WHILE many 17-year-olds were partying with friends and working an after-school job, Warrnambool's Mary Bourke was volunteering on the other side of the world and she thinks other young people should follow her lead.
Mary spent a month volunteering at a daycare centre in a village near Cape Coast in Ghana last year and is keen to encourage others to do the same.
"It's a bit different, but I think it's something everyone has to experience," she said.
For Mary, now 18, it was her first trip overseas and she admitted it was more confronting than she expected.
"They'd never had a white person (staying) in their village before," she said.
"They were touching my skin and hair and lots of the children there had never seen a white person before.
"It's kind of confronting being the racial minority."
That was just one of the eye-opening experiences of her trip that saw her "living in the dirt and dust" with a local family.
"You eat when they eat and you don't when they don't. My host mother was a mother to 14 children their father passed away and to see her sacrifice eating so her kids could eat ... it was touching to see her make that sacrifice.
"I never imagined that a mother would have to do that. You feel guilty being here in Warrnambool, taking so much for granted, such as eating breakfast, lunch and dinner."
The pay-off was the friendships she made, the feeling of having contributed and the things she learnt, Mary said.
"You realise there's so much out there. It's not all what you see on the TV and in the media."
She thanked her sponsors, which included the Salvation Army, Warrnambool City Council and the many local businesses who contributed to her trip.
Mary's month in Ghana was arranged through Projects Abroad, which organises stints overseas for people over the age of 16 to volunteer in fields such as childcare, teaching, journalism, community development and more.
She said she was keen to return to Ghana to visit her host family and the friends she made, and would like to volunteer again in Africa.