“The people I met left a big mark on my life.”
Name: Julia Nijnens
Hometown: Little Silver, NJ
Education: Currently in High School
Passions and Interests: History, English, writing music, and track
Transformational Experience: Ghana: Building Healthy Villages™
Making an Impact: Featured in two newspapers for her volunteer contributions with GLA in Ghana
One of the realities of living in the Volta region of Ghana, like many other areas in rural Africa, is lack of access to toilets. In Dzita, Ghana, 10,000 people live and work without adequate access to sanitation, and operating toilets are few and far between. Most people are forced to use the bathroom out in the open, which is particularly problematic for women.
Fortunately, there are teens like Julia Nijnens who are not only willing to lend a hand to a community-in-need, but who are excited to bring much-needed solutions to problems that are often overlooked back home in the west. Julia joined Global Leadership Adventures for two weeks on its Ghana: Building Healthy Villages™ program, and she was excited before she even left. It wasn’t until she arrived in Ghana that she began to see that reality was a bit different than what she thought.
I had all these dreams about it, and when I got there, all my dreams were so far off. It exceed my expectations.”
Dzita was safe, the people were exceedingly kind and welcoming, and the village was on beautiful coastline with lush vegetation and unbelievably starry nights. Still, for all of the natural beauty of the area, the issue of toilet access loomed everywhere. Access to toilets helps to prevent diarrhea and other illnesses, and is an essential component to local public health.
On this program, Julia joined her follow student volunteers in constructing an eco-compost toilet, from start to finish, in just two weeks. When they arrived at the work site, there was only a foundation on the ground. By the time they left, they had provided a family and its neighbors – 43 people in total – with a compost toilet building they could use any time of the day.
Julia wasn’t left to her own wits to get the job done either. Building a compost toilet is hard work, but it’s rewarding work, and she has the help of GLA directors to make the two-week completion deadline.
[My directors] were both amazing leaders and they had an impact on me every single day. I was inspired by their hard work and dedication. They were well educated about everything we were doing and always knew how to help us.”
From mixing cement and pouring concrete to building the walls and the compost chamber, Julia was involved in every step of the construction project. With the guidance of her directors, the help of local carpenters, and the commitment from her fellow GLA student volunteers, they were able to change the lives of 43 people in only two weeks’ time.
Julia also learned about how projects in developing communities make the most out of volunteer efforts by making as many projects as possible serve multiple purposes. Given the decline of the local fishing game, more Ghanaians than ever before depended on farming to provide for their families. So the compost toilets provide one final gift to their families beyond sanitation alone: they provide highly potent compost that will help to improve crop yields in the community.
After returning to the U.S. from Ghana, Julia started working at the nearby supermarket so she can save up for future volunteer work abroad, and she looks forward to picking up a few things for her new friends back in Ghana.
Looking back on her GLA experience and how it moved her to continue contributing to the world, Julia learned to appreciate the little things:
I got back from Ghana and had a completely different outlook on everything. I smiled when I turned on the faucet to brush my teeth and felt so lucky when I went to take a shower and the water was warm. Ever since I returned from Ghana I appreciate the little things in life rather than stressing unnecessary things. Going to Ghana has inspired me to return to the town in which we stayed and do another trip. The conditions in which I was in for two weeks have inspired me to really make a change and return.”
I never thought that flushing a toilet when coming home would be such a big thing.”
Julia attends high school in Little Silver, NJ. She’ll be participating in the Ghana: Sports Service Adventure program this summer.
Program Julia attended:
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