Service Trip Sparks Graduate's Passion and Purpose

Monday, May 13, 2019

by Carly Montecalvo '19

Before embarking on a two-week volunteer trip to Ghana, graduating interdisciplinary health services major Rachel Ledbetter, got into a disagreement with her older sister.

Molly Ledbetter, an SJU alumna from the class of 2017, expressed a concern that the trip, which was funded by a stipend, could be seen as “voluntourism,” a term used to describe trips where participants are looking more for an experience than an opportunity to do lasting good.

Rachel disagreed, asserting that even a short trip could be the first step in a longer-term commitment to making an impact and creating awareness.

What both sisters do agree on is that their differing outlooks and independence were shaped from their time at SJU, and the opportunities available that pushed them beyond their comfort zones.

This culture is what prompted Ledbetter to apply for the Summer Scholars Program to research human trafficking the summer following her junior year. The research focused on the injustices perpetrated on individuals in Africa. Ledbetter looked to gain a better understanding of how trafficking occurs, and more importantly, how to prevent it.

During her trip, Ledbetter created two documentary films and blogged about her days and the people she met at the volunteer site.

“The goal is that if people can read the blogs and see the images, then they would go and volunteer themselves,” she says. “People and donations are so helpful. Twenty-five dollars from Americans can go a long way for the Ghanaian people.”

It was after returning from Ghana when Ledbetter realized the relation of her experience to her major, as well as the impact of her trip.

“As an IHS major, I learned a lot about PTSD and its long-term effects,” she says. “It was hard for me to sit and play UNO with a little girl [who had been a victim of trafficking] and wonder if she is going to remember the things that have happened to her,” explained Ledbetter.

After graduation, Ledbetter will attend physical therapy school and hopes to eventually work in foreign health aid.

“Sometimes I wonder about where I will be, which can be scary,” she says. “But then I remember I went to Ghana by myself because I had the mindset that I wanted to help.”

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