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University of Minnesota, Morris students plan winter trip to volunteer in Ghana

MORRIS - For University of Minnesota, Morris seniors Kristina Grundmanis and Rachel Harder, the upcoming winter break marks more than the end of fall semester. From Dec. 13 to 29, they will be traveling to Ghana, Africa to volunteer in local orphanages.

Grundmanis and Harder, both psychology majors, knew that they wanted to participate in an experience outside of the United States, where they knew they would be making a difference and working with kids.

"We looked into programs offered through the University of Minnesota system but due to our time frame of winter break, there were not a lot of opportunities available," said Grundmanis. "Neither of us really needed class credit, so we looked into volunteer opportunities."

After looking into volunteer abroad opportunities, they came into contact with International Volunteers HQ, a company that specializes in volunteer programs in developing countries.

"There were different [volunteer] sites to pick from," said Harder. "We both have similar interests with psychology and kids and that's how we found the Ghana trip."

Grundmanis and Harder have both worked with kids at summer camps, nannying, and through volunteer work. Both have plans to attend grad school after graduating from UMM this spring in either counseling or mental health.

Prior to accepting the Ghana trip, Grundmanis and Harder were accepted into another program that would allow them to work with kids. But after looking into the program more, they decided that it did not seem like it would be the right fit for them.

"We declined the invitation because it didn't seem like the best program," said Harder. "But everything we've read about the Ghana trip sounds good and people who have participated in it all had really good experiences."

Together, Grundmanis and Harder have been planning and organizing their upcoming trip with the help of their family and UMM campus resources.

"We have both had a lot of help from family members," said Grundmanis. "Our families organized our plane tickets for us and have been giving advice on the upcoming trip."

Argie Manolis, Office of Community Engagement Coordinator, has also helped them with fundraising efforts. Together, Grundmanis and Harder completed a letter writing campaign, writing to local businesses in Morris and in their hometowns that they have had personal connections with in order to raise money for their upcoming trip, but also to raise awareness of the culture of Ghana.

Participating in this volunteer trip means that Grundmanis and Harder will be spending the Christmas holiday away from their families.

"It'll be weird to be away for Christmas and in a different country," said Harder. "But the way I look at it, I'll be spending one Christmas in Ghana and hopefully many more with my family."

Grundmanis agreed. "It's a sign that I'm growing up. I hope the experience will end up being welcoming."

While abroad, Grundmanis and Harder will blog about their experiences and post photos. Information on their upcoming trip can be found at a/