When faced with the realization that he would have an entire semester off from college, Danville native Josh Miller began looking for ways to use that time to benefit others.
Miller, a 2010 graduate of Boyle County High School, is a student at the University of Kentucky. He applied for and was accepted into the College of Nursing, which he is scheduled to start in January.
Having completed all of his prerequisites and general education requirements, Miller made the decision to spend time abroad until then.
“I was originally hoping to go abroad with a Christian-affiliated organization, but all the ones I found were just placements for two to three weeks,” he said, explaining he wanted something for three to four months, instead, and these organizations were often costly, as well.
That’s when he discovered an organization called International Volunteer Headquarters, or IVHQ, which “seemed to be everything I wanted.”
“It seemed to be too good to be true. They had sent thousands of people abroad to so many countries, they were cheap, and just seemed good all around,” Miller said.
After doing more research, he decided that IVHQ was the best option for him. The organization is more of a network of organizations, partnering with other groups within each country where volunteers are placed.
There are about 25 families in Kenya, where Miller is placed, that operate as host families to the volunteers.
Originally, he was placed with a family and volunteered at an orphanage in Wangige, about an hour from Nairobi. However, after visiting Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, he decided to seek placement there.
“The kids at the orphanage had a bed to rest their head at night, were able to attend school and got at least two meals a day and were relatively healthy. After seeing the masses of poverty and devastation in Kibera, I realized that those are the people who really needed my help,” Miller said. “The families on our feeding program suffer through so much and very well could not be there the next time we show up at their shack to bring them beans and flour.”
The feeding program was how he was first introduced to the slums of Kibera. On his blog, joshmillerky.blogspot.com, he explains how he was affected by those he saw as volunteers delivered the food, bags of flour and beans, to families in the slum.
“We visited four families total that day, and each of them had some sort of story like this to tell. It was most definitely a humbling experience, and I realize how very lucky we are to live where we do. My bedroom is bigger than most people’s home in Kibera. … It is a fight for survival each day for many of the residents of Kibera,” Miller said, in a post on Sept. 27.
One of the most exciting experiences he’s had was at a hospital in a small town called Kitengela. While there, he had the opportunity to assist with delivery of a baby by C-section, something he was hoping to do while in Kenya.
“I have always considered surgical nursing as an option in my career, so I was very excited to be able to observe and assist with the delivery,” Miller said.
This opportunity came about because of a connection he made with some nursing students from Holland, who were there for an internship, a requirement for their program. Not being an R.N., Miller says, he wasn’t able to apply for a medical placement in the program, but this allowed him to experience that side of the country, as well.
Miller, who says he had to step back for a few seconds during the early part of the surgery, was amazed by the whole thing.
“The human body is absolutely a miracle,” he said, explaining that he was able to witness the birth of the baby and help with cleaning and measuring the newborn.
The entire experience has been life-changing for Miller, who plans to spend time in the future doing travel nursing, which he says is “a great opportunity to work, meet new people, and travel at the same time.”
“I think it would be cool to use my vacation time volunteering abroad in other places in Africa, South America and South East Asia,” Miller said.
Another possibility he envisions would be to “just escape to work in devastated areas for six months to a year.”
Miller, who had never been out of the United States on his own until this experience, says he has been infected with the “travel bug.”
“I know now that I will never stop having the urge to travel. I have met people who are 25 years old and have been to over 25 countries,” he says.
International travel, once you get past the cost of the flight, is relatively “easy, safe and cheap,” Miller says, something he believes people in the U.S. don’t realize. He encourages them to take advantage of that, too, and stresses that those considering studying or volunteering abroad should “just do it.”
“Get out of your comfort zone and see the world while helping those who desperately need you,” he says, quoting Mahatma Gandhi, who said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
“There won’t be change unless someone takes that first step. By no means was I 100 percent comfortable traveling to Africa on my own, but I knew that God would provide and His will would be done.”
That said, Miller stresses that only through the help of friends and family, especially his parents, was he able to have this opportunity, one that he hopes to share with others through fundraising.
Based on his experiences at the hospital in Kitengela, Miller has set up a fundraising opportunity at gofundme.com/1ftk0g for others to help. He is hoping to use the money to buy things that Americans would consider standard, such as hand sanitizer and gloves, for the hospital.