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Kayla Lehne - Global Gap Program

Arriving in Ghana

With new born baby

"I'm hoping to reach outside of my comfort zone and what I think is normal. To reach out to others in my group, the families that I live with and the locals. Truly embracing the culture and engage in things I may never have had the desire to try. I'm hoping that I can stay true to myself and my goals as far as my recovery goes."

This was the first thing I wrote to myself when I arrived in Ghana eight months ago. I'm half way across the world, with six strangers and scared to death. There's something about traveling that really heightens your emotions, insecurities, fears, weakness and strengths. However, there couldn't have been a more perfect place to start this journey.

There is one instances of this extraordinary goodness inherent in all Ghanaian people that I would like to share. First and foremost, you'd think the heat alone would make anyone and everyone terribly crabby and grouchy. This is not the case.

If there was anything my parents really emphasized, it was to guard my passport with my life. And on my third day, I left my passport in the back of a taxi cab on my way to pick my lost luggage up at the airport. As I was walking to the police station in tears, I was stopped three or four times and asked "Are you ok?" "Don't waste your tears, whatever is causing you pain will be solved. God's got your back." These people had no idea who I was or what I was going through and they expressed a genuine love towards me. Indirectly, they taught me one of the most valuable lessons that would be most helpful through the rest of my life. They taught me that although hard situations may arise suffering is always optional.

Human Rights in South Africa

Volunteering in Thailand

When I arrived in South Africa I was overwhelmed by everyone's openness towards different beliefs, different hopes and different dreams. This was the first time that I had truly experience diversity and the people of South Africa taught me that diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival.

Going to the Human Rights project really exercised my patience and tolerance but opened my heart to truly listen and gain perspective on different lifestyles. Every Tuesday and Thursday we would take the beautiful drive filled with rolling hills, vast fields of bright purple flowers and there was always a sense of calmness. Then to pull up to this old cemented building, surrounded by barbed wire never failed to drop my stomach. It was always so hard to grasp that such darkness could coexist in such a beautiful place. It was times like this when I was able to reflect on how lucky and grateful I was to have these opportunities. So, although the purpose of going to Bonnytoun was to support and walk through struggles with these boys, they taught me how to be present. To this day, those boys hold a piece of my heart and will forever be in my thoughts and prayers.

After a great three weeks at home, I was ready to see what the next half of this trip had in store for me.

Teaching in Peru

Overall the teaching project in Peru was an incredible experience. I'm actually almost positive that I learned more than my students! I had no idea just how difficult English grammar is! Along with my students, I learned the rules and exceptions behind the present simple, present progressive, present perfect, past simple, past progressive, past perfect and future tenses! But my class was so bright and eager to learn that it always made for a productive day! After six crazy weeks, classes came to end. It all ended at the Ministry of Education where every group gave a presentation. My class put together a dance. My favorite part was seeing the happiness behind everyone's eyes, our class called Lu and I up and gave us each a rose and a beautiful journal! I was so incredibly touched!

So in Peru, I simply enjoyed what is. I enjoyed the here and now and this is an incredible gift that Peru has given me that I will carry with me forever. I think one of the things that contributed to this is that Peruvians are ALWAYS celebrating. Every day we hear cannon fire marking some celebration. So Peru will always remind me that I am because we are and the importance of being here, wherever that happens to be, being wholly here, right now.

Medicine in India

Teaching in Peru

When we landed in Chennai airport in India, I think we were all overwhelmed not only by the heat, but by all the cultural differences. Going into a place where you don't know the customs and traditions is intimidating because even something as simple as reaching for something with your left hand is offensive and not to mention the language barrier.

It's interesting looking back on things in India because I went from seeing a new baby be brought into the world with endless opportunities, a clean slate and everyone around be filled with so much joy, to being at the hospice where these people were on their last couple of days.

When I think back and reflect on India, the best words I can use to sum it up is peaceful chaos. Although there is never a moment of silence, the streets are always chaotic and nothing seems to slow down. Everyone is always so polite, so kind and shows so much care for each and every person. That is what makes the country so beautiful, the people, the culture, the food and of course my daily yoga. I still think about India every day and I have no doubt that I will go back and visit someday.

Conservation in Thailand

When we finally arrived in Thailand, I thought I've died and gone to heaven. The Thai people are the nicest most welcoming people I have ever met. It's such a reprieve coming from America where at the airport everyone seems to be so hostile and impatient to coming into the country being treated politely and friendly. Alone that could put a smile on anyone's face!

I arrived at the Conservation accommodation, Dawn of Happiness and couldn't believe that this was where I was going to be living for the next month. There was a two person bungalow, and it was literally right on the beach. And for meals we sat outside right on the beach and ate as a "family." (with the other volunteers also on the conservation project). Because I was traveling with such a big group we usually came into new projects as a monopoly, and it made it hard to come into new groups. However, when we arrived at Dawn we were welcomed in with open arms. And that became one of my favorite things about Thailand, how this big group of people we able to connect and have fun together. I have never felt so supported by a group of strangers before, and I can honestly say that being here and with these people I felt as if I couldn't fall down because everyone had my back.

Global gap volunteer project

As for the project, there aren't even words to describe how much I loved it. Mondays we worked with a land based environmental organization called APE. One of their major projects was helping with the reforestation, because in southern Thailand all the rain forests are being destroyed. So we helped in the tree nursery, so that at the end of June they could plant these 2000+ trees. We also help work on building the office that they would soon be working from. The boys would go cut down the trees and split them and then we would take the machete and take off all the bark, and then send it over to the sanders who would make it smooth. This seems like a long tedious process, however nothing feels better than knowing you made all the floor boards for your house/office. Although APE days were not my favorite, I learned to be patient and appreciate hard work. Here at home, it seems that we have some machine or electronic device to do everything for us. It's in situations like this where you feel so much more useful and productive. Let me tell you there's nothing better than that feeling and the end result is always worth it!

Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays became my favorite days of the week! Those were the dive days. While I was in Thailand I received my open water and advance diving certification. And with that I was able to participate on the debris dives and reef checks. At first I felt like I was back in school because I had to learn 50+ fish and 30+ corals and all the signs that go along with them. However, it’s funny how quickly you learn something when your excited about doing it.

There are so many different species, and the purpose of learning them all is to be able to identify them and actually know what you're looking at underwater. It's an awesome feeling to actually be knowledgeable about the basic things that are surrounding you. With all the data collected, we submit it to an online international data base. This information is accessible by people all over the world and it helps environmental scientists figure out fish populations and how to deal with over fishing.

Global gap volunteer group

The other underwater project is "dive against debris." Doing this dive made me more conscious about casually throwing a wrapper or small piece of trash out my window. It's unbelievable how something as simple as a water bottle can not only cause so much damage to our coral reefs and sea life but it also takes away so much of the beauty. So when we go down with our salvage bags, I'm sure you can imagine we brought up all sorts of things. One of the biggest problems that Thailand has is that often times boats will drop fishing lines, ropes, cages, ect. into the water and by doing that sea animals will get tangled in it and it damages the coral so that it is no longer able to grow. So whether it's bringing up 50 pound of rope, clothes or small pieces of trash were trying to help preserve so that everything may continue to develop and re-produce.

My Global Gap Projects Abroad Experience

5 countries, 6 incredible people and 8 unforgettable months, I can't believe this year has come to a close. I've learned more about myself and the greater world in the last eight months than I would have ever imagined. And I wanted to thank everyone who has given me so much love and support, personally and financially, along the way because I wouldn't be in this place without you. And for the memories and lessons that I have learned I cannot express my gratitude. And now I come to apply everything that I have learned to my everyday lifestyles and learn to have a greater compassion and understand for those who have yet to experience those things. Now, it's moving on to what's next and never forgetting the things that I hold so closely to my heart!

Kayla Lehne

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