volunteer-ubelong-ghana

“I learned a great amount not just about nutrition and health, but about what I am capable of.”

UBELONG

UBELONG Snapshot
Nome: Angela Foo
Age: 23
Hometown: Staten Island
Nationality: United States
University: City of New York School of Public Health at Hunter College
Masters: Nutrition
Languages spoken: English
Past travel experience: Advanced
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting at a Nutrition Center in Accra, Ghana
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: June 2014
Claim to fame: Has extensive experience working with children and in various nutrition and food related fields in the United States.

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I was looking for abroad volunteer opportunities in my field of nutrition for over a year before I came across UBELONG and decided to become a UBELONG volunteer. UBELONG was one of the only organizations that offered a program in a nutrition setting that seemed really hands-on and in the field. I’ve always wanted to volunteer abroad to really immerse myself in the culture of a new and completely different place, while having an impact and helping people, and UBELONG’s program in Ghana really fit what I was looking for. Plus, UBELONG’s program fees were much more affordable than almost all of the other organizations out there.

What were your major challenges?
I didn’t come across too many major challenges while I was in Ghana. Everyone was really friendly and helpful. I didn’t arrive with any preconceived notions, so I was able to adapt to the food and culture pretty quickly. However, for about the first two weeks, I wasn’t able to adapt to the sleeping environment. I would wake up in the middle of the night and just could not get a great night’s rest. This led my immune system to weaken and, as I believe, contributed to my biggest challenge – getting malaria. My case of malaria was not too bad, thankfully, but it did cause me to be out of the field for about half a week. I was sad to be out of work and not be able to be with the children of the daycare and nutrition centers or out teaching in the different schools. However, as soon as I felt better I went right back to working with and teaching the children.

What did you take from the experience?
I learned a great amount while living and working in Ghana – not just about nutrition and health, but about myself and what I am capable of. Working in the nutrition center, where many children suffered from malnutrition, really opened my eyes to the other side of nutritional problems. Living in the United States, most nutritional problems arise from over-nutrition and overeating, not under-nutrition and lack of access to foods. I’ve never experienced such cases of malnutrition and seeing the amazing work the nutritionist and nurses did at the center with less resources available really helped me to home in on where I would like to focus my work in the future.

I also learned that sometimes all you need is time and patience. At the daycare, I helped with feeding the children during lunchtime. Many children could not feed themselves due to various intellectual and developmental disabilities, and some were malnourished. Although at times, the children would fuss or be difficult to feed, knowing that this may be the last meal they were getting for the day and how important it was to their growth and development, put things into perspective and allowed me to just sit and take the time to make sure the children were getting a filling and nourishing meal. This made me realize all we have is time and sometimes you just need to slow down and take your time.

Living in Ghana gave me this opportunity to slow down and understand what I am capable of. In New York City, everyone is always rushing to get to their next destination or task and not always taking the time to have a break or do what is needed. In Ghana, there is a slower pace of life, and they like to joke that Ghanaians are always late because they take their time to do things. This was refreshing because sometimes you just need to slow down and take things as they come.

In a sentence or less, best advice for fitting in with the local culture?
Just be open to everything, don’t come in with too many preconceived notions, and be happy to be there.

Related post:
Meet Jamie, a Georgian Court University grad who volunteered in Accra, Ghana with UBELONG at a nutrition center.

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