Valerie Ross is a 27 year old teacher currently residing in Virginia, USA. She attended school at the University of West Florida, where she studied psychology, child welfare, and education. She enjoys traveling, basketball, staying active, and spending time with her husband and her family.Valerie volunteered in the Summer Volunteer Project in Ghana with Volunteering Solutions in 2010 and also volunteered in Beijing, China in 2011.
Why did you decide to volunteer with Volunteering Solutions in Ghana?
Volunteer Projects in Ghana with Volunteering SolutionsI always had a dream of going to visit Africa, but I couldn't talk any of my family or friends into going with me, so I decided I needed to join some sort of a group for my travels to be safe. I started doing research both online and through the study abroad program at the University of West Florida, where I was currently attending, and came across Volunteering Solutions. They seemed to offer the most benefits for the least amount of expense compared to other organizations advertising the same sort of programs. What really convinced me to volunteer with VS over any other program, though, was that they put me in touch with the program leader, my host family, and previous volunteers ahead of time, so I could talk to real people both currently at the project site I was preparing to visit, as well as people back home who had already been through the entire process. So, once I had decided on the organization to volunteer/travel with, I had to choose what part of Africa to go to. I decided on Ghana because their national language is English, which allowed me to be able to communicate with the locals which was important to me, and they are well-known for being a safe and welcoming place for visitors.
Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.
I would wake up and have breakfast with my host family. I then would volunteer for 3 hours at a school in a village. I had my own classroom, utilizing nothing but a chalkboard for my lessons, so I had to get creative at times. I taught the children basic english and math skills. They were wonderful! So appreciative and excited to learn. I have images of them in my head that my heart will never let me forget! After that school session let out, I would head to town with the other volunteers for lunch and mingling with the locals. We would stop off at an internet cafe to check in back home, have lunch, and then shop around in the local markets. Then we would head to another school out in town and teach for another couple of hours. Afterwards, we would either head back to our host families for dinner and rest, or if something was going on in town, we would stay out and have fun. On the weekends, we did touristy things, such as visit Mole National Park and Lake Paga.
What advice do you have for future volunteers?
Valerie: My advice for future volunteers is to do plenty of research before your trip. It was all the work I put into my trip ahead of time that allowed me to sit back and really enjoy myself. It's important to know about getting your passport/visa, and it is extremely important to get all of your necessary vaccines and malaria prevention taken care of. You have to be safe. Also, get in touch with people who have done this before. They have invaluable insight that will thoroughly prepare you for it...what to bring, what to expect, etc. By taking care of all of the preliminaries, once you are off in whatever country you have chosen to visit, you can rest easy and really enjoy your time there. Trust me, the time will go by way too fast!
How has this experience impacted your future?
Ghana Volunteer Projects with Volunteering SolutionsThis experience impacted me in so many ways. I am so appreciative now for all the little things back home that I have access to in America (being able to sit on my laptop in my house with WIFI for instance). However, it also made me aware that all the things we stress out about in America aren't really so important. There is a popular saying in Ghana, "you have no problem." It basically means, don't sweat the small stuff. It's not a big deal. There is a whole world of people out there, who live without 95% of the luxuries many of us think we have to have, but they live much less stressful lives, perfectly happy without all the gadgets and gizmos we fight over in the modern world. Being able to spend time in the village, where there is no running water, there is no electricity, there is just a community of families who work the land, make and sell products, raise their children, and love one another, showed me what a beautiful world still exists without all the hooplah we sometimes try to cover it with. I am so thankful I was able to see their way of life. It's simply beautiful. And I am so grateful at how they openly invited me to be a part of their life. No judgment whatsoever on their part. They took me in, showed me around, and let me be a part of their lives for a moment. I will always remember those moments.