like in a third world country. Before my trip, I thought the school would be kind of gloomy and well, poor. However, the classroom was vibrant and so were the people inhabiting it. Like I said, the schools could use some more supplies and I am sure there are some schools that are less fortunate than the one I worked in, but the people there make it work. Education is a blessing and I think that is a message that should be enforced more often in America.

In my school, I worked with two other volunteers and two teachers from Tanzania. I think that because we – myself and the two other volunteers – went into the school with an open mind and the goal of connecting with as many people as possible, we were able to form lasting relationships with both the staff and students. We did not judge, we simply asked what was needed of us and offered any new information that could be helpful in the classroom. We also tried to get to know the staff as much as we could. Whether that meant learning phrases in Swahili or asking about their personal lives, we put in effort to get to know them and show that we were interested in the culture. We did not enter the classroom with the idea that we were there to fix the system that was already in place. We were there to work with the kids, teach English, and offer any knowledge from our personal experiences in the U.S. that would be beneficial to or enhance the curriculum. Because of this, myself and one of the other volunteers have been invited back to the school, and we plan on returning to Tanzania next summer for a longer stay. Forming those genuine relationships helped to emerge ourselves in the culture and to learn as much as we could from the people there.

 

This change in perspective on third world countries is so important to me. I can now tell others about my experiences and encourage them to go to similar places or suggesting that they travel with similar programs. Going to Tanzania made me appreciate our education system more, but it also made me wish that we valued how accessible education is here. I learned to love and want better for each country. This relates to my academic plans simply because it will push me to go as far as I can in higher education and to be thankful for any and all opportunities that are presented to me, because, even in America, that is not a reality for everyone.

This relates to my future plans because I would like to educate Americans on what life and the education system in Tanzania is actually like, and break away from the media’s representation of countries in Africa. I would also like to start some sort of fundraising or donation drive for when I return next summer. I am just so thankful that I was fortunate enough to be able to travel to Tanzania and meet so many amazing people that welcomed me into their homes, schools, and lives.

Learning Our Numbers

Fun On Safari

STEP trip to Senya, Ghana

For my Step Signature Project I was able to work with the Akumanyi Foundation in Senya, Ghana helping uphold their mission of providing self-sustaining resources specifically geared towards youth and women. We were able to help out at Becky’s Children home as well as supporting the local seamstress businesses in Ghana.

Prior to traveling to West Africa I had many assumptions of what I expected Ghana to look like. Based on stereotypes and empty presumptions I expected Ghana to be a an unsafe, lifeless location. I expected it to be a place lacking beauty and life compared to America’s technological advancements in our infrastructures and everyday surroundings. Much to my surprise Ghana was the exact opposition. In Accra, there were roads and buildings and malls much more beautiful than I have seen in the United States, in Cape Coast the beach was breathtaking and in Kosoa there was so much life in their markets. The scenery there was so beautiful with so much green surrounding you and so much life. But the advancement and of Ghanians and the beauty of their country is not what made me fall in love with Ghana, it was the people.

  

The sense of community in Ghana is unlike anything I have ever experienced. The Ghanians are the most generous, most friendly, most inspiring people I have had the privilege of interacting with. They would stop you on the streets to greet you and learn about where you were from. They were genuine in asking you how your visit was going and if they could do anything to make it better. This was unlike anything I had ever experienced in the United States where you may live in a house for 10+ years and not even know your next door neighbor’s first name.

Aside from how the Ghanians treated the foreigners, or the Obrunis as they called us, it was interesting to see how they interacted with each other, the natives of Ghana, which they called Obibinis. And it was truly astounding to see the trust and love in the community. The children in every single town I saw would roam around all day with no parental supervision and many of these kids were toddlers or maybe just a bit older. No one ever worried about them because everyone in the community knew each other and kidnapping children was not something that was prevalent in their society. These children would ban together and spend the day wandering around until it started to get dark, then they would all return to their homes and wake up and do it all over again the next morning. There was no fear in leaving these children by themselves, no one worried about their safety because nothing bad ever happened that was induced by members of the community.

A few street children in Senya

I feel so connected to the citizens of Ghana because of the children I was able to work with at Becky’s Children’s home. To accurately describe the way these children touched me is unachievable. From the first day we arrived at the home these children accepted us with open arms, and I mean that literally. As the bus drove onto the lot of the children’s home the kids ran out of the home to come greet us and as soon we exited the vehicle we were attacked with hugs and excitement and playfulness. These kids have encountered many volunteers but it was easy to see that they were always excited to meet the next batch coming in. I was instantly attached to many of the girls there, Dorcas, Fafa, Gloria and also Mary and Esther. And of course I loved being silly with the boys, Justice, Desmond, Isaac and Prince. Everyone single one of these kids had such a prominent, bold personality that they all stuck out to me in different ways. Some were shy, some were open, some were troublemakers, some would calm the others. Some of them were very young while the others were quite a bit older. They all were so different yet they loved each other with a passion I had never seen. In the U.S. there is always this negative stigma about orphanages, how they are corrupt, how none of them are happy, and how selfish they are. I can not tell you how false those conceptions are when it comes to Becky’s Children’s home. These children do not distinguish biological siblings from adoptive ones. The way these children looked out for each other moved me in so many ways. For example, one of the children there Desmond, we all call him Desi, is the only handicapped child at the home. His lower legs do not function properly so he wanders around the home either on his knees or in his chair. He also slurs his speech a bit, but it is understandable. Desi loves doing things all of the other kids do, dancing, playing, singing, everything. And even though some activities are more challenging for him all of his siblings make sure he gets to participate. One day I was carrying Desi and he told me he wanted to go play on the swings. As I walked over and told the kids that Desi wanted a turn, every single one of them got out of their seat for him to get on. Whenever lunch or dinner time approached they also made sure he had his hands washed and was seated with them at the table. On our last day in Senya the children were eating ice cream and if any of them had extra or were given extra ice cream they all gave it to Desmond. For these kids who live such a simple life to give up so much for their brother is so beautiful to me because it is all genuine, pure love. They have so little to give one another and yet they do not bat a single eyelash as they do it. And what’s crazy to me is that you do not see that amongst wealthiest families in the states who have more than they imagine.

 

These kids taught me much more than I could ever teach them. They led by example and did not require anything from you other than your attention and your willingness to learn about them and their culture. Every time we visited their home they would love being responsible for something so they would ask to carry our things. And it did not matter to them whether it was a backpack, a fanny pack or a water bottle, as long as they were able to hold something for you. And there was never any uneasiness about your stuff being returned to you because as soon as they heard the bus pulling up to the home they would run to find you to return your things and never was there a single thing missing. These kids beat every assumption and every stereotype of the ‘typical orphan’ we think about in the U.S. These children were kind, compassionate, selfless, and so resourceful. They surprised me in every way.

 

Going to Ghana started a whirlwind of ideas that I want to accomplish after being there. The Akumanyi Foundation’s goal of creating self-sustainable resources is something I truly admire and have seen firsthand. But there is always more work to be done. Being one who has plans to enter the medical field, I am hoping to see more medical relief in Ghana especially getting the children at Becky’s home vaccinated and immunized. I want there to be a point in time where these children do not need anyone anymore, I want them to be healthy and educated and well taken care by their own people, without the “American Savior Complex” playing a part anymore. I want the best for the beautiful country of Ghana and its amazing citizens and I hope one day they will not need anyone but themselves. To learn more about the Akumanyi Foundation and their amazing programs please visit https://www.akumanyifoundation.org/ for more information or to donate to their many projects.

CCS: Dharamsala, India

For my service-learning project, I worked with Cross Cultural Solution to provide education supports for kids from a very impoverished community in Dharamsala, India. Those kids are with their parents who are migrant laborers from Rajasthan which is another state in India. They usually come and spend half of their year time in Dharamsala but here they live under appalling conditions that they do not even have any actual living area provided by government with needed facilities. I lived in Dharamsala for three weeks in the CCS Home-Base with staff members and fellow volunteers. I specifically worked with the kids age from 3-5 years old, teaching them basic English and math knowledge.

 

I did have a 10-days trip around India right before I went for my service project. I was traveling from one city to another, doing some great sightseeing, inevitably going through some cultural shocks and getting to know about India like any other typical tourists. But I would say that the real transformations did not take place until I was in Dharamsala doing this service-learning project. Indeed, those three weeks in Dharamsala were my real time that not only I got to know about the real India but also got to shape and refresh my understandings toward the outside world and toward the people living in it. The most important thing was that I got to make the real connections with the people and the community, with not only the kids I was working with but with also the staff members from CCS India and the fellow volunteers from all over the world. It was all of the love and care that I gave to and received from the people that brought the deepest transformations to me. It transformed my attitude toward how to communicate with people by heart but not just by the words, especially with the people who come from different culture backgrounds than me.

 

Like what I have stated above, I formed some caring and friendly relationships with the staff members and the fellow volunteers, and I was feeling that I was closely involved with the community I was working with. And I would say that those were all benefited from this extremely organized program and all the devoted people working for it. Besides the service works that we would do in every workday, I also had some great cultural learning activities that arranged by the program for us volunteers. It was those activities that led me learn about the real India and further enabled me to do a better job with my service works. For example, I got to talk about the women issues in India with Kamla Bhasin who is from NGO Sangat which is a South Asian network of feminists. And as profound as that talk we got some other similar kinds of speeches and discussions about some historical and social backgrounds of India—about how India was prosperous both culturally and economically before the invasions and about how the society transformed and reshaped itself after the long colonization and the wars.

 

From those deep discussions, I truly got to know about the Indian culture and its social circumstances; I got to understand why the things are what they are now that they were shaped by the time and the history, changed by the accidents and guided by the tides. While maybe someone would argue that it is unnecessary to understand the social circumstances that deep and specifically to be able to complete your service jobs, I find it extremely helpful to do a better service job with my mind lightened by the understandings toward the circumstances that my service receivers are facing.

Other than those speeches that we received through the services, we also got some other cultural learning activities like an Indian food cooking lesson. And all of those cultural learning activities come to the one end that they led me come inside of their Indian culture and the society. Without an understanding toward their culture and the social circumstances, I would not be able to make the connections with my service receivers and furthermore I would not be able to establish my transformations through this 3-weeks service trip.

 

Then speaking of my service work, I truly find the transformations taken place inside of me by being a volunteer abroad first time of my life. The work was actually challenging for me at the beginning, because my first concern was that I’m not even a native English speaker but I’m going to teach English to those kids; and also, because I’m not really a team-worker but doing a service job it means to work with others, to contribute in the form of a group. I would say it was my friendly relationships built with the community that helped me conquer all of my self-denials and hesitations. Once again, I would say that it was this trip transformed me to connect with people more by heart than just by the words, and it was this trip transformed me to step out of my closed self-space and into the people and into this outside world. And also, this service project taught me about the real side of working in a nonprofit and of working as a teacher. It transformed my perspectives toward the service work. The work is much harder and more challenging than what I thought before, but it is also much more meaningful and more helpful than what I had imagined before. Now my mind is even more firm and faithful of working for a nonprofit in the future as my career.

 

Now I guess you can already tell that how seriously I’m taking those transformations as significant and valuable for my life. Personally, they opened up my mind and heart one more step forward to the people and the outside world, as I was always a shy person before, living in my own closed space but hoping to get into the crowd one day. By getting into the crowd I mean that I always hope to be able to work for something that would be useful and meaningful and would benefit the people, the society and the world in large. This has been my life goal for a long time as a passionate young kid who just wish to be able to give that inside love and the care out to this world. To be more specifically, as I am majoring Environment Economy Development and Sustainability at OSU, in the specialization of international development, I do wish that one day I could work for a nonprofit that moves the world toward a more sustainable way. Though this service project I took in Dharamsala may seem to be irrelevant for my environmental professional path, I would say this trip is going to be significant for my future path when I will be seeking out for a place that I could suit myself in this world, in the field of international development. This service project opened up my life once more to the path where I wish to go and to the person who I wish to be.