STEP Reflection

My STEP Signature Project consisted of three volunteer experiences that were combined to create a holistic experience with exotic animals. My first portion was with Buck-I-Serv on a trip to Silver Springs, Florida volunteering with Forest Animal Rescue. At Forest Animal Rescue, I spent majority of my time building enclosure for red pandas and spider monkeys. My second portion dealt with volunteering with two organizations: the American Primate Education Sanctuary in Gahanna and the Ohio Wildlife Center Hospital in Powell. With the American Primate Educational Sanctuary (APES), I partook in general husbandry of capuchin monkeys and gibbons; I fed, cleaned, prepared meals, and engaged in enrichment with the animals. With the Ohio Wildlife Center Hospital, I provide necessary treatments to wildlife animals including: drenching medications, fluid injections, bandage replacements, and tube feeding. I also partook in general husbandry and handling of various wildlife including birds of prey, song birds, waterfowl, opossums, raccoons, squirrels, reptiles, rabbits, and other Ohio wildlife.

As an animal science major, I had many assumptions about working with exotic animals prior to my STEP project. I had taken classes educating me in the importance of the welfare and care of our exotics and insuring that we work as one to improve their lives. In class, I gained little knowledge on how exactly we can work to improve their lives. Upon engaging in my volunteer opportunities, I learned that a lot more goes on when it comes to improving the care of exotics. My view on exotic care completely changed. I now have a much larger appreciation to those who dedicate their time and money to the improvement of these animals’ lives. Understanding feeding habits, social behaviors, grooming, exercise behaviors, body language, and anatomy all play a huge role in insuring the welfare of these animals. This knowledge has helped me prepare for my adventure into veterinary school, by gaining knowledge on animals I may work with in the future.

All three locations and volunteer experiences played a role in transforming my knowledge on exotics and wildlife and better preparing me for my future endeavors. At Forest Animal Rescue, I learned about how much history and knowledge goes into building enclosures for wildlife. Forest Animal Rescue inhabits over 13 different species of exotics including: tigers, African servals, spider monkeys, capuchins, lemurs, wolves, black bears, bats, and tortoises. Understanding animals’ natural habitats, behaviors, and social rankings all goes into engineering the perfect enclosure for a given species. Each species has their own set of standards that need to be set in place to insure their safety and wellbeing. For instance, majority of my trip was spent building the red panda enclosures. For these enclosures, we had to ensure we were following specific guidelines. They had to be tall, over 50 feet, to ensure the pandas had opportunity to climb tall trees like they would in the wild. They needed to be welded together with steel bars, as red pandas are crafty with their hands and can easily open locks. The enclosure had to include natural plant life, native to their homeland. All this knowledge was critical in building the perfect home for these animals and I am thankful to now have gained this knowledge for future use.

At APES, I learned that primates require social interaction to remain healthy. They are very similar to humans and rely immensely on touch. To insure they receive the social touch they need, they are paired in groups and often get time to interact with volunteers. I spent a lot of time simply allowing them to play with my hair, as if I had bugs in it. It took time for me to gain a relationship with them and for them to trust me. Understanding that a relationship must be built between myself and primates can greatly impact my future veterinary work with them. Furthermore, I learned that primates are very intuitive to their surroundings. If you are upset or feeling down they tend to notice and will be calmer and more alert to your emotions. If you are angry or mad they tend to notice and will be very vocal and active. The most important thing I learned about their intuition is to always remain confident! They are very good at detecting if you fear them and will abuse that feeling. If you are scared they will take that time to enhance that and grab at you. Having confidence was the only way I could get them to gently touch me and comb my hair. Once you have confidence, that is when they establish a relationship. Lastly, in this volunteering experience I got to better understand their nutrition requirements. While volunteering, I had to create weekly meals consisting of proper fruits, vegetables, and supplements. This gained knowledge will help me when understanding their digestive system and nutrition in veterinary school.

At the Ohio Wildlife Center Hospital, I gained a lot of hand on experience with ill animals. The Ohio Wildlife Center Hospital is segmented into various wards including: song bird ward, birds of prey ward, flight ward, reptile ward, baby ward, and mammal ward. Each time I volunteered I got to experience a different ward. In these wards, I addressed each animal as diagnosed by the veterinarian and shown on their charts. Most of the time, my volunteering consisted of removing the animal, weighing the animal, cleaning the cage, feeding the animal, and placing the animal back. A couple of times a shift I got the opportunity to medicate or dress an animal. Using a drench gun, administering fluids, giving oral medications, and re-dressing a wound were all parts of my job. Learning how to do these things with various species really widened my knowledge on animal handling and care. These animals are meant to be returned to the wild and for this reason are to not gain relationships with humans. This meant that I had to handle animals who were fearful and flighty. Learning how to grab a red-tailed hawk, opossum, and pigeon out of a cage were all helpful to my future endeavors as a veterinarian.

My STEP Signature project directly correlates with my future academics and employment goals. As an animal sciences major, I plan to pursue veterinary medicine. It is my goal to one day volunteer my free-time to diagnose and perform surgeries for volunteer hospitals and sanctuaries. Gaining knowledge on the general behaviors, nutrition requirements, and handling procedures of these animals is something I will carry into my professional education and career. These experiences provided me with the ability to work with capuchins, gibbons, spider monkeys, opossums, song birds, red-hawks, owls, bats, and squirrels. I can honestly say that without these experiences I would not have gotten the opportunity to work with these animals before veterinary school. I feel that this project has given me the upper hand in my veterinary applications, providing me with extraordinary experiences. I would recommend a volunteer experience like this to anyone pursuing a career with exotic animals!

Being Rela’s Social Media Intern

This photo was taken while I was volunteering at one of Relā’s events (Leadership Prayer Breakfast 2017) the fall before I began my STEP project for them.

 

My STEP Project involved managing a local Columbus nonprofit’s social media, specifically their Facebook page. My main duties included researching and creating images related to servant leadership, scheduling monthly posts, and recording the analytics from the Facebook page. I also created posts to market larger events my nonprofit hosted. The image above is from an event I volunteered at before I began my STEP project with Relā in order to understand what they did. Not to give away too much about my fantastic experience with them, but I am helping them market the 2018 Leadership Prayer Breakfast.

I initially began working with Relā through my involvement in the Nonprofit Immersion Program (NPIP) at The Ohio State University. NPIP allows students to become non-voting members of a local Columbus nonprofit to understand the inner workings of nonprofits, and then create their own hands-on experience that is in-line with the nonprofit’s mission and goals, and addresses an organizational need. For example, through my involvement with Relā, my contact and I realized there was a severe lack of consistent social media marketing for the organization.

I was excited to begin marketing for Relā as I love their philosophy of utilizing servant leadership to positively impact their workplace, and create a better world. After much deliberation with my contact, we decided I would post to the Relā’s Facebook page 3-5 times a week depending on other events they needed to market for as well. In total, this would have been researching and creating approximately 12-20 images per month to post to the page. I vastly underestimated the amount of time this would take me per month. I naively assumed I would only need 3-5 hours a month to work for Relā. In reality, I needed 5-10 hours per month to work on Relā’s social media posts. Overall, this experience showed me how to have even better time management skills, a better understanding of all the factors going into social media marketing, and an appreciation for leveraging social media to market for an organization.

My relationship with my contact, Liz Cooper, at Relā was fantastic. Liz and I had an open and regular stream of communication via email. I knew exactly what Liz expected of me, when she needed it, and why it was important. Before I officially began my work for Relā, I had been under the impression I would only need a few hours a month at most to complete my work for them. However, I quickly learned this was not the case as I began researching servant leadership quotes and articles to post.

I spent an average of 5-10 hours total per month to research, create (if applicable), and post to Relā’s Facebook page. While this may not seem like a lot of time spread out over the whole month, I naturally tend to stay active on campus and busy in general, so carving out time for this extra responsibility was a challenge. The first month or two I ended up procrastinating until the last week of the month to send the media posts to Liz as I thought it wouldn’t take me as long as it did.

By procrastinating my research for Relā, I ended up being extremely stressed trying to find time between my coursework and other activities to complete my tasks, and still give Liz an ample amount of time to give me the go-ahead to post. As a result, I realized I needed to prioritize my social media research for Relā for the future, and manage my time even better than I was previously. I blocked out time in my calendar to work on research, and this allowed me to send Liz the posts well in advance of needing to schedule them on Facebook. By buckling down and doing this, I was able to have fun with researching and looking up servant leadership quotes, pictures, and articles!

This experience was beyond valuable to me! I never realized the influence of social media marketing, nor did I think about how much I would actually enjoy it. Social media marketing became a hobby, and a skill I’ve learned from my project. I had such a good time, that I extended my project not once, but twice! I was planning on being Relā’s social media intern for a few months over the summer, but then I extended it to August, and again to now. To this day, I still am Relā’s social media intern, and enjoy it immensely!

Ghana Trip

    This summer I had the privilege to go on a Buck-I-Serv trip through The Ohio State University to the country of Ghana. Buck-I-Serv is a student organization that focuses on providing service through different projects and issues on a local level as well as internationally. Previous to applying to this trip, I had never imagined that I would have the opportunity to be able to leave the United States seeing as I had barely done a lot of traveling within the states until I attended college. It was always a goal for me to explore beyond the borders of the United States as a fellow educator to second language speakers. It is important for me to experience different cultures and language backgrounds in order to better understand as well as serve my students. It was a privilege to be able to go on this trip to Ghana for many reasons. This trip was the longest from home that I had ever been on especially by myself. It was great for my personal growth as I got to step out of my comfort zone and try new things. It was a privilege mostly because of its destination. I do not know anyone who has gotten the opportunity to go to the continent of Africa. Living within the United States, Often fail to realize that I live within a bubble. Everything that I am exposed to living in the US is filtered through a Western lens. These Western lens has historically created a certain depiction of the continent of Africa often with sick people who need help. The stereotypes have a deficit outlook by grouping the whole continent as well as being underdeveloped. I did not know what to expect when I first got to Ghana. I knew that in order to get the best out of my experience it was better that I not go in with any expectations at all. It was an honor to get to go to a country with such historical context and cultural value especially seeing as Caribbean culture, that which I identify with, was heavily rooted in African culture. I got to physically go ad see beyond the Western lens that I have been under. I was most surprised at how much of Puerto Rico, Ghana reminded me. It was more than the green scenery and bright cement structures. There was a huge sense of community and small town feel that I missed the most. Ghanaians welcomed our cohort with open arms. A lot of people I met were more than willingly to stop their activities to help us out whether it was helping me fetch water from the river or practicing the language, Fante with me. People were friendly and inclined to help as well as have conversations.

     Prior to this summer, I was dealing a lot with personal issues. It felt like life kept bringing upon new hurdles and hoops to keep jumping through. My days were never ending as well fast paced. I did not realize how much I needed to slow down and take the world in before I went to Ghana. The sense of time is not the same when you are out there. People take their time and focu son things often overlooked in America. Activities also become more community and group oriented such as simple things as cooking or fetching water. I was nervous going on the trip with a group of strangers. I would be leaving my comfort zone and not to mention my support system. I was surprised by the vulnerability from the whole cohort group while on the trip. My cohort got to spend a lot of time together working together to not only be efficient when fetching water and completing other chores but as we were experiencing everything as a unit. There were many late nights of playing card games and deep conversations about life not to mention the limited space on many of the trotro rides. As much I talk and reflect on my trip no one will understand the trip like me except for my other cohort members. The days slow down and the things that are often overlooked have more attention there. I realized coming back that I needed to slow down and take in life as well as my experiences. It would be unhealthy for me to continue in such a manner especially for my mental health. The trip was exactly what I needed before starting my final year of college.

     In Ghana I got to work with the Akumanyi Foundation at a children’s home in the small town of Akokwa, Ghana. My time at the children’s home included spending time with the children which for me included learning new games and learning the Fante language. My favorite game was jumping rope except jumping rope has a different context within Ghana for instance there is no twirling of the rope. The jump rope was also made out of recycled water bags that were collected. Other activities were helping out with any chores around the home such as helping bathe the children, cleaning, and fetching water. The children was the best part of the trip. As  a fellow educator, it is no surprise that I love children and the children I met in Ghana are no exception. I bonded quickly with an eleven year old girl who had a wisdom beyond her years. She was a leader and beyond knowledgeable. I learned many games and activities just from spending time with her. I also bonded with a fourteen year old boy who was someone that the children looked up as he was one of the oldest at the children’s home. He was always helping me and guiding me through the town teaching me every word in Fante and then testing me the next day. I cannot describe how much I took away from meeting the children. It was difficult saying goodbyes to the point that I had to leave and pull myself together in private before continuing our final goodbyes.

      My favorite parts of the trip outside of the children were the historical and cultural experiences. The first weekend included a scheduled trip to the Cape Coast. Cape Coast was not only full of amazing beaches and street food but historical value. Right on the coast of the town stood the Cape Coast slave castle. My group got to get a tour of the castle from the dungeons where slaves were held all the way through the door of no return. I was not sure how much of an emotional experience taking the tour of the castle was going to be. The tour guide did a great job at giving a holistic view of slavery especially the point that a lot of countries played a part in enslaving others. It was an emotional experience in walking into the dungeons as we got a tiny taste of the conditions that the slaves had. The dungeons already had no ventilation on top of being super hot and pitch black. My cohort got a tour of the cells were men and women were put when they were fighting back. Our tour continued on through the castle as we viewed parts of the tunnel that lead slaves to the ships eventually through the Door of No Return. I got to take in the final view of the beautiful waves crashing on the beach that slaves would have seen last of their homeland. It was a valuable experience as a got an even closer look at slavery and its significance as Caribbean culture was deeply rooted and influenced by African culture. I had the opportunity to be taught a traditional cultural dance as well as food dishes and shop at the cultural markets to get gifts that will remember my experience there. It is hard to fathom into words the amazing time and everything that I took away from my trip. I got a lot of perspective on my own life. My hope is that I can continue to travel abroad and learn more about myself as I explore the world. 

Trip to Ghana

Through Buck-I-SERV I got my first opportunity to explore a country other than the United States. I went to Ghana with the Akumanyi Foundation, and volunteered at a children’s home in Akokwa. At first, I thought I would be playing with kids all day and helping with their homework, but it was so much more than just that. While in Ghana, my cohort and I were immersed in the Ghanaian culture by not only living as the Ghanaians did, but learning more about Ghana’s history from our trip leaders and exploring different parts of the country.

 

As you can imagine, my time spent in Ghana held many adventures that I have yet to experience during my 21 years of life. Going into the trip, I knew Africa was going to be different from the United States, but I kept my mind open instead of holding assumptions. This was quite hard as some people close to me would put ideas into my head as to how Africa would be due to movies or television shows they had seen in the past. Though some parts are similar to what is portrayed in terms of dirt roads and an abundance of foliage, I can confidently say the depictions of Africa are false. I tried to take as many pictures as possible so that I could take them home to change the minds of my small group of friends, to show the Ghana is a large, growing city filled with many of the functions and amenities that the United States has to offer. By the way many people talk about the United States, I often thought it was more modern than most countries, but in reality it is not. Were we stayed was a rural area with limited running water. Now that may sound odd or even inhumane to some, but there are some rural and even developed areas in the United States that experience the same exact situation.

Though it sounds cliché, I realized how much I had here in the United States that was unnecessary some of the objects in my life are, but exactly how important the people in my life are. For example, most of the trip I chose to not use my phone, therefore I had no contact with my family and friends. I learned two things: 1. I, along with many other Americans, rely on my phone too much, and 2. I also rely on my family and friends a lot which is something I discovered I am proud of. One of the most challenging aspects of leaving the country for two weeks with little or no communication with home is how much I missed my support system. Towards the end of the trip I began to get homesick, so I decided to call my family and just hearing their voices made me feel so much better. I had also thought I was tough, but this trip opened my eyes to how amazing my support system is here at home and how much I truly missed them while I was away. What added to me missing my family at home was the strong sense of family and community the Ghanaians hold, especially the kids. What was amazing about the children’s how is the little family they had. Though not all of the kids there are orphans, some are, but an outsider could never tell by the way they play, love, and even bicker with one another. I was not only touched but their kindness towards each other, but the friendliness and love they radiated towards us, a foreign group of young adults who practice a very different culture than their own. That is problem what I miss most about my time in Akokwa is the strong sense of community that I had the honor to be a part of for a week.

 

Beyond Ghana itself, I could not have been happier with the cohort that I was a part of. The friendships we had while in Ghana were great, and I think most of us can agree we all got along very well! Going to another country with a group of strangers is always a little nerve-racking, but once we had all warmed up to each other, I was so thankful to have them be a part of my adventures. I definitely miss our late night conversations, or playing cards at night until we could not handle the mosquitos anymore, and even the mouse that we had never found running around in the girls’ room. All of this contributed to a trip I could never or even want to forget. Not only did I build friendships with those in my cohort, but learned about their past and how even though we go to the same university, how different we are all for one another. One of the activities we did called the privilege walk definitely hit this home. Though I knew I was blessed with the life I have been given, it was really difficult to see how others are not exposed to this due to their culture, family situation, and outward appearance. Instead of feeling bad about what I had and what others did not, Dr. Mull who ran the activity advised us to not feel bad but to use the privilege that we do have to help those around us. Although it took me going to Ghana to recognize that, it was most definitely a message I took back home with me to the United States with me.

 

I cannot successfully write this reflection without mentioning just how special the time I had spent with the kids truly meant to me. In my future career plans, I had always hoped to work with kids, and being on this trip completely confirmed that for me. Many kids, whether they live in the United States or Ghana, do not have anyone to stand up and fight for them, and I had always wanted to be that person. At the children’s home that was Momma Charity. Momma Charity dedicates her own life to better the lives of all the children that live and visit the home, it truly is an inspiration. She is the voice for those kids who do not have one, and if in my future career I am half as passionate as she is, I know I will be successful in my goal. Like I mentioned, every single kid I met was so welcoming and loving to each and every one of us. They were so quick to show us the games they played, the things they created, and even the “right” way to do some of the chores we were assigned! The kids were so eager to share their own culture with us which is what made me feel so welcome throughout my stay in Ghana. I was told before I met them that I will never meet a child happier than a Ghanaian child, and I can agree with that statement hands down.

 

Like I previously mentioned, being apart of this trip confirmed thatwhat I want to do with my future is the path I need to continue to follow. I want to be an adult that kids can look up to, especially the little girls. I want them to know that with hard work and preservation you can achieve your goals. By immersing myself if another culture, I have no doubt that will help me to be a better in my career field as it has taught me to orientate my view to that of whom I am working with if conflict arises, or to even start out with to insure everything is communicated as it should be. Overall, I am so thankful to have been a part of the adventure, and have learned more than I could ever imagine.

 

Service-Learning Experience in Ghana

My Buck-I-SERV trip to Ghana was a life-changing experience. To be immersed in the culture and everyday living of the children, we lived on the grounds of the orphanage in Akokwa. Mama Charity started the orphanage and welcomed all of us with open arms. My service group spent most of our time on the grounds, playing with the children and helping with their daily chores. This consisted of filling the cement reservoir with water from the river, sweeping the porch, helping bathe the younger children, washing dishes, and many other things. In addition, we painted a new school whose construction was funded by the Akumanyi Foundation. In addition, we painted the new toilets in the village of Penim that the foundation funded as well. Lastly, we visited Cape Coast and the slave castle where we went on an in-depth historical tour.

The service-learning experience helped me reflect on some things about myself and about the world. First, I learned that I work well with people. I adapt to social settings very well. Whether it is bringing humor or having interest in other’s lives, I can have very positive interactions with everyone. For example, I did not know anyone on my trip and I truly enjoyed talking to everyone and asking them questions about their backgrounds, interests and many other things. Creating conversation and learning from others is very enjoyable. In addition to students on my Buck-I-SERV trip, I had a great time getting to know the staff of the Akumanyi Foundation and the children of the orphanage. I would ask them questions about their culture. I was transformed because I was able to adapt very well in a brand new cultural/social setting. In addition, learned that people in developing countries are very happy even with having many inconveniences. The media in western world often wrongly portrays Africa as suffering, sick people. This is not true. Lastly, I learned more about my privilege. Through my experiences, I thought more and more about my upbringing and what it means.

I met two individuals who had a lasting impact on me. They helped me adapt to the culture and I had many positive interactions with them. First, Noble was a ten-year-old boy who reminds me of myself when I was younger. He was shy but also very inquisitive about everything. We would hang out nearly every day. He would always be the first one to come see me when we all walked over to the orphanage from our home stay on the other side of fence. I saw myself in him but in a different area of the world. It really helped me put myself in his shoes. He helped empathize rather than sympathize for his daily struggles. He lived in an orphanage, so most likely his parents had trouble caring for him, so they sent him to the orphanage. I cannot imagine some of the struggles he has everyday without having parents. Ultimately, I reevaluated my privilege through my experiences and all the people I met in Ghana. I grew up with parents who were loving and supportive. I never had to worry about being hungry. I always had access to clean water. I have always had access to healthcare. I have always had warm pressurized showers. These are all things that I have not had to worry about growing up. In comparison, Noble worries about many of these things daily. My privilege makes me want to help those who don’t have equally as much as me. I am grateful for where I come from. I was at times even upset thinking about some ungrateful things I have done in my life. Before we left I really wanted Noble to remember me forever, so I gave him a bandanna that I brought with me. In the future, I hope to write to him and possibly even visit him again.

Secondly, I met a college student named Patrick who was a volunteer for the Akumanyi Foundation. Patrick is a sophomore, studying psychology at the University of Ghana in Accra. He grew up in the small village of Akokwa. He was a very quiet kid who was trying to make it to the United States through an educational visa. We spent many nights talking about school in the US and he was so fascinated with American culture. One of the most inspirational things he told me was that he wrote his college essay on how he wants to go to America and go to school so he can make a decent living, so he could build his family a better, more suitable house. He introduced me to his family and to his friends when I was there, and I grew close to him. He made me feel welcomed with hospitality. Ghana is such a hospitable country. Ever since I have been home I have been in contact with Patrick, giving him advice on what schools in the US to apply to and how to apply for financial aid. I will always remember him I truly hope I get to see him again.

Developing countries are not just all starving and sick children like seen on TV. I studied abroad in Senegal before my time in Ghana and I knew that there was poverty, but it is not to the extent portrayed by the media in the western world. In Ghana, I met many people who were very happy and satisfied with their lives. Through my service learning experience, I learned that it is important not to change the community’s way of living. However, it is essential to help the community’s quality of living. Many ways of living at the orphanage may have seemed ancient to us, like cooking over an open flame, outside in a clay oven. Also, the way of collecting water was not advanced. Well water and river water were used. It is important not to force change to their ways of living. It was incredible to see how all the children were content, even with all these inconveniences in their daily living. They did not know any better and they lived with such happiness and gratitude. If someone is happy why change it?  Understanding the way a community lives before wanting to change it, should be practiced worldwide. After time, discussion, and the community’s approval, new technologies can be implemented. For example, the Akumanyi Foundation was granted the opportunity to build a clean water source in Penim Ghana. Also, they were able to build toilets in the community. After conversation with the elders of Penim they were able to do these great things. The projects increased the quality of life of the residents of Penim. In addition, I was part of the discussion with the elders on how to sustain the toilets and keep them clean without us being there.

The transformation of continuing to adapt to cultures and social settings is valuable in my life because I will always be working with people. I am a pre-med student and I want to become a family practitioner one day. Family doctors see many patients who come from different backgrounds and have health consequence rooting from many different risk factors. I will see these patients and being able to adapt to patients and understand their situation will be the focus of my job as a practitioner. In addition, Ghana has enabled me to become more open minded and possess more worldly views. This will help me to have tolerance and be nonjudgmental when travelling to other places for the rest of my life. It is important to understand not to have rash judgement of something before even experiencing that something.  Ultimately, my service-learning experience to Ghana has helped me transform and prepared me more for what is to come in my future.

Trip to Akokwa

My STEP project consisted of a two-week service trip in Akokwa, Ghana. Most of our time was spent at a children’s home where we assisted the kids with their daily tasks and helped to entertain them. We also travelled to two other villages to paint both a bathroom project along with a new school project that the Akumanyi foundation had already started.

Honestly, I have no idea where to begin with how much this trip changed my view on the world. For starters it completely exposed how much privilege I have and that I clearly have taken it for granted. Through the children the trip showed me that money truly doesn’t buy happiness. It taught me some cultural aspects of Ghana throughout history and up to the current day. Finally, it taught me that I can become close with large group of people (children, staff, and other participants) in two week which just seemed to fly by.

During the trip everyone participated in an activity called a privilege walk. Essentially the entire group is asked a series of question about uncontrollable scenarios you may have been throughout your life. It is a fair measure of how much privilege everyone has. The results were extremely eye opening, but I do not want to ruin it for future participants. The most I will say about the activity is that everyone should do this at some point in their life with a large diverse group of individuals. This along with the many other activities we did such as nightly reflections really taught me a lot about myself, but the children also inspired me.

Hands down the children in the Akokwa children’s home were the happiest children I have ever seen in my life. They found ways to make all daily chores enjoyable and created their own toys with limited supplies. During the trip we drank out of plastic pouches that were sold throughout Ghana. The children were able to create a jump rope by tying the plastic pouches together. Donations were given to the kids which consisted of a few new toys, but what impressed me most was their ability to use creativity to create multiple games from a toy that was mainly meant for one. These children could find joy in any situation including daily chores such as fetching water. The jugs were very heavy, and many volunteers even struggled with them, but these kids helped us with big smile on there face! This barely scratches the surface in the ways that these kids influenced and inspired me to better myself and appreciate everything I have.

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I would consider all activities with the children as the events that changed my perspective on the world the most, but a close second would have been the multiple cultural experiences our group experienced. First and foremost, would have been the slave castle we toured. Our guide gave detailed descriptions of the physical and psychological tools used to dehumanize slave which led to a vivid eye-opening experience. The most extreme case by far being that the place that held slaves was directly beneath the castle’s church. This positioning was meant to allow the slaves to hear the preacher above them which instilled the thought in their heads that god had given up on them. After realizing that they did this intentionally I began to realize how brutal the Transatlantic slave trade was. I also gained a lot of cultural experience just visiting the many larger nearby cities and villages. During our travels to other cities many people stood in between cars in the road in high traffic areas to sell a plethora of items such as fresh fruits, water pouches, and necklaces. However, when it came to the cities the most culturally rich experience was when we visited a chief of one of villages. Here we learned more about proper greetings to the chief, the duties of the chief, and the more political side of a village.

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Living in Ghana over the two-week span resulted in many eye-opening experiences and complete emersion in the culture of Ghana. In the future I plan to go to medical school and eventually become a practicing physician. However, my goal is to be a good surgeon as well as have fantastic bed side manner. I want to connect with people by being able to understand their culture and background more efficiently. The ability to understand others in a more cultural aspect will lead to stronger relationships with my patients. This trip taught me so much and will help in achieving my long term goals.

My trip to Ghana with The Akumanyi Foundation

Name: Morgan Furness

Type of Project: Service-Learning

Through STEP, I had the life-changing opportunity to attend a Buck-i-SERV trip to Ghana.  This trip was the most immersive trip I have ever been on, experiencing the Ghanaian culture through volunteering at a school and children’s home, and traveling to different cities to view the multiple projects the Akumanyi Foundation is funding.  

These experiences challenged me and pushed me outside of my comfort zone in ways that I could never have prepared for.  First, it was inspiring to see the lifestyle the Ghanians lived that was defined by intentionality. Everything they did, they did with purpose.  This is something I have been striving to adopt in my everyday life as well. Sometimes, living in such a fast-paced, westernized culture, it’s easy to simply live life going through the motions.  Since my trip, I have dedicated each day to living life purposefully and intentionally. I want my actions to have meaning and an impact on others, just like the way the Ghanaian culture impacted me.  

Secondly, I was inspired by the kindness and generosity the people of Ghana showed us, despite where we come from, how we look, or what we have done in our past.  The Ghanaians accepted us wholeheartedly without any question. I met some of the most genuine people I have ever met, and I carry a piece of them in my heart still today.  I will never forget the words said with some of the first Ghanaians I met: “you are all Ghanaian now and always part of our family.” I’ve never felt so welcomed and accepted by complete strangers.  I hope I can be more like them in my everyday life, and I could only hope to live in a world where the United States adopted some of this kindness as well.

With my Buck-i-SERV group, we experienced some uncomfortable and challenging conversations with one another.  One thing I really appreciated about my group was the comfortability to ask each other the difficult and vulnerable questions about life. I typically am not a very emotional or vulnerable person, but this trip forced me to be just that. Without a group of people who were willing to get deep, I probably would have stayed in my comfort zone. One of my favorite conversations we had as a group was about the privilege we have as Americans, and the majority of us being white Americans. We talked about how we will use that privilege to make changes in our own lives, and some of my group member’s responses were inspiring.

    In addition to vulnerability, another key aspect that contributed to such a transformational experience was the immersiveness that I touched base on in the beginning of this post. During the trip, we had the opportunity to travel to a variety of villages and towns, further enhancing our knowledge and understanding of the Ghanaian culture.  Our leaders made sure we knew that each village and town is different and does not always represent Ghana as a whole, but experiencing multiple cities helped broaden our perspectives and taught us about different aspects about life in Ghana. We learned about different projects the Akumanyi Foundation is working on, such as supplying clean water and installing toilets in a village and building an entire new school in order to provide education to more youth in the community.  Along with our travels, we also had the privilege of touring a slave castle on the Ghanaian coast. This, among the other experiences I have mentioned, really opened my eyes to the privileges I have as a white American and the importance of educating yourself about the truth and reality of our past as well as the present.

The last of many aspects that contributed to my transformational experience was the relationships I built with my fellow Buck-i-SERV team and the unity we experienced together.  For myself, this was my first time traveling outside of the United States. Due to this, I felt pretty off for awhile. No cell phone, no contact with my family, and being in a vastly unfamiliar place with a group of complete strangers was something extremely outside of my comfort zone and nothing like I had ever experienced before.  I think this forced some fast, intense, and intimate friendships to develop. I still cherish these friendships I built with my fellow Buckeyes to this day. We keep in touch frequently and spend time together, but I am even more thankful for the lessons these people still teach me today even though we are no longer in a foreign country.  It’s amazing how a place so far away can quickly feel like home when you are surrounded by people who make you feel loved and supported.

This change and transformation I experienced because of STEP will forever be valuable to me.  The lessons I learned, the challenges my group overcame, the relationships I built and the memories we all made will forever be with me.  Everyday, I think about the effortless smiles of the children I met. I strive to live such a life where I can smile through whatever challenge life throws my way.  I want to find the joy in the simple things in life, just like my Ghanaian friends do. This mindset truly has changed my life for the better and this summer I feel like I have achieved so much personal growth and reflection that I would not have achieved without this trip.  I can use this in all of my future endeavors, relationships, and even careers. I am forever grateful for this trip, but most importantly for the people and new friends I made along the way.

Buck-I-Serve Trip to Akokwa Ghana

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

The Buck-I-Serve trip to the small town of Akokwa, Ghana is partnered with the Akumanyi foundation: a nonprofit who’s work serves to better the lives of vulnerable women and children in community. For my trip, most of our time was spent at a children’s home aiding in the daily chores, as well as reading, teaching, and playing games with the kids. The trip also allowed for endless moments of cultural emersion and learning from the kids, locals, and visits to Ghanaian historic sites.

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

The experiences I had during my stay in Ghana brought about both a new understanding of the maturity and independence needed as a young adult, while also sparking a refreshed sense of the endless curiosity, wonder, and excitement of youth. This was my first international experience, and it wasn’t until walking to the union the morning of my departure that I realized the thrills of packing, passports, and planes had masked the true absurdity of the journey I was about to embark on. By this time tomorrow I would be wakened by the sound of roosters in a small village thousands of miles from home, in an unfamiliar land, with 18 or so strangers (aside from the few moments of small talk had before meetings). I was afraid, yet the line between fear and excitement is easy to confuse, and with the latter often the more desirable, I eagerly boarded the shuttle. Fast forward through two weeks of cooking, sweeping, cleaning, never ending rounds of thumb wars, sweat, laughter, singing, praying, dancing and vulnerability, I’d be once again stepping on to a shuttle but with wet eyes and a new understanding of Home.

I learned that despite where I was, or the people I was with, so much real and impactful emotions can be shared with another. It didn’t matter that I had just met these people, or that we grew up in different parts of the world. Our lives are all so much more similar then different. We have all experienced the best of joys, the lows of pain, and to fully realize the similarity that all human experience is rooted in was truly life changing. I have a greater love for myself and know that it’s not just the feelings of home, but rather a new home itself that can always be found when one is willing to share and listen in vulnerable areas of life.

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?

There is something about my time in Ghana that seemed to just pass a little slower than at home. Maybe it was the early sun rises, perhaps the dull inescapable heat, the awesome new land, or maybe it was a lack of constant noise and entertainment found too readily at home. Regardless of cause, this feeling of a prolonged experience with time resulted in a much higher attention to the subtly. The relaxed atmosphere in Ghana was wildly contagious and felt more like a homecoming then a change. At home I can be a bit anxious, I like to fidget and move to keep me occupied. In Ghana, simply sitting was enough. One of my clearest and most fond memories from my trip, was simply sitting under the shade with my buddy Zoey.

Zoey was a spitfire of a child and if she wasn’t jumping or dancing, she was probably pulling jokes on us volunteers. She was always high energy, smiling, picking and defusing fights, always on the go. One Saturday afternoon however, this all seemed very off. She wasn’t carrying that same smile as before and sought solitude from the other kids. We talked for a bit, before moving into the shade where we then sat for close to an hour: motionless, her head on my lap, not sleeping, simply being. Zoey never did say what was wrong, and to be honest it wouldn’t have matter. Each, just being in the others presence, was far better than any words could have ever been.

Another experience characterized by such an intensely emotional connection in the ordinary was the first and only day it rained during the trip. The dry season was just ending when we arrived in Ghana, and everything was beginning to look green. We had been in Ghana for over a week and although it looked like rain a few times, we never had any. The humidity had been building up for some time however, and just as we thought another storm might pass us over, we felt the crisp cool air come flooding through the trees followed by a spattering of drops. We quickly ran to grab the clothes from the line and made it back under the roof just as it started to pour. Huge drops crashed against the roof but as we stood protected from the rain, an undeniable yearning came over me and the other boys to go run amongst the drops. The kids all hooted and laughed as we rounded the property and back with the girls now joining us. The moment was surreal, simple, and beautiful. Slow down and take note of all the little beauties around us in life, for It is through adding them up that truly wonderful life exists.

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

I have always loved doing service work and feel a great sense of fulfillment after helping others, however with this trip I know that it is I who has received the greater service. Part of what has made this trip so impactful for me was how welcomed I was the instant we arrived. Naturally, the first fante word I learned was Akwaaba or Welcome. This came at the right time in my life as I had been feeling as though I wasn’t the true version of myself. The fact was, I felt as though I needed validation from another to feel the way I did or act a certain way. I left these feelings behind in Ghana as there’s nothing quite like 2 weeks with children to teach you how to take yourself less seriously, enjoy the present moment and just love.
For me, this change in mindset has had an immeasurable impact on my life. I no longer feel the worry or pressure to be anything other than who I am. As a result, I’ve found that my openness and acceptance for others for who they are has grown as well. My ability to connect and grow with others has improved greatly from this. The serene beauty of all that is Ghana has reminded me to strive for what’s best in life, to let go of the things I can’t change, and to seek the love and beauty in all creation.

Preserving a Passion

Rachel Helbing
Service-Learning & Community Service

My STEP Signature Project took place in the mountains of Colorado, specifically those of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Traveling across states to observe and cherish the beauty our country has was great motivation to give back. Volunteering with park rangers and learning how to protect our national parks gave me lifelong memories and new perspectives.

First hand experience of the central United States transformed my view of our country. There is much natural beauty in the land that I took for granted before. Seeing a new landscape or a new way of living expanded my thoughts of what America was. I’ve been confined to Ohio my entire life, minus a few vacations, and until now haven’t been able to take things slow and take in all that is around me. Now I find myself slowing down and appreciating the natural world around me. Finding joy in the land around me and valuing parts of my life I haven’t before.

Driving about twenty hours each way between Ohio and Colorado was the greatest exposure to America’s diverse lands and cultures. Traveling through the large, bustling cities of St. Louis, Kansas City, and Denver was contrasted with the pit stops in Colby and Limon where there wasn’t much to the town other than a gas station. Seeing how quickly the landscape and structure of a place can change within 15 miles was astounding. Even the difference between a few blocks in a large city showed different lifestyles.

Hiking to the top of a mountain to see a glacier, or following a trail to a great fishing spot were first hand experiences that transformed my love of nature. Something so literally “natural” provided a great sense of serenity and clarity to the experience. While traveling as far as Colorado provided a greater magnitude to this trip and transformative process, I know that I can find and appreciate this beauty where I live as well.

The volunteer efforts on my part took a different form than I had expected. I had imagined I would go into the park and do amazing projects, such as restoring a trail or removing an invasive species. With only being in the national park for a short time, these were not feasible tasks. Instead, along with a park ranger, my project took a more service-learning approach and focus. It became a philosophical experience that I had not expected. We had conversations along our hikes in the park that taught me more about conservation and the efforts of the National Park System than I could learn elsewhere. Being in the environment of the Rocky Mountains made these teachings more impacting and they still resonate with me now back in Columbus.

Speaking with a park ranger was informative, as well as perspective-changing. He talked of how important it is to preserve the beauty found in National Parks. We explored the topic of public access to wilderness and what the right balance is. While we want people, such as myself, to travel and explore new scenes, we must also limit the potential damage and industrialization that happens when doing so. Something as menial as adding a road or walking path to a park could have serious consequences to the wildlife and ecosystem. This talk really made me take into consideration how this project shouldn’t be taken for granted. My experiences come at a cost to wildlife, so I should do all I can to not affect it further.

I chose this project area as a personal transformation. While I also learned some along the way, it was to reignite my passion for the outdoors after being so cooped up in classrooms during the year. Volunteering within the Rocky Mountain National Park was life-changing because of the people I met, the places I saw, and the memories I made. I will take the experiences learned in Colorado and apply them wherever my life and career take me in the future. I will look for ways to get outside and enjoy the natural parts of our world. I will also consider how my actions have an impact on that same wilderness, and try to minimize my footprint. The greatest lesson learned while in the park was that every opportunity to enjoy nature also comes with a cost to it. I must be conscious of my actions and how appreciating the wilderness must be coupled with restoring it. I want to aim to appreciate and maintain the beauty of our Earth.

GVI Healthcare Volunteer in Thailand

As a healthcare volunteer in the small town of Ban Nam Khem in Phang Nga, Thailand, I devoted my time to creating and presenting basic health education in schools and surrounding community centers. I taught basic English to four, five, and six-year olds as well as human anatomy at the local schools. I also led physical education programs, sports, and crafts at the center for those with disabilities to promote healthy lifestyles and creativity. I helped conduct physiotherapy exercises for those with special needs at the center to promote mobility and functional ability. When I was not volunteering within the local community, I had the opportunity to explore Thailand with other volunteers and make memories and friendships that I will never forget.

During my time abroad, I found myself questioning my future and noticed a change of perception on life and those around me. When I first proposed to go on this journey, I was unsure of what my future profession would be. Although I did not gain a specific answer overseas, I did find some clarity into where and who I would want to work with. I realized that I greatly enjoy working with children and helping those with special needs. I also noticed how quickly I was able to make the unfamiliar become familiar. I acclimated to the Thai culture rather quickly and found myself feeling comfortable and welcome wherever I went. With this acknowledgement came the realization that my future profession must include traveling and working with other cultures.

While in Thailand, I gained some new perspectives into how I want to carry out my life. The Thai live their lives through a simple phrase: sabai sabai – meaning take it easy or relax. They carry out their lives in tranquility and are never in a rush to get things done. They tend to go with the flow and rarely get frustrated or angered with someone. I was able to experience this mentality and enjoyed it immensely. I never found myself rushing to accomplish a task or worrying about getting to a destination on time. If I mispronounced a word or phrase, I never feared ridicule or embarrassment. The Thai generosity, friendliness, and serenity was apparent everywhere I went, and as a result, I have embodied these same principles and hope to carry them with me wherever I go. I want to spread this sabai sabai mentality and let others know that it is okay to take it easy or go with the flow every once in a while.

Many of these realizations and transformations came from working within the local schools and community centers. I was deeply moved by the work that we were doing at the Camillian Social Centre, the center for those with disabilities. Founded after the 2004 tsunami, the center was established to provide support to marginalized children with disabilities in the area. I was grateful to work with the center three times a week for four weeks. My work and our work as a volunteer organization focused on assisting and engaging the children. Each of our two-hour sessions followed a similar routine: we would all sit in a circle and introduce ourselves in Thai, do some simple stretches, devote approximately 45 minutes to a large group activity/game/sport, devote 45 minutes to crafts and/or smaller group games, and end each session in a circle saying our goodbyes in Thai.

During our time, I, along with other longer-stay volunteers, would do physiotherapy with some of the center’s members. I spent most of my time with Off, an incredible 18-year old boy with physical disabilities primarily affecting the right side of his body. He was very competitive, and we would always do the large group activity together to beat the other team. I also played countless games of Jenga with him and loved watching his dexterity kick in. I think my biggest takeaway from my relationship with Off was his friendliness, despite our language barrier, and I marveled at his improvements from the physiotherapy that I helped him with. He truly made a difference in my life and was a big influence on the clarity that I received to work with kids and those with disabilities.

I can also accredit our Friday projects for the transformations I experienced during my time abroad. Friday projects occurred every other week and consisted of our whole volunteer organization coming together and helping the surrounding community in some way. My first Friday project consisted of a garden clean up at a local school not too far from base. Each year, the school utilizes its garden not only for produce but also for education and development. Many of the volunteer teachers gave lessons on gardening and botany weekly at this school, and I was happy to contribute to this growth through the clean up that we did that Friday. Although I obtained four blisters on my palms and watched my shirt change colors from my sweat, I knew that our time was greatly appreciated by the school, the students, and even the teachers.

My second Friday project involved our volunteer organization traveling to the neighboring town of Takua Pa where we painted doors and windows at a school. As we painted, classes were still in session, and students kept coming up and interacting with us. They asked for our names and gave us many thanks. Their principal was also very grateful and kept walking around to check and thank our work. It was through these Friday projects that I was able to appreciate the little acts of kindness that people do for others. Whether it was the warm welcomes or the cordial smiles and goodbyes that we received at each school, I felt the gratitude and appreciation for our simple contributions. Although I had previously experienced this feeling, the Thai influence created a new perspective and angle that I had not encountered before. It may have been my newfound comfort or the openness of those around me that led me to this unique feeling and it may have not, but I do know that I was positively stirred during these Friday projects and my time in Thailand.

As a result of these transformations and realizations, I have gained some comfort in my personal and professional goals. I will approach my daily tasks with more ease and avoid placing unneeded stress and pressure on myself. I also hope to spread a more go-with-the-flow mentality within my friends and family in order to diminish their stressors and that go-go-go mentality that seems to burden our Western culture. In addition, I am looking forward to finding and becoming involved with an organization that works with those with special needs come fall semester. I think that this will push me even more and hopefully provide some more clarity for my future endeavors. I know that my experience in Thailand was life-changing, and I cannot wait to share my journey with those around me.