boston-university-volunteer-in-ghana

“Ask questions, challenge stereotypes, and listen with your heart.”

UBELONG

UBELONG Snapshot
Name: Lauren Logan
Age: 20
Nationality: United States
University: Boston University
Languages spoken: English and French (intermediate)
Past travel experience: Newbie
Volunteer Abroad: Assisting at a nutrition center in Accra, Ghana
Duration: 8 weeks
Start month: June 2013
Claim to fame: Premed student with lots of experience interning at hospitals in Massachusetts

Why did you decide to become a UBELONG Volunteer?
Prior to my trip to Ghana this summer, I had never really traveled. I had never stepped out of my comfort zone and immersed myself in the unknown. For many years, I had read about other cultures, countries, religions, and ethnicities around the world, but I had never seen it, never felt it, and never lived it. I knew I had only seen a small corner of the world, and I dreamt of exploring the difference ways people live their lives.

I decided to become a UBELONG volunteer because something about the UBELONG community felt personal. I saw pictures and stories of such international joy and love, and I knew this was the perfect program for me. I could not be more thrilled with my life-changing decision to volunteer with UBELONG!

What was your impact on your project?
I had the amazing opportunity to volunteer in a small nutrition clinic in a Liberian refugee camp on the outskirts of Greater Accra. I helped monitored a supplementary feeding program for malnourished children to track the growth of their height and weigh from week to week. I worked with the nursing staff and several other volunteers to determine a target weight for each child based on their age, health, and nutritional status.

After a few weeks, my fellow volunteers and I realized that there were other areas of the refugee camp that needed attention. There were only four volunteers working at the camp that was home to over 20,000 refugees. We reached out to the hospital and elementary school in the camp to see if we could spread the importance of nutrition beyond the clinic.

We began giving public health talks to the mothers and fathers in the children’s ward of the hospital. We talked to them about malaria prevention, sanitation, personal hygiene, and how what we eat ties everything together to make us healthy people. We also spent time at an elementary school for children who are severely malnourished. While in school, the children are fed three times during the day in an attempt to bring them to an average weight. We showed them how important food is to make you big and strong. It was really eye-opening to be able to spread our nutrition project over three different settings and explore the multi-step public health approach to improving the way we fuel our bodies.

What is your favorite memory?
My favorite memory of my time in Ghana was the moment I physically felt my perspective on the world shift. I was talking with one of the doctors, Dr. Senya, at the hospital about the differences between surgeries in the US and in Ghana. During medical school, Dr. Senya did a rotation in Virginia, so he had firsthand experience practicing in both places. I was lucky enough to see him perform a cesarean section the week before, and I told him I was surprised how similar the procedure was to the ones I had seen in America. He asked me why. Why did I expect a cesarean section to be different in Ghana than it was in America? I honestly could not think of one reason.

Dr. Senya opened my eyes to a tendency many of us have in America to look down on areas of the world we view as still “developing.” He eloquently described how medicine is the same everywhere. Medical education is the same, surgical techniques are the same, and patient care is the same. He said he believes the difference between medicine in Africa and medicine in America lies in the funding. Dr. Senya told me that when you are working at a hospital that does not have money to buy essential equipment, you need to adapt. You can’t waste time wishing things were different or that you had more money…you just need to find a way to practice medicine to the best of your ability with what you do have.

What advice would you tell a future volunteer?
First off…explore everything! Don’t hold back, don’t be nervous, and don’t hesitate! Halfway through my time in Ghana, I made a list of all the things I wanted to do before I left. Foods I wanted to try, places I wanted to visit, and people I wanted to learn more about. I wanted to make sure I didn’t have any regrets or wish I had done something differently. Just dive head first into the culture…and you won’t look back!

Secondly, talk to everyone! Meeting and interacting with people in Ghana was by far the best aspect of my UBELONG experience. Ask questions, challenge stereotypes, and listen with your heart. Sometimes I would just sit down with someone at work and talk about life, childhood, politics, dreams, and goals. I met some truly incredible humans and learned so much just from listening to other people’s stories.

Travel! I traveled almost every weekend I was in Ghana and was able to see genuine beauty, peace, and adventure. There are so many amazing places to explore and learning my way around the country really enhanced my immersion experience. I felt like a true Ghanaian by the end of my eight weeks!

Finally, keep a blog! I made a blog before I left and once a week I posted stories, pictures, lessons I learned, and anything else on my mind. I learned so much in Ghana and had many experiences that changed the way I view myself, others, and the world around me. Conveying these lessons through my blog gave my family, friends, and anyone who was interested, the chance to learn about a culture they probably hadn’t experienced before, and take a new perspective on what life is all about!

What did you learn about yourself in Ghana?
I thought I would be the one helping people in Ghana… But I learned so much from other people about what really matters in life. Patience, listening, trusting, openness, and believing in others. I learned how to laugh, how to love, and how to find happiness when things don’t go as planned…because it’s ok to change the plan. This was difficult for me to see at first because I am very organized and I love making a plan and sticking to it. But in Ghana, buses don’t come on time, sometimes you get lost and need to ask for help, and sometimes you just need to change the plan. Nothing needs to be set in stone. I learned that a new plan is most often where the best memories are made. I had never thought about it like that before. Ghanaians often say “no shaking” which means “no worries.” This summer I learned how to be a “no shaking” person, and for that I am forever thankful.

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Related post:
Meet Jessica William, a Rice University undergrad who led her peers to volunteer with UBELONG in Ecuador on a public health outreach campaign.

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