Volunteering with GVI in Dawasamu, Fiji

  1. GVI is an organization that is based out of South Africa, with bases in over 13 countries aiming to reach site-specific Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, based on the United Nation’s list. An example of an SDG is “Zero hunger.” While in Dawasamu, I partook in many critical activities to work towards meeting our SDGs. The most meaningful experiences to me that I did were related to Good Health & Well Being and Reduced Inequalities.
  2. Through this experience, I gained an island family, a second home, and important knowledge about myself, about the environment, about different cultures, and about the greater world around me. I was put into an entirely different culture on the opposite side of the world, placing my faith into the strangers that I would come to know as great friends over the four weeks I spent with them. I took a huge leap of faith and amounted to what I believe was a great success. I learned how to adapt, physically and emotionally, to the stressors and lifestyle that Fijian villagers lived. I have a sense of direction that I did not have before this trip, and I believe that is one of the greatest things I get to take away from volunteering abroad.

I was able to compare and contrast the domestic public health concerns in Dawasamu with those of Columbus, noting the large socioeconomic disparity between the two and its implications. On an international level, the public health concerns of Fiji are clear to be that of a developing country, facing large numbers of communicable diseases and malnutrition. Unlike the US, which has major concerns with rising non-communicable diseases and mental health disorders. In relation to these comparisons, I was also able to think about additional factors that relate to global public health issues: political unrest, cultural beliefs, socioeconomic factors, and geographical/environmental factors.

  1. I took part in many different activities in my experience in Fiji, which culminate to transform me into the person I am today. I helped to build a greenhouse to be used at the primary school as a Kitchen Garden, as well as weeded, overturned, and began the planting process for the Kitchen Garden. The goal of this was to provide lunches for the children in the school, since they often come empty handed. This allowed me to have a sense of cultural understanding and global citizenship as I was able to think about the needs and ways to come up with a solution to something like the lack of food.

Every Wednesday, I attended the Dawasamu Nursing Station and gave presentations and one on one education for a “Mothers and Babies” workshop, educating mothers on childhood nutrition and the importance of breastfeeding. This transformed me into thinking about the diseases that affect people globally, especially in underserved areas. Things like malnutrition that aren’t very common here are prevalent in Fiji. My communication and critical thinking skills improved as I faced a language barrier and had to come up with a way to educate mothers that would be learned and understood. Using the district Nurse’s information, I also created pleasing, readable, and understandable First-Aid slides to be given to Community Health Workers (CHW) in the District (15 total). Again, this is an example of how my critical thinking skills were improved, but I transformed here in the sense of teamwork as me and my peers worked together on this project. I also went to the villages of Silana, Delakado, Deliyadua, and Mantainananu to educate families with each village’s CHW. This was done by house-to-house visits where we discussed in each home how to prevent common communicable and non-communicable diseases, as well as good sanitation practices and how to recycle. This was hugely transformative for me in becoming more adaptable: I immersed myself into people’s homes, communicated with them, and had conversations about healthy living. With patience, one house after another, we were able to get to four villages.

One of my favorite activities was when we innovated a new method of reporting data and information that allowed CHW’s to keep track of the necessary patient information, documents, and statistics to give to the Ministry of Health in order to receive payment. This goal was realized after completing a needs assessment with one CHW, which became openly advocated for by majority of the CHW’s. The result became a workbook for each CHW, containing both logs of pages formatted for recording inventory and first aid usage as well as pages on what workshops and house-to-house visits had been done and with whom. Logbooks were created for volunteers to keep track of each village’s CHW progress, needs, accomplishments, and personal development plans. This allowed us to empower the CHW with having the confidence to teach their neighbors about prevention strategies. It is through this activity that I gained real problem solving skills after coming up with a solution to an identified need, while also developing leadership skills. I voiced my opinion and was able to create this project to work on.

Overall, assimilating to the culture of Fijian life and taking an active role in my family that I was assigned to by helping them on their plantation, eating meals with them, etc. made me culturally observant and flexible, immersing myself into the Fijian way of life.

  1. This change is valuable to my life because it has allowed me to realign my career aspirations in the field of public health. After graduation, I plan to join AmeriCorps or the Peace Corps to gain long-term experience being an “ambassador” in another community and taking on a role that gives me more leadership opportunities. From there, I hope to go back to school to either get my MPH, or attend Medical School. After furthering my education, I would love to eventually end up working for the United Nations or the World Health Organization on improving Global Public Health.

This experience has showed me the importance of SDGs and the positive impact that implementing these goals on a struggling community yields. I now have a sense of direction for the future that I didn’t have before. I am grateful to have been able to have this transformative experience and become a global citizen. The time I spent in Fiji gave me a new perspective of the world we live in, allowing me to narrow my future goals and get one step closer to where I want to be.

Making Success Accessible

For my STEP project, I organized an opportunities fair aimed to serve the needs of the lower-income and homeless populations in the city of Columbus. I work at a homeless youth drop in center called, The Star House, and I see what kind of opportunities the youth who access resources, are craving to have for themselves, their families, and their kids to make a better life. The “Making Success Accessible” event was aimed at providing them with tools to empower themselves and build a sustainable life path. Vendors, non -profit organizations, and many other resources were invited to attend this event to offer their services to the community.

The change I experienced as a result of my STEP project was two fold. I recognized passions I had and saw how with the support of OSU, my passion was put out there and was able to impact so many. I also recognized how deeply rooted institutionalized oppression exists.

This opportunity helped me further evolve into the social change and social justice creator I aspire to be. I got to organize an event that impacted a community that is so close to my heart and as I continue to work at the Star House, I get to still see the impact this bridged gap has had. I had many fears and reservations about such an event – I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to the communities expectations let alone mine, and I was most fearful that it would not be impactful at all. However, the experience of having to push through those fears and take risks has shaped me tremendously. I have come to realize that working in these demographics, everything is a gamble, everything is trial and error. I had to learn to be okay with making mistakes and learn to take criticism for the betterment of others. In planning this, I had to realize it wasn’t a one man show, I had to let others in – others that were more knowledgeable about the needs of this community, more knowledgeable about trauma informed care, etc. This experience has catalyzed a growth in me that I know I will take into the work place and into life.

From serving racially and financially marginalized groups, I was aware of the presence of institutionalized oppression. However, after being so immersed in what their needs are and how they are not met for so many bureaucratic reasons – this became a matter that affected those far beyond the Columbus metropolitan area. It opened my eyes to the radical changes that need to happen in our governments ability to lift those who are struggling, it opened my eyes to see how it is the responsibility of every human being who can, to lift their brothers and sisters and offer the best resources they can, not just the resources they don’t want or need. I learned all that, but also maintained and strengthened the understanding that the first step is each individual person wanting better for themselves. Unfortunately my eyes were opened to situations where, there were good people and compromising circumstances, and their options were limited and the path out of poverty would be nothing short of tumultuous. Seeing the gravity of these issues, heightened my passion for a social justice driven career path.

At Making Success Accessible there were 34 vendors of various kinds, some offering GED help, insurance help, healthcare access, transportation, childcare, resume help, etc. As the sole person planning this event I had the liberty of identifying resources I thought were important to have access to in order to ensure a less bumpy path towards success. I was forced to make tough decisions, I learned to believe my intuition and believe that I was capable of such a venture. I had to find a suitable venue, and ideally one that costed little to nothing. I then had to ensure it was within code according to Columbus to host such an event that would attract so much foot traffic. I had to identify resources that aligned with the mission I had for this event, and were willing to be flexible with their services to bridge the gaps to provide what the attendees need. I had help from many experienced staff at the Star House about what needs should be prioritized. The skills I developed having to build this event from the ground up and the independence and trust I had to have in myself made me better leader and prepared me for my aspirations to be a creator of change.

Making Success Accessible was an event with a particular mission to bridge the gap of access for those who were seeking a path to success. Communicating that to vendors and providers was important for the success of this event, as it was important to have a unified understanding of what the purpose and priority of this event was. I consistently made sure to communicate and understand what kind of services the organizations were willing to offer and how that played into the scope of overall success. Communicating with leaders in non profit organizations where your passions align can be a magical process but it became clear that time and efficiency was of essence. It was necessary to outline how much of one resource an individual would receive, and it was necessary to outline guidelines/ contingencies for those who were receiving these resources. Not only did I refine my communication skills in a professional setting, I developed the skill of deliberating and cooperating to come to one unified decision.

I really wanted this event to exceed beyond the day itself. I wanted it to serve as an educational opportunity for the community and for the vendors and providers. It was important that I and all the vendors and providers better understand the specific needs of our communities and how they can be met, and it was important that the community understand what exactly is out there to help them reach their full potential. It became glaringly clear that one way to combat the institutionalized oppression is to institutionalize an understanding of what each human being deserves and what their options are to get there. Education is the stepping stone to all things tied to success, and that isn’t necessarily book education – learning about what specific resources you are eligible for is the first step towards utilizing them to get back on your feet. The community becoming educated on what is going on around them is equally as important, because without the continued support of the community, the people at the bottom will not rise.

This was an impactful experience for me because of my career aspirations in social service. I want to be a clinical psychologist, and I want to work specifically with youth that have experienced trauma. A huge part of working in social service fields is the interdisciplinary nature of care that each patient will receive. It is important, when part of such a team, to understand all the social, mental, biological, and physical factors that play a role in someones mental struggle. Gaining the support to hold an event such as this one, has showed me the pure genius behind interdisciplinary care, but has also showed me all the ways I want to refine it through research.

Service Learning in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

         

           For my STEP project, I traveled to Guanacaste, Costa Rica for a service-learning experience. I lived in a home-base with fellow volunteers. I volunteered mt time in a local daycare preparing daily lessons to teach to the children, providing attention and companionship to all, teaching new songs and dances, and assisting the teachers with anything they needed such as serving breakfast and lunch.

            As I have matured into the adult that I am today, people have always told me that I am a natural leader and a very independent person. I believed this to a small extent, but since I had lived in the same place for 21 years, I thought I had just mastered living in Columbus, Ohio.

This trip was my first time flying alone and only my second time flying anywhere. I immediately felt very independent as soon as I left my family in the airport. My connecting flight went smooth, but the final flight over to Costa Rica was where my independent nature really shined out to me. As the flight neared Costa Rica, the crew notified the passengers that there was a pothole in the airport’s runway and that our flight was being diverted to a Nicaraguan airport. I did not really think of this situation as more than a minor inconvenience. I figured my flight would just land a few hours later than it was originally planned to do. Unfortunately, the airport had no internet or service, so I had no way of communicating with my family or the staff that was picking me up at the airport. I was able to stay calm as our rolling delay was becoming longer, and longer. Soon approaching four hours of sitting on the aircraft, the crew came on the speaker notifying us that they were making us stay the night in a hotel. Still unable to communicate with anyone, I was a little nervous. I also knew that Nicaragua was not the safest place to travel, but I was hopeful in myself that I would be just fine. Upon arriving in Nicaragua, the hotel staff were very friendly, but I was still having trouble getting connected with my family and the staff trying to pick me up from the airport. The hotel staff did not speak a lick of English and they were unable to understand what I was asking when I was asking for help trying to call my loved ones. I finally got a few minutes of internet connection on my phone, long enough to contact my parents and the staff waiting for me at the airport. Other than that, I was all alone, in an unsteady country, with no means of communication, with a few strangers I had recently made friends with on the plane. I was impressed with how calm and levelheaded I had remained through this whole situation. I sat down by the pool that nigh to relax a little when another young woman who was also traveling alone sat down next to me and said “You know, we’re pretty awesome.  Think about how brave and resilient we are traveling alone and being thrown into this situation and not even flinching. We are strong.” I hadn’t really thought about it until that moment. That conversation allowed for me to reflect on myself and see how independent I truly am. Because of this conversation, I have noticed myself, in Costa Rica and back at home, being less fearful of times when I need to do thing by myself because I know that I can handle anything that life throws at me.

Another value that I came to truly see in myself from this trip is leadership. I had been varsity soccer captain, leader of a mentor group for college students, leader of a group for young girls, and on the executive board for a club at my university. I had been a leader my whole, life I just didn’t really feel it. The daycare setting was stressful in Costa Rica. The language barrier was really holding me back. During my first week, I felt as if I wasn’t making any impact on the people around me. One night, I was thinking about the daycare and evaluating my feelings of frustration. I decided that since I was having a difficult time communicating verbally, that I needed to find another way to communicate. I figured my best bet was to be enthusiastic with my body language and facial expressions. This immediately started to work. I felt as if I was making better connections and relationships with the kids. I kept doing this for the remainder of my time in the daycare with the always-changing group of volunteers. During my last week in Costa Rica, the president of the program came up to me and thanked me for being such a great leader to all. He said he appreciated how enthusiastic I was and keeping the morale high. He mentioned that I was a great teacher to all the new volunteers coming in each week and that I showed an awesome example of how they want their volunteers to interact while at their service site. I thanked him for his nice compliment and then I did not really think much of it after that. The next evening, I called my mother to catch up and tell her things about my trip. I mentioned the compliment I received the previous day. She stopped me and said “Erin, do you understand how awesome that is?” I sat back and thought about it more deeply. Then I realized, wow, I am completely out of my element, in a different country, speaking a native language, with people I have never met, and my leadership skills still shine to others around me. I was dealing with being homesick, having anxiety, and not feeling good while traveling, as many do, and I was still able to have great leadership qualities. Out of all my leadership experiences, I think that this is my best one. I think this because I wasn’t even trying to be a leader. I went to Costa Rica with the mindset that I was just there to help and learn of a new culture. I wasn’t trying to outshine anyone or take control of any situation, my natural personality trait allows for me to show as a leader to others.

Traveling abroad was eye-opening in many ways. Observing and living in a new country was a great experience and it was fun to compare the United States with Costa Rica. Some of my favorite conversations were with local people about their cultures and exchanging conversations about my culture. The conversations usually ended up in a lot of laughing just because some of the things we do is so different from each other! From these conversations I realized that most people living in Costa Rica are fluent in Spanish and English. Most people are unable to get jobs if they are not also fluent in English because they have so many American visitors. I was so shocked by this. I think that this is something that Americans should also do. I think it would be very beneficial for Americans to be fluent in another language because it would encourage Americans to travel to new countries and encourage more people to travel to the United States. I think one reason why so many Americans travel to places such as Costa Rica is because their native people speak English, which makes it easier for people to communicate and explore their country. Tourism is a huge economy for Costa Rica. I talked to many natives that go to college and learn skills to work in a place of tourism. Natives of Costa Rica value tourism. They love learning from every tourist they encounter and the enjoy showing them the beauty of their country. I think that learning another language such as Spanish would allow for a new appreciation for diversity in the United States. Not only would it allow for a growth in economy for the United States, but I think that Americans would learn so much about other countries from the tourists and learn to love and show off the country they live in, just as natives of Costa Rica have.

One evening in while I was visiting Costa Rica, my friend and I were walking around in the central square of Santa Cruz. We encountered a group of young men and we started conversing with them. My friend was fluent in Spanish and one of the young men was fluent in English. We had a very long conversation with them that night. It was great to have fluent speaking people in both languages because everyone could be included in the conversation with translations. We talked to them about politics, food, school, relationships, family, jobs, and so much more. Both groups learned a lot that night about a different country. After this meaningful conversation, I concluded that it is so important to be able to communicate with as many people as possible. Those young men had no idea they were going to run into us Americans in their local park that night. If they couldn’t speak English, we wouldn’t be able to communicate and learned everything we did.

These realizations of my independence and leadership qualities will help me as I finish school and prepare to attend graduate school for occupational therapy. I will need to exemplify these qualities in all my applications and interviews. Schools look for these qualities so that they can ensure their students are above and beyond. Independence and leadership are qualities that all occupational therapists should boast because they are always working with an integrated team of medical professionals. They need to be able to share ideas and defend treatments for their patients. I think that my recognition of these qualities will allow for me to be successful in my future career.

Becoming more culturally aware of the world has always been a personal goal for me. I think that my trip to Costa Rica was a good way to dip my feet in the waters and has boosted my desire to travel and learn of more countries. Upon returning from Costa Rica, I aspire to learn and become fluent in Spanish. Then I would love to travel to other Spanish-speaking countries and learn of their culture. I will now be able to compare their lives to what I have learned in Costa Rica. I think that this will allow for me to live a humbler and fulfilling life in America. All these insights I have acquired on my trip to Costa Rica will better my life in my school, career, and personal life. I would not have been able to do this without the help of STEP and I will always be grateful for the transformation I have undergone during this experience.

The Painted Turtle Camp

For one week in Lake Hughes, California, I was a cabin counselor for 17-year-old girls with chronic or life-threatening illnesses. As part of the oldest cabin, we worked with the youngest cabin (age 7) to guide our girls to become future leaders. An average day consisted of many different activities such as fishing, canoeing, crafting, working in the wood shop, and swimming.

To start the week, we did a lot of ice breaking activities to allow the girls to get to know each other. As the week progressed, I realized more and more things about myself and others around me. I quickly learned that being a counselor to 17-year-olds came with great responsibility. The role entailed more than making sure they had fun and be safe but rather to create future leaders. I learned a lot from them as to how much young women are capable of. They inspired so many people around them including campers, counselors, and other staff through big and small moments.

One moment that touched my heart throughout this experience was when this incredibly shy girl from the youngest cabin got up on stage and danced in front of the whole camp. This happened towards the end of the week after the girls helped build her confidence. Not only were the counselors touched by this moment, but the girls in our cabin were in tears to see someone so shy come out of their shell. This goes to show how much influence the young women in our world have. Something as small as dancing on a stage proves that this girl watched our cabin dance on stage, and she wanted to do it too.

Another moment that drove the change about my view of the world was when one of our campers, Izzy, helped her friend, Marie, play a game. This may sound incredibly simple, but this small act created a huge wave. We were standing in a circle playing a name game where you had to say your name and your favorite dessert, the next person had to repeat what you said and add on their own. The last person to go would have to repeat everybody’s name and favorite dessert. When it was Marie’s turn, she had a hard time repeating the desserts because they were all so similar. Izzy was patiently standing right next to her and when Marie was out of ideas, Izzy stepped up and carefully helped Marie. Izzy did not just give Marie the answers she was looking for; she was trying anything she could to get Marie to guess. She would sound out the desserts, describe them, act them out, etc. all on her own initiative. No one had to ask her to help, she just did it. This simple moment was one that made the biggest impact on me and other counselors. This showed me how a little patience can go a long way.

The most important moment of this camp experience happened at a campfire, exclusively with our cabin. This was the first time that this campfire was ever put into action, but I am sure glad it did. On one of the last nights of camp, we told our campers that we had something special to go to, but they did not know what it was until they had a blindfolded walk to the campfire. They had to hold onto each other’s shoulders and follow the lead of a counselor’s voice as she spoke about how being a leader is about trusting others and sometimes letting others take the lead. Once they got to the campfire, they discovered all of the counselors, Pun, and s’mores. Pun is an older gentleman, a volunteer, who comes to almost every session, every summer although he does not live close to the area. He has known these women for almost as long as they have been coming to camp. After his inspirational talk about how much these women mean to him and how much they are going to achieve as future counselors, our campers shared their experiences at camp and how nervous they were going into camp their first time, but how it now is home and a place they feel safe. I did not have much to add to this conversation, but with just listening I could tell how much magic is in The Painted Turtle camp. Pun stated that if they ever need to come back to camp, they should “close your right eye, close your left eye, open your heart, and you will be back at camp”.

I never had doubts as to how much young women could achieve; I just had not seen it in this light. Watching all of these moments unfold with women with chronic or life-threatening disabilities show just how much impact they can have on others, and me. Learning about the women’s struggles just to see how much they give in return shows tremendous strength. I hope to do this in the future while pursing my career path in audiology. I will listen to patients and their families to understand what they are seeking. Some families may be seeking resources to enhance the learning for their child who is deaf, or some individuals may be seeking hearing aids/cochlear implants to enhance what they can hear to be able to communicate. Others may just need someone to talk to. I hope I can support individuals in the future by being courageous, patient, and kind, just like our campers.

Project Reflection

For twenty five short days I was able to travel to two of the most gorgeous countries I have ever been to, Australia and New Zealand. During the trip I was pushed out of my comfort zone with activities like sky-diving, eating kangaroo, and even just getting on a plane ten different times. The project, through the activities, pushed me to discover the child in me again, take risks, and create everlasting relationships with twenty one other individuals.

For me personally I felt this trip allowed me to find myself more. After two years of college where I felt lost, on this trip I was able to feel sure about myself and reassured with where I am in life. I was able to appreciate the child in me, and know that it is okay to take time and embrace those moments where you just want to surf some waves instead of laying on a towel like the other adults. Spontaneous received a whole new definition on this trip. Suddenly putting guac on my chipotle wasn’t crazy but jumping head first into a glacier run-off river was. I assumed I would always have a place as the play it safe kind of mom of the group, but mama jumped out of a plane.

As for my view of the world, that has seen monumental change. I have only ever been out of the country one other time and that was to Guatemala. I expected poverty, as it was a mission trip. This trip to Australia and New Zealand had no preconceptions. In traveling there i have found a much greater appreciation for proper recycling and other ways to lessen my carbon footprint. These countries are not wasteful, and they make America look incredibly negligent with their care for our Earth. The countries also showed me kindness. I had never been somewhere where everyone around me cared whether I was lost, or hurt, or even if I was just having a good day. It is comforting to know that in other parts of the world people still show common courtesy and care for one another on a daily basis and not just for a short thirty second clip you watch on facebook.

Being able to appreciate the child in me was something that throughout the trip was brought up several different times. The activities on the trip in general were fun, but even in our down time you would find us playing games or being weird. There were times we stayed off our phones and only talked to one another. We were kids again who only cared about who we were going to pick on at lunch, and what fun activity we were going to do after lunch. For my group and I we discussed our childlike wonderment in several different activities, such as surfing, snorkeling, and white water rafting. Some of my favorite days on the trip were just getting to get out on the water and have fun with no responsibilities. The only care was if I could find nemo, how many times I was going to fall off the raft, or if I was going to be able to catch the big wave. Responsibilities were nonexistent, and having fun was the only goal. 

As for my transformation as a risk taker, I can almost pinpoint that moment. About two days before our first free day In Cairns, Australia I put my name on a list to jump out of a plane. I expected bad weather, as the radar was calling for it. That day though I woke up to a sunny sky, and my name on a list for skydiving. Afraid of planes, heights, and speed, I laughed my way up in denial nineteen thousand feet where I jumped out of a plane. The most amazing experience of my life, just a few minutes long. After that I was not the same person, suddenly the fear did not matter. I had conquered my greatest fears, and boy was I rewarded. Miss. play it safe was no more and since then I try to carry that spontaneous, risk-taking mentality into my everyday life back in the states.

Lastly my outlook on the world was influenced every day I woke up. I reused the same ziploc for the tenth day in a row to pack my wrap for the hike that day. I said “g’day” to every hiker I passed and asked them how their day was. When the group inevitably got lost, a lone hiker would assist us as we played with their friendly off leash dog. The countries cared about one another and most importantly the Earth they walked on. They seek out all the ways they can protect their environment, and take time to appreciate it. Everyday I turned my outlets off before I left I was reminded that the Earth is appreciated by this part of the world, and I can take that outlook with me to the states and make a small difference in the people around me, just like they did for me down under.

As a future teacher, it is my job to educate the minds of tomorrow. I like to think that I will be able to instill more than just knowledge about math and reading in my young kids. It is my desire to foster a love of learning and discovery in my students. I want them to start thinking about different parts of the world and strive to visit them. I hope to share my travels, and inspire them to step out of their comfort zone. As for the environment, I think that all begins with proper recycling education and I think it begins young. This trip is valuable to me because it has put a spotlight on the changes America needs to make in order to become more environmentally friendly and I think that starts in the education of young children. I will definitely take the time to weave awareness of the environment in the curriculum and make sure that children have an understanding of the monumental impact they can make.

Childlike wonderment is something all teachers should have. You are the adult, and the boss of the classroom, but most importantly you are the child’s confidante. Ultimately you decide whether a student loves school and wants to stay in, or whether they hate it and drop out. Being able to take the time for fun in the classroom is a difficult idea for today’s educational climate. Test, test, test is all these kids do. Taking time to be a child with them and have fun is something that will help me in my professional life, and will be my goal everyday in my future job as a teacher. I am incredibly grateful for this trip, and all it has instilled in me. If I could, I would do it all over.

 

Sustainable and Resilient Tanzania Community

I completed my STEP signature project through the Resilient and Sustainable Tanzania Service Learning program. During Spring ’19 semester, I studied Swahili with a class of mostly civil engineering capstone students and worked on the engineering projects that we would eventually implement in Tanzania. We spent the month of May in Tanzania accomplishing tasks that will lead to cleaner drinking water supplied to the Maasai communities surrounding the Pangani river outside of Same, TZ.

 

I experienced many perspective shifts while abroad. I had only traveled outside of the United States once before, so my direct contact with foreign people IN a foreign place was limited. I had learned a lot about Tanzania from the pre-travel class and my own independent reading, so I had a surface-level familiarity with the country and its culture. I knew that the lives most people lead there are different from Americans. What I came to realize was that I was more often surprised by similarities between people in the states and in Tanzania than differences. People faced similar hardships and were just trying to make happy lives for themselves. There was no shift in that human agenda. I noticed that jobs, entertainment, family life, socializing, etc. simply took on different forms there.

 

I spent most of my time in rural Tanzania. My exposure was kind of limited to an agriculturally centered society and economy. The full scope of Tanzania ranges from farming towns you’d similarly encounter in the U.S. to sprawling cities like Dar Es Salaam. We spent some time in Arusha, the large city in the Kilimanjaro region. That being said, most people in the small town I was in were extremely nice. Not that I wasn’t expecting them to be nice, but the citizens were outwardly amicable, which is something that I wasn’t used to. It felt nice greeting everyone you pass by, and I hope to bring back some of that sentiment to strangers here.

 

A considerable worldview shift I experienced was the cultural importance of family history. The group of people that you trace your history back to and secondly, their geographical location is significant. It isn’t a divisive trait – it accompanies a sense of pride for where you come from. that I don’t feel as strongly present in America. Occupationally, many jobs funnel through agriculture. It seemed like everyone grew or raised something even if they didn’t consider themselves a farmer. The main street through the town was constantly busy, and travel is an important part of daily life. People would have to travel on foot, on motorcycle, packed into buses, etc., precisely for work, not just to get to and from work, which is something I wasn’t used to seeing. It made me see the appeal of lots of movement for work. Sure, a lot of time can be wasted just moving from one place to another, but the activity and spontaneity and lack of corporate offices was really nice and is the sort of environment that I would want to work in, on a smaller scale. People are also resourceful and found creative solutions to problems we take for granted in America. Your roof sprung a leak? Just fix it! Here in the states we would call a technician who specialized in repairing roofs. The need to be handy isn’t the same nor is the accessibility to services like that. It made me realize that a lot of innovations in engineering are a result of satisfying a “need”. Since being home and starting a new internship, I have tried to approach my daily tasks with similar creativity and admiration for resourcefulness.

 

I made many good friendships with my teammates on the trip. I learned their motivations for studying engineering. Hearing their testimonies helped me better understand my own motivations for studying engineering. I also developed a lot in how I work with others, like when to speak up about the direction of a project, deliberating tasks, going through data together, etc. I think a big reason we worked well together was due to the nature of our work. We were all contributing to a good cause, and so conflict didn’t really surface as we knew it would prevent us from accomplishing this wonderful thing. I aim to make it into a similar work environment when I graduate, surrounded by people who believe the work being done is meaningful and good. I also came to know quite a few University of Dodoma students who are jointly partnered on this trip with us. Listening to their accounts of why they became interested in humanitarian work made me optimistic about facing a lot of the world’s problems with providing people with essential human needs, like clean drinking water.

 

GIV Thailand, Community and Healthcare in Ban Nam Khem

While I was in Thailand, I was involved in several different types of projects. Most of what I took part in was teaching English to kindergarten-aged children at both a local village school and a private school. In addition to that, we performed free health assessments and measures throughout the village. Lastly, me and other students spent our time engaging with children/adolescents with disabilities at the Camillian Center. Our time there was focused on creating games and learning activities for them to take part in and enjoy. There were many other things we were involved with regarding conservation as well, but the focus of my trip was mainly education and healthcare.

Before I had gone on this trip, I had a lot of experience with traveling across the globe. From the Caribbean islands, Europe, Latin America and many places here in the U.S., I had been fortunate enough to experience all those things. And by then, I thought I had seen it all. However, my time in Thailand and my first time in Asia was a lot more different than anything I had experienced before.

Before I had done all those things with my family, but this was my very first time traveling outside of the country on my own independently. At first, it felt very overwhelming and gave me a lot of anxiety. I ran into a lot of problems with my flights and was left with my own devices in many situations because I did not have an international call plan to ask my parents for any kind of help. But, on my own I was able to conquer these road blocks and it was an extremely liberating feeling. That kind of feeling lasted with me throughout the entirety of my time in Thailand.

Aside from traveling independently, there were a lot of things I was able to learn about Thailand, the culture and society from both the team leaders in the GVI program but also from the other students and adults who were also taking part in the program. Not only did I learn just about the Thai culture, but I learned about other people’s global experiences and what it is like to live a day in their lives.

Despite the learning curve I faced with independently traveling and doing all these other things on my own, the last paragraph of my response to question two is what stuck with me the most. Upon arriving in to the village Ban Nam Khem where our program was based, we spent the entire first day learning about the village, culture, customs, etc. surrounding Thai society. We also learned that in 2004 there was a devastating tsunami that completely disrupted Thailand in its entirety and is still recovering from the emotional impact, physical and economic tolls it brought on to the people there. The village of Ban Nam Khem lost an estimated 60% of its known population following the events of the Boxing Day Tsunami. It brought a lot of attention to me the kind of value that is placed behind life and how we sometimes take that all for granted. And I will never forget some of the discussions I had with some of the villagers who were there during that time. Learning of the tsunami and about GVI’s sustainable goals for this region of Thailand also helped solidify my understanding of why we were doing what we were doing. It fulfilled my sense of purpose and made me feel like my contributions were extremely important, impactful and meaningful.

The children that I spent time with both at the schools and Camillian center was also an experience of its’ own. As someone who wants to go into rehabilitation and work as a physical therapist for people with both congenital and developmental disabilities, the Camillian center provided me a great experience to learn more about disability. Something that shocked me was how disability is viewed in Thailand, and it is not even remotely the same as it is here in the States. In some respects, disability is seen as an embarrassment or even a curse placed onto a family. And people with disabilities are not given much of an opportunity to exist outside of their disability which I find extremely heartbreaking. One of the things I was fortunate to participate in was a 5k run that helped raise money for the Camillian center and bring awareness to disability. That it is a fact of our lives and not something we should concern ourselves with disguising or running away from. Us students with the assistance of our program leads were able to create fun activities to engage in with the Camillian kids. I always looked forward to my time at the center each day because I was always overwhelmed with positivity, excitement and joy with these kids and the other students. It was hard to say goodbye to the kids there and I was glad to feel like I was able to make an impact on their lives.

The last thing I want to talk about was the people of GVI itself. The Community and Healthcare leader, Billy was an amazing resource for us as we planned out lessons for both the English classes as well as Camillian. He was extremely friendly and personable. Among him was another Community leader, someone who is Thai and is from the community herself. Her name was Gay and acted as a liaison between us and the community. She is an extremely pivotal pillar to the program. I was able to become close with both Gay and Billy and both have left long-lasting impressions on me that I will hold very dearly. Gay helped immerse us in Thai culture by giving us Thai lessons each week, so we could better communicate with the people around us. It felt good being able to attempt to break the language barrier and not be a typical American tourist. Billy’s background and how he got to Thailand doing what he does served as a form of inspiration to me. Being able to do something like what Billy is doing over there in Thailand is admirable and makes me hope that one day I can have the time to do something the same.

The totality of this trip is just almost too much for words to describe for me, but I will forever be thankful for everything it gave me!

This program really resonated with me for several reasons. I learned a lot about the world and Thai culture and there were a lot of things that helped shape my world view and perspective. I have a very succinct group of life values that I try my best to follow each day and this trip helped me solidify those in ways that I will never forget. A quote that I found during my time there that will forever resonate with me, “never stop learning because life never stops TEACHING.” Not only that but some of what I was doing translates really well into what I want to do with my career. Again, as someone who wants to work with disability in the future, this is an incredible experience for me. It gave me insight into different aspects of disability. Both in its physical form but also the social and societal pressures of disability that exist. As a disability studies minor, I was able to apply a lot of knowledge I have gained over the past semester in a real-life setting and seeing all of that manifest together was truly enlightening. Hopefully one of these days, I can go back and visit the village of Ban Nam Khem and reunite with the people there that I hold near and dear.

San Diego Adventure

1.         The main activities my STEP Signature Project entailed was serving and performing ministry with the homeless community in downtown San Diego, ministering with college students at a nearby campus and on the beach. I also received training in evangelism and was part of a Bible study. Finally, I spent time each morning doing a devotional and got discipled by a disciple leader.

2.         My view of the world changed while completing my STEP Signature project. Before going on this trip, I had limited experience with people from different places and cultures. Throughout my trip, I met people from different states, countries, and backgrounds, but a desire to have a deeper connection with God is what brought us all together. I had never met people who had such a passion for the Lord before, and who inspired me in so many ways. Perhaps what changed my world view the most was spending time with the homeless community and getting to know them. I thought they would be very eager to receive the care packages we were offering them, but many of them were more interested in our presentations of the Gospel.

3.         First of all, I was nervous to be spending a week with so many people from all different areas of the world. I did not know anyone prior to the trip, and with only ten days to open up to all of them, I was not sure how it would go. However, any expectations I had of these people were blown out of the water. I can honestly say I have never met a more accepting, loving, wonderful group of Christians in my lifetime. I was immediately welcomed with open arms from people I had never spoken to before. Within days, I was able to share my heart with all of them and open up comfortably in a way I never have before. Spending time with them and hearing their life stories about how they were ultimately brought to Christ strengthened my relationship with both them and Christ in a way I would have never imagined. In just ten days, I shared a countless number of smiles, laughs, happy tears, and memories that will be hard to forget. I got to learn so much about 25 different people, 25 different journeys, and 25 different life perspectives.

Next, I was also nervous to be closely interacting with the homeless community in San Diego. I thought they might feel uncomfortable to speak to us or confused why we would want to talk to them. However, a countless number of them, who had literally nothing, declined our care packages, saying to give them to someone who might need it more than them. This simple gesture brought me to tears. Instead of feeling sorry for themselves, several of them explained that they chose to live this way, and they did not mind it. Others explained that life circumstances led them to where they are now (be it deceased family members, financial struggles, etc). However, even those people said they were used to the homeless lifestyle by now. When the question of what the hardest aspect of the homeless lifestyle was brought to someone in the homeless community, he did not respond with lack of food, shelter, or any needs for survival; instead, he simply said that boredom was the hardest thing about being homeless. His response really surprised me. What surprised me even more was the thanks some of them had for God, despite their current living circumstances. A decent amount of the homeless individuals I spoke to said that they were happy and content with their lives.

Like I had hoped, I did gain a stronger connection to God as a result of my project. This was through spending time with other Christians who inspired me to be more like Christ every day, spending more time with God daily on a deeper level, and serving others. I found a community of Christians I never knew I needed so badly that has helped me be the strongest in my faith than I have ever been. Even being in a place I had never been, like San Diego, I got to be in the presence of many walks of life that I had not been familiar with before. I came back to Ohio with an even greater passion to serve others than I had expected. Upon returning, I gained an increased sense of gratefulness. I often take for granted the fact that I have a house to live in, that I do not have to worry about where my next meal will be coming from, and that I have the opportunity to get a college education. This experience was so much more rewarding than helping from afar (such as donating money), as I got to witness the change that took place in

4.         The change I experienced from my trip to San Diego has left a lasting impact on my life. Professionally, gaining firsthand experience in serving others has only solidified my desire to help others as a career. After graduation, I plan on attending graduate school to become a school counselor. I desire to help make a positive difference in the lives of individuals. Personally, my trip to San Diego fueled a passion in me to go on more service trips, in the United States and beyond. I hope to show the love of Christ to everyone wherever I go, and that I am able to serve as many people as possible during my lifetime. My trip to San Diego helped me discover that I have a passion for service trips, and I hope to go on another one soon.

STEP Project Reflection

During my STEP service learning trip, I lived in Petersfield, Jamaica. I spent one week in
Petersfield and worked at the Petersfield High School while I participated in shadowing physical
education class and building chairs for other schools within the community. I also visited
multiple communities on the island and learned about Jamaican culture.
My one week in Jamaica changed my perspective and familiarity with Jamaican culture.
I learned many new Jamaican recipes, songs, and dances along with much of its history as an
independent nation. I also learned that some schools do not get funding from the government and
children were in need of chairs. With help from the Benevolent Society of Petersfield, I was able
to work within the local high school and build these chairs in the shop classroom. My
perspective changed on culture (as this was the first time I was in a foreign country) and my
perspective dramatically changed for those in need in my community.
I formed multiple meaningful relationships with members of the Benevolent Society
including my host mother, Brenda. She taught me about Jamaican culture, current events, and
differences between living in Petersfield and the United States. We would eat breakfast and
dinner together everyday, and she introduced me to many of the other host mothers in the
Benevolent Society. She was a fantastic cook and she taught me multiple traditional Jamaican
food recipes including fried chicken and dumplings.
The leader of the Benevolent Society, Mr. Matthias Brown, drove me around the
community to teach me about Jamaican history while also taking me to and from the high school
to build chairs. He drove me to Roaring River and Cave, a freshwater river with a beautiful cave
nearby. The park has a water cleaning facility and the park was a staple of the Petersfield
community. Mr. Brown changed my perspective and increased my own knowledge on Jamaican
culture.
Lastly, the teachers at Petersfield High School taught me about physical education in the
morning and the industrial technology teacher taught me basic construction and design as we
built school chairs. Many of the children were from single parent households, and these teachers
gave me advice on educating young students on physical education and its application to life
skills for the children. This group of people helped to change my perspectives and give me a new
appreciation for teaching and volunteering during my week in Petersfield.
I believe this change in perspective has assisted me in embracing an unfamiliar culture
and helping those in need. I have a different appreciation for the ability to receive the quality education
and resources everyday that some will never get to receive. My help has changed the lives of
others, and my service has changed my perspective on life and culture. In the future, I plan to
return to this community and help again physically or financially. My new knowledge in
physical education will help me next year as I work within a high school for my athletic training
clinical course.

Volunteering in Costa Rica

Question 1:

The four weeks I spent in Quepos, Costa Rica was one of the most transformative experiences of my life. The majority of my service involved teaching English to locals in Quepos and Cocal, a smaller neighborhood within Quepos. I also was able to start a Women’s Empowerment Program, which was probably my favorite part of my time there.

Question 2:

During my time in Quepos, I think I solidified the idea that I want to live a life dedicated to serving others. This trip did not really change me, but it settled a lot of doubts that I had for my future. I guess you can say it transformed my mindset. I now know that I can live with discomfort if it means helping others. I can sacrifice some luxuries if it allows me to fulfill goals I have when it comes to service. This attitude is going to be important because the areas I want to work and build a career may involve making substantially less money. And in this world today, one’s paycheck is extremely important. More than that, what I want to do will require a lot of time and long work hours, as well as an extreme amount of stress. However, this project confirmed that it will all be worth it. Years from now I will not remember the small living space, the cold showers, the lack of AC, or the humidity in Costa Rica, rather the moments I had when volunteering and the stories of those I helped.

Question 3:

While there are many moments that I believe really impacted me, one in particular left the biggest mark. I had a bunch of students that I taught who really inspired me. One of them was a mother of 10 children. The more time I worked with her, the more I learned about her past and the trials she had been through. The craziest thing about it was that she had the best reasons to miss class or be continuously late, but she never was.

This student was very memorable. Rain, and it rained a lot, or shine she was there. She was prepared and genuinely wanted to learn English. As a young, single mother of 10 children she was very aware of the job opportunities available if she learned English. Knowing that she was going to give it her all, made me want to do better. I spent hours planning and customizing lessons for her. If she was going to give me her best, I had to give her mine. With what this woman had gone through, she had a tough exterior. At first I did not think she really liked me. To her I was this new volunteer who was only going to be there for one month and would probably forget about her. My goal was to prove her wrong. I wanted to change her mind and it was not until my month of service was up that I realized I did.

When it came time to leave, I was definitely most sad about leaving this student. Based on what she said to my boss, I knew that she believed I was a great teacher, but on my last day I felt it. She gifted me the most beautiful seashells. When I say that one was probably the most beautiful shell I had ever seen, I mean it. To some, maybe it would have been meaningless. However, to me it meant the world simply because a woman who did not have much to give found something to give me. She did not have to and I did not expect her to, yet that was her way of saying thank you. It washed away the doubt I had about the significance of my impact. They are now in my room and every time I see them, it is a reminder of all that I am able to do for others and how good it feels. I can deal with a whole lot of discomfort to have a life full of this feeling.

Question 4:

The best things come from going outside your comfort zone. Many moments and experiences, like the one I mentioned above, during my time in Costa Rica reaffirmed this idea. I know that there will be times while I am pursuing my career and goals that I will feel uncomfortable and nervous about what is to come. This does not mean that I should readjust what I want, rather, I should work harder and continue pushing. There will be times where I will have to sacrifice luxuries in my pursuit to give back. This is okay. The sacrifices are most likely temporary, but the impact of what you are doing is lasting. Taking these lessons with me will not only help me reach my goals, but it will help me lead the life I know I can and the life I want.