Home Country: United States
Why should you be the IVHQ volunteer of the year?
“What starts here changes the world.” - The University of Texas at Austin
Volunteering isn’t just one experience for me. It’s a lifetime of serving others and devotion to sustainable community development.
I am currently in the midst of an intensive research project that is examining orphanages and childcare in Africa which will be the supporting literature for a nonprofit I hope to start once I am out of college. While reforming orphanages is also a solution, my research examines whether or not family-based care and adoption are the best solution to solving the orphan crisis that has arose in Africa. I am finding out what makes a successful orphanage sustainable. How can we stop letting children slip through the cracks? I hope to provide family based orphanages for children in need and provide the tools children need to become all that they can be.
I am visiting Africa again this winter spending three weeks in Tanzania and two weeks in South Africa. I will be able to continue researching and will be able to impact the lives of children abroad again. I have spent three weeks in Costa Rica volunteering in an Estrellita, as well as two weeks in Zambia and three weeks in Zimbabwe teaching children. Locally, I volunteer weekly with Casa Marianella teaching ESL to refugees from the Horn of Africa for about a year and a half now. I also mentor an elementary student once a week and feed the homeless at a Feed My People breakfast in Austin once every two weeks.
I am also working on the #InvisibleAustin Campaign for the Salvation Army’s Capital Campaign. We are raising money to fight homelessness in Austin by providing a new women’s and children’s shelter. I coordinate the volunteer opportunities for students at The University of Texas at Austin. We do over 4 events a week at two hours for each, going out into the community and educating about the crisis of homelessness in Austin, asking them to help spread the word!
A few other projects at UT that I am working on include getting a Social Entrepreneurship division of a student organization up and running—which works to promote socially innovative ventures on campus and have them gain knowledge about the one for one movement. I am also spearheading a pay it forward movement to encourage individuals to give back to one another.
Volunteering is necessary in your hometown, just as it is abroad. My work in Africa inspires me to impact change all over the world, but that doesn’t detract from my work in my community because there’s need in Austin as well. I serve others every single day in the hopes that we can create a world where helping others becomes an integral part of our lives.
What motivated you to get involved with volunteering?
My brother, Nicholas, is adopted. I know firsthand just how much having a family gives a child a chance to succeed and have a better life. Since I traveled to visit my first orphanage in high school, I have wanted to change orphaned children’s circumstances. Over the past three years I have worked in orphanages in Cartago, Costa Rica, and on a five-week trip to Africa where I volunteered in Zambia and Zimbabwe. My desire for these children to have more opportunities has only ignited over my travels.
What motivated me to fight cancer was the fact that my mom and two of my friends that are my age are cancer survivors. I ride and fight for them every day. Whenever the opportunity presents itself to get involved in the cancer community, I take the opportunity to give back and help the people who gave my mom and friends support during their treatment.
How much time do you dedicate to volunteering?
Around 15 hours a week not including volunteer trips for months at a time.
What is the most rewarding part of your volunteer work?
Remembering my end goal. The day I graduated high school I went to a tattoo parlor to have “Be the Change” inscribed on the inside of my right wrist to serve as a reminder everyday to go on to change the world. A life of service allows me to help others be a product of their choices rather than their circumstances and to led individuals in need know that there is hope.
The countless hours spent studying HIV/AIDS in Africa, the history of orphanages, and UNICEF State of the Worlds children reports to try to find a solution to helping children across the world. A solution that will hopefully turn into helping these children through adoption and family-based orphanages, sponsorships and a life of fulfillment. And the countless hours spent volunteering is enough of a reward in itself… knowing that I am making the world a better place.
What is the greatest challenge of your volunteer work?
The challenge of my work is facing the reality of the circumstances of children around the world.
I remember Costa Rica. The weeks I spent watching over 10 children and the tens of drugs deals you saw take place just down the street. The excitement those children had each day that I came to play with them in a room that was the size of my bathroom. And the realization that the nanny was only paid $80 a month by the government to feed all ten children everyday.
I remember an orphanage in Costa Rica for sexually/physically abused and mentally handicapped children. How the newspapers made it sound like these children were being treated like kings and queens, only to see upon visiting that they had nothing to play with, one change of clothes and barely enough food because the people running the orphanage were using the money to support themselves.
I remember the children in Canada who had lost parents to cancer, a disease that is sweeping our nation. The stories of hospital visits, chemotherapy treatments and pain that came from the loss they endured.
And… I remember Africa. The orphanage that housed 40 boys, but was the size of my parent’s living room and kitchen combined. How they were eager to learn, but they spent more time walking miles to fill up a trash can with water when they didn’t have electricity than studying. The “street kids” who ran away from home because of violence and abuse that riddled their lives, only to become addicted to drugs and walk around the city aimlessly.
The challenge is learning to see past the reality towards the future where there is hope.
Why do you believe you will be effective volunteering within a community abroad?
You grow when you experience people and places unlike yourself. You grow when you are out of your comfort zone. You grow from taking the road less traveled. Ultimately, I have pushed myself to have experiences where I have volunteered abroad and have made myself a person who is willing to embrace the unknown in order to make the world a better place.
What are you hoping to gain from an international volunteer experience?
This international volunteer experience will allow me to not only make a difference abroad, but will also allow me to further my research and gain new insights! I hope to start a nonprofit that starts family-based orphanages and works to help children be adopted into families once I finish my research and graduate from The University of Texas at Austin. My research is the first step in making my academic and future goals actually happen. Through research, I can find funding to support the nonprofit I would like to start and to open the first couple of family-based orphanages, underneath my venture, across the world. I have the initial inspiration because of my passions and connection to the topic, and now I hope to gain new realization and insights in a different country.