Name: Cally Chang
Hometown: Yonkers, New York
Nationality: United States
Occupation: Rehabilitation Technician at New York Presbyterian/ Lawrence Hospital
Languages spoken: English, Cantonese (fluent), Italian (beginner)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Caring for Children with Disabilities in Cusco, Peru
Duration: 3 weeks
Start month: June 2017
Claim to fame: Cally was the President for American Red Cross Club at Stony Brook University, where she completed her degree. Wonderful to have you, Cally!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG volunteer?
I have always been a fan of travelling and challenging myself. Working in a number of clinics as a physical therapist aide in America made me want to take my career one-step further; like traveling abroad to help those who are disadvantaged. Initially, I was quite overwhelmed from the amount of volunteer organizations that were available and what each organization had to offer. However, I was lucky enough to stumble upon a fellow UBELONG Volunteer who was willing to share his experiences with the organization. Once I heard about his experiences abroad and did my research I knew UBELONG was the perfect fit because it had the flexibility, affordability, and variety that I was looking for.
What did you take from the experience?
I volunteered in the caregiving project at an orphanage with disabled children. Having the opportunity to work with a population that was inherently different in its culture, lifestyle, and language presented obstacles that I was unfamiliar with, but it was ultimately a humbling and heartwarming experience.Though the language barrier was initially daunting, I found that the human touch presented no barriers. The children at the orphanage were most responsive when I manually massaged and stretched them, including those who were not able to verbally or physically express themselves. I felt the emotional connection through their constant eye contact from the moment I held their hands until the last minutes of the therapy sessions.
This experience showed me that while we can be thousands of miles apart we are all not very different from one another. Regardless of disability, gender, culture, country, or beliefs, we all enjoy and deserve to be loved, played with, and shown attention.
What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
Embrace your mistakes and confusion. Yes, the project should be your main priority but don’t forget that you are also there discovering a new part of yourself. Don’t be afraid to interact with the children and the caregivers. I know it can be quite overwhelming at first but dive right into it before you give yourself time to register even a second of fear. Before you know it you’ll be running around chasing after the kids!
In a sentence or less, best advice for fitting in with the local culture?
Be open-minded. This is very important because then you’d be more willing to try new things! Interact with the locals, they have lots of tips and they know where all the good food is.