YPSILANTI - Since March 2020, Eastern Michigan University students have had to respond creatively to the many challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has posed for higher education, especially with respect to international and community-based learning experiences.
In fall 2021, EMU Honors student and junior social work major Cheyanne Roy (Ann Arbor Huron H.S.) transformed a fully online semester into an immersive international and community-based experience in Ashaiman, Ghana. “I’ve always wanted to study abroad,” said Roy, “and I knew I wanted to be a social worker, but I didn’t know what population I wanted to work in.” While in Ghana, Roy worked with an international non-governmental organization (NGO) and volunteering at Floating Crystals Academy.
Floating Crystals is a free school system supported by the NGO Hope and Service to Mankind Foundation. The academy provides activities and educational services to 150 underprivileged students. Kids bring about 20 cents each day for food. The Foundation works to establish microfinancing programs to help women earn more money, receive national health cards, and obtain national identification cards.
Roy worked with preschoolers and kindergarteners to help them learn letters, animals, and colors in English. “Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, I dedicated mostly to my [own] classes, doing homework and assignments,” said Roy. Then on Thursdays and Fridays, she was at Floating Crystals. “It has been really impactful working with kids and women in the community,” Roy said. “I think I want to pursue that in the future.”
Living and volunteering in an impoverished community has been eye-opening for Roy. The Ashaiman district of Ghana has about 300,000 residents, roughly the same as Washtenaw County, but is more densely populated. The illiteracy rate is over 60%. English is the official national language, but Ghana recognizes 10 additional national languages, and many in the Ashaiman community only speak their native language.
“This experience has been very humbling, losing a lot of luxuries that we have in America,” commented Roy. “Just seeing how little people have -- driving down the road and seeing kids play with tires instead of toys. It puts a lot of things into perspective and shows what we take for granted. It made me very grateful for the things that I have, the life that I have.”
Roy described how there are periods when local electricity randomly shuts off for an unknown amount of time. She also lost access to water at her residence for a couple of days.
Roy’s mother Kimberly Vantrees, a grant writer for nonprofit organizations, connected Roy with Floating Crystals Academy after a 2020 visit to bring masks, hand-sanitizer and Christmas gifts to the community that the academy serves. While there, she learned that the NGO offered long-term service projects for international students to stay with host families, volunteer, and interact with communities in the area.
Roy is grateful for how the immersive experience and the opportunity to leave a lasting impact on the community. “I’m immersed in the culture, and I make direct contact with community members,” shared Roy. “We talk to people in the community and hear what they are going through to actually work with them to come up with solutions.”
Roy will stay in Ghana until January. She is receiving credit for her Honors Civic Engagement and Study Abroad Experiences and plans to continue helping women and children in her career as a social worker.
The Hope and Service to Mankind Foundation is hosting a Christmas fundraiser this year. Roy invites anyone touched by her story to donate $25 to ensure that a deserving child in the community receives food, a pair of shoes, and a gift to open on Christmas morning. Every donation will be matched, and a donors will be able to attend a virtual Christmas party to meet the children. More information can be found at https://www.givinggrid.com/wlrubq/#.
About Eastern Michigan University
Founded in 1849, Eastern is the second oldest public university in Michigan. It currently serves more than 16,000 students pursuing undergraduate, graduate, specialist, doctoral and certificate degrees in the arts, sciences and professions. In all, more than 300 majors, minors and concentrations are delivered through the University's Colleges of Arts and Sciences; Business; Education; Engineering and Technology; Health and Human Services; and, its graduate school. EMU is regularly recognized by national publications for its excellence, diversity, and commitment to applied education. For more information about Eastern Michigan University, visit the University's website.