Name: MyKaelah Mercer
Hometown: Lexington, Kentucky
Nationality: United States
University: University of Kentucky
Degree: Agricultural Economics & Environmental And Sustainability Studies
Occupation: Campus Recreation And Wellness Graduate Assistant
Languages spoken: English
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Forest Conservation in the Amazon, Ecuador
Duration: 1 week
Start month: January 2017
Claim to fame: MyKaelah is a third-time UBELONGer! She volunteered in Merida, Mexico in 2016 and it’s now the second time she’s working with her peers in the Amazon – thank you!
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
Having already been a UBELONG volunteer before with environmental projects in both Mexico and Ecuador, I am fortunate to have already been exposed to what it is UBELONG is trying to accomplish for every single volunteer they accept to go to their trips. The impact that a single trip can have on an individual is incredibly powerful, and often underestimated when it comes to service immersions. UBELONG is such an accessible way to actually commit to provided your own schedule and circumstances. Volunteering with UBELONG allows you yo fulfill the responsibility you have, in some capacity, for the issues that are of highest priority to you – and that is an invaluable opportunity.
What did you find most rewarding from your volunteer experience?
The most rewarding part from my experience this time around in the Amazon was by far the community partners’ effort and resilience put in day in and day out at the reserve. To watch how hard the individuals at the reserve worked every single day, and how committed and invested they were in the work they were doing, was an unforgettable sight to be afforded. Volunteer trips are not just about going and pitching a hand in whatever way you can each day, they are also largely about connecting with these individuals and becoming aware and educated on the issues at hand and the impact they are having on their communities. By taking the time to get to know the individuals who are on staff at the reserve, or even just using them as daily sources of inspiration, you are able to make an impact far beyond your initial expectation for both those individuals, and especially yourself.
What three pieces of advice would you give to a future UBELONG Volunteer?
- Don’t just listen to all that is happening around you, really hear and process all of it. Proper education is key, specifically in terms of learning all that is offered as knowledge from the community partners. Be attentive, journal your thoughts, process each new piece, ask questions, and tie it all back to your goals or purpose on the trip – or even life.
- When you think you have given all that you possibly can, whether physically, emotionally, or mentally, dig a little deeper and give some more. You would be surprised all that you are actually capable of when you remember the circumstances of the situation or site, and the reality is that your presence there is a temporary addition to their everyday reality.
- Enjoy the hiatus from your individual reality. I mean truly embrace the separation from your home and this new location you are in. Whether you have committed to be there for one week or one year, the trip is going to go by faster than you could possibly imagine. Before you know it you will be back to your daily routine and so far removed from who you were on the trip that you will not be able to believe it is actually over. So enjoy the moments, embrace the challenges, and do your absolute best to be fully present in all that is happening around you.