Community Development Expedition in Fiji

1. For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Silana Village in the Dawasamu District of Fiji. While there, I was part of a small group of volunteers that worked with the community health partners in the village to help foster healthier livelihoods through teaching about preventative health measures and conservation. We contributed to these teachings through things such as building recycling points as well as having healthy cooking workshops for new mothers.

2. When we arrived in the village, one of the first things that stood out to us was how “poor” the villagers were. Comparatively, when thinking of our western lifestyles, they seemed to have very little. The interesting thing is, in actuality, they really had so much. The village we were in had such high importance of families. This value towards family is something that I saw as being very different because, in the US, we seem to have everything we could ever want. We get caught up in having the newest phone, the best Instagram, or even the nicest car that we lose sight of what matters most; our family. Learning about the value of family has been one of the biggest transformative experiences of my STEP project.

3. In the US, we have a very individualistic type of society. People tend to do things for and by themselves. We basically like to have our own space and “thing”. In Silana, that was not at all the case. Everyone loved doing things together and being part of something. The villagers always went fishing together, ate with their families, and they even came to our work sites and did the work with us. We were told at the beginning of our trip that we may be going out to do work but end up being on the sideline because the villagers might takeover but not to look at it as a bad thing because the villagers would much rather have us as company because they love engagement.
Even outside of service work, we saw how close the villagers all were. Our first night in the village, we were all adopted into a different village family. This allowed us to get to know our families better and learn more about the village’s culture. Throughout our time in the village, we would regularly have lunch or dinner with our families, learn Fijian recipes, play with the kids and explore the area with them. For some of us, we got so close to our families that it was hard to say goodbye at the end of the trip.
When we were not doing work and not with the villagers, we were with all the other volunteers. We were a very diverse group in that we had people from places as close as OSU to as far away as England and New Zealand. Pretty quickly though, we all got very close. Once we were all done with obsessing over each others’ accents and word meanings we started hanging out, playing new games, and traveling around the country on different adventures. Being on this trip together brought us all so close together that we even planned a time when we all are planning to see each other again in the coming months.

4. Learning of the value that the villagers have in having in such close relationships with each other showed me how we tend to value superficial things too often and forget about the things that really matter. It showed me that I should really be thinking about the things I have and learn to appreciate them more rather than be continuously wanting. Being on this trip taught me that, if I take a moment, turn off my screen, and look out, I will see all the things that I already have that actually matter in the end. Reminding me about the people I have in my life that I keep close to me, is why this transformation is significant in my life.

My Time with GVI in Quepos, Costa Rica For STEP

For my STEP Signature Project, I participated in a program through GVI in Quepos, Costa Rica where I was a part of the Childcare team that helped disadvantaged kids in a community called El Cocal. We would go to the community center built by GVI and have either before or after school sessions to help the children receive some structure and attention because, sometimes at home, their situations could be complicated. When we weren’t on project, we were free to explore Costa Rica, which meant experiencing the wonders of the country like monkeys and fantastic beaches.

Prior to my trip, I had only experienced societal problems like poverty and drugs in passing, whether it be in my own country or another. Every day we would go to Cocal, I could see the effects of these societal problems on the people who live there. Many people have the assumption that people in problematic situations can simply get a job or leave. After seeing the kids who chose to come to our classes every day, whether they were hungry, sick, or tired, just to get attention and structure because their parents were busy working to provide or involved with drugs, I can see how utterly impossible it is to leave the situation. That combined with their community, with relatives and all that they know, leaving is not an option. I may have grown up in circumstances that were completely different, but now I can empathize a bit more with their situation.

When I would see a child for weeks and every day they would tell me that they haven’t eaten because their parent is at work or they didn’t go to school because they didn’t feel like it and they had no one to check in on them, I get sad. Sad that they didn’t have a choice in their situation and that they may not be able to change it. Sad that there is only so much I could have done while there. That being said, I am happy to have participated. GVI is an amazing organization because they are in Cocal long term and aim to give kids more opportunities to stay out of trouble and to learn English to open up opportunities for them. This project has grounded me. If I think about something, no matter how small, I think about how I can handle it because the children who have far less than I do are still happy and caring, no matter what. I have grown as a person from my experience.

One of the most memorable people I met on my project was Cony. She was the program coordinator in Quepos, which meant that she was in charge of everything. Despite being incredibly busy leading the roughly 15 volunteers and about 6 staff members present at any time on 3 different projects, Cony knows all members of El Cocal by name and personal details about each. All welcome her with a smile and a hug. All of the kids would constantly ask about Cony and when she was coming to visit, and when she would, they would light up. She gives her time and energy so selflessly, all to help those who need it. I aspire to be more like her and I am proud to have worked with her.

One of my favorite children that would come to our center was Chani. Chani was one of the luckier kids that would come in and her mother would frequently check in to make sure that she was still there and would always walk her home. Chani’s father was a fisherman, which meant that he was not around that much. Chani came in with a smile every single day and would always tell me about how her father was going to get her a new dress or how her father was going to take her to town and buy her ice cream.

On the other side of the spectrum, there was Eikel. Eikel is a young boy who was abandoned by his mother to live with a relative. Eikel doesn’t go to school for the most part and since it’s not mandatory, there is no one there to account for his actions, leaving him without guidance. He had grown close to a male staff member, looking to him as a father figure, something that he has never had. Without constant guidance at home, he has grown to have angry outbursts when he gets frustrated, leading him to punch the staff member and getting suspended from the classes until he would apologize. Someone later said that the home he lives in is filled with sex, drugs, and violence. He has vandalized the center, robbed volunteers, and even started fights involving rocks.

The hardest part of my experience was the inability to change outcomes for situations. Even though I grew up in a different environment with different problems, opportunities, and resources, I can see that some children have the building blocks for a successful future, like love and stability. Cony is currently working for funding to get a social worker and help for children like Eikel. She usually starts her day around 6 am and doesn’t go to sleep until around 11, if that. But, even though she works incredibly hard for GVI, she goes above and beyond. She wants to make sure that the children in El Cocal have a future. She wants to make sure that even troubled children, like Eikel, can succeed. That is why she was the most important, impressive, and powerful person that I met in Quepos. Working with her has made me more aware and understanding of situations that I have not experienced. She has made me a better person.

I haven’t always known what I wanted to do with my life and sometimes, I am still not sure. My time in Costa Rica has shown me that there are many people in the world that need help. They may not have access to a lot of resources, but they could. I think that I am here to help people. In what capacity I am not sure, but I am here to help. Currently, I work in research at the OSU Wexner Medical Center, where I can help indirectly by contemplating solutions for major health problems, like cancer and diabetes. I may go on to get my master’s in something and go to medical school. I may go on to stay in research. I may do something completely different. This trip has confirmed the direction of my future, but not the destination. I will always be thankful for this opportunity and the guidance it provided.

Fellow volunteers with our Friends in Quepos

The Akumanyi Foundation and Ghana

For my STEP Signature Project, I traveled to Ghana for two weeks on a Buck-I-Serv trip. Facilitated by the Akumanyi Foundation, we worked with ~160 children and mothers at a children’s home in the village of Akokwa. We helped with preparing and serving meals, chores, teaching classes in the primary school, and carrying water, and in our free time we would play and read with the children. We also had excursions to other villages and cities in Ghana to develop a diverse impression of Ghanaian culture and to visit the clean water project and seamstress programs founded by the Akumanyi Foundation.

One of the greatest changes I’ve gone through since this trip is gaining a more global perspective of social issues and privilege. I grew up in a low-income household with a single parent and three other siblings, so for as long as I remember my family has struggled to make ends meet. I have been financially independent since I was 18, so in comparison to most of my peers I’ve had difficulty working to pay bills and tuition while being a full-time student. I’ve always felt like life is easier or even better with more money, but this trip was very revealing of how privileged my life has been from a global standpoint. My understanding of the relationship between power and privilege grew tremendously over the course of my STEP Signature Project.

Because this was a service trip, most of our time was spent in an impoverished village. Ghana has plenty of wealth, being one of the most developed nations in Africa, but we were based where we could be most helpful. In Akokwa, most people do not have electricity or running water in their homes. There were times in my life when my mother couldn’t pay the power bill on time and we briefly went without electricity, but most of my life I had the luxury of electricity, indoor plumbing, air conditioning, and running water. While in Akokwa, we were privileged to be staying in a house that had access to electricity most of the time. Luxuries like air conditioning and showers with running water were only encountered a few times while we were in Ghana. Most days we had to carry buckets of water from the river to replenish the water reserves for the home and ourselves. In the Ghanaian heat, carrying buckets of water for over an hour nearly every day was not only physically challenging, but also mentally taxing. We only did this for the two weeks we were there, but most of the people in Akokwa do this every day without even taking time to rest in between trips.

Being involved in the classrooms at the home also revealed how privileged my access to education has been. My elementary and junior high schools were rated as failing by the state, but there was never a question of whether or not I would attend junior high and high school. I also had access to transportation to attend a competitive high school in a neighboring town. Most of the women in the seamstress programs were unable to even complete junior high, let alone high school, due to the cost. The fact that I am a college student and will have my BS in less than a year makes me more privileged than over 93% of the world. Education is the key to success, and this trip reminded me of how lucky I am to have access to higher education.

Health is another social issue I became more educated about while in Ghana. At the home, we noticed many of the children had large, infected sores from wounds that weren’t cleaned properly. Because there were 140+ children and about 5 caretakers at the home, when the kids would fall down playing their cuts would go unnoticed. This led to many sizable, painful sores developing. If the infection were to spread from these wounds to other parts of the body, issues like sepsis and amputation can become concerns. The caretakers at the home weren’t aware of how to use the medical donations that the Foundation provides, so multiple afternoons were dedicated to teaching the caretakers how to properly clean the wounds to prevent infection and serious complications in the future. Information and resources for medical care weren’t readily available to the home, and I didn’t realize how privileged I was to grow up in a country where education about introductory health care is widespread. I also don’t have to worry about the severity of conditions like Yellow Fever, malaria, or HIV because I have access to vaccinations and any medications I may need to stay healthy or treat medical conditions here in the US. This trip increased my awareness tenfold of the privileges I have that I’ve always taken for granted.

This trip reminded me that poverty in the United States looks very different than poverty in other countries. I always had access to quality health care and medically necessary medications due to programs like the Affordable Care Act. I also was able to receive free education through high school. I lived right outside of a city with a large university, so I was regularly around people who had access to higher education. My family also had a car, so we weren’t restricted to just our town. I typically had electricity, indoor plumbing, and running water as well. Despite all of these resources, I still always felt like we didn’t have enough because there were others who had more. This trip showed me that Americans don’t need nearly as much as we think we do. Despite lacking many of the amenities Americans consider necessities, the children and women at the home were incredibly happy with their lives. They had supportive “family” and friends all around them, enough food to prevent them from going to bed hungry, and pride in the hard work they accomplish. The trip taught me to stop taking my privilege and education for granted and be grateful for what I do have, rather than constantly worried about what I don’t.

         

 

Buck-I-SERV – Cape Town, South Africa

I traveled to Cape Town, South Africa for two weeks with Buck-I-SERV this past May where we worked with Sakhulwazi and EduCares, two non-profit organizations in the township of Philippi. We helped tend to Sakhulwazi’s community garden and aided teachers in the EduCares preschools. We also learned about Cape Town’s history and culture through language, signing, dance, and lectures.

My time in Cape Town was an eye-opening experience. I learned a lot about privilege, selflessness, and my strengths. Throughout this trip, I listened to the experiences of South Africans and my fellow Buckeyes and was made aware of my privilege. There are so many things in my life that give me an advantage that I have taken for granted. I have learned to be grateful for what I have been given and to help push for justice for those who are not as lucky. I saw first-hand how small acts of kindness can be commonplace and how happiness is simple and contagious. I also learned to be grateful and proud of others’ and my own unique strengths. This was a lesson I thought I had learned long ago, but working with my Buck-I-SERV group gave me a new perspective.

As part of our culture lessons, we discussed Cape Town’s history with colonization, slave trade, and apartheid and their lasting effects on the city. We visited the Slave Lodge, a museum about the slave trade in the building where slaves were kept during that time and discussed the modern forms of slavery that exist in today’s prisons and human trafficking. We also visited the District Six Museum. District Six was one of the neighborhoods in Cape Town that was “cleansed” during apartheid. All non-white residents were forced to move from their homes to townships on the outskirts of the city. Although apartheid has ended, these townships still exist today. We volunteered in the township of Philippi where most residents live in shacks with shared outhouses. Everyone in the township speaks Xhosa, but families must pay for their children to attend preschool and learn English, so they are able to test into primary school in the city. The effects of apartheid and the racism that still exist in Cape Town has put these children at a distinct disadvantage in getting an education. These children must overcome barriers that were placed in front of them over things they have no control over, and seeing this made me realize how privileged I am. Just because of the city I grew up in and the color of my skin, the work I put in to get where I am is significantly less than that of someone who does not have these advantages. Realizing this has called me to take action and help to empower those with less privilege.

Helping in the EduCares facilities in Philippi also taught me about simple acts of kindness. The children in these schools are so smart and so joyful. At just 4 and 5 years old, they are learning to count and say the alphabet in both Xhosa and English. I was absolutely blown away at how eager they are to learn, but my favorite part of the day was lunchtime. This is when the children all chatted happily with each other and stole glances at me and the other Buckeyes. I would smile and wave at them which would send them turning away giggling, but then they taught me their hand games and songs. Most children had a modest lunch, a sandwich and a piece of fruit, but if one of their classmates did not have anything to eat, they had no hesitation to give away half of their sandwich. Even though they have so little, these children were so generous and happy, because they have never known anything different. Something as simple as a wave and a smile made them light up and they were extremely difficult to leave at the end of the day. The children in Philippi were a beautiful reminder that happiness comes from the simplest things in life. I hope to find joy and give joy as easily as these children.

I also learned a great deal from working with my Buck-I-SERV group as a team: working in the garden at Sakhulwazi, making lunch for the other volunteers, and reflecting on our experiences each night. I am a quiet and mostly introverted person, but during the first few days of the trip I attempted to be loud and outgoing. I believed that since many of my other group members were naturally extroverted, I needed to become one to be of help to the team. After a few exhausting days of attempting to be extroverted, I realized that not only was I not having a good time, but I was not fully helping my team. I am best at being observant, listening to others, and speaking when I have something valuable to share. There are others in my group who can entertain us with stories while we weed kale or mobilize us to start making sandwiches, and they are a gift to the group! But I can also be a gift to the group by having a quiet conversation about how someone is feeling or noticing that one person who still needs a cup of juice. When every person has different skills, that is when a team can perform at its best, and I should not try to change the gifts I have.

My experience in Cape Town has invigorated me with new passion and armed me with new skills to prepare for my future. I have always had an interest in the healthcare field and public health, and after learning about privilege and the dedication it takes to build a non-profit like Sakhulwazi, I am more inspired to embark on a humanitarian-centered career. I have the ability to help empower those who have been given less, and I hope to work towards this in my professional life. Humanitarian organizations like Doctors Without Borders and Partners in Health are working to empower others through healthcare, and I hope to work for an organization with similar goals. This Buck-I-SERV trip has also given me insight on how to be kinder and more genuine in my personal life. This experience has expanded my worldview, taught me to be more compassionate, thoughtful, and sincere to those around me, and prepared me to be an active global citizen.

STEP Reflection

 

For my step project, I participated in the Buck-i-SERV trip to Akokwa, Ghana, with the Akumanyi Foundation.  We spent about two weeks helping run a children’s home and assisting with various other projects for the foundation.

The work we did in Akokwa was incredibly fun and allowed us to not only make connections with the kids and the workers at the home, but also with the rest of our group.  Visiting a developing country was eye-opening in many ways and getting to experience such a unique culture was an irreplaceable experience.  However, my largest takeaway was the careful consideration that TAF put into keeping their projects sustainable and empowering. Every measure is taken to prevent the harmful effects often associated with foreign aid, and I learned many lessons on responsible volunteering that i had never before considered.

Our work was always focused on collaboration with the community we served, and ensuring that the community had total say in how projects were run.  Our hard work cleaning or maintaining the home was always directed by the Ghanaians that understood their culture, and any donations from the foundation were given to the kids by the foundation’s Ghanaian staff.  Hannah, TAF’s co-founder, took the time to explain to us the importance of these small details for preventing the white-savior complex and preventing the kids from forming psychological dependence on volunteers.  The kids needed to associate the help they received with the adult figures that cared for them every day, rather than the visiting foreigners.  Many of these small distinctions are made by the foundation, and each were explained to us to help refine our approach to social justice.

Another good example was made apparent when we treated the kids’ wounds with basic first aid.  We helped clean and bandage many infected wounds that would have continued to worsen otherwise.  But even more importantly, a big goal was to teach the techniques and explain the importance to some of the Ghanaian workers that would be there year-round.  At the start of the trip, we did most of the cleaning ourselves.  By the end, we had handed over all the materials and one woman was checking on the wounds daily.  While there are still some limitations, like the supply of gauze and neosporin being dependent on donations from the foundation, the approach was still far more sustainable in the long term than only performing the first aid ourselves.

Another big project of the foundation involved creating seamstress training programs to help women limited by their education to learn a trade and therefore support themselves.  While the training programs are already self-sustaining, TAF is now helping them increase their sales by setting up an online store to sell to Americans and other customers worldwide.  This will not only help the women make more money, but gives the foundation a means of generating funds for projects outside of simple donations.  Again, Hannah and the other staff explained how these efforts will help the foundation continue to function for the long-term.

While I have plenty of past experience with volunteering, the Akumanyi Foundation has taught me a lot about what distinguishes a successful nonprofit from a corrupt or unsustainable one.  The subtle steps taken by the foundation can have incredibly powerful impacts on the communities that they work with, and these lessons are easily applicable to many other areas of life.  Because I want to go into the medical field, I can easily see how the approach to patient interactions is crucial.  A physician with a collaborative and empowering approach will have drastically better results and better relations with their patients than one with a patronizing or reckless mindset.  Even with the purest of intentions, the appropriate approach is essential to be an ally to others and to be truly helpful to an individual or community.  And after my STEP project, I understand these principles better than ever before.

Step Reflection

  1. This project was coordinated jointly by the OSU service organization, Buck-I-Serv and the Ghanian stationed organization, the Akumanyi Foundation. Volunteers were taken internationally for two weeks to gain first-hand experience of day-to-day upkeep of the foundation sponsored orphanage. Volunteers socialized with the staff and children, completed assigned tasks, participated in cultural education, and had opportunities to explore the local area, in their free time.
  2. On this trip, I gained a new perspective about the impact that materialism and selfish individualism has on the American versus the Ghanian society. From my time in Ghana, I viewed that ideas of materialism and individualism have less of an impact on the Ghanian lifestyle than it does on the American way of life. I was able to experience a more communal style of living where each individual worked towards the success of the community as a whole.  Experiencing this lifestyle first-hand caused me to reassess my ideas of what it means to be successful in America versus Ghana. Ghanian practices supported the idea that the working towards success as a community will bring success to all of the community’s individuals, where in America, success is largely measured by the amount of material that a person can acquire. I believe that other societies could benefit from a community-centered lifestyle, and working to uplift all members within those societies.
  3. An activity that helped initiate the change in my beliefs was the completion of a daily chores list. These chores included activities directed toward the general upkeep of the facility and the day-to-day support of the children in the foundation’s care. Even though some of the tasks may have seemed tedious like washing dishes or hanging laundry, each one needed to be completed in order for the community to function. Every member participated and everyone benefited from the products, for example, clean dishes to eat from and dry clothes to wear. Selfish individualism had little room during this time because the dedication that each person provided to the group was necessary for everyone to succeed.
    Other interactions that caused me to change my perspective on the functionality of American society was the Ghanian ability to share. Many of the people I encountered in Ghana were living in what would be considered poverty in America, Even though they did not have much, they were always willing to share what they did own like food, water, and clothes. Sharing with the community in Ghanian culture seemed close to second-nature, and materialism was rarely seen because of this mindset. In American culture, we tend to push towards the hoarding of material possessions, in order to appear successful, and in this system, some go without. Combating the materialistic nature in society could be a step towards uplifting those who do end up going without or having less.
    Throughout my stay, I believe I made greater relationships in two weeks working with the Ghanian staff than I had in years of working with coworkers back in America due to some of the different values that each society upholds. Where Ghana supports shared successes, American society supports completing tasks for individual benefit. Both lifestyles have positives and negatives associated with them, but I perceived that a greater sense of community arose from living in a society where every member works for one another, and everyone learns to rely on the other to complete their own tasks.
  4. I believe this change in perspective is important for my academic, professional, and personal life, because it has taught me that there is more to gain from a situation than just what will benefit me personally. For the most part, I have attended a school or gone to work with the mindset of completing tasks so that I can move forward towards my goals. I had trouble recognizing that the people around me shared similar goals and that we could all benefit from working together. Going into situations in the future, I hope to consider what I can do to benefit the whole rather than how I can work the situation in my favor. Letting go of selfish individualism and materialism that American society upholds will take time and practice, but this may help to create a more beneficial, community-conscious lifestyle.

STEP Reflection

  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 Signature Project, I volunteered abroad through an organization called GVI. Our efforts focused on implementing various healthcare initiatives in the developing village of Ban Nam Khem, Thailand, which was directly hit by the 2004 tsunami.

 

  1. 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 stay in Thailand was transformational in many ways. First, residing in a place with a different standard of living challenged my prior assumptions regarding quality of life. Aspects that I value at home were different from those important to Thai peoples; having experienced their way of life allowed me to realize that their norm is different but no less respectable than what I am used to. In this regard, as well as pace of life, for example, my sense of priorities has also changed. Since returning home, I have unveiled a deeper purpose in serving others. I have found myself prioritizing how I can extend myself to loved ones, strangers around town, or those who may need more guidance or help. While I have always valued altruism, I now find myself consciously aware and brainstorming how I can serve others on the daily.  My visit to Ban Nam Khem directly shed a light to this personal understanding. Similarly, I have also gained communication and interpersonal skills that will transform my professional abilities. Having interacted with peoples with disabilities of another culture and language gives me a diversified outlook and ability to connect with in my future profession. Ultimately my STEP Signature Project has transformed my views of the world and values within myself.

 

  1. 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.

My view of the world was changed in result of having stayed in a traditional Thai home. Sleeping with no air conditioning and bug nets and showering amongst countless bugs and cold water gave me first-hand exposure to truly living in their culture. I attribute these living conditions to transforming my perspective of daily life in a world much different to than I am used to. I am now aware of the amenities that are taken for granted and, arguably, insignificant, to still leading a fulfilling life. As a result, I have a deeper appreciation for the quality of life that I have been given but have realized there are far more important aspects of life that I should be attending to—such as being of service to others.

Being completely immersed in a developing village of Thailand made me realize my passion for serving others. While there, I worked on various healthcare projects and actually had a hand in implementing services that had not been there prior. Because of the knowledge and skills that I have gained from previous school and work experiences, I was able to introduce basic health checks to the village and intervention techniques to a social center for people with disabilities. It was incredible to share a vast amount of knowledge I have gathered from years of learning in America and apply them to a rural Thai area that does not have access to basic healthcare. I would not have had the opportunity to apply this type of direct care to people here in the US, and it would not have made an impact here where such services are so widespread and well-known. These interactions were, truthfully, invigorating, and has sparked my desire to continue serving others here at home and to continue staying in touch with folks back in Thailand.

Having the opportunity to work directly at Camillian, a social center for people with disabilities, permitted most of my personal and professional growth. With the aspiration of dedicating my entire career to working with this population, my time at Camillian was invaluable. I had the privilege of developing relationships with children of another culture and allowed me a glance at their lifestyle. The cultural perspectives of disabilities are very different—often distressing—in Thailand than from what I am used to and required patience and acceptance regardless of my own beliefs. Being able to delve into these Thai children’s lives ultimately gave me a deeper respect to their circumstances and purpose to my own professional ambitions. The skills I developed, such as being able to connect with people who speak another language, will translate into my future professions as I work with nonverbal children or potentially those of other cultures. It is essential to consider patients’ backgrounds when working in healthcare and this opportunity allowed me to learn that first-hand. Overall, the interactions I had at Camillian have empowered me to continue working toward my goals and to improve the field.

 

  1. 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.

After working in Thailand, I have the ability to embrace a new culture and a refined look at my ambitions. It has surfaced numerous personal values and allowed me to focus on what I now feel is most important in life. Having been immersed in Thai culture has made me aware of my curiosity and desire to travel. I, also, now crave and seek out ways to serve others. Since returning home, I track and reflect each day on how I have extended myself to others and how I can continue to improve this skill in the future. I now feel this aspect is essential to my personal growth as I am ambitious in becoming the best version of myself and put a heavy focus on personal development. My experiences implementing healthcare in the Thai village also gave me a perspective that will change my approach to my professions. I now have seen at first glance the impact of culture on access and views of healthcare. Because I work with families and patients with disabilities of all backgrounds, I can now take this perspective with me throughout my career and can better serve all populations with a deeper understanding. Essentially, my STEP Signature Project has transformed my views of the world, myself, and my profession.

STEP Reflection – Thailand

While I was in Thailand, we had many tasks that we had to perform to help the community. I created different medical plans that were then later implemented within the community and schools. These health plans began at the beginning, such as BMI, hearing, eye tests, blood pressure, and heart rate. By implementing these I gave the community a better sense of their health and what to be aware of.

My view of the world and my life has changed so much after this project. I have learned so many things not only about the world and people around me but also myself. I assumed that the area that we would be staying in was much worse than it was, not in a sense that it wasn’t bad but that I stereotyped before I went based on other locations that I have seen in the news before. I have come to understand that the people we were there for did not need us but we could simply help their living situation. They were doing well on their own and living life how they knew without us, so when we came we began to live their life to understand how we could help alleviate burdens and increase their health. Since I have never been out of the country I have always thought that other places are either just like the United States or have nothing at all and unsure of how people live. This has expanded my view of what the world is really like and how different places and circumstances can cause a vary in how people live. By going to Thailand, I have also learned of the barriers and differences in our health care systems.

From this experience, I have met people all over the world that have not only changed my life but also have given me the chance to learn new things about the world and life. I have had the chance to meet people from so many places who view life in all different ways. This has helped me create bonds and also learn so much more about myself and my beliefs. By being in another country I was also able to see how other places differ from the United States in the opportunities, environment, people, living, and more.

I have lived more on this trip than I feel I have in my lifetime due to all the opportunities I received and experiences that I lived through. I was able to see endangered species first hand which makes me even more passionate about environmental work that is done. I have met people and gone places that have helped me realize how important it is to travel and see places that are not similar to home. I have become more aware of myself and my life by using my knowledge to create health plans for the community. By going to Thailand I had the experience to live in some harsh conditions with limited clean water, a lack of sanitation, no air conditioning or closed home living, and more. This environment helped me to gain a better look at the everyday Thai life and how those live within the community. By living this way I was able to better understand the people, connect with them, and help to better their lives by actually living in their shoes.

While in Thailand, I created health checks for the community I was living in that used prior knowledge and my personal push to be better. By creating these health promotion checks, I was able to take medical terminology and turn it to understandable information for my patients. This opportunity helped me to become more personable and build my future in the medical community by understanding what the real process consists of. After seeing the little healthcare that Thailand has, I have gained a greater appreciation for doctors and those who work in health care because of their passion, commitment, and hard work. I also have more passion for creating better health care within Thailand because I feel as if no one should not have access to regular health care. Creating the health checks was not an easy task but it made me a better person for it. I had to research, plan, and create ways to combat a barrier of language and lack of knowledge. These things alone will make me a better Chiropractor as well the children that we worked with at the different community centers.

The children with disabilities helped me grow so much more than I could have imagined. Their open hearts and caring compacity made it easy to fit right in and understand what I needed to do to enhance their lives. I created objectives for them to hit each month that would increase their physical and mental health. Along with these objectives I created signs and symptoms that caretakers should be aware of in diagnosing different disabilities but also health issues that may arise if a child has a certain disability. This alone tested my learned knowledge and pushed me to better what I know and what I can do for others. I have found that I am very passionate for people and will do anything that I can to help find a solution or help them live their life more comfortably. I cannot wait to bring that with me as I complete my schooling and open my own Chiropractic office.

This is a valuable experience because it gave me so many more reasons to be thankful for even the simplest things that I have. I now know the amount of knowledge that I hold and what I can give and do to others. I have found resources to help myself help others as well even if I am unsure of where to start or what I need to do. These resources have given me the ability to create awareness, funding, and ideas of where to begin my journey of changing lives and how to proceed from there. The people that I have met in Thailand have me longing for change and have pushed me to not only just talk about it but to also be active in my ideas and plans. This change is very transformative in my life because I can now understand that I am here to supplement other people’s lives and not change them.

The healthcare plans and actions that I started in Thailand can help me in my future and professional plans. I have increased my connections and ability to talk to others from different backgrounds, while also knowing how we are all different yet the same. From this experience I was able to create health plans by using my prior knowledge and things I have learn so far in my schooling. I am now able to make better choices and connections with my future coworkers and clients while also bettering the way I spend my money and help sustain the environment around me.

STEP Reflection

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.

I participated in a Buck-I-Serv trip in which I traveled to Ghana through the 6-21stof May. While there I volunteered at a children’s home and got to experience Ghanaian culture firsthand.

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 trip to Ghana was definitely one of the most transformational experiences of my life. I feel so lucky that I was able to be exposed to such a beautiful culture and people and that my STEP funding allowed me to do so. Ghana, as a country in Africa, is often lumped into the stereotyped and misinformed rhetoric surrounding African countries and African people. Getting to experience the country and its people firsthand allowed me to investigate and dispel these stereotypes and develop a more nuanced view of the world. I realized that things are much more complex than statistics and stories can often portray.

I also learned how to navigate cultural differences appropriately and respectfully. Some things that were part of day to day life in the US were not considered socially acceptable there and vice versa and learning to respect and appreciate these differences allowed me to become a more open-minded and accepting person of other opinions and cultures. I also was reminded of the importance of community. The family-oriented, collectivist emphasis is very different than that of the US; however, I saw the enormous benefit of being focused on others’ happiness and not just your own.

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.

One of the things that to my really stuck out was the mismatched nature of poverty and I think that this is something people often overlook. While someone might have a cell phone, they might not have consistent clean water. This came as a surprise to me since I typically expect basic needs to be met before things we consider as more “luxury” goods, but I realized that we need to consider the ease of access behind goods and understand that where people place value on purchasing is completely up to them and their situation, and in most cases, very valid for their circumstances.

Interacting with the children of the home every day was definitely one of the most impactful parts of my trip to Ghana and has left an important mark on me and my attitudes moving forward. The children of the home, like American kids in their mischievousness, playfulness, and candor, looked out for each other in a way very different from the US. The comradery and loyalty between them taught me a valuable lesson in focusing my energy externally instead of always internally. I think many people can get caught up in the individualist mindset in the race to the top and this can lead to selfishness, greed, and a lack of fulfillment. Remembering this attitude is not always the most effective means of living is important to remember.

Getting to see Ghana in person taught me that many of the stereotypes are not true, and the ones that may appear to be, may only be true for a small portion of people. Since I was working with a disadvantaged population of individuals, where a lot African stereotypes stem from, I was able to see how out of context, the stereotypes could seem true. I also saw; however, that there is so much more to impoverished people than their poverty or the bland meal they might consistently eat. I also saw so much more to Africa than the videos of starving children we see on TV. Although these videos might seek to do good by garnering money and support, they often dehumanize people and rob them of their autonomy as individuals.

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 someone who hopes to become a doctor, it’s important that I have experience interacting with other cultures than my own and can build impactful relationships regardless of differences in experiences, backgrounds, and values. To be an effective doctor I need to realize and respect the priorities of my patients even if they are different than my own. My ultimate responsibility is to respect the autonomy of the people I treat, and give care in a way that preserves health with cultural respect.

Since my one of my main goals in entering the healthcare field is improving access to healthcare and other necessities it’s also important that I remember to ask communities what they need and value, not what I presume they may need based on statistics or assumptions. Interacting with a Ghanaian community consistently taught me that what I may assume to be the case isn’t always, and that having an attitude of self-importance only heeds possible progress.

Cross-Cultural Solutions: Costa Rica

My STEP project was a service-learning program at a daycare in Costa Rica. There were up to 30 kids in the daycare every day and the age range was from 0-6 years old. We went to the daycare for 4-5 hours every morning and were responsible for helping serve the kids breakfast and lunch, conducting educational games and activities and overall supervision.

 

While completing my STEP project, I came to the realization that I love working with kids and that it is something I want to incorporate into my future career. Although I have enjoyed working with kids before, working with them in this setting allowed me to see firsthand the impact you can have on a child’s life. Many of these kids come from lower income families and/or violent homes. Many of their parents have to work multiple jobs and don’t get to spend a lot of time with their children. The daycare can only afford to have two teachers there to feed, supervise, play, and teach all the kids including the infants. They rely heavily on volunteers to help carry out some of the responsibilities especially teaching lessons to the older kids and providing individualized attention. As the week went on, I realized that many of these kids just want someone to spend time with them and give them attention and affection. They were apprehensive of us at first but by the end of the first day, the kids would run up to you and ask you to pick them up and play. I loved seeing them smile or laugh when I pushed them on the swing set or helped them color their drawing. I have done forms of service before, but not something as intensive and as involved as this program. Performing this type of service changed how I feel about the impact volunteering can have especially when it involves working directly with the population you are serving. Although I had not considered working in pediatrics before, after completing this service project it is an area that I am very interested in and want to look into incorporating into my other career interests.

Another transformation that occurred while completing my project was my understanding/view of other cultures. I have been abroad before, but this trip immersed me into a new culture in a way that other trips I have taken previously had not. Other international trips that I had taken before were very “touristy” and I did not realize until after this trip how much more there is to learn about a new country and new cultures than you do from just seeing the sites. While on completing this project, I felt that I really got to experience Costa Rican culture in an authentic way. I not only saw the beautiful landscapes and tried new foods and activities, but also got to know the kids at the daycare, I got to talk and learn from many locals, and I got to learn more about the history of Costa Rica and what makes it unique from other Latin American countries. During this trip, I was able to create friendships with people from another country and got to discover new things not only about Costa Rica but also about myself. I also learned a lot from the locals and the lifestyle that they live. I loved that it was not a fast pace as American culture, and I felt like I was able to slow down and enjoy things more while I was there.

 

The relationships that had the biggest impact on my transformation while completing my STEP signature project were with the children in the daycare. Even though my project was only one week long, I was able to see the difference that I made and could see the impact that the program overall has on these kids lives. I’ve always enjoyed working with kids, but this project changed my view on the way one person or group of people can have an impact on their development and growth. At the project, there were notes on the children at the daycare from previous volunteers. Some of the entries were from months and even years before so I was able to see how much some of them have grown up and matured. Seeing the impact that the Cross-Cultural Solution has had on the lives of these kids is one of the key aspects that led to my transformation during this project. There was one child in particular who was very quiet and didn’t engage in the activities very much at first, but as the week went in he opened up and I was able to witness how intelligent and talkative he was. I think that being able to build on the relationships with the kids throughout the week was one of the reasons this experience was so unique and impactful.

Another key aspect of my transformation was the once in a lifetime experiences I was able to have while in Costa Rica. Since we were at the service site in the mornings, we had time in the afternoon for cultural activities. We were able to hike through the rainforest and see monkeys, sloths, porcupines, and other animals in their natural habitat. This experience was not only beautiful to see but it was also extremely educational, and I learned so much about the biodiversity of Costa Rica. Another activity we did was making pottery. We went to a pottery hut where we were learned about the process of making traditional pottery and then got to make some of our own. They explain how much work goes into making each piece including traveling miles to get the right resources and the hours it takes to grind the clay and then create the pottery. This made me appreciate the art and the experience that much more. We also took Spanish classes twice throughout the week and one of those sessions was spent learning the Spanish words and phrases that are specific to Costa Rica. I thought that this activity enhanced my experience by allowing me to dive deeper into learning and appreciating the Costa Rican culture.

Another key aspect of my transformation was the relationships I was able to build with some of the locals. There were two of the program directors that were with us for the majority of the time. I was able to get to know both of them really well and through these friendships, I was able to learn that much more about their lives and about Costa Rica. Being able to create these relationships throughout the week enhanced my experiences and I believe help make it have a longer lasting impact on my life. As part of the program, we also got to meet college-aged students in Costa Rica who were learning English. We played Spanish/English learning games with them and also got to sit down and have conversations with them. I really enjoyed getting to hear about their life experiences and how they differ from mine and the other volunteers I was with. This particular experienced changed my perspective on my education, my goals, and the United States.

 

The transformation that I experienced while completing this project is valuable for my life because it impacted both my professional and personal goals. When it comes to my professional goals, this project has sparked an interest in working with kids in my future career. I loved working with these kids throughout the week and it made me realize that pediatrics is a specialty that I am interested in working in. This experience also has changed my personal plans and goals by showing me how much I enjoy volunteering and that it is something I want to incorporate into the rest of my time here at OSU and beyond graduation. I especially liked having the opportunity to volunteer abroad and getting to enjoy cultural activities in addition to volunteering. Completing this project has helped me realize that volunteering not only benefits a community, but I also received a lot of benefit from it including having a life-changing experience.