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The road to Ghana: Lumos Award provides life-changing opportunity for Abby Selden

After an amazing travel adventure to Ghana, Belmont alumna Abby Selden made it back home with 10,000 photos, new friends from around the globe and insightful memories to last her a lifetime.

Before graduating in May 2010, Selden applied for the Lumos Travel Award and received the first grant given at Belmont. She chose to work through Projects Abroad, a U.K.-based travel group, and spent three months in Ghana after her graduation.

While living with a pastor and his family in Kwamoso, a small Ghanaian village, Selden was forced to adapt to a lifestyle she had never experienced.

“It was a definite culture shock having no electricity or running water,” Selden said during a convo presentation about her trip.

Despite showering with a bucket and using non-flush toilets, Selden adapted to the African village and began her work at the Mount Zion Foster Home, an orphanage half an hour away from her host home. She traveled there by tro tro—a 12-person van that usually carried 20 people.

“They drive incredibly fast, pass other cars on blind turns, break down fairly frequently and often come dangerously close to hitting people walking along the side of the road,” Selden wrote in her first letter home. “I have gotten used to taking the tro tros everywhere.”

Education was one of the main focuses during her stay. Selden taught a class of 7- and 8-year-olds on a variety of topics such as English, computer technology and career choices. But her students’ biggest interest was geography.

“The kids never had geography lessons but were so interested in it because of the people that volunteered at the orphanage from around the world,” Selden said.

When Selden wasn’t spending time with children at the orphanage, she embraced spontaneity by traveling to waterfalls, beaches, lakes and a nature reserve, all within Ghana’s borders. Through the excursions, she bonded with her foreign companions and saw the world through a new lens.

However, she also experienced her fair share of struggle and uneasiness.

“Seeing people living in severe poverty … seeing people living day to day not having enough to eat and adjusting to that reality was the most difficult part,” Selden said.  “A lot of the kids at the orphanage had parents, but [the parents] couldn’t afford to take care of them.”

She witnessed corruption firsthand within the orphanage where she was volunteering while struggling to break the language barrier and follow curriculum in order to teach her students.

“The most emotional part was leaving the kids at the school. They got all the kids together at the school to say bye and I was just crying and hugging all of them,” she said.

Reflecting on her experiences, Selden said the trip “broadened her view” and now she feels like “a citizen of the world.”

She highly suggests all students interested in travel and volunteer work apply for the Lumos Travel Award.

“You are essentially given a chance to have the most amazing experience of your life and someone is going to give you money to do that and make it possible,” said Selden. “If you don’t apply for it, I question your sanity!”

Lumos Award applications

One of Belmont’s newest scholarship opportunities, the Lumos Award, finances students to travel overseas to volunteer in a community for an extended period of time. The project’s purpose is to widen students’ perspectives during the transition from school to independent adulthood. Students can propose volunteer projects such as working in an orphanage, teaching English or participating in conservation initiatives. To be eligible for support, a project must: • Be at least six weeks long; • Be based outside the United States; • Involve the student actively in a local community; • Present a specific, detailed plan; • Be conducted in conjunction with a sponsoring/host agency or organization. All Belmont students between the ages of 18 and 26 can apply. Applicants must be enrolled but travel may occur after graduation. For more information, visit:

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