Buck-I-Serve in Ghana

Name: Karoline Kress

Type of Project: Service Learning

I participated in the Buck-I-Serve trip with The Akumanyi Foundation to Ghana where I worked at a children’s home.  During this ten day service trip I spent time with the children, painted their new school and learned about the other programs that the Akumanyi Foundation supports.

In the United States, we portray a single story of Africa. We refer to Africa as a country, not a continent containing fifty-four countries. The single story is that Africa is poor and poverty-stricken. There are more service groups than I can count that go to Africa to better the lives of those impoverished. They go to educate, dig wells and essentially “save” the people. These were my views, and the views of many others that I know, before I visited the Central Region in Ghana.

Ghana is a place where I met the most joyful and fulfilled people that I have ever found in my life. In such a collectivist culture, neighbors take care of one another with an authenticity that is found nowhere else. Yes, to many citizens of the United States, it might look like the Ghanaian people have been struck by poverty. But in reality, it is just a different way of life that we are not used to living and sometimes cannot understand. Visiting Ghana radically changed my perspective of the way that I view other cultures and come to understand them.

At the children’s home, kids are running around without a care in the world; some playing volleyball, a few fetching water and others hanging off the volunteers. These children are free to wander into town and even hang out by the river without adult supervision. At first, several volunteers with myself included, were thrown off by the lack of supervision that these kids were receiving. In their society however, everyone looks after everyone. The older kids and neighboring families will tend to the younger children when needed. It was not like the United States where parents hover over their children and are constantly keeping them from harm’s way. The children in this Ghanaian town became self-sufficient with a strong moral compass by a very young age. This was my first indication that this culture was very different than the one that I grew up with.

The second sign that this culture was unlike the United States, and the reason several people think that all of “Africa” is in extreme poverty is part of the living conditions. At the children’s home there was no running water. Water was obtained through a purified reservoir or at the river. Electricity was limited and not something that was constantly used, as it is in the States. Phones, internet and service was all available to those with phones. Many believe that these conditions are “not livable” but it is just different. Ghanaian society wakes up with the sun and sleeps with the moon. I took bucket showers during my whole stay and I never used my phone. Their society operates in a different way than ours does, and for some it is hard to understand.

The relationships that I formed in Ghana will forever be remembered and they contribute to the last part of my transformation. The first set of strong bonds that I formed were with the Akumanyi Foundation leaders in Ghana. Prince, Patrick and Tina showed so much love and authenticity towards me and the other volunteers. They became our friends, showing us around their country, laughing at us when we did not understand their language and growing in authentic friendship. The second set of strong bonds that I formed was with the children. The children at the orphanage were very quick to warm up; it was a matter of seconds. They were climbing on us and showing us around their home. We spent days just hanging out with them and enjoying the simplicity of their joy.

As I take time to reflect upon this experience, there are two words that I use to describe my time in Ghana: Simple and Authentic. The simplicity in which the people lived and the authenticity that they showed are two of the greatest things that I will take back with me. In my opinion, these are two of the greatest things about their culture. It is not the single story that we hear in the United States. It is not the poverty, lack of clean water or constant help that we should be providing “Africa”. I will advance in my professional career with the simplicity and authenticity that I found in Ghana. I have an appreciation for the ways in which others live, which I will to bring to conversations and the workplace. As I embark on my professional life, I hope to change mindsets regarding places, people and cultures around the world.

Buck-i-SERV Costa Rica 2018

1. For my STEP project, I participated in a Buck-i-Serv trip to Costa Rica in December of 2018. Throughout this experience, I had the opportunity to explore Costa Rica through adventure activities, while also serving the community in a small town in Costa Rica.

2.               Even though I was only in Costa Rica for a short time, my views and perspectives were greatly impacted. In Costa Rican culture, there is a strong focus on the appreciation of nature. They live very simply, obtaining a lot of their resources from the land surrounding them. Their community is built around the nature, rather than nature being only in “convenient” places. Because of this, my perspective on my environment changed, and I now have a greater appreciation of the world around me. I also gained new perspectives about generosity from the people in Costa Rica. Even though they lived simply and did not have excessive resources, they were so generous and hospitable, always ensuring that we were fed first and had everything we needed. I have tried to bring this perspective home, focusing less on “stuff” and more on how I can simplify my life and help others. My understanding of myself also changed on this trip. I was challenged in many ways, and with each challenge I became more and more confident in myself, learning that I am stronger and braver than I imagined. One of the largest takeaways from my trip was the idea of living in the moment. By being disconnected the whole week, our group was forced to remove ourselves from our daily lives. Instead of always planning for the future, we learned to invest ourselves in what we were doing, allowing us to have a better and more impactful experience. Although this is hard to do amongst school and social lives, I am going to try to continue this in my life.

3.                The experiences of my STEP project are memories that I will never forget, and I hope that the things I learned continue to affect my life for the better. One of the most influential parts of my trip was staying with a host family in a very small town in the mountains of Costa Rica. The town was only about 20 small houses. Most of the houses were only had a couple rooms, some with walls and others open to the environment. With each family we stayed with, I was always surprised by the overwhelming generosity shown to us. The family that I stayed with the majority of the time had four people in their household, and they always ensured that we were the first ones fed. Not only did they feed us first, but they fed us enormous amounts of food, ensuring multiple times that we were full before stopping serving us. In my life, I often think that I don’t have enough to share with others, or that I need more clothes or material things. But these people, who did not have a lot to start, were so willing to share their life with us. This idea of simple living is something that I hope to take away from this experience.

One of my favorite parts of this experience was the adventure portion of the trip. We did a variety of adventure activities, including hiking, waterfall repelling, caving, white-water rafting, surfing, and camping. Some of these activities were purely fun, while others were quite challenging. One day in particular that was challenging was our long hiking day. In order to get to our next homestay, we had to literally climb over a mountain, consisting of long, strenuous, uphill portions. Throughout this hike there were times when it felt like I wouldn’t make it to the top, however with each step I got closer and closer. By stepping out of my comfort zone I learned that I was a lot stronger, both mentally and physically, than I thought I was. By challenging myself, I was able to gain confidence while also having an unforgettable experience. The adventure component of this trip was truly amazing, and each time I stepped out of my comfort zone I learned more about myself and my abilities, while enjoying each experience!

Throughout each part of this trip, whether it was the adventure component or the service component, nature was a major theme. Costa Rican culture greatly values nature, and for this reason, we were able to see and appreciate things in nature so different from our environment in urban Columbus. The community that we stayed in is built into a mountain, with a river running along it. One of the most surprising aspects of the nature was the bugs. There were bugs larger than any I had seen in my life, yet the people weren’t at all bothered by them. The nature was a part of their life, and most of their food and resources came from the wilderness right around them. Some of their houses were open to the outdoors, however that was completely normal for them. This seemed strange at first, yet by the end of the week, I loved being so connected to nature. I learned to have a greater appreciation for the world around me, seeing beauty everywhere I went. I learned to take in my surroundings, rather than always focusing on my destination. This is something that I hope to take with me; enjoying each experience and living in the moment. Costa Rica was an unforgettable experience, and I know that the relationships I made and the opportunities I had will be a part of me for a long time. I am extremely grateful to the people of Costa Rica for having such a strong impact on my life.

4.               The changes I experienced in Costa Rica will positively impact my life in many ways. My major is nursing, and I know that in my future career I will be challenged in many ways. As a result of this trip, I am more confident and content with myself, and I am more comfortable pushing my boundaries. This will be important in my nursing career, because I will need to be confident in my nursing abilities and willing to step outside my comfort zone to help my patients. The focus in Costa Rica on generosity will also be important for my nursing career. As a nurse, I am dedicating my life to serving others. After seeing the families in Costa Rica live so selflessly, I will be better prepared and more willing to be selfless in my career. Lastly, I tend to get stressed easily about school and life, so learning to live in the moment and take each day at time will be helpful for me. I want to appreciate and be mindful of the world around me, putting my energy into what I am doing at the moment, rather than always worrying about what comes next. Even though my Costa Rican experience was short, I have already seen the ways it has impacted my life in positive ways.

Buck-I-Serv Costa Rica Reflection

Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project.

For my STEP Signature Project, I went on an international Buck-i-Serv trip to Costa Rica. During this trip with the Buck-i-Serv community, in conjunction with the OAC, we completed a small service project of building a kitchen and enhancing a community center in the town of Brujo, CR. We also had the opportunity to partake in many outdoor adventure activities such as hiking, caving, and white-water rafting.

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

I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel to many different international places while growing up and I was very excited to add Costa Rica to my list. With that, my view of the world has been constantly changing and transforming with each and every place that I go. I’ve never experienced Central American culture before so this trip allowed me to be exposed in the best way possible-through homestays. Being fully immersed like so gives you a different outlook on a culture than just visiting and being a tourist. I got to experience traditional home-cooked meals, understand more about family life and see their values first hand. This transformed my view on the world because I got to make connections to other cultures I’m familiar with (more important, my own), as well as learn new things about the Latin culture.

My understanding of myself completely changed while completing this trip. This whole trip was designed around service and nature. Not having any cellular service on this trip was incredible. It allowed me to take a step back from the technology-driven world that I live in and enjoy the moment. This trip allowed me to see the importance of volunteer work and it pushed me out of my comfort zone in more ways than one.

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?

As slightly stated above, one of the key aspects of my experience that led to a transformation of my world views was the homestays in Brujo. At first, I was very nervous about it because we were all split up and stayed with a different family for a few nights. I don’t understand any Spanish and the majority of the homestays did not understand English. However, that didn’t stop them from wanting to interact with us and teach us new things. One of my favorite moments was during New Year’s Eve and the extended family of the homestay was over and a few members sat in the room with me and we went back and forth using Google Translate to ask each other questions. Despite the language barrier, I was able to learn about their farms that they owned and what they sold, etc.

Another aspect of this trip that led to a transformation was the service project. I’ve always been apprehensive about “volun-tourism” because I believe the majority of the trips out their do more damage than help to a smaller community. However, this trip changed my view for the better. Instead of just showing up and painting a wall or moving around some dirt on our own we got to work alongside some members of the community who dedicate a lot of their time to developing the community center. We got to learn about what it was going to be used for and how our project was going to enhance the space. The best part about this trip was being immediately rewarded from the physical labor because we got to see the enhancement of the community center with every task we completed. Seeing how pleased the community was with the progress has inspired me to want to continue finding service opportunities.

One aspect of the trip that led to an understanding of myself was all of the outdoor activities we did. On this trip we had an opportunity to repel off of a waterfall, hike (…everywhere), go caving, learn how to surf, and go white water rafting. I’ve never experienced these activities before so each day I was able to push myself and try something new. Surrounded by the Costa Rican rainforest as you paddle yourself down a rapid in a small inflatable kayak is an experience unlike anything else—something I long to experience again.

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

I believe the most important transformation for me was understanding myself more. Since being back, I have noticed a significant change in my priorities. Before this trip, I was always trying to keep myself busy with work and school. While in Costa Rica, I saw value in taking time for yourself and appreciating the small moments life has to offer. I’ve always loved nature and seeing it how I did in Costa Rica was life-changing. I spent the majority of my trip trying to take it all in so I wouldn’t forget how it felt. Pictures of nature doesn’t do your emotions justice. Sitting in the middle of the rainforest, with nothing but the sounds of water rushing and bird chirping, gave me so much time to reflect on what I find important to myself. Yes, I still find my career (pre-medicine) very important because that is what makes me happy. However, overworking myself and attempting to do everything at once did not make me happy. This development matters to me because taking care of myself first is something I’ve never been good at. For my academic/professional goals this will help save me from overworking myself and crashing and burning. For my personal goals, I feel as though I’ll be able to enjoy day to day life more, rather than just working every day for the future.  

STEP reflection BuckI-SERV to Ghana

My STEP signature project entailed a Bucki-SERV trip to Ghana, Africa in which our group worked with the Akumanyi Foundation and the children’s home in Akokwa. Here we were able to spend time with, get to know, and learn from the children at the home as well as performed tasks around the home for them. In addition, we were privileged to experience the new year celebrations, a slave castle, and the culture in Ghana.

From this trip I gained a whole new perspective on the value of diversity as well as a new perspective on Ghana. Before this experience, I very much fell into the category of people who believed, from a lack of education about the topic, that Africa was a larger cohesive unit of places that all shared very similar living conditions, beliefs, social struggles, and political alignments. It is easy to look at Africa as a third world entity because of the way the media portrays society there. I have heard in songs, seen in movies and commercials, and heard about the need to save or help out starving people in Africa. This was information I was given and interacted with, while not doing enough research on my own to truly grasp the injustice this portrayal really encompassed. By having the opportunity to go across the globe and meet, interact, and take part in another culture, my prior beliefs were shattered. I realized the value of diversity comes in the perspective one is able to take away from their experiences and how that impacts their ability to relate to other people. The people in Ghana do not need saved. The culture and the way of life in this country is not poor by their own means. The American way of life is under no circumstances better than their way of life. It is simply and perfectly, different. This difference is something that I grew to appreciate greatly during my time there. As Americans, we are not better than Ghanaians and the differences in our way of lives impact our outlooks on the world. I learned about their very forward and simplistic approach to life that drastically differs from ours, but was refreshing to be around. I will never be able to fully communicate these concepts to my family and friends, but it is something I am so grateful to have experienced.

The first aspect of the trip that really led to my transformation was the group of people that I went on this trip with. I did not know any of the participants before embarking on this journey for what was my first ever international experience. It was very scary being one of two boys on the trip as well as having no prior bond with the other students. However, this quickly changed as I was placed in one of the most supportive and active living environments I have ever been in. The group meshed together so well and it really allowed me to have that much better of a learning experience because nothing that I did was alone. There were always 14 other people there with my to discuss what I had learned, vent my thoughts to, and process the amazing experiences that I was able to gain from this trip. The bonds that I formed with the other participants was something that I hope to continue and turn to in times when I feel conflicted about what I saw or if I need to talk to someone about what we experienced together. There was no drama and everyone was so great at working with the children that we had a truly awesome time together and I could not have imagined it any other way.

Another aspect of the trip that relates to relationships was having the ability to get to know and be led by Prince and Patrick, our Ghanaian leaders. Over the course of the two weeks, I was able to form a bond with these two young men that I hope will last despite our distances. We had many discussions regarding relationships and differences among our cultures, ultimately to find out that we really aren’t that much different from each other. Patrick was a psychology student at the university there and I too study psychology. Prince loved to joke around and made all of us laugh. Aside from the fun, they taught us all so much about the culture, religion, and festive practices that take place within the country and their own small towns. They led us in our travels outside of the children’s home and were able to explain to us the history of the foundation, how it came to be, and its impact on the surrounding village. They became my dear friends and it was difficult to leave them. However, they are the driving force behind my wish to return again.

Lastly, I think the experience of the slave castle in Cape Coast was an experience that I will always reflect back upon. It is so easy to learn about slavery and all of the cruel injustices that come with it over the course of human history in America. I come from a nearly all white private school background. All I ever learned about slavery was through the eyes of my white peers and white educators. There was a literal and metaphorical distancing of myself to this topic. However, when I was actually able to step foot in the castle and hear about the things which took place exactly where I stood, it made everything real for me. I was connected to the countless men and women who had been brutally killed there along with those who were shipped over to the Americas. When learning about how the floor of the dungeons were preserved as they were found and were examined to contain blood, feces, urine, and decaying matter, it was a very difficult aspect of the trip to process. This experience finally gave me the knowledge and connection I needed to fully understand why this topic is so important to learn about and helped reduce the distance I felt towards it.

This change is extremely valuable for my life because it has opened me up to a whole world of possibilities and opportunity. I had never had the chance to travel anywhere outside of the United States, let alone much within the states themselves. However, I now understand the value of travel and experiencing different ways of life. Living within the shell and bubble that exists around the United States is very counter productive to learning about the outside world and understanding the people who live in it. The information and news we interact with here regarding other countries is not the way I want to learn about them. After discussing with a professor my experiences, he shared with me a quote that explained how travel can be the greatest tool in getting rid of prejudice among us. I firmly believe it is so as this experience has transformed my outlook on how the world works and what use there is in learning more about it. In the future, I would like to continue working with the Akumanyi foundation and would like to return to the children’s home someday. The people I met there are not a part of my life that I am ready to let go. In my future profession as a physician I can take the knowledge I gained from this trip and build on it as it relates to international interactions. It sparked my desire to continue to contribute both financially and by possibly performing services there where they are needed.

STEP Reflection – Ghana 2018

Nikki Settlemyre

Service Learning & Community Service


For my STEP Signature Project, I attended a Buck-i-SERV trip to Akokwa, Ghana in partnership with the Akumanyi Foundation (TAF). I stayed at a children’s home/orphanage and spent my days interacting with children. I learned about clean water initiatives and women’s seamstress programs that are operated and supported by TAF.

Me with Stefani, my new six-year-old friend

As a result of my STEP Signature Project, my understanding of myself, my assumptions, and my view of the world were transformed. I was extremely nervous in the days and weeks leading up to this trip. I am from a small, rural town in southwestern Ohio, and an inaccurate understanding of African cultures is prominent in my hometown. Because of these preconceived notions, I was unsure of how I would react in this foreign environment. After my Buck-i-SERV experience, however, I am so in awe of the beauty and richness of Ghanaian culture. I know that I can survive in physically challenging circumstances, with little to no running water and no technology, and I am strong. I learned that I can go one week without looking at myself in a mirror and remain steadfast in the truth that I am beautiful. I have learned to analyze my assumptions about other cultures and approach situations with an open mind. Unfamiliarity does not mean that other cultures are inferior to my own. Hearing about other cultures will never be as powerful as and experiencing them firsthand. I have learned that history cannot be changed, and it is crucial to report historical events as they happened, without covering up pain and suffering that may have taken place. I feel a renewed sense of importance in listening to others’ perspectives and engaging in healthy dialogue about controversial issues. I have grown deeper in my identity as a Christ-follower as I experienced God in a new context. This experience has transformed me in many ways, and I will continue to reflect on them for months and, possibly, years to come.

Several events, interactions, relationships, and activities during my STEP Signature Project led to this transformation. The most significant activity in developing a deeper understanding of myself occurred when we visited Kakum National Forest’s Canopy Bridge Walk. This is a tourist attraction in Ghana, and it contains seven rope bridges that are 40 meters off the ground. I always thought I was afraid of heights, and I have avoided activities like this in the past. I pretended to be firm in my decision to abstain from dangerous activities, but deep down, I was crippled by shame that I was not as brave as those around me. I chose to walk across those bridges because I was tired of living in fear. As we progressed from bridge to bridge, I felt tangibly reliant on God for each successive step. I reflected upon my tendency to look five, ten, twenty steps down the road instead of focusing on that which is right in front of me. I felt an incredible sense of personal success after we crossed that seventh bridge, and I have since embraced a new attitude of taking life one step at a time.

Our Buck-i-SERV team with the children and staff from the Akumanyi Foundation

My view of the world was transformed during our tour of the Cape Coast slave castle. This was one of three castles in Ghana that was used in the 1800s to imprison African men and women before they were put on ships to be sold as slaves in Europe or the Americas. We traveled from dungeon to dungeon as our guide explained the brutal conditions and psychological torment that its captives experienced. The castle has been altered very little since it was shut down; the walls and floors of the slave dungeons are authentic. As I stood in the pitch black darkness and stifling heat of the dungeons, I could only think of the cries and groans of one-thousand African men that once echoed off the walls to which they were shackled. I couldn’t help but ask myself why American History classes only told their history from whence they stepped onto U.S. soil; these men and women were robbed of their identity, of their humanity, and we do not convey that well enough in our education system. As a future educator, I feel passionate about taking steps to provide a more accurate portrayal of historical events. Another takeaway from the slave castle experience relates to my identity as a Christian. We learned during our tour that there was a church on top of the male slave dungeon, and Europeans would worship there on Sunday mornings while men were dying just feet beneath where they stood. I have reflected on my choice to follow Christ and ached over past hurt that the church institution has caused. I have brought these doubts and questions before the Lord, and this is something that I will continue to wrestle with in prayer with him. Should I choose to pursue a life in ministry someday, as I am considering, I will take this experience with me and remember to humble myself before the people I serve, as Christ would. God has woven a beautiful story of redemption in the people of Ghana, and I see it in the way that they love God and serve others so wholeheartedly. This has been the most significant transformation of my experience.

Another impactful aspect of my experience was living alongside the people in Ghana. Spending time with the children each day was such an adventure; the kids are lively and vibrant, as all children are. They are so loving, self-sufficient, and clever. They welcomed us with open arms and loved teaching us games and songs. We spent a significant amount of time with three Ghanaian staff members of TAF, and conversations with them were some of my favorite parts of the trip. From them, we learned about Ghanaian culture from the perspective of young adults. We heard about their life experiences and shared ours with them. Their joy and positivity was so beautiful, and I feel transformed after living alongside them.


This transformation is incredibly valuable for my life. When I am a teacher in my own classroom, I will encounter many different types of students. I hope to teach my students that the world is a big, big place, and there is such beauty in knowing and loving people of different cultures and backgrounds. I hope to provide a global perspective of education and encourage my students to reconsider thoughts, opinions, and biases that they have been raised with. As a result of this experience, I will be able to view my future students more holistically and empathize with adverse living conditions that they may experience. More personally, as I continue my walk as a Christian, I will remember that God is gracious, compassionate, slow to anger, and rich in love. I will call to mind the faces of Ghanaian people, of Patrick, Prince, and Tina, as they remind me that I serve a God who transcends race, culture, and ethnicity. Because of this transformational experience, I feel empowered to move towards unity. That is how we build a better tomorrow.

Buck-I-SERV: Akumanyi Foundation – Agona, Ghana


I travelled with Buck-I-SERV, in partnership with the Akumanyi Foundation, to a rural village in Ghana. We stayed at an orphanage where we helped with chores and were able to spend time with the kids, we also spent a few days painting a school that they are in the process of constructing. The locals were all very welcoming and allowed us to join them for many events, including the induction of a new chief.

When I first arrived in Agona, I found it looked similar to what I had pictured: they looked like they were living in poverty; however, I quickly realized that they weren’t living in poverty at all. What may look like poverty to us, was normal to them. They don’t need all the “amenities” that we take for granted, they are happy with what they have and more importantly who they have.

Their lives in Ghana are much simpler, especially when compared to our fast-paced lives in the US. I’ve only been back for a couple of weeks and I am already tired of the constant motion us college students seem to be in. In Ghana they live life in the moment, they wake up as the sun rises and when the sun sets, they gather around the table for dinner and conversation. To the outside world it may seem like they have a lot to learn, but they were the ones who taught me what it takes to live a joyful, fulfilling, and authentic life.

On one of our first days in Ghana, we drove past a house with the saying, “Count Your Blessings” painted above their front window. This simple sign had a bigger impact on me than I ever thought possible. Perhaps it was because I’m an architecture major and seeing this painted in such a permanent place made me realize how strongly who ever painted it felt. Looking around, it didn’t seem like they had many blessings to count, but I was so wrong. Throughout the remainder of the trip I noticed the simple acts that brought people happiness: Nadena sharing her juice with Rahel, Charity and Mamaque singing on the swings, Nadena’s laughter when I swung her in a circle. These kids who have very few material possessions and many of whom didn’t have families, cared so greatly for each other and had some the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen.

We took a weekend trip to Cape Coast where we toured the Cape Coast Castle. I had known that the castle was used for the slave trade, what I didn’t realize was that the castle was designed and built specifically for the slave trade. The spaces were designed to break a person not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well. I saw how concepts we learn about in my architecture classes, such as natural light, can be used as a way of manipulating people. Each chamber in the dungeon had a single opening – approximately 1 foot by 2 feet – which was located 20 feet above the ground. The 200 men being held captive there would have seen a small ray of sun shining in, but it was such a little amount of light and the window was so small and so far from away that it was just a tease. It was a constant reminder of the world they had been taken from.

What perhaps had the biggest impact on my understanding of life in Ghana was where we stayed. We were lucky enough to stay in the rural village of Agona. Staying in Agona gave us the opportunity to experience daily life in Ghana, not just the tourists’ side of things. Kids from the community would come to the orphanage each day to play with the kids there. The kids were all very sweet and very eager to help. Part way through the week, we asked the kids if they would teach us how they did their laundry, instead of just showing us once and leaving to play, they stayed the entire time and helped us. Every day after that they would come over and help us as soon as they saw us doing laundry. Whenever water needed to be carried up from the river, there were numerous kids eager to carry a bucket (even when we told them we had enough, they still wanted to keep working). The older kids helped care for the younger ones and taught them right from wrong. Everyone was eager to do their part to help the community.

I learned the impact our built environment can have on us emotionally and how to design more efficient buildings with simpler materials. These are lessons I will take with me as I continue with school and eventually work. However – more importantly – these ten days changed the way I view the people in this world. Many people may think of Ghana and other African countries as being underdeveloped, but nowhere else have I ever met a happier or more proud community. The community I got to know was more welcoming than I could have ever expected. They instantly welcomed us into their community and were eager to teach us about their culture. The kids we met were so joyful and cared so much about one another. The individuals I met on this trip have inspired me to slow down and enjoy the simple moments in life. They taught me the value a smile can have on someone and that no act of generosity ever goes unnoticed. I hope to bring the love and generosity I found in Ghana wherever I go.

The Akumanyi Foundation: Buck-i-SERV trip to Akokwa, Ghana

From December 26th to January 6th, I was blessed with the opportunity to attend a Buck-I-SERV trip to Akokwa, Ghana. While here, we partnered with The Akumanyi Foundation and resided at the village’s Children’s Home. Here, we assisted in daily chores for the kids, painted classrooms in their new school building, and helped fund the Akumanyi Foundation’s growing Seamstress Program. In our time, we were immersed in Ghanaian culture and gained a greater love and understanding of our world.

Before I left for Ghana, I heard many people comment about what a “great thing I was doing for the children,” but to always “be safe and aware” while away. When people heard I was going to Africa, they immediately feared for my safety, and applauded me for “helping” the children of Ghana. Sadly, I almost began to believe their narratives. But, almost immediately upon arriving in Ghana, I realized how wrong we all had been. The airport staff welcomed us with great smiles, and urged us to stay as long as our Visas allowed. We were treated like friends, not strangers, by the foundation’s staff members immediately, and I began to release the load of doubt and fear.

I was told by everyone that I would have such an impact on these kids, but I can guarantee that they had a greater impact on me. I was blessed to wake up every day to see their smiling faces—eager to play, learn, and make new friends. Their happiness was contagious. With only the bare necessities, they gave me a new outlook on life and made me appreciate the little things. On top of this, the culture of Ghana was incredibly eye-opening. Ghanaians do not live in an individualistic society, instead they are extremely community-orientated, and work together to ensure that everyone is safe, happy, and healthy. My time in Ghana gave me a greater understanding of what it means to be a friend, and how stress and worry have no place in life.

Three main events and interactions led to my personal transformation while in Ghana, and they center around the culture, the people, and the Akumanyi Foundation. The day we arrived in Ghana was three days before New Year Celebrations commenced. In America, we celebrate the New Year by hanging out with friends and family, and watching the ball drop. But in Ghana, the New Year is one of the biggest celebrations of the year. This is the time every year where Ghanaians thank the Lord for blessing them with another year, and it is celebrated through days of singing, dancing, praying, and rituals. On New Year’s Eve, all village residents attend their church, and bring in the New Year through 7-9 hours of service. All ages come together to rejoice, and give thanks to God for allowing them to be there. At 5 A.M. New Year’s Day, the “trot” begins. This is where residents of every village and town run down the streets dancing, singing, and playing music. People can run as long as they would like, whether that be 1 mile or 10—but this lasts all day. A final celebration of New Year’s is the village Chief ceremonies if a new chief is to be named. Somehow, our trip was lucky enough to be invited to witness Akokwa’s chief ceremony.

While here, we watched Elders negotiate how much the new Chief would have to offer the old chief before he was accepted. After the new-chief was sworn in, an Elder of the community asked our group if we would like to be welcomed into the village. He expressed how great it was to see our organization return so often each year, and as a thank you they wanted to extend a role to our members. It was then that our two advisors were asked to be honorary Chief and Queen Mother of the village, an honor not given to many. After they accepted, we assumed that was the end of it. But three days later, a few large vehicles pulled into our Children’s Home, and out of them came about 40 chiefs dressed in full tribal wear. They asked for our Chief and Queen Mother, as it was time for the ceremony. From here, our advisors were dressed in traditional wear, and given a background check. We were then asked to walk through the town with the Chiefs to the celebration square, where the community would welcome them ceremoniously.

These displays of culture allowed our group to be fully immersed in the Ghanaian way of life. The Elders wanted us to “get the full experience” as they said, and they truly welcomed us into their community. This open-arms approach was always so amazing to me, because they wanted us to see their culture firsthand, and understand it from their perspective. It reminded me how important having a fact-based worldview is, because before coming people had warned me to be safe, but I had never felt as safe as I did while in Ghana. This leads me to how the people impacted me—both adults and children. As I have stated, everyone in Ghana is so kind and loving. They truly want to help in any way they can, and they appreciate life in a way I do not often see in America. When speaking with Mama Charity, the Children’s Home “mother,” our group asked her what the most fulfilling part of running the orphanage and school was. But, she did not understand our question, because there is no such thing as self-fulfillment in Ghana.

Of course everyone has goals and dreams, but they are not solely for one’s own happiness. Everyone I met got their happiness from helping their community, and working together to achieve common goals. From a young age, children are taught to help and learn from their elders, so eventually they are capable of teaching and helping children even younger than them. These children are eager to help, and were eager to show our group how we could help around the Children’s Home. The children were a light in my life every single day. They depended on one another, even if they were not “real” siblings. They treated each other with love, and extended the same care to us. One girl in particular latched onto me within the first few days. She is 9 years old, and she is so feisty. She wanted to be with me wherever I went, and show me everything she enjoys. She welcomed me as her friend, and although she tried to be strong and let little to nothing bother her, she broke down in my arms on my final day, crying that she did not want me to leave.

She gave me a bracelet on my last day, so we could “be friends forever,” and it is the love of everyone like this that made me leave a piece of my heart in Ghana that day. Unless hurt, I never saw a child cry or be sad. They were always running around, looking for something new to play with, or for new friends to make. They were happy with what they had, and happy to share it with me and my group. These children helped me see life as beautiful again—they showed me that happiness comes from those around you, not by what you own.

Finally, the Akumanyi Foundation’s impact. This Foundation deserves a page of its own, because it is truly remarkable. The staff who worked with us while in Ghana were a few of the most humble, kind, and loving people I have ever met. Their passion for making their country better was amazing to witness, and I am so thankful I got to be a part of their endeavors. Recently, the Akumanyi Foundation has built new schools in a neighboring village. They recognized the need for more school rooms, to continue Mama Charity’s goal of education for all children. The foundation could have simply provided the building and desks, but they went one step further. They asked that while in Ghana, we paint every classroom in a creative way for the children. They recommended we get ideas from the children themselves, and go from there. With this in mind, we painted classrooms with animals, fruits, numbers, letters, planets, cars, bikes, and maps. The Akumanyi Foundation wanted the children to know that this school was theirs, and that they should have a part in the design, as well.

The Akumanyi Foundation also founded the Seamstress program. This is a type of trade school for young women, and soon to be young men, that teaches them the skills of sewing, with a goal of them eventually owning their own shop and providing for their family. Their mission to make women self-sufficient and providers for their families was incredible to see, as they helped women find their passion, and also a place in the world. On top of the seamstress program, they recently asked a nearby village what their greatest need was, and their answer was clean water. With this information, the Akumanyi Foundation built a water sanitation system that would provide this community with clean water from now on. Since building this, illness in this village has sharply decreased. Overall, the Akumanyi Foundation has a goal of helping Ghana better themselves. They are not an organization that helps one time and moves on, they are truly about lifelong service, and making communities better for decades to come.

I can honestly say that these events have shaped me into a better person. Ghana taught me to be a better friend and to live a more selfless life. My outlook on Africa has truly transformed, and it has helped me see how important culture and community is. I hope to use what I have learned in my everyday life—living with a more gracious heart and open arms. But I also hope to use what I have learned in my future career. As an educator, it is so important to not only be culturally relevant, but culturally proactive. Unfortunately I did have assumptions of Ghana before I had ever been, but those were shattered immediately. With students of diverse backgrounds, it is important that I dedicate myself to learning about their heritage and culture—because these are what truly shape an individual. Having a community mindset will also help me in my future endeavors, as this is what I strive for in my future classroom—everyone learning from one another, and helping each other rather than competing. Truly, I could talk about my experiences in Ghana for the next 10 pages, but I do not believe even that would do it justice. My trip to Ghana was truly transformational and I am grateful for every person I met, every place I visited, and every experience I had. I am a better person because of it.

Buck-I-SERV trip to Biloxi, Mississippi

1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

For my STEP project, I traveled to Biloxi, Mississippi with Buck-I-SERV. During the week-long trip, we had the opportunity to work with Community Collaborations in the gulf area community in Mississippi. Each day we either went to the Moore Community House and the Boys and Girls club and worked with children or we did some form of restoration and conservation work at several different sites which consisted of pulling weeds, moving trees and whatever else was asked of us.

2. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

My STEP signature project allowed me to grow as an independent person. What is unique about Buck-I-SERV trips is that often you don’t get paired with people you know, which is what happened in my case. I met the people that were also attending the trip briefly prior to leaving, but I didn’t form relationships with them until we were in Mississippi. Usually, I did not like going places alone or with people I didn’t know. Not knowing anyone on the trip, however, forced me to get out of my comfort zone and thus make an effort to formulate relationships and fostered opportunities to learn a lot about others, myself and Mississippi. I left the trip with several new friendships and a newfound sense of control over experiences that I have.
Prior to getting ready to leave for Mississippi, I knew little about the state. I was unaware that Mississippi was also hit very hard due to hurricane Katrina and they are still recovering from it, much like Louisiana still is. Something else that I did not know is that Mississippi as a state is relatively poor and underfunded. I wasn’t sure how my service for a week would make a difference, for in the grand scheme of things is not a long time or a lot of work. But after meeting the people of Mississippi who were extremely grateful for what we did for their community, I realized that our efforts were making a difference because we were helping in ways that otherwise they would have had to pay for or would of not have gotten done at all. We got to work with many organizations that only function off of volunteer support and thus helped me recognize my impact.

3. 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.

The transformation regarding relationships and independence began once we left Columbus. I ended up sitting by myself on the bus and at our first stop, I felt like I had no one to talk to or hang out with. Thus I was nervous that this would be a representation of how the week would go. After having this mindset of negativity, I decided to change and I wanted this trip to be an experience I wouldn’t forget and thus I would try to make it fun. I then approached a girl I had briefly talked to at one of our pre-departure meetings. She too knew no one on the trip, which made me realize that everyone was in the same boat for the most part. We started to talk as we traveled down to New Orleans and we came to realize that we had a lot in common. As the week went on, I began to learn more and more about the others on the trip and we began to formulate friendships and memories. The whole mood of the trip would’ve been different if I would’ve kept the mindset of “not knowing anyone will make the whole trip awkward”. I am glad to have met the people on the trip and to have kept in contact with many still.
One of the conservation sites we went to was the Pascagoula River Audubon Center, which is a preservation site for the organism and ecosystem surrounding the Pascagoula River. This certain experience was unique and stood out to me because it was a big and beautiful center that highlighted the hidden beauty of the Gulf of Mississippi, yet they only had 1 and a half employees. This circumstance made me really aware of the impact I could have on this non-profit and the land because of the lack of help they have on a daily basis. What we did in the two days we were there definitely took a weight off of their center’s shoulders and allowed them to focus on educating and exposing the community to the rich environment that is in their backyard.
The other aspect of our service was working with the youth of the community. We went to two different locations to help out and one of them being the Boys and Girls Club. When we got there, I figured we would only be there for a few days and that the kids would not remember us or care that we were there. However, after interacting with the kids, helping them with their homework, and playing games with them, it made me aware of how the short amount of time we spent at the Boys and Girls club can affect their whole day or even week. The ladies who are in charge are very sweet and have big hearts, however, the kids connect differently with us as teenagers/young adults than with them. Again, I realized that my quantity of service doesn’t necessarily represent the quality or impact of my service. These kids enjoyed our time with them and we ended up having a great time too.

4. 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.

As mentioned previously, I was skeptical about what ways my service would make a difference, if any. I knew that I wanted to do service and that I love helping people, but the needs of Mississippi seemed bigger than what I could do. Leaving the trip, however, made me realize that no service effort is unimportant. What we did that week in Mississippi will forever help their community recover from hardships, or if anything at least make their life easier for a week. When working with children, It was just as rewarding for us as it was for the kids we got to spend time with. This has changed me personally in that I want to have a mindset of “I am making a difference” in all aspects of my life because I can truly make a difference in my community, personal life, and professional life. I am going into a helping field (occupational therapy) and while that will be my professional career, I hope to have my personal time be filled with volunteering in my community and beyond. This trip has left a taste in my mouth for serving and I do not want to stop and I want to take others along with me.

Antigua, Guatemala

Mikayla George

Study Abroad

1. My STEP signature project was a volunteer abroad trip to Antigua, Guatemala through Buck-I SERV. During our trip, we built a three-bedroom house for a family of eight in a high poverty area outside the city of Antigua. To build the house we mixed cement, shaped cylinder blocks, moved dirt and did many other tasks to assist the masons in building the house. We had a lot of fun taking adventures during our time off. We took a salsa class, hiked a volcano, cliff jumped into a lake, visited different villages around the lake and so much more! My favorite part of the trip was when we hiked up an active volcano and roasted marshmallows in the volcanos hot pockets. Stray dogs would follow us all the way to the top in hopes of a treat and would periodically steal our marshmallows. The volcano was absolutely stunning as well. It looked like we hiked to a different planet because the ground covered in black, cool lava rocks.

2. During this experience, my perception of myself and the world changed. This service required a lot of physically demanding labor and I was afraid I would not be able to keep up with it. However, I proved myself wrong and excelled with physical labor and I loved being constantly busy with the work. I learned a lot from this experience because I have never done much handy work, especially to build an entire house. My view of the world changed as well. It was my first time out of the country and seeing the large, beautiful mountains and volcanoes made me feel so small from where I am from. It makes me want to explore the world even more to find beautiful, hidden gems like Antigua. Before going on the trip, I had never heard of Antigua before. But when I arrived I was shocked by how I had never heard of such a beautiful and popular city. It makes me wonder what other countries and cities have a bad rap based on their location and people of resident that does not fit their stereotype.

3. During the service time, we all became very close to Jacqueline, one of the eight people going to be living in the new house. She was a young teenage girl who was very shy at first but at the end of our trip, she came around and talked to all of us a lot more. Even though she did not speak English and I hardly speak Spanish we were able to communicate in different ways. We would play pranks on each other and find the same things to be comical, we always had a fun time. It was hard saying goodbye on our last day. I did not realize her impact on me until I came home and started to talk about her to my mom. She impacted me a lot because she showed me that you can be happy and thankful for not having a lot in your life. She also taught me that you should never take life to serious and to always have fun. I know Jacqueline and her family were very grateful for the time we spent building them a new house. I hope she talks about us with her family and friends and describes how we also shaped her life. She was a beautiful person inside and out and I hope she does great things in her life and that this experience impacted her just as much.

Traveling to Antigua made me realize how lucky and privileged I truly am, growing up in a country with a family where my needs are so readily met. While walking around the markets you can easily see how children are put to work trying to sell items (whether clothing or food) to bypassers. It was sad to see because I knew they would never get to experience the wonderful childhood as I did but I do not want to suppress their living style and think that anyone who did not grow up like me had an awful childhood. But you can tell that these children were put to work not because they want to but because they have to help support their family and household. I think back to when I was a kid and I did not realize then or up until that trip how fortunate I was and still am to be able to have opportunities sent my way. It makes me realize how I need to be more grateful for my privilege of going to school and getting an education.

I was hesitant about this trip at first from hearing about how pysically demanding the job could be. However, the masons we worked with were all very frinedly and told us we did not have to do anything we were not comfortable in doing. Some of our daily tasks included mixing cemente, chipping blocks and to start on the foundation of the house. These may sound like boring tasks but my group did what we could to make it fun. We would talk, sing and tell stories while we were working to make time go by faster. In the end, I really enjoyed all the physical labor task that we did and it was not as challenging as I thought it would be. I learned a lot from the masons on how to build a house, something I have never done before and taken more appreciation in the work that it includes to do so. Also, as I mentioned previously about the country and people not fitting the stereotype, I had imagined before my trip the country would be like the things other people had told. People would tell me that the country and its people are all poor and there was nothing in Guatemala to offer me. But seeing the country for myself I could see how beautiful the country and its people were and the potential it has for the world. Getting to work along with the people first hand for an entire week made me realize that they are the hardest working and most genuine people you will ever meet.

4. The relationships, skills, and experiences during this trip are something I will never forget. It is something that has changed my perspective on life and has influenced how I will live now and in the future. I may never speak to those people again nor visit Antigua, but my memory of the amazing people, food, and experience will stick with me forever. It really has taught me that the best way to know and experience a country is not to visit the top American visitor destinations. To really feel the energy of the country you must talk to the locals and work alongside them, explore the streets that are least walked and gather the country for what it really is. Volunteering abroad is the best way to understand the people and see their point of view on things. You also get to make forever friends and memories.

Buck-I-SERV trip to Honduras

I participated in a Buck-I-SERV Farm to Cup trip to Honduras over winter break. While abroad, we visited coffee farmers and learned about the coffee growing process, as well as the struggles and concerns of entrepreneurs. We also collaborated with Serve Hope to build a house for a farmer in need and assemble water filter with local residents.


Change came about in a few different aspects for me on this trip. First, I gained a better appreciation for bilingualism and how difficult it can be to be new to a language. Thrown into a Spanish speaking country with little knowledge of Spanish, I truly understood how scary and disorienting it can be to not be able to navigate or interact with anyone well. Similarly, I’ve learned how important conversation can be in bridging cultures. There was a lot I didn’t know about Honduran culture, and my first few days were quite confusing as a result. But as I talked to farmers and locals and eventual friends throughout the trip, I learned so much about their history and way of life. That shed much light on their culture, and I left a more knowledgeable and well-rounded person due to those conversations.

Spending time in a country where I did not speak much of the native language, I was faced with a rather significant language barrier. Right after our plane landed in Honduras, me and another girl headed for the first coffee shop in sight to recharge. I had practiced a few words that would help me, like “café au lait” and “grande”, so I felt confident enough to try to make the transaction. All went well until the cashier asked me a word I didn’t know, and I froze in a panic. Do I say yes? No? What would I be getting myself into by doing so? Seeing my confused, frozen look for a few seconds, the cashier grabbed a packet of sugar to indicate what she was saying, “azúcar”. That feeling of panic and embarrassment continued to be my companion throughout the trip. I was excited to meet new people, but terrified to start a conversation with them in the fear that I wouldn’t be able to hold my end of the conversation. After a day or so, I made an important connection that would make an impact on my future interactions, both on the trip and after. I remembered the face that I had to have been making that day at the coffee shop and realized that I had been on the other side of that counter and that conversation before. Since I serve at a coffee shop that many international students frequent, the confusion over a few words had happened multiple times before. I realized that, for some of these students, just having a conversation can be an exhausting thing to do some days. But also, I knew that I had wanted to help them in those situations but didn’t always know how to. By going to a new country, I was able to put myself in the shoes of people that I saw often and better understand what they were going through, and how I might lend a hand in little ways. This understanding doesn’t just apply to international students at OSU, but to immigrants and visitors to the US in general.

Cultural differences between the US and Honduras made themselves clear rather quickly. The slower pace of life in Central America was significantly different from the rushed and quick pace of the States. I had to remind myself many times that I didn’t need to constantly be engaged and working on something. When I allowed myself time to relax and mingle more in our free time, it became apparent why this calmer pace is such a prominent way of living. When we slowed down between events and project, me and my group had a chance to talk to each other and to locals. The resulting conversations shed light on the differences (and similarities!) between our cultures, and we got to learn much more about the lives of the farmers and Hondurans in general. We learned their perspective and struggles, and we also got to discuss our own perspectives and clear up any misconceptions that existed. While the hands-on service was satisfying and left a physical structure to benefit the farmers in the long run, the conversations we had made quite an impact on me and will stick with me for years to come.

Something that I had to be vigilant about is not succumbing to the savior complex on my service trip. It can be so easy to think that, if only I could come in with the right skills and resources and enough time, I can fix problems that are plaguing people in developing parts of the world. It’s a well-meaning but ultimately condescending and unsustainable point of view. My role on the trip was a supporter, rather than a provider, and throughout this trip I was reminded time and time again of just how proud and self-supporting Hondurans could be.  For example, we spend an hour one day helping a group of local women create water filters for their households. The instructions were in English, but most of the women only spoke Spanish, so my group served as helpers and facilitators. Rather than putting the filters together ourselves and giving them to this group of locals, we worked to convey they instructions as they assembled the filters. They were able to assemble these filters by themselves, and therefore provide clean water for their families for decades to come. Another proposed project on this trip was to construct a chicken coop for a coffee farmer. Upon arriving in Honduras, we learned that we would no longer be working on the coop. The farmer, Kenya, had decided that she had enough materials and help to build her own coop, and she wanted Serve Hope to use their resources to help another family in need. Instead, we visited Kenya’s farm and she taught us how to pick coffee cherries (which was a much more difficult task than I had been anticipating). Rather than accepting help that she did not ultimately need, Kenya taught us more about her story and farm, and the difficulties she faces as a small farmer and entrepreneur.

In my current job at a coffee shop, I have coworkers and customers who have English as a second language, so I understand their struggles better now. I’ll keep my uncomfortable experience at the coffee shop in Honduras in mind as I interact with my own customers in the future. Taking a few seconds to pause and help someone understand something better will help them feel more comfortable, and it’s a genuine effort to bridge any gaps between us.

Similarly, I’m going to need to bridge differences and find compromises in the future. Whether it be between different interest groups as I work with natural resources, or personal conflicts that may arise through my life, I’m going to encounter people with a range of backgrounds and experiences and I’ll need to find some middle ground. Through my time in Honduras, I met quite a few people who had lived very different lives from me, and despite this we could find common ground and chat over coffee or a meal together. I got to know these people better in spite of, and honestly because of, our differences.