Alumni Spotlight: Tonja Rice


Born in Washington, D.C., but raised in Maryland, Tonja Rice is a passionate Health Educator who "dances to the beat of her own drum". Whether at home or abroad, with each volunteer experience, she learns something new about the world and herself.

Tonja loves to travel, but more importantly, she loves to travel to help and serve others.

Why did you choose this program?

There is no perfect program, but GVI is one of the best. After several weeks of researching different volunteer organizations, I decided to volunteer through GVI because of the reviews.

I was also able to speak with representatives about my interests (teaching and working with children), and they were able to help me choose the right program for me. The process was easy and all of my questions were answered.

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

As a GVI volunteer, you'll be given tips on how to raise money and a program guide with all of the information you need for your trip.

The program fee includes housing and meals, but it does not include airfare, travel insurance, or vaccinations and medications.

GVI does have scholarships to apply for potential volunteers that may help you cover most of your costs.

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

There are so many things I wished someone told me before I left home to volunteer abroad.

Staying in Ghana, and living in Tanzania, made me realize the importance of learning the language. People will respect you more if you do. To some, it may show that you are actually invested in them, that you are open to learning about who they are, and that you actually care. Try to remember greetings, please and thank you.

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

As a volunteer, you'll be met by a GVI employee at the airport. That employee will then take you to your homestay where you'll meet other volunteers.

Before you begin your program, you'll receive a brief orientation on your program, the country's culture and language, and have your questions answered.

You'll volunteer during the morning, but will have time in the afternoon to mingle with other volunteers and/or sightsee. You'll also get a chance to spend time with the locals. Weekends are best used for sight-seeing areas that aren't close to your homestay.

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

As a Black woman volunteering abroad, I'm not going to lie...I was scared. I was scared because of those two reasons alone. I was scared of how I would be treated by others. Being realistic, I don't go abroad with lofty expectations, fantasizing that I will be welcomed with open arms.

It's important that you know who you are, what you bring to the table, and that you are aware of your surroundings.

Is there any other advice for prospective travelers?

To all my fellow volunteers, whether you are volunteering through GVI or another organization, go with an open heart and open mind. We're all from different walks of life and that's what makes each of us unique.

Lastly, keep your eyes and ears open, and allow these experiences to help shape you, to help fuel you, and to help you see how you can make your mark on the world.

P.S. If you're visiting Ghana, please eat red-red and plantains on my behalf, it's delicious!