Name: Jamie-Lee Sonnenberg-Smith
University: Georgian Court University
Degree: History/ Human Rights
Languages spoken: English, Spanish (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Moderate
Volunteer Abroad: Supporting Efforts to Stop Child Labor in Accra, Ghana
Duration: 5 weeks
Start month: July 2014
Claim to fame: Spent her last semester of high school living in Guatemala in a volunteer program
Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
As soon as I discovered UBELONG, I realized that there was really no other organization quite comparable. I loved that they are flexible and let you pick the dates and length of time you would like to volunteer for. That was a key component. Furthermore, I also loved that UBELONG has programs that are cost effective. A lot of volunteer organizations costs thousands of dollars just for the program fee alone. UBELONG is a game changer, in that it provides a quality experience, and support, for a fraction of the cost. Above all, I knew UBELONG was the perfect choice for me. Most importantly, I love that they work with local organizations, who know the issues that are faced and how to deal with them.
What is your favorite memory?
It is difficult for me to pick only one favorite memory, because I have many amazing memories. One that tops the list was definitely when I was teaching a Ghana Citizenship class to my amazing students, and they begged me to talk about where I am from and sing the Canadian national anthem. The best part is that after I finished the anthem, all of my students stood up and gave me a standing ovation, smiling ear to ear. They seemed to get joy out of something as simple as that. Their joy was infectious, they put a smile on my face every time I saw them. I also want to shout-out to the other volunteers that I met in Ghana, they were truly amazing, and I believe I have formed friendships that will last a lifetime. We had a lot of great memories. It is so refreshing to be around people who have the same mindset as you, and are working toward a common goal!
What did you take from the experience?
Ghanaian people really like to say the phrase “no shaking.” This basically means don’t worry about it, everything will be fine. I also think that it is more than a phrase for them, it is a lifestyle. Ghanaian people are really laid back about almost everything in life, and do not let much bother them. I really like their mentality and attitude toward life. If anything, I took that away from my time in Ghana; that life is too precious to waste time worrying.
In terms of the child labor project I volunteered with, I learned so many valuable lessons. I learned of the complexities the people in these communities face, and how difficult the problem of child labor and trafficking can be to solve. It is very important when you volunteer in a place like Ghana, that you go into it with an open mind, and realize that the realities you have faced your entire life should be thrown out the window. Your realities will not be the same as the people in Ghana. It is important to be empathetic to the issues that the Ghanaian people face, as the solution to these issues may not be as simple as we perceive them to be.
In a sentence or less, how would you sum up your experience?
I had an incredible experience that provided me with valuable knowledge which will help me not only professionally in the future, but personally.