Alumni Spotlight: Aaron Wertheimer


Why did you choose this program?

I chose this program because they seemed to offer a short-term, but high impact experience which would allow for a cultural exchange that both respected, affirmed, and celebrated the best of both the home country and visiting volunteer's country. Also, it seemed like a cheap, but an extraordinary way to live as if I was and alongside the locals in the region, without feeling like I was imposing my beliefs, ways of living and being, and culture on the people with whom I was staying. Finally, they were a long-established and well-reputed organization whom, I confirmed with friends, would be an excellent way to see a new country from a local's standpoint, plus have a ton of fun at the same time!

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

The program provider made suggestions as to which travel insurances to choose from when beginning the program, suggested flights, packing gear to bring with me on the trip, a cultural and planning guide for the trip, language lessons and resources to help become accustomed to and immersed in the culture, and resources for way to apply for visas, passports, and background checks necessary for the trip.

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

One piece of advice I would have wished to know prior to going on is the demographics of the people I visited. For example, while I knew we would be in a rural area with people who were low-income, I did not know their profession, that is, that they were subsistence farmers who had children and that these children would come to our local residence after school daily and play with us. Had I known that many of the locals were subsistence farmers with children, I might have brought gifts that were more tailored to children (for example, crayons, soccer balls, a skateboard, pens, paper, notebooks, arts and crafts, musical instruments, and more) and for the adults (gauze, ace bandages, aspirin, ibuprofen, Neosporin ointment for cuts, and various work gloves to help them in farming).

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

An average day goes as follows:

  • 5:30 AM--> Wake up to my alarm and take off the mosquito net above my bunk bed sitting next to 10 other bunkbeds in the "Guys" dorm room.
  • 6 AM - 6:30 AM--> Go outside and use the squat toilet for men and fill up my water at the pump to use to brush my teeth, wash my face, and floss.
  • 6:45 AM - 7 AM--> Eat a delicious meal prepared by our cook, Tina.
  • 7:05 AM - 7:35 AM--> Walk to our site where we did construction.
  • 12 PM - 12:30 PM--> Walk back or take a small motor bike to our compound.
  • 12:45 PM - 1:45 PM--> Eat another delicious meal made by our cook and take a bucket shower in the outdoors, which feels so great.
  • 2 PM - 3:30 PM--> Hang out with the nearby children and other volunteers at our compound as they finish school.
  • 4 PM - 5 PM--> Nap.
  • 5 PM - 6:30 PM--> More talking with volunteers or venturing out into town via tro-tro (a small bus carrying close to 12-15 people - think a Mercedez Sprinter van if you need a picture, but less classy and expensive, hehe).
  • 6:30 PM - 7:30 PM--> Eat another delicious meal made by our cook.
  • 8 PM - 10 PM--> Hang with volunteers and sleep the night away to the sound of crickets, roosters clucking, and drums in the distance.

WEEKENDS are FREEEEE and we did fun activities, woot!

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

My largest fear was becoming sick. I really did not want to become sick on the trip, so I was meticulous about the water I used (making sure to drink only bottled water or sachet/bagged water [yes, that is a real deal in Ghana... Bagged water] and wash my hands often). I brought a small bottle of antiseptic hand sanitzer and also made sure to eat only cooked meals. I did have a bout of traveler's diahrrea, but it lasted like 2 hours, and it was from eating a mushy pineapple, so yeah. I have to say I deserved that one, heh!

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

I would probably say many travelers would want to know if there is WiFi in the area, and the answer is yes and no. Yes, if you purchase a SIM card, but no in the sense that it requires data.

Will there be hiking? Yes. The children will take you hiking and will hack any brush away with a metal stick that cleaves away bushes.

Will it be fun? Yes.

Will it be a vacation like going to Europe? No, but it will blow your mind and have you think twice about what "vacation" means.

Is it worth it, though? You know the answer to that one.... ^_^ :) :)