Alumni Spotlight: Kelsey Holt

Kelsey is a middle school teacher from central Illinois with a passion for serving others.

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Why did you choose this program?

Going to Africa to volunteer with children has always been on my bucket list. During the school year, I made the decision that I was going to accomplish this dream of mine and I started looking up different organizations online. I have traveled abroad before for different volunteer/mission trips, but I had always gone with a group either from school or church. This time around, I had no local groups that I could join in with, so my goal was to find a reputable organization and to just go for it!

During my search, I happened to stumble upon a Facebook post from a girl who had traveled to Guatemala with me for an Alternative Winter Break trip in college. She posted a scholarship link to IVHQ. It was perfect timing with my decision to try to make my African dreams come true, so I applied for the scholarship.

I, unfortunately, did not win the scholarship, but I did start to look more into the organization. After seeing all the programs IVHQ offered, reading the reviews, and seeing the lower fees compared to other organizations, I committed myself to IVHQ! From there, I looked at the different countries in Africa that had programs and decided (based on the videos) that I was going to Ghana!

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Once I was accepted into the childcare program in Ghana, I was able to see a to-do list in the IVHQ portal. Everything that I needed to accomplish was listed, and I had to follow through on my own.

I had to pay the program fees, update my passport, obtain a visa, purchase my plane tickets (IVHQ could have done this part for me), purchase travelers insurance (a link was provided for this), get vaccinations, get a background check (a link was provided for this as well), and go through the program guide, which was divided into modules and easy to follow.

While I completed these steps on my own, again they were all listed for me. The program manager was also available for any questions I had and willing to help in any way possible. I definitely felt supported every step of the way!

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

One piece of advice that I have for someone going on this program is to go into it with an open mind. If you have any questions, ask! But also know that I personally didn't feel completely ready for this experience until I was there and living in the moment. Everything comes together in the end, and the experiences you take away are highly impacted by the effort you put in while you're there.

If you're too nervous to just go into with an open mind and you want more specific information on your program, there are Facebook groups that you can join. The people in these groups are willing to share their experiences and to offer more specific insight into what your trip will be like.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I signed up to do childcare in Ghana and was assigned to the Gold program.

The typical day for me was to wake up at 5:30 and get ready.

By 6:00, I was leaving our compound to go bathe children and help get them ready for school. There were two children (shout out to Simone and Frank!) that were in the area I walked to - there were other volunteers who walked to an area with 5 children. The number of children all depends on the area you're assigned and if you're willing to go to more houses.

After I would give them a bath, I would walk back to the compound and help make breakfast for the kids at school. Volunteers would eat their breakfast first and then load up the food we made to walk it to the nearest school. At the school, we would serve the children, do the dishes, and play for a little while. We would then head back to the compound to start lunch and repeat that same process.

After lunch, the school day would end shortly after and kids would follow us back to the compound. From there, we were free to do as we please. You could hang out with the kids and other volunteers, or you could leave the compound and do whatever (go to town, hang out with locals, explore the area, etc.).

On the weekends, you were free from your program obligations and could travel. The program in Ghana offers a weekend trip to Cape Coast where we stayed in a hotel, had guided tours of the castles, went to a suspension bridge and the beach. Volunteers can also travel to other areas on their own, or stay back at the compound and hang out with the kids.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

Going into this experience, my biggest fear was that I was doing it alone. I had never traveled by myself nor been out of the country without knowing at least one other person in the group. However, my desire to go to Africa was bigger than my fear. I just put my trust into IVHQ that it was all going to work, and it did!

In the end, I was glad that I went on my own. I proved to myself that I could do, and the other volunteers were wonderful! During my time in Africa, the volunteers felt like family that I had known forever! I now can't wait for the next opportunity to join IVHQ, and going by myself doesn't intimidate me at all.

Is there anything you would have done different?

Looking back on my trip, there are two things that I would have done different. The first is that I would have chosen a longer period of time to stay. Two weeks was not long enough - I did not want to come home! The shortest time I would recommend is three weeks, but next time I will consider going longer than that.

The second thing I would have done different is to take more pictures. Yes, I was living in the moment - but coming home and being away from it all, I wish I had more photos with the kids and other volunteers to look back on and to help tell the story of my experience.