What was your volunteer program and how long did you stay in Ghana? I volunteered as part of the diabetes program for 2 months. Also shadowed docs at the hospital and participated in BlueMed's outreach program - child welfare clinics and wound bandaging at the cured lepers village.
Why did you want to volunteer? I was pretty sure I wanted to go into a career in international public health, so in the time while I was applying to grad school I wanted to get some hands-on experience overseas.
What was your experience like with VAF? It was a whirlwind and a major life experience. My trip to Ghana was the first time I had ever really been to a developing country. I had no idea what to expect and I was so profoundly lucky with how well everything turned out. Doing a homestay and getting to know Sena, Bea and Senyo gave me the opportunity to better experience the culture and customs and have a more personal connection with the country. Volunteering in the diabetes ward highlighted a major issue that is virtually unknown back in the States. The nurses I worked with were so helpful and encouraging, I have such respect for their experience and knowledge. And joining the Outreach program allowed me to see what the rural areas were like, what kind of health issues they dealt with and how low the level of health knowledge was.
What was the biggest lesson you learnt whilst in Ghana? You're probably not going to "change the world" but that doesn't mean you can't still have an impact.
What are you doing now? I did end up getting my Masters in Public Health and have been in Southeast Asia for over 2 years now doing health work. I spent the last year and a half running a non-profit in Siem Reap, Cambodia. I recently joined Emory University's Center for Global Safe Water, managing a project in rural Cambodia.
Tell us about that. The Center for Global Safe Water conducts applied research, evaluation, and training to promote global health equity through universal access to safe water, sanitation, and hygiene solutions for the world's most vulnerable populations.
Do you think your time in Ghana with VAF helped shape your life path? Definitely, the experience confirmed what I wanted to do with my life. I've worked in a few developing countries since, and lived abroad elsewhere but I always think back to those first few months in Ghana.
What would you say to anyone wishing to volunteer abroad? Keep an open mind. It probably won't be what you expect as you plan your trip. But that's the best the best part! Keep a journal and document your experiences. And have fun! The Ghanaians are all smiles.