WVU student takes her passion worldwide
Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, May 30, 2012 21:05
Chelsea Hodgkins is a West Virginia University international studies and geography student with a passion for helping others.
In her time at WVU, she has traveled to Africa twice, including one trip to Malawi and another last April to help install a water treatment plant that will serve 59 households in rural Ghana.
She recently received the David L. Boren Award, a scholarship that will provide up to $20,000 to help Hodgkins return to Ghana during the fall semester. She had a conversation with The Daily Athenaeum’s Bryan Bumgardner about her experiences in Africa, earning scholarships and her passion for helping people.
BB– Had you been to Africa before or traveled anywhere else before you went to Malawi?
CH– No, that was my first time out of the country.
BB– So what was that like for you?
CH– It was very surreal. You know, on TV you see a lot of ways that the media portrays Africa, or the ways that various organizations see it, like National Geographic, and a lot of it is like that. I can remember we got in a car at the airport, and the airport was two hours away from where we were staying. Just to drive through this city and into the countryside was surreal. I mean, you see people walking on the roads, people carrying water on their heads, people wearing tattered clothing ... You see all of these things that you see on the TV, but the biggest difference is that you’re there. There’s no buffer between you and that reality.
BB– So when you decided to go back to install the water treatment plant in Ghana, how did you end up doing that?
CH– It’s actually kind of funny ... So I was taking international studies 199, and one day
day Dr. (Joe) Hagan was going through things I kind of already knew. I thought, well, I hadn’t been on MountaineerTRAK in a while, and I wanted to check for internships and stuff like that. So I clicked on scholarships and my areas of interest, and this scholarship popped up. I was reading through it, and I thought it was kind of impractical, it was for the whole month of April, I’d be missing a lot of class, X, Y and Z. But at the same time, I didn’t really think I would get it, but I know that if I didn’t apply, then I’m going to be unhappy with myself. I applied in early November, then about two weeks later I learned I was a finalist. Then, like two days before Christmas, I got the call that I had gotten the scholarship!
BB– That’s a pretty fantastic Christmas present!
CH– That’s what I said! I freaked out, because you know, it’s one of those things when you apply for something you want really badly, you don’t know how competitive it is, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s awesome when it works out in your favor.
BB– And I’m sure you enjoyed the experience.
CH– Oh my gosh ... That’s an understatement. I’ll put it to you this way. Malawi was amazing because it was super eye-opening. It changed everything I thought I knew and everything I thought I wanted to do. But when I came back from Ghana, I was sincerely hoping that I got the Boren Scholarship because I wanted to go back without breaking my wallet. I think at that point I had resolved that I needed to spend a whole semester over there. It was something I needed to do.
BB– So that’s kind of the epitome of helping people, isn’t it? Providing clean water to an entire village?
CH– Yeah, you know, it really shook me to my core. I know it sounds cliched, but it really did,I remember thinking, it’s crazy to me to be there and meet people who are just like you, but they don’t have the things that they need. Before I went, my biggest passion was education. I thought that’s what I wanted my focus in development to be, but since I came back, water is my new thing, and I know that’s what I’m going to stick with. You don’t really realize how important it is until you don’t have it and work around people who don’t have it.
BB– You said the experience totally changed your focus. Was there any one specific moment where you knew this is what you wanted to do?
CH– There are a few memories that will stick with me no matter how old I am, some of the women in the village were pregnant, and I remember thinking one morning, this one woman had to have grown up drinking out of a dugout. She had no choice. But her baby will have the choice, and maybe this new generation will always have clean water. That was like my ‘aha’ moment, where I knew this was what I wanted to do.
BB– I know there are other students who feel the same desire to help people that you have. What would you say to them?
CH– One, I would say follow it. People are going to tell you you’re crazy, people aren’t necessarily going to understand why, but at the end of the day, that feeling you’re having is going to be there no matter what, and you owe it to yourself to follow it. You only get one life, and I firmly believe that you get these nagging desires or impulses. It’s not like you’re going to Target and blowing $100 – that’s different. It’s worthwhile to follow it because you never know where it’s going to take you, the best advice I’ve ever gotten was someone telling me ‘it’s not your job to tell you no.’ It’s hard work to get there, you know? Nothing worth having is ever easy to attain, but it’s still worth it in the end.