Kelly O’Brien

There’s something about being away and immersed in a totally place that changes the way you see yourself and your place in the world.

There’s something about being away and immersed in a totally place that changes the way you see yourself and your place in the world. I can still see signs of how my Crossroads experience has shaped my life and the choices I make, almost twenty years later. When I went with Crossroads to Ghana back in 1990, it was a very unusual thing to do. Toronto was not as culturally outward looking as it is today – and in many ways, I think the experience equipped me to participate in what Toronto is today.

My placement was at medical clinic in Accra that served the slum areas. The woman who ran the clinic was such an inspiring individual. She was born and raised in a remote village, with no significant amount of education. But she was incredibly resourceful and went above and beyond the call of duty to make sure children and mothers were looked after. Because of her efforts, the clinic had a nutritional rehabilitation area where kids would get meals and moms would learn to cook meals based on better nutrition. She was so proactive about going seeking out vulnerable women and families in need. She went to them, and consequently the medical clinic evolved into a community clinic. It was one of those rare experiences of meeting someone who stays with you the rest of your life.

I also have other memories of more simple, innocent experiences, like trying the local palm wine for the first time. Or harvesting pineapples at a farm with new found friends, and eating more than harvesting.

I had a great experience in Ghana, but the big picture for me was coming home and getting involved in Crossroads’ massive volunteer network. Returning Crossroaders had a great impact in sharing their experiences and challenging people to become more aware and engaged in global issues. With my own circle of friends and family, I felt that I had perhaps opened their eyes to a world they weren’t in any connected to or involved with. I became the Crossroad’s Halifax coordinator and consequently decided to pursue international development as a career for several years. Today when I encounter someone who is interested in international development, I still get excited talking about the reach of my Crossroads experience. I realize that regardless of where we are, we are constantly at work developing our own communities, asking how we can be smarter about what we do, and how we can make a bigger impact.

Kelly O’Brien has volunteered with Crossroads for over a decade, participating on the Board and several committees. She is currently working for the Ontario government in Communications.


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