Student Stories

Gabrielle Hickmon with children

Gabrielle Hickmon


ILR International Travel Grant


This summer, I was blessed to have the opportunity to travel to Ghana for two and a half weeks to participate in a service-learning and cultural exchange experience. My experience in Ghana would not have been possible without funding from an ILR Travel Grant. In addition, I would not have had any activities to take part in if not for Voices of African Mothers (VAM), a United Nations NGO, dedicated to establishing a peaceful African continent through the use of conflict resolution and diplomacy. I had a truly transformative experience in Ghana and fulfilled my childhood dream of traveling to the region.

VAM’s mission and vision is for “women and future generations of Africans to possess a full range of educational opportunities to attain economic empowerment and to become decision-making leaders in the countries of Africa.” My job during my time in Ghana was to support VAM in their efforts to achieve their mission and vision. This meant working at the John Williams Montessori School in addition to traveling around to other project and cultural sites.

At John Williams, my fellow students and I spent our time developing sensory aids for children that we painted on the walls, critiquing math curricula, teaching English to students that only spoke Spanish, and playing with adorable children. All of the children at the school were so welcoming and intelligent. They ran up to me everyday and asked, “What is your name?” They were constantly hugging me, asking me to spend time with them, or trying to see what we were doing in the classrooms. Nana Fosu-Randall, the founder of VAM, stressed that enjoying ourselves was just as important as the work we were there to do. So, many an afternoon was spent playing soccer for an hour or two, or dancing with the children. At John Williams, nature is just as important as nurture. I truly feel that I became a member of the John Williams family and hope to go back as soon as possible.

VAM has many other projects in Ghana in addition to the John Williams Montessori School. Another part of my experience was traveling to these other site locations to observe, critique, and gain exposure to the full work of the organization. Currently VAM is working on building two schools in two different regions of the country. I have fortunately been invited to come back to Ghana again whenever I want and look forward to seeing the progress.

Nana, who we all called Grandma, wanted to make sure that we were exposed to all that Ghana has to offer in addition to completing our work for her at John Williams. She made sure that we were taken to different cultural attractions in Ghana, like Cape Coast Castle, the market in Kumasi, which is the largest market in West Africa, and Kakum National Park, where we walked through the canopy of the rainforest.

All in all, I had an amazing experience in Ghana that I know I will carry with me for the rest of my life. It was my first time in Ghana and on the continent of Africa and I am itching to go back. Thank you to ILR for helping to fund this experience. I could not have taken part in it without your support.