Service Abroad

A Photo Diary of My Summer in the Ecuadorian Amazon

by Kristina Morgan, Biology Major

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Lilly and me at the piña garden (pineapples).

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Myself and two volunteers, Lindsay and Lilly after we weeded the pepino garden (cucumbers). 

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Me on a really sketchy bridge with a heavy wheelbarrow.

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My favorite moment of work Lilly, Abi, and I working at the compost pile shoveling and hoeing the soil.


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Lilly and I shelling cacao seeds – then grinding them later to make cocoa powder.

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I am planting a tree in the Amazon rainforest.

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Me swimming near the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.



Cape Coast, The Anthem, and Buduburam

by Jamie-Lee Sonnenberg Smith, History Major

A "selfie" photo with the statue of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in Memorial Park.

My second week passed by much quicker than the first. I am at the half way mark of my five week stay. At this point, I can now say I “almost” feel like one of the locals. I comfortably walk around Kasoa alone, not feeling lost. It is a great feeling of independence and freedom.

My first weekend in Ghana, the other volunteers and I decided to head to Cape Coast to do the “tourist thing”. Cape Coast is only two hours away from Kasoa, and is rich with history and culture. It was a major hub for the transatlantic slave route during the peak of the slave trade. There are two former slave castles in the city, one of which we toured.

I have mixed feelings about Cape Coast. It is on the coast and a very beautiful place, much different than Kasoa. The historical relevance is something I find fascinating. However, Cape Coast is a tourist town by definition, so it has a different feel. Many of the locals and guidebooks will warn you not to walk the streets alone or carry anything valuable as there is a big threat of theft to tourists they will be rich. This stereotype is the reason why people in cities like Cape Coast are always begging for money.

Salmon for only $2. The most delicious meal I have eaten so far.

I am glad that I visited the slave castle at Cape Coast. It put reality of slavery into perspective. The living situation for the slaves was horrendous at best. The first stop on the tour was to the dungeons where the male slaves were kept before they were sent to their final destination. The rooms were very small, with minimal ventilation which consisted of very small holes in the wall to act as windows. The slaves would wait there for as little as three weeks or as long as three months. They sat in their own feces, urine, and vomit, as they were provided with nowhere to relieve themselves. They were fed meager meals twice a day. Two hundred slaves would be packed into a small room, and there were five rooms all together in the dungeon. That is one thousand people at a time faced with these unbearable, unthinkable conditions. It is hard to even image this occurring. The guide said one of the rooms was recently excavated and they found that it contained stone, vomit, blood, urine, and feces. Truly unimaginable. Due to the unsanitary and inadequate living conditions, many slaves would die in the dungeon. Although it’s not as if their fate was any better if they survived.

The next stop would be to the ships, where the conditions were more of the same. And if they somehow survived that step, they would then be in the servitude of their owners for the rest of their lives. It is one thing to learn about slavery in a textbook, or during a lecture, as I have in many of my history classes. It is another thing entirely to walk where slaves have walked, and see their living conditions first hand. These images will never leave my mind. There was another room for slaves who tried to escape or misbehave in any other way, the punishment room. This room was even worse than the dungeons. It had no ventilation at all. Slaves were literally thrown there to die: they were not fed and there was no way out once they entered. One of the greatest ironies of the slave castle is that right above the dungeons I spoke of, there was a chapel used by those who held possession of the slave castle (the castle was in the hands of the Portuguese, Swedish, and eventually the British. They would worship to ensure their salvation and a place in heaven, while they subjected their slaves to a fate worse than hell.

There is always so much to reflect on here. I could write pages about all the things I have experienced in only two and a half weeks. Sometimes it’s hard to even put these experiences or thoughts into words.

Last week was a bit of a whirlwind. On Wednesday I taught, and the lesson went very well. I taught them all about Canada. They had so many fun questions to ask, even the teacher! I told them how much it snows, they really could not believe it. One of the students asked “Madame, when it snows how do you do your laundry?” When I told them that we had machines that did our laundry for us they all giggled at the concept. It was a very strange thing for them to hear, since hand washing clothes is the norm here, and only the elite have washing machines. At the end of the lesson they begged me to sing my National Anthem. Me being the Karaoke superstar that I am, I am used to preforming under pressure, so I gladly accepted. When I finished the entire class erupted in genuine applause and a standing ovation, it was an amazing moment that brought tears to my eyes. I am quite sure I have never evoked that kind of reaction from an audience while preforming karaoke!

Me teaching grade 6 at Sea Breeze in Senya.

Me teaching grade 6 at Sea Breeze in Senya.

Schoolyard at Sea Breeze School.

The low point of my week occurred on Wednesday evening. I caught some type of bug, and experienced twenty four hours of sickness. It was not pretty, and at that point I was feeling very homesick. I hate to admit it, but I just wanted my mom there to take care of me! I am glad to report that I have had no problems since, and hopefully will have no more during my time here.

On Friday I went to the Liberia Camp (formally known as Buduburam), ten minutes outside of Kasoa. The Liberia Camp was a refugee camp until 2007. During the 1900’s the camp was formed due to the civil war in Liberia. Now, it is it’s own sustaining community. It is a very sad situation. Most of the people at the camp now were actually born in Ghana after their parents arrived from Liberia. Most of the people there would love to return to Liberia (and it is now safe to do so) but they cannot because they do not have the money to do so. People in the Kasoa often discriminate against the people living in Liberia camp, so it is almost impossible for people to leave the camp and find work, trade, or sell their goods outside of the camp. There are many problems inside the camp. It is yet another extremely complex situation.


The reason why I went to the camp was to work at the day care. The group at the day care that I worked with was disabled children. That day was easily one of my favorites during my time so far. The children are so remarkable. Disabled children in Ghana are often shunned and neglected by their parents, and not permitted to go out in public and socialize with other children. As a result, the children are starved for attention. The time at the day care is usually the only time they have to play with other children. I really loved playing with them, feeding them, and just showing them love. Seeing their faces light up and laugh brought joy to my heart and sometimes tears to my face. They clung to me and would not let go of me as soon as I walked in the door. I left the day care that day feeling happy, grateful and refreshed!


God is Fire. Senya fishing village.

Tuesday was the first time that I interviewed a boy who had been trafficked to Yeji. He spent a year there, until he returned home. It was eye opening to hear the conditions that he lived under while in Yeji. Fishing is an extremely dangerous occupation, especially for children. It is not uncommon for children to die while working at the shore. This child I talked to is still working and involved in child labor, but is doing it in his village of Senya. He said he would like to go to school, but his family does not have the money to send him. I got him in contact with our Cheerful Hearts Foundation team leader. Hopefully he will be sponsored and be able to go to school soon! These interviews are always very informative, and I am extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to gain this valuable insight into the realities of child labor and child trafficking. This concludes my weekly update.

Until next time, remember, no shaking!



Hello from the Cheerful Hearts Foundation in Ghana

by Jamie-Lee Sonnenberg Smith, History Major

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First I would like to give a brief introduction about the purpose of my trip to Ghana: I am working as a volunteer for the Kasoa based NGO “Cheerful Hearts Foundation” (  The project I am working on is assisting with a a child labor and child trafficking project. The main aim of this project is to find children who are involved in child trafficking or child labor, and sponsor them (pay for all of their school fees) so that they can go to school. This, in the long run, reduces the cycle of poverty and provides both the child and their family with more opportunities in the future. Cheerful Hearts Foundation also implements a lot of educational programs in the community and schools to inform people of the dangers of child trafficking and labor, how it can be prevented, and why education is the vital aspect to a better life.

As I boarded the plane from Toronto to JFK, I could not believe that I was finally making my journey to Ghana. I had been preparing five months for this! My flight was July 4th, and landing at the JFK airport at 9:00 pm and seeing literally hundreds of fireworks going off across the New York City skyline as we were landing was simply breathtaking. It was another reminder of all the beauty that surrounds us. From JFK, I flew to Accra (the capital city of Ghana). Touching down in Accra, I was surprised by how many mansions there were. These houses were a lot bigger than I had expected, and there were many of them. This starkly contrasted many of the mud huts and shacks that I passed on the way to our volunteer house. An obvious reminder of the large gap, yet close geographical proximity, between devastating poverty and extreme wealth. Prior to going to Ghana, I had heard many people talk about to kindess of Ghanaians. I witnessed this almost immediately after I arrived. There was a miscommunication about what time I would be arriving, so I had to wait at the aiport for a couple hours. A very generous man who worked at the airport approached me and asked if everything was okay. He offered me to use his phone to call the person who was coming to pick me up.  I could not get a hold of anyone, so he let me use his phone to call the UBELONG office in D.C. to get a hold of my mentor. He returned to check on me until my driver came to pick me up. I am thankful for his sincere concern.

The neighborhood I am living in, Kasoa, is a very urban area. Life is truly crazy here. It’s hard to even explain. There are goats, cows, sheep, and chickens running around everywhere. People are constantly on the go, selling things. The most random things. I passed by two men in a row who were selling remotes. Just remotes. And people are so alive here. There is always music blasting in our neighborhoods, people constantly honking, and people are very friendly. It’s a very contagious feeling.

The next morning, I went to church. Again, it was very lively and upbeat. People were always dancing, one of the Brothers made us all get up and dance. It was fun! They have a tradition of having everyone who is new to their church go to the front, introduce themselves, and say where they are from. So me, and the other new “Obruni’s” all had to do this. Obruni is the word they use for a foreigner, but particularly a white person. The attitude about life here is so much different than anything in North America. It is not as fast paced as I am used to, people really just go with the flow and take things as they come. There is a genuine feeling of happiness expressed in many of the people here.

I am currently teaching both English and a Ghana Citizenship class to sixth graders every Monday and Wednesday. The students are bright, and can remember many things I teach them, even a couple days after teaching it to them. School is much different here, and the students are very disciplined. They generally send the volunteers to schools where there are children sponsored by Cheerful Hearts Foundation, so that the volunteers make sure they are attending their classes, and that their emotional well being is in check. If there are any problems with these students, we notify the project leader, Eric. At the beginning of the school day, all the children in the school line up to do a very ritualistic ceremony. The school I am teaching at, called Sea Breeze, divided the children into four “houses,” said many prayers (both in English and the local Twi dialect), did a uniform check, shoe check, nail check, handkerchief check, and a lot of soldier like marching. It was truly bizarre and unlike anything I have ever seen before. This ceremony is a common way to start the day in many schools in Ghana.

Every Tuesday we interview people in different communities about child labor and child trafficking. Some days we will be going to the fishing village of Yeji, one of the main trafficking destinations for children. However, there are many other destinations such as Accra, Monrovia, and The Ivory Coast (to name a few). Cheerful Hearts Foundation conducts interviews to a broad based group of people, including those who have never had trafficked children, in order to get a better idea of the thoughts in the various communities toward child trafficking and child labor. The data received in the interviews is then quantified, and sent to the Government’s department of Social Welfare at the end of each year.

Every Thursday we go into various schools in different communities to educate the students about child labor, why it is bad, and how to prevent it. We also inform them of the regulations and laws in Ghana against child labor, and what they can do if they known any children who are involved. Child labor and child trafficking is an extremely complex issue in Ghana. Many people are severely impoverished, have several children, and few job opportunities. One of the main reasons families agree to have their children participate in child labor or trafficking is because they literally cannot feed their children. At least if their children were working, they would be able to feed themselves. In some cases, this is the only way for a child to survive, by working for themselves. For this reason (among others) many people do not see child labor or child trafficking as a human rights violation. Many people, especially the fishermen who recruit these children, think of child labor as a great opportunity for children to make money and help their families. It is easy to see everything that is wrong with child labor and trafficking children when from the perspective of someone who has never had to question how they would feed their family every night. When people need to survive, they do not look at what is morally right or wrong, they do what they need to do to make it to another day. This is why Cheerful Hearts Foundation makes an effort to teach people the value of education. It is difficult to do at times. Parents see the immediate day by day benefit of feeding their children and sending them to work, and it can be hard for them to see the long term benefit of their children providing themselves and their family with a better life ten years from now. This is a very sensitive and complicated issue, and I am looking forward to learning more about it in the next four weeks.

There is much more I could reflect on and share with you about the nine days I have spent in Ghana! Everything is so different than anything I have ever experienced. In closing, I would like to mention my favorite Ghana phrase, “No Shaking.” No Shaking basically means don’t worry about it, everything is going to be fine. Ghanaians are very laid back about everything in life, and tend to let very little stress them out. I am trying my best to also adopt this way of life!

Thank you for reading.





Georgian Court University Donates 1000 Trees to Support Local Community in Mbeya, Tanzania-East Africa.


Remember the green watering cans and groovy campaign posters?

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GCU students Kristina Morgan and Jamie-Lee Sonnenberg-Smith working on the social-action campaign, Trees for Change, May 2014.

It was in May when GCU students, staff and faculty rallied together to collect money for TREES for CHANGE, a social-action campaign hatched by the Office of Global Education and a small group of students to support local reforestation efforts of villagers in East Africa.

In 8 days, GCU raised $750 USD which translated into 1000 trees.

On behalf of GCU, Jenn Summerhays, Director of Global Education traveled to Tanzania to deliver the donation, to hike the plantation project, to eat with the locals, visit schools, universities, and orphanages … to look for common ground … ways to connect GCU to a completely different world … a world that is wide open and asking us to see, listen and try to understand.

Crazy idea?  Villagers in Mbeya, Tanzania didn’t think so!

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A few of the African villagers who are benefiting from your GCU Trees for Change donation.

GCU, you helped change a small part of the world! These photos reflect how your donations were received, and how they will be used to change the lives of people thousands of miles away.

Mbeya, Tanzania thanks you for caring!

The trees will help the local people who live in two villages near the plantation project (estimated to be more than 5000). The hope is that the trees will help increase rainfall for the people, so they can plant their crops to avoid hunger.

So far, 60 acres have been planted (5,000 seedlings), with 35 acres yet to be planted.

GCU’s donation will reforest approximately 12 acres! The donated seedlings will be planted when the next rainy season begins, November 2014.

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The local government and the Sisters of the Congregation of Our Lady Queen of the Apostles of Mbeya care for the plantation. The Sisters pay three permanent workers to care for the trees and land.

The trees are planted for increasing the amount of rainfall due to the increased evaporation around the area. Closely connected, the forest area will provide a healthy habitat for birds of different species that are disappearing due to deforestation and human activity.

Pines and Miturunga trees are being planted because they are fast-growing and sustainable. The seedlings are purchased five kilometer from the plantation.

The sustainability plan is to replant whatever has been deforested. The community of Our Lady Queen of the Apostles and local village leaders are lobbying with the local government to obtain more acreage in order to cultivate vegetable and fruit gardens.

The project will be fully sustainable after 3 years.

The local government has already set rules and fines for those who are found destroying the forest either by deliberate burning, or by carrying out unauthorized other human activities such as private farming and animal grazing.

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Jenn Summerhays at the Mother House of Our Lady Queen of the Apostles Community in Mbeya, Tanzania, June 2014. A hug from Mother Superior Immaculata Mirambo after she received the donation of $750 USD for the tree planting project. The Sisters are holding the campaign poster surrounded by polaroid photos of some of the GCU community who made donations.

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