Name: Mark Hagen
Hometown: Leawood, Kansas
Nationality: United States
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (beginner)
Occupation: Lawyer at Hagen Law Offices
Volunteer Abroad: Supporting Efforts to Stop Child Labor in Accra, Ghana
Duration: 3 weeks
Start month: May 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I saw the need for lawyers contributing time and experience to countries experiencing challenges with Rule of Law issues. Having devoted twenty years to the criminal justice system in my home country and its benefits, the opportunity to bring some stability to a different county was too enticing to refuse.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
The NGO I worked with had one funding program, a “Donate” button on their website, which has served them well over the years. I encouraged the leaders to broaden their reach and consider making grant applications to local and international organizations, enlisting celebrity endorsements (e.g., Ghana national football players) to generate awareness and stimulate Ghana-based financial contributions, joining coalitions of similarly focused Ghana charities, and formulating a sustainment development model centered on a worldwide donor pool.
Anytime an individual, or group of individuals, is introduced to a different way of thinking, there this a natural hesitation to adopt the new and untested, and defer to the old and reliable. The good people of Ghana are like so many in the rest of the world, in that they are reluctant to change a process, procedure, or program without some assurances that the result will be successful. If I had any impact at all, it was to emphasize that to try something, and perhaps fall short of expectations, is perfectly acceptable and that failure can be part of learning and growing and not something to be avoided.
How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
It was impossible to live among the Ghana people and not grow attached to them. I saw my host family and co-workers overcome daily challenges that would have brought many of my fellow countrymen and women to their knees in frustration if they had been confronted with the same challenges here. The Ghanaian’s tenacity, optimism and good will was infectious and I left the country with an entirely new perspective about what matters. After seeing them persevere, I found it is a bit embarrassing to reflect on my trivial problems.
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
I went to the country with no preconceived ideas and tried to be receptive in learning their way of doing things, and not compare them to other parts of the world.