Name: Natalie Johnson
Hometown: Ithaca, New York
Nationality: United States and Japan
Languages spoken: English
University: Syracuse University
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting children with learning disabilities in Accra, Ghana
Duration: 10 weeks
Start month: October 2018
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
I decided to volunteer with UBELONG because of how reputable the organization is and to immerse myself in an environment that is entirely different from the one I know. I just graduated from college in the spring receiving my bachelors in Inclusive Early Childhood/Special Education and I wanted to challenge myself by bringing what I learned through my undergraduate experience to Ghana in the education project helping students with Learning Disabilities.
I specifically chose Ghana because I have always wanted to travel to Africa and this was the perfect opportunity to both continue to build my education of special education and experience Africa in an authentic way by living for a few months with natives from the community. I knew that I wanted to gain some more experience that is vastly different from anything I had ever been used to before continuing my education at the Graduate level and UBELONG gave me the opportunity to fulfill this desire and exceeded my expectations!
What was your impact on your volunteer project?
I was placed at a school where I helped to better establish the resource center there that had been relatively new. I was able to work with local volunteers to create a plan in which the resource center could follow that is better organized. This plan worked with the head teachers and students to ensure our students were having valuable time in both the classroom and the resource center. I assessed students to identify students with learning disabilities and then created a plan for them to best meet their learning needs. I was also able to share my knowledge of teaching literacy to students with learning disabilities and also implemented new strategies to make learning more hands on and fun for all types of learners catering to their specific needs. I also helped to educate teachers and students about IRLEN Syndrome in a week-long awareness week where I traveled to local schools to talk and raise awareness for IRLEN Syndrome, a perceptual processing disorder that effects a student’s ability to read. Ultimately, my students made huge progress in the short amount of time there and I think seeing a child’s growth, although sometimes seeming small, is a big accomplishment!
How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
During my volunteer trip I personally grew so much from adjusting to a new environment that is completely foreign from my own to the way I now carry myself and my appreciation towards Ghana. Almost every person I met either briefly or growing to know very well have always welcomed me and taught me so much about how I should approach life. I learned to become much more flexible with my work and adapt quickly to any challenges that ever arose. Teaching in such a new environment was a challenge at times but I learned so much about myself as an educator and how you can still do so much even if you don’t have as many resources as you may be comfortable with. All of the little things such as small breakthroughs with a student that has been struggling with a specific concept and finally has that aha moment when it finally clicks are the ones that make it all worth it. All the local volunteers were always eager to help and always willing to answer any questions or doubts you may ever have. They fully support all the volunteers that come through and made this volunteer experience something I will never forget!
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
An amazing experience that I will value for a lifetime!