Name: Amanda Skowbo
Hometown: Germantown, Wisconsin
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (beginner)
University: Calvin College
Bachelors: Elementary Education
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Elementary School Teaching in Accra, Ghana
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: January 2016
Claim to fame: Back home in the United States, Amanda works in a culturally diverse summer day camp as a counselor where she has to be sensitive to many different situations, including leading foster children and children coming from abusive homes. We’re thrilled to have you in the UBELONG Family, Amanda!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
As I am still an undergraduate studying elementary education, I wanted to stretch my experience and teach abroad (something I have always wanted to do). However, I did not want just to travel abroad, I wanted to experience the culture and interact with the people. UBELONG allowed me a volunteer opportunity that fit into my busy schedule, was very affordable, and brought me personal growth and cultural experience that helped me advance in every way. A friend, who did the experience in Peru, only had positive things to say about UBELONG and said it was worthwhile and amazing. She guided me to UBELONG, and I thank her for doing that today. I grew immensely in just the four weeks I was there and I would recommend anyone to do a trip with UBELONG and volunteer abroad, especially to Accra, Ghana.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I do not know who made a larger impact, me onto the education project or everyone I encountered onto me; I have to go with the second choice more than the first in my experience. I volunteered at one of the local preparatory schools in Kasoa. Walking into elementary teaching, I had no expectations lined up even though I have taught in a few classrooms before. When I showed up, I learned flexibility was key as I was now teaching science to Junior High students, which turned out to be an amazing experience in itself and I loved every moment of it. As I said, I am almost positive these children and other teachers I worked with taught and affected me more than what I affected or accomplished for them. I came home some evenings after teaching feeling defeated and like I could do much more for these students, as it was already difficult some days teaching with only one textbook and a piece of chalk. However, I then returned that next day with a sweet note saying thanks for teaching me about (fill in the blank) or a “we missed you this weekend” note from students like Desmond or Elizabeth. In addition, the fact that the students would find me grading papers in the shaded corner and tell me it was now time to teach science, that they have a question about science or my home life, and/or tell me to join them for lunch; these are what made me feel like I was actually doing something. Even in the moments I felt insufficient, the students were still learning and excited for me to teach. It always seemed that the small victories throughout the trip, not the big gestures or explanations, but just the simple and real conversations I had with other teachers or students are what made the impact at the volunteer project.
What is your favorite memory?
I do not think that there is one moment I could say was my single favorite memory, but it was the experience as a whole that made it an incredible adventure full of memories. Without one person or moment (good or bad), it would not be the experience I had and have grown from. From my fellow international volunteer, and now friend, whom I experienced the new culture with, to the wonderful members of the local team that made me feel at home and are now amazing friends, and to the many local Ghanaians, teachers, and students that made me feel so comfortable, welcomed, and loved; it really made for one unforgettable and amazing experience. Even in the moments of sweating more than I ever have in my life and the power outages in the evening lead to some of the best conversations and laughter. To the small weekend “get-a-ways” and adventures to Cape Coast, Accra, and Bojo Beach that are full of fun memories. Even the bumpy taxi rides to and from school, the walks home that cover your feet in brown dust, the over packed tro-tro rides, and the shout of “obroni” from someone on the street all made me feel joy and love like never before.
At school, I looked forward to learning the local games played in the courtyard and the songs they would sing for me. The new questions – some silly and others just inspiring – that I have to answer or question with them. Simple hugs given to me from Elizabeth, Comfort, Gideon, Desmond, Linda, and many others brightened my day. Even to excitement over a picture or “selfie” with my camera that came from all the students just so they could glance at their beautiful faces really made my day. The reach to hold my hand, touch my long hair, or just a smile are all the memories that will not ever fade.
If I had to just pick one moment from the trip, it would be the day I was finally able to speak Twi to the students. Oh, the joy on these children’s faces just filled my heart with more love and excitement than possibly imaged. The fact I, the foreigner, decided to speak their language was something unforgettable. It was the moment I felt like I belonged in Kasoa, Ghana and the moment the children at school really wanted to know me. From then on, even in English, conversations were held and they taught me new words in Twi and I taught them English. It was a beautiful relationship and moments that bring me joy as well. And in the moments where that failed, laughter was the best option, as laughter is clearly the best communication. This experience will be something I will not be able to erase from my head and one-day hope to return to, as Ghana and the people there truly hold a special place in my heart.
In a sentence or less, what did you think about the food?
It was amazing and loved it so much that it has become some of my favorite food I still try to eat back at home; my favorite has to be jollof rice!