Over the summer of 2012, when I was fifteen, I took a leap of faith and traveled out of the country for the first time, to Ghana, West Africa. I traveled to Ghana for the first time with a program called Global Leadership Adventures (GLA). GLA is nicknamed the Peace Corps for teens. They have around four trips every summer open to highschoolers from around the world in over ten countries. These trips are focused around leadership and volunteering, and immersing yourself in the culture and community. We lived in a hotel on the beach, and I spent three weeks in Ghana with 20 other highschool students. We spent this time building bricks and teaching at a local school, learning new things about each other and ourselves, and learning about a new culture. The time I spent in Ghana changed my perspective on life, helped become a better, and more independent person, a better leader…. and I fell in love with Ghana. I knew I would be going back, I just didn’t know how, when, or where. I did know that I wanted to return and see those special specific children and community that had stolen my heart. I am still very connected with the people I met on this trip, which includes our Ghanaian directors, American directors, and the students on the trip. I am also still very involved and connected to GLA, so if you have any questions regarding it, or Ghana, feel free to contact me. You can read up more on GLA here: experiencegla.com
For the year I was away from Ghana, I always knew I would return. The people of the country, especially the children, had captured my heart. Soon after I came home from Ghana, I happened upon one of my soon-to-be good friend’s Instagram, and we started emailing. She feels the same way that I do about Ghana, and was already shaking the world in more ways than one, and making big changes in her small community.
After I met Rebecca online, we quickly got to talking about how I could return. One of my friends from my GLA trip was also yearning to go back, and through lots of planning and convincing of parents, we planned to go back for a month in the summer of 2013. We were so excited! Jamie and I spent four weeks living in the town of Atonsu-Agogo, which was very different then Keta, where we had stayed on our first trip. Atonsu is much more urban, developed, and has a different form of industry. However, the people, the faces, the children, the welcome, and the laughter are all there. We spent our four weeks in Atonsu teaching Sexual Assault Prevention courses with the NGO (non-governmental organization) Light For Children (LIFC). LIFC envisions a future where children in Ghana have a happy and safe environment, where they are educated and healthy. LIFC runs Sexual Assault Prevention courses in the area, to teach at schools for grades 4, 5, and 6. The volunteers that spend time with LIFC and some Ghanaian employees and volunteers teach these courses. The point of the classes are to teach the children what sexual assault is, how they can prevent it happening to themselves and each other, and what they should do if they are sexually assaulted. This is important as sadly, sexual assault on children is very prominent in Ghana.
Jamie and I stayed with Rebecca at her host father and one of the founders of LIFC’s house. We lived there with some students from the University of Hong Kong, and got to know the children who lived across the street from us very well. For the majority of our time there, our afternoons were spent getting to know these children, who are very close to Rebecca, and became so with us. We got to know each of their personalities, and really enjoyed spending time with them. Building up relationships with them was the biggest part of the trip for me. I cannot wait to see them again when I return. We also got to visit Keta, where we stayed on our first trip, and one of the small orphanages there that had a big impact on us. On our first trip I became very close to the boys of Father’s House, who are called “The Great 8”. These boys were all rescued from slavery off of Lake Volta, where over 7,000 children are enslaved to fishermen. To learn more about the incredible organization visit here: www.fathershouseghana.com/.
My second trip to Ghana was life changing as well, and I fell even more in love with the country, especially the children.
Costa Rica 2013
In early 2013, I was nominated to be the Ambassador of the Year for Global Leadership Adventures. I had been doing a lot of work – mostly on the facebook page – answering questions about GLA and Ghana, and getting people excited and involved. So I was nominated and asked to apply to be their Ambassador of the Year. If I won, I would be the second ever. In May of 2013, I learned that I had been selected against one other student on an almost unanimous decision. My prize for winning was to have another trip with GLA, free. These trips are expensive, so it was a big deal. They have their Ambassador of the Year travel to a new program that they’ve added, and become a student mentor, as well as a participant. For me, it was Costa Rica, Protecting the Pacific. This specific trip was interesting and exciting to me because for the past five summers I have attended a two week Nature Camp that is focused on preserving and protecting the planet, and that is a passion of mine. They signed me up for a two week trip at the end of the summer, and all I had to do was book my flight. I left only five days after returning from Ghana, so I didn’t have much time to process any culture shock before heading off on another adventure.
I spent two weeks in Costa Rica with nine other amazing teenagers, and three awesome adults from around the world. At first I was a little nervous that such a small group would be more awkward, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. We became closer as a family then I ever would have expected. We learned new things together – like how to surf, snorkel, and use our small knowledge of Spanish – and new things about ourselves and each other. I could not advocate more for GLA truly putting you out of your comfort zone, but changing your life. We did trash pickups on the beach, installed trash cans at local schools to reduce the waste in the ocean, started biogardens, built a greenshouse, learned about the natural wildlife and habitats around us, and snorkeled and hiked in the most biologically diverse place on earth – Corcovado National Marine Park. It was another life-changing and awe-inspiring experience. We learned about how our use of disposable products effects our precious planet and environment, and decided as a group to advocate for this important cause. We saw sea turtles, dolphins, humpback whales, and parrots, and made life-long relationships.
On February 1st 2014, I hopped on the plane to Ghana yet again with one of my best friends from a camp I’ve attended for the past five summers. The trip was initially going to be two weeks for her, and a month for me, however, in my first two weeks there, I decided to extend my trip two weeks. My reason for going to Ghana on this trip was to catolouge over 1300 books, and set up the library half of my good friend Rebecca’s Education Center. My friend, Cori, and I spent 1 to 4 hours a day catolouging books for the two weeks she was there. The books would NOT have been finished if she had not been there with me. The other parts of my trip were spent loving on the children who stole my heart in the summer of 2013, teaching creative arts at a local school, painting other libraries in the area, running errands and helping Rebecca set up her new home, traveling around the country, and visiting some old friends. It was my best trip so far.
East Africa Semester Abroad, 2014 – Carpe Diem Education
My first semester of college was spent in a way that I felt like I needed. Traveling through three countries in East Africa. Uganda, Rwanda, and Tanzania all stole my heart in different ways.
From Septemeber through Decemeber I traveled around these countries with 9 other college students, and 2 leaders, through a program called Carpe Diem Education. (carpediemeducation.org)
We started in Uganda, where we spent a month tracking rhinos, working at a special needs education center, trekking up beautiful mountains and canoeing in the lake they surround, white water rafting on the Nile, and exploring the little towns all over the country.
After our month in Uganda, we drove across the border to Rwanda, where we spent 10 days visiting the genocide memorials in the capital city, Kigali, and working in a rural community building water tanks for single parent families.
We flew to Tanzania for the last six weeks of our adventure, where we spent a week in a crash course of Swahili, worked at an orphanage, did homestays, visited a holistic living retreat, explored more little towns, bought crafts, went on safari, and so much more.
These three months were some of the best in my life. I had my up days and down days, as everybody does, but I became so close with the 9 girls who were in my group, and the 2 leaders we had. I wouldn’t change my experience for anything.
My second semester of my Latitudes Year through Carpe Diem (www.carpediemeducation.org/programs/latitudes-year/) was postponed until the fall of 2015.
In Septemeber of 2015 I boarded a plane to from DC to Dubai… and then Bangkok… and finally the little city of Chiang Rai, in Northern Thailand. Chiang Rai is close to the northern boarder of Thailand, and is a quaint little “city” surrounded by beautiful mountains and villages.
I spent three months volunteering with the Mirror Foundation, about 20 minutes outside of Chiang Rai. I spent my days teaching English classes at local daycares, primary, middle, and highschools in the surrounding areas, as well as a few weeks spent teaching adults at a local hilltribe development center.
In Northern Thailand a large majority of farmers and villagers do not have Thai citizenship or speak English. The main goal of the Mirror Foundation is to educate the hill tribe people in this region, so that they may learn English and be able to apply for citizenship.
The Mirror Foundation has an ever-changing number of volunteers from all over the world who stay anywhere from 2 weeks, to 3 months – as I did. To learn more about the Mirror Foundation, visit here: http://www.thailandvolunteer.org
After an incredible 3 months in Thailand I jumped excitedly on a plane to India to meet up with my best friend and see the town she’d been living in for three months.
Jamie had been living alone in Mcleod Ganj, Upper Dharamsala India, for almost 4 months working with Tibetan refugees and learning learning learning. She is also an alumni of Carpe Diem Education. Mcleod Ganj is the current home fo the Tibetan Government in Exile, and holds the Dalai Lama’s temple, and a large population of Tibetan refugees.
Jamie and her taxi driving friend picked me up in Amritsar after a night spent in Delhi, and we drove five hours to her second home. The original plan was to stay in Mcleod Ganj through Christmas and then head out and explore India, but we couldn’t leave. We stayed in Mcleod Ganj until the 3rd week of January 2016, and then spent a week in Delhi before heading home to Virginia with a day to spare before my little sister’s 15th birthday.
While in Northern India Jamie and I created Refugees Represented. An organization with the goal of encouraging refugees to share their own stories in a time when our world really needs to hear them. Our blog is refrep.org – please check us out and spread the word!