Alumni Spotlight: Ricardo Espitia

Ricardo Espitia is a senior at the University of Texas at Austin who completed his volunteering in Ghana from July 1st – July 30th 2013. He enjoys social dancing, martial arts, Mexican food and traveling the world. He hopes to continue working in the nonprofit sector in the field of international development.

What led you to volunteer abroad with IVHQ in Ghana?

Ricardo and Chussie

Ricardo: I have volunteered before with IVHQ in Costa Rica so I knew they were a legitimate and credible organization. I am currently studying international relations and global studies with a focus on international development and the nonprofit sector. I wanted to have an international nongovernmental organizational experience focusing on youth. I chose Ghana because I had previous friends visit the nation and returned with nothing but positive reviews. At the same time I have aspirations to serve in the United States Peace Corps and I knew that my experience in Ghana would only strengthen my application. At the same time I wanted to do something meaningful and gain an insight on how the nonprofit sector is abroad. The challenges to their operations and policy issues around their efforts.

Describe your day to day activities as a volunteer.

Ricardo: Our days began around 7am and normally began with a breakfast prepared for us by madam Jobi’e, the sweet cook that lives at the house. After breakfast I walked down the street to the Virgin Kids Academy where I was placed and assisted the facilities employees with serving breakfast to the 300 students attending the school. Once breakfast was completed I typically worked heavily on the Information in Communication Technology (ICT) program I was developing for the school as they did not have one. This took up a majority of my day as it required looking at the resources available to the school to instruct the students in addition to working with other volunteers in gaining their feedback on the program.

In addition I often spent times teaching English, Math, Science or IT. Once the lunch round came, I attended to the students and escorted them to the playground for supervision. Once school was let out, I stayed to tutor the students and assist with their after-school activities such as exercise, recycling and excursions into the town. In the evening I would pass time hanging out with other volunteers in the city center or around the area we lived. Since the students went to sleep between 7pm and 8pm, we had the evenings off to shop and explore the city.

What made this volunteer abroad experience unique and special?

Students from a rural community outside of Ghana learn the Texas ‘hook em’; sign

Ricardo: Going to Ghana was different than other volunteer excursions I have taken for a variety of reasons. For one, I did not speak their native language, but the people made the effort to communicate. The bond I made with the students is so strong that it made the departure after a month very hard. My madam or headmaster made the experience what it was for me. She is such an admiral leader and her efforts toward raising the standard of living for the students she is service is beyond believable. Never have I seen someone sacrifice so much for the students she is serving. She is a true inspiration to the community of Kasoa in Ghana and to the international community she works so closely with. She made an effort to make us apart of the process of growth in the Virgin Kids Academy.

Who was the most memorable person you met?

Ricardo: The Headmaster of the school, Madam Comfort, is a true example of passion, care and responsibility. She overcomes much adversity being a woman running a children’s home in Ghana and she works through many obstacles related to funding, policy, cultural sensitivity and management of her facilities in order to make her work profound. At the same time, she treats her staff (both local and international) as equals and makes them inclusive agents to the growth of the Academy. Never did I hear Madam Comfort make negative comments about other students, staff or members of her community. She strives to understand and help the international agents understand the processes of Ghana and how to build upon the strengths of both parties to increase development efforts. She is a true inspiration to her community, the nonprofit sector and the students/staff she works with.

Has your worldview changed as a result of your trip?

Students on break at the Virgin Kids Academy!

Ricardo: I am more aware of my surroundings and often find myself answering “First World Problems” when around my colleagues. I try to go about my daily activities with as much free spirit as possible. This experience helped solidify my aspiration to work with in international development. The people of the country are so happy and easygoing that it was enlightening to discover the blessings I have in my own life but at the same time encouraged me to want to bridge the gap of inequality in the region and around the world. I also developed an appreciation for international perspectives. While in Ghana I worked closely with people from various corners of the world (England, Canada, Australia, Spain, Germany, Nigeria and Ireland). This provided for much subliminal learning about the world we all live in and share.