Name: Dayana Baleva
Hometown: The Hague, Netherlands
Languages spoken: Bulgarian, English (fluent), German (intermediate)
Occupation: International Relations at Leiden University
Volunteer Abroad: Supporting Efforts to Stop Child Labor in Accra, Ghana
Duration: 4 weeks
Start month: June 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to volunteer with UBELONG in Ghana after a friend told me about his experience volunteering with them in Vietnam. He told me how well his project and his stay there were coordinated, as well as how the materials, and the help from his UBELONG Mentor had helped him prepare well for the experience. I had always wanted to volunteer somewhere, where my help would be needed and where I could make a positive impact on people’s lives, and now that I had learned about a reliable organization offering that, I was convinced.
I am a political science and international relations student, so I wanted to apply my knowledge in those areas. That is why I chose to volunteer for the human rights project that UBELONG offers in Ghana. I applied and was offered a placement, and as I started to prepare for my departure, I really found out that my friend was right – the materials and the help that I received from my mentor were incredibly helpful, very extensive and really informative – there was not a single thing they were lacking. So this, in combination with the affordable prices of the project, made me choose UBELONG over other organizations.
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
Throughout my placement I worked on multiple subprojects that made for the ‘big’ one, that is eliminating child labour in Ghana. I did child labour awareness talks at schools, I worked on creating questionnaires to collect data on our activities, I conducted surveys and interviews with the children that we sponsor, that are those who were forced to work at an early age because of their family situation, I helped with tutoring at schools, and I worked on a self-project to find funding grants that we could apply for and other organizations to partner up with. I believe that when I piece it all together, and especially with the work of the other volunteers, I really did contribute to the development of the goals of the organization. I helped collect data which is of extreme necessity in countries like Ghana, and I helped find grants that will keep our mission in motion.
There are multiple ways that a volunteer can be helpful in, especially for those coming from completely different backgrounds. They, myself included, can contribute with their views and ideas, that as I personally found out, complement, rather than oppose the ways of doing things there. No matter how long you choose to stay there for, as long as you are proactive and always looking for ways to participate and to help, you can really make a long-lasting impact that the people to come after will continue. That is how you’ll know your work has been truly meaningful.
How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
It would be safe to say that my trip to Ghana was truly incomparable to anything that I had done in my life before that. There were many things that moved me, influenced my ways of thinking, and my attitude towards others. Above all, an image that will stay with me for a while, is when I was helping a high school student understand a question from one of the surveys that we did on the impact that we’ve had on children’s lives. He happened to be a child that we sponsor. He told me his personal story of how he had been forced to go fishing when he was younger, because his family couldn’t afford to keep him in school, how he was paid in fish, and how eventually he managed to run away from his master, before our organization met him and found him eligible for sponsorship.
I could tell that stories like his go unnoticed in Ghana because many times this happens to be the norm rather than an exception. I believe that it is our responsibility as volunteers to be inspired and moved by such stories to do more both personally, and for our communities, and not let ourselves sink into lethargy, complaining about our daily concerns, as if we have the hardest of lives. Rather, we should be motivated to dream and to achieve, and to inspire others, just as this little guy reminded me to be as resilient in life as he is.
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
A life-changing experience that makes you eager to learn.