- Brief description of STEP signature Project. Two or three sentences describing the main activities of what the project entailed.
In May, 2018 I traveled to Akwakwaa, Ghana through Buck-I-Serv and the Akumanyi Foundation with an amazing group of students to serve at a children’s home. While in Akwakwaa, my service group worked together to perform tasks in the children’s home such as cooking, cleaning, teaching and playing with the kids, and other various tasks the children’s home needed done. While serving at the children’s home, each individual in my group was able to make connections with the children, staff from the foundation and the children’s home, and explore the beautiful, lively culture of the town and country where we spent our transformative weeks.
- Write one or two paragraphs about how your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, and your view of the world transformed while completing your STEP signature project.
While traveling through Ghana and spending time at the children’s home in Akwakwaa, our group held pensive conversations each night about what we had experienced that day and how those experiences challenged our previous thoughts, opinions, and what we had assumed to be true upon entering the country. For me, one of the biggest changes in previous thought processes was the fact that problems can be solved in more ways than one, and one is not necessarily better than the other. Although this may seem elementary, the idea is more profound when you are actually put in a situation that challenges your current mindset. While sitting in a classroom one day, I was pondering over how we could make the Ghanaian education system better, but most of my solutions primarily evolved from the way Western cultures provide education. While washing dishes, I pondered over how to make dishwashing easier and more efficient for the Ghanaians, and once again, my solution was derived from a Western amenity-dishwashers. It wasn’t until sweeping one day with a staff member from the children’s home that I realized how we can help create the changes the town and country needs and wants. The staff member said to me, “here in Ghana, we do everything with our hands, hard work over machines.” In this moment, my entire thought process about how to help the kids of the children home, how to help the town, the country, and the world all changed. I had previously only been thinking of how I would fix things with the mindset that everything I had in my life was right and would also help these people, but the real solution is simple- if we want to change the world, and help people in other countries and cultures progress in their own way, we must listen to the people, listen to what they need and want, and provide them with the resources they need to succeed and progress on their own.
Additionally, it is not enough to fix problems through bandaging. For example, giving the school a dishwasher would not make the town or the school sustainable and independent in the future, it would only provide a quick fix for what we think could be more efficient. Giving the children extra food while volunteers are there would not solve malnutrition when volunteers are gone. This was another thought process of mine that changed immensely. If we really want to change the world and make it a better place, it is not enough to only bandage the problems- we need to change the systems and policies that underlie these problems. This means changing education, trade, and travel policies along with the political mindsets that encourage the prior.
Although I learned a lot about the culture and how to provide better, more meaningful service, I learned a lot about myself on this trip. I learned that I value human connection over everything else, and that quality time is immensely more valuable than any material item could be. Of course, these were things I thought I had already believed, but I did not realize that these were my main values until I was able to live them everyday, all day long. I realized how the effects of technology have diminished this value in many people who are surrounded by a surplus of technology and media. Throughout the two weeks spent in Akwakwaa I was immersed in a lively, colorful, collectivist culture where human connection was just as important as food and water, and I have never felt so alive in my life. Lastly, I gained a deeper appreciation for people and the celebration of culture through food, music, and dance, all of which continue to inspire and uplift me, something I know I could not have gained just through reading about the country.
- What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.
Throughout my two weeks spent in Ghana, there were countless moments that challenged my previous thought processes and assumptions. One of the most memorable moments, the one that shows up in my mind everyday even after a month, was while washing dishes one night after dinner. While sitting with a peer on the concrete, washing the dishes of about eighty children, and having an in-depth conversation about Ghanaian lifestyle, a small child walked over to the large pot which cooks and holds rice for all of the children and staff. There was still rice stuck on the edges of the pot and as the child walked over and reached in the pot my heart sank. For the next five minutes the child scraped every grain of rice out of the pot with her nails so that she could feel as if she had enough to eat. What hurt even more was realizing that even if I gave her extra food for the night, and the next few days, in two weeks I would be gone and she would be hungry again. Although heart-breaking, this was one defining moment that made me realize the importance of fixing systems in order to promote sustainable solutions rather than putting a bandage on what one may see as a problem.
Another experience that changed my thought processes while in Ghana and enhanced the idea of fixing systems and uneven distribution of resources around the world was the lack of simple medical supplies that would otherwise prevent and heal the smallest of wounds and health issues. Inclusive to eye infections, colds, malaria, and simple cuts and scratches, there were barely any medical supplies for the kids to use. As a volunteer, I was told to bring these simple supplies with me in case of an injury or personal health issues. Many times, I thought about giving the children’s home these supplies during the trip since I had not been using them. As a volunteer team, we spoke many times about the impact of our help and presence and discussing the fact that we could give them all the resources we think they needed but the second we would leave they would be out of those resources. Again, I realized that the biggest impact I, and the team, can make would be by educating others on our time, experience, and lack of supplies in order to change how medical supplies are dispersed throughout the world. I could give the home all my Band-Aids and eye drops, but this would not change the fact that in the United States and many other areas of the world there is a surplus of medical supplies and in other areas, such as this small town in Ghana, there are barely any.
The last key reason my mindset and lifestyle changed was due to the fact that although for the entire two weeks I was secluded from the outside world, thrown into a beautiful, new and refreshing culture, and forced to get to know new people in ways I had never done before, I had the best time of my life and felt more alive than I ever had before. The importance of human connection and valuing aspects of culture in ways I had not before, as in preservation, promotion, and awareness, is so necessary that I believe it competes with the necessity for food and water. In order to feel alive, you not only need to be alive, but to have the human connection and relationships to promote liveliness.
- Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.
This transformation is valuable in my life, because as much as I do not like admitting that I feel as if I have been living my life wrong for the past two years, I feel as if from now on and forever I will be living right, with human connection and relationships as the number one values in my life. Academics, careers, and goals are all very important but are nothing if you do not have people to live, experience, and progress in the respective with.
This is valuable to my future goals as a professional because I will now have a better, broader understanding of the cultures and lifestyles of the people I work with. As a physical therapist, I will have to recognize that different cultures affect how therapy plays a role for individuals in different house holds and how to best provide therapy for people who are not part of the same culture as I am. Although this is challenging, it also excites me for the future and my chosen career path because I know that by doing this I will continue to learn in every area of life, including my career and culturally, which is the base of all my dreams.