UBELONG Volunteers during break time with some of their students in Kasoa, Accra.

“I wanted to experience traveling through a different lens.”


UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Danielle Johnson
Age: 22
Hometown: Ithaca, New York
Nationality: United States and Japan
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate)
University: University of Michigan
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 always knew that I wanted to take a gap year between undergrad and grad school. During my gap year I knew I wanted to travel, and Africa had always been on my list of places I wanted to visit. I not only wanted to travel, but I wanted to experience traveling through a different lens. Volunteering was a way to help me make the most out of my gap year. A friend told me about UBELONG and how she had a very good experience, so I decided to take a look into the programs they offered. I read the many positive reviews and I really appreciated UBELONG’s focus on working alongside locals rather than having an outside organization come in and do what they believe is best for communities. You never truly grow as a person if you are not exposed to new beliefs and cultures and I wanted an experience that would allow me to learn new ideas, but to also share some of my own, and I knew UBELONG would give me that opportunity.

What was your impact on your volunteer project?
The resource center I was working in had just opened at the beginning of the year, so it was in need of some organization. During my orientation week I noticed that students were coming and going whenever they felt like it, making it very difficult for the volunteers to keep track of who was coming and to monitor progress because there was no real consistency. I recognized that there was a need for some structure within the center, so I helped create a schedule.

I was volunteering with my twin sister and we recognized that there were many children in need of extra help. Instead of working one on one with students and only having the ability to help a few, we decided to create smaller groups of children who were at similar ability levels. We worked with 4 groups of students who were in Primary year 4 and Primary year 6, a total of 13 students. We mainly worked on reading starting with the basics, helping them master letter sounds and moving to simple 3 letter words. We introduced games that helped enhance what we were teaching during the lesson, making learning fun for the students. We helped show the other volunteers and teachers that there were so many different methods you could incorporate into the classroom to cater to the different learning styles of the students. There is so much more to learning than lecturing and there is a way to make learning fun.

How did you grow personally during your volunteer trip?
I learned a lot about patience and to appreciate the little things in life. In Ghana, the pace is much slower than it is back in the US. I learned to accept that things will not always happen when you expect them to. People will show up late, schedules can change at the last minute, materials can go missing in a matter of minutes, but you learn to adapt quickly and to go with the flow. Seeing the challenges that the Ghanaians face every day, really makes you reevaluate what you see as important in life.

In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your volunteer experience?
Life changing, eye opening, and incredibly rewarding.

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Related post:
Meet Dayana Baleva, a Leiden University student, who volunteered with UBELONG in the law and human rights project in Ghana.