With Projects Abroad, High School Students Make a Difference and Take Joy in Doing It
By Elayne Badrigian
High school students across the nation have at least one thing in common…a longing for summer vacation. When it finally arrives, many will take jobs at the mall or a local restaurant, but the majority will not travel abroad and volunteer in countries around the world. Projects Abroad, a global leader in international volunteer programs, offers high school students the opportunity to separate themselves from the pack.
Full-time students, ages 16 to 19, can participate in Projects Abroad’s two-week volunteer projects, which are available in 27 countries around the world. The projects combine fulltime work with an exciting half-point weekend excursion, so students can have an enjoyable exploration of the country while making a positive impact on their host communities.
“Students who volunteer with Projects Abroad are able to contribute to developing communities and enhance their college application. Our summer programs allow high school students to experience a healthy balance of volunteering and sightseeing, which gives them a well-rounded view of another culture,” said Thomas Pastorius, Jr., Vice President of Projects Abroad.
Two-week volunteer programs are offered in Argentina, Bolivia, Cambodia, China, Costa Rica, Ethiopia, Fiji, Ghana, India, Jamaica, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Nepal, Peru, Romania, Senegal, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Tanzania and Thailand.
Depending on the student’s interest, they can choose to care for orphaned or neglected children, teach English to eager learners, conserve rare species of plants and animals and protect the environment, coach sports, help to preserve a way of life, dig for fossils to discover a country’s rich history, build a basic infrastructure, defend human rights or study photography, journalism or law.
Each program is designed to give the students valuable work experience and help them develop a particular skill. In Ghana, projects are based in either Cape Coast or the Akuapem Hills. In both communities, a local family hosts volunteers, allowing students to become fully immersed in the country’s way of life.
Students volunteering in Cape Coast spend two weeks working in an orphanage or local school, renovating and decorating the buildings in the morning and caring for and playing with the children in the afternoons. Volunteers in the Akuapem Hills work on community projects, such as helping to paint and renovate a school.
Over the weekend, students can relax on one of Ghana’s beaches or hike through the Kakum Rainforest Reserve. Wherever the student volunteers, they will be making a lasting impression on all the children they encounter.
For volunteer Liam Goulding, it was just the opposite. “Whilst in Ghana it was also my birthday and the children at Abura Literacy School all made me birthday cards and during the monthly party in Accra, which all volunteers currently in Ghana can attend, they all sang and wished me a happy birthday. It was certainly a birthday that I won’t forget!”
Students who desire to study medicine are granted the opportunity in India, where they spend time in a variety of medical institutions. Volunteers may being their work at a multi-specialty hospital, where there can be up to 300 consultations a day.
During the two weeks, they will also have the chance to visit the Leprosy clinic in Manamadurai, where they will witness how the disease gets treated and how surgery and physical therapy are carried out. On the other side of the spectrum, students are able to become acquainted with India’s 5,000 year-old traditional medical treatments.
On the weekend, volunteers are given the opportunity to experience India and all the beauty the country has to offer, including its temples and waterfalls.
High school student Charlotte Bonner studied medicine in the country. “Some people suffering great hardship but still with the capacity to laugh and feel optimistic about their lives—it was inspirational. Not only did we get great insight into different areas of medicine, we really felt as though we were helping out the doctors with the patients.”
The conservation program in Costa Rica allows volunteers to incorporate their love of children, the Spanish language, and care for the environment into one trip, while living in an extraordinary country. During the student’s time at the conservation project at Barra Honda National Park, they will be given an in-depth tour of the park and its famous caves.
Volunteers are also involved in reforestation work, mammal study, butterfly and bat study, painting buildings, and maintaining and restoring trails. In the city of Liberia, volunteers play games with the children and give them the attention they are lacking.
Elizabeth Smith’s trip to Costa Rica changed her life. “Seeing how much I could do for others and how welcoming and friendly people can be really puts your life in perspective. I now live by the Costa Rican phrase ‘Pura Vida’—pure life, and always try to replicate the warmth and friendliness they showed me.”
The Human Rights program in South Africa also gives volunteers the chance to help disadvantaged children, and work alongside Theodore Kamwimbi, one of the country’s most experienced Human Rights lawyers, who has worked with the Nelson Mandela Foundation. Mr. Kamwimbi and the Human Rights Team will show volunteers the work they do in the poorer areas of Cape Town.
Volunteer Moe Suzuki said of his trip to South Africa, “Not only has this experience enhanced my determination to help people in need, but also taught me that my life has been dominated by so many misconceptions of developing countries.”
Founded in 1992 by Dr. Peter Slowe, a geography professor, Projects Abroad offers students endless opportunities to enrich their lives through experiencing those of others in less fortunate countries.
Until 1997, Projects Abroad was a small organization with just two part-time staff sending college students to teach English in Eastern Europe in hopes of bridging a gap that had developed during the Cold War.
Since then, the organization has blossomed into a far-reaching network that has employed over 35,000 volunteers to date, from the ages of 16 to 75, who make up some 40 different nationalities.
The organization takes very seriously making a contribution and understanding a new culture first hand. Without its 3,500 volunteers who work in a developing country every year, it’s mission would not be fulfilled.
The goal of Projects Abroad is for the volunteers to be proud of their experiences, and come away feeling that the programs are worthwhile, constructive and sustainable.
Elayne Badrigian is an editorial assistant for GoNOMAD.com. She writes the daily Travel News Notes blog.
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