CHARLESTON (AP) — Laura Boldig's internship with Unite for Sight took her on a two-month excursion to Ghana, which was a trip that the Mattoon native says she will never forget.
Boldig, 23, a senior health studies major at Eastern Illinois University, was required to complete an internship in order to graduate in May and said she knew she wanted more out of her internship — that's when she found Unite for Sight.
"Going to Africa was more appealing to me because I wanted to experience something completely different — I went on the trip with an open mind," Boldig said.
Unite for Sight is a non-profit organization that pairs with local medical professionals to provide eye care to people living in villages in Ghana, India and Honduras, who are living in extreme poverty.
According to the Unite for Sight website, the organization has provided eye care services to more than 1.3 million people worldwide, which includes more than 55,000 sight-restoring surgeries.
Boldig was in Ghana from May 7 to July 1 and volunteered for Unite for Sight every day, where she would conduct patient intake and visual acuity for up to 350 patients a day.
"It was hard to see people come in and you could tell they were blind or had severe eye problems," Boldig said. "For me, knowing they have access to this care only once a year when we come to their village was so shocking that they didn't have these resources like we do — it was eye-opening and made me appreciate what I have."
In addition to her work with Unite for Sight, Boldig also was able to venture off to see the Ghana sights. She went on a safari, visited a national park, climbed a mountain, went on a canopy walk and saw a waterfall.
"The trip was a very humbling experience and when I was there I truly felt like I was a part of Ghana," Boldig said. "It was a growing experience, where I felt like I learned a lot about myself — it felt good to be independent and survive on my own."
Once Boldig returned to the United States after her trip, she said she wishes she could have stayed longer.
"I miss the people in Ghana — everyone was so friendly, helpful and willing to help us with anything because they were so grateful for what we were doing," Boldig said. " I didn't want to go home after a few months. I could have stayed a lot longer."
Once back in Mattoon, Boldig was asked to be a campus ambassador for Unite for Sight. Boldig's job as an ambassador is to spread the word of Unite for Sight to Eastern students in hopes of getting others involved in the non-profit organization.
After graduation in May, Boldig said she doesn't exactly know what she wants to do as a career. As of right now she is an assistant manager at Maurices in Mattoon, but hopes to continue to travel and maybe even work with Unite for Sight again or with various other non-profit groups.
"I have always been interested in helping people — I would love to work for a non-profit and travel the world," she said. "I don't know exactly what I want to do but I know it will all fall into place.