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Transformative Ghana trip inspires ACG alumna

Spending two-months volunteering in Ghana has been a life-changing experience for Erin O’Mara, ACG Strathallan’s 2019 Head Girl.

Erin O'Mara with Ghana students

While volunteering at a home for autistic children, Erin discovered her true vocation, and now she is back in New Zealand turning that vision into reality.

“Before I went to Ghana, I was planning to study sociology and cultural anthropology, but after volunteering at the autism home I realised how much I adore working with children with disabilities,” says Erin.

“When I got back to New Zealand, I got a job as a teacher aide at a primary school. I began talking with the school’s speech and language therapist and realised straight away that that was the job for me. Now my goal is to become a speech and language therapist and work with children with autism and other disabilities. Not only will it be incredibly rewarding, but I hope to be able to return to Ghana every couple of years and use my skills to help out at the home again.”

Erin travelled to Ghana with Lattitude Global Volunteering, a company that organises volunteering and gap year placements for 17 to 25-year-olds. The $1500 Zonta International Young Women in Public Affairs scholarship she won in Year 13 at ACG Strathallan helped fund the trip. And although it was cut short due to Covid-19, the impact the adventure had on her was extraordinary.

“It was such an amazing experience filled with so many ups and downs. My volunteer partner and I were living in a town called Agona Swedru and we worked together teaching English in a primary school. The autism home was just across the road from my house so I started volunteering there too. It was heart breaking to leave as I really felt like I was truly helping.

“I learnt so much during my time in Ghana. I built confidence and resilience and gained massive independence. I am such a forward planner but over there everyone is very laid back, which made me feel calmer and taught me to go with the flow a bit more. Most of all though I found my passion, which is amazing.”

Next year Erin will launch her studies in psychology and linguistics at the University of Auckland and hopes to get into the master’s programme for speech and language therapy. The skills and knowledge she acquired at ACG Strathallan, and all she gained during her time in Ghana have undoubtedly laid the foundations for a rewarding and meaningful future.