Name: Sreeja Kalapurakkel
Hometown: Brighton, Michigan
Nationality: United States
University: Harvard University
Degree: History and Science, Global Health and Health Policy
Languages spoken: English, Malayalam, Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Psychological Counseling in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 1 week
Start month: May 2017
Claim to fame: As the child of immigrants from Kerala, India, Sreeja has come to value the language, traditions, beliefs and lifestyle of her grandparents and practices them at home. Welcome to UBELONG, Sreeja!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I wanted to find a way to give back meaningfully to a community that does not have access to the essentials of modern living. I chose UBELONG because it was the only volunteer program that had a project related to psychological counseling and mental health which is my area of interest. Lastly, I wanted to learn about a language, culture, and people while volunteering. UBELONG provided the best and most affordable opportunity that encompassed all of the above.
What did you find most rewarding from you volunteer experience?
Though I only had one week to volunteer in Tankarpata, a very small town outside of Cusco, Peru, UBELONG came up with a creative new project that allowed me to use skills from my research background to evaluate the impact of an after-school program. I was given the opportunity to talk and spend time with children who were participating in the program and to hear about their needs, wants, hopes and dreams for their future. It filled me with joy to hear Aracely, a very helpful and bright second-grader, say that she wants to be a dentist, or Yesenia, a student in secondary school, tell me that she wants to learn English in addition to her native Spanish. The joy, energy, resilience, and motivation of these children were so absolute and I was moved.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
- Stay with a host family to understand what life is like in your chosen location.
- Be open and put yourself out there to get a better grasp of communicating in a new language.
- After returning, do not let the work stop. Continue to stay in touch with your project site and see how you can help their cause from afar.