I am Sarah Lachman and I am a recent graduate from Temple University. This past summer was my first time to Ghana, Africa and my first time on a Medical Mission. It was a month before we, International Healthcare Volunteers, were leaving for Ghana and I was getting nervous. The reality of the trip had sunk in and this was the first time I was traveling without close friends or family. I have traveled all over before but never experienced anything like that in which I was embarking on. When people think of traveling and seeing the world, they normally associate that thought with vacation. I knew this was not a vacation and I would be taken out of my comfort zone completely, was I ready? I remember landing in Accra on our first day and I still questioned myself if I was ready. And to be honest, being a part of this organization quickly settled my nerves about if I was. I am appreciative to the 52 volunteers this year, not only did I experience a medical mission but it’s also the people that make the experience and this was a great one.
This Medical Mission was the most eye opening thing I have ever done. The people, the culture, the environment—all were of another world. Cape Coast was an amazing place; we had early morning, long days and
late nights at the hospital. I sometimes wish there was more that I could have done because I feel like I gained more than I gave as a volunteer. I thoroughly enjoyed my two weeks in Cape Coast and loved going to the hospital every day; helping where help was needed, organizing and gathering supplies. The best part for me was when we went to the orphanage. The physicians administered checkups while we finger painted and made figurines out of play dough. Playing with the kids, handing out gifts and getting to know a little about them really put the whole trip in perspective for me. I felt a part of what IHCV has been accomplishing for the past decade— to help others and in doing so in a way that is just as accessible as we have it in the states. The resources are available and IHCV is the hand that extends it over to those that need it the most. I am glad to have been a part of this group and hope to go on a Medical Mission again!
Wynston A. Stanback
When I first signed up for the mission to Ghana, I really didn’t know what to expect of it. The last time I stayed in Africa for more than a week was when my parents and I went to Kenya years ago. And back then the trip was all tourism and safaris. This time, I knew I had to be prepared to work, knowing that whatever I did had a consequence to it, whether it is good or bad.
I am not a medical expert, but I knew that what we were sent to accomplish while in the Cape Coast Hospital in Ghana was not an easy task. I believe that our main objective was to help those in need in Ghana and educate health care workers on using practices that were otherwise not used commonly in Ghana. It would involve a great deal of teamwork and dedication, which is what our team had. To help my team in Cape Coast Regional Hospital, I helped organize the medical supplies and disperse them amongst the different medical clinics or to the surgeons when they needed them for surgeries. Along the way, I learned more about medical supplies, such as sutures and meshes. For the first couple of days, we overcame communication glitches between the operation room and the storage room where all the medical supplies were held and we eventually gave the surgeons’ access to the supplies they needed in a timely manner. The other volunteers and I also gave out both snacks and lunch to the medical team members when appropriate. The other volunteers were a great help, especially Alex, who was already familiar with the processes that surrounded being a Junior Volunteer from a previous IHCV mission. Our ability to help was limited by the time we were in Ghana. I took my job as a Junior Volunteer with the knowledge that things may not always go our way. When things didn’t go our way, we didn’t let it get to us. The professionalism that our members had was only matched with the care they had for their patients.
Included in our experiences was “downtime”. During the downtime we bonded as a group while discussing our day’s work over dinner meetings. We also had opportunities to do some sightseeing. When we took the weekend off the first week to visit Cape Coast Castle, we were able to get both a break from the stress of working in the hospitals and the chance to learn more about the history of the African- American slave trade. With our visit to the Kakum National Park, we got to experience Ghana’s natural wonders as well as experience the thrill of walking across
canopy bridges that were way above ground level. Lastly, I was able to get the chance to visit an orphanage in Cape Coast.
Although our medical team did have its share of hardships, in the end we were able to help a great deal of people. We made it our goal to make sure that all our patients would benefit from the care provided by the entire IHCV team.
Traveling to Ghana with International Health Care Volunteers was a fun, exciting, and enriching experience. I had the opportunity to learn from the other volunteers who came with the IHCV program, as well as from the physicians, nurses, and patients in the Apam Catholic Hospital where our team was assigned to serve. Because I am neither a medical professional, a medical student, nor a previous volunteer, I had the misconception when first contemplating whether or not to sign up with IHCV that I may just be in the way on the trip. Happily, I found that I was very wrong. There was always something for me to do and/or to learn. Being able to work in the Pediatric Ward of the hospital catered to my desire to help children. The opportunity to create and implement a teaching curriculum for both mothers of children in the Welfare Program at the Apam Catholic Hospital, as well as nursing assistant students at one of the district’s schools nearby, gratified my interests in both Social Service and teaching.
Although the days were long, I was not ready to return at the end of our two weeks of service. The learning experience as it pertained to the medical aspect of the mission was an incredible opportunity on its own, but even greater in my eyes was the personal experiences gained by working with, for, and around people who are so giving, accepting, and accommodating. By the end of the trip, I felt closer to my fellow volunteers on the team, to members of the Apam Catholic Hospital staff, and to students from the Nursing Assistant Course. In our “off” time, we were able to spend time in more casual settings with our hosts at the Apam Catholic Hospital, who went out of their way to show us various things in the area based on our interests. The Resident Chef not only made sure we always had a hot meal, but took our food preferences and curiosities to heart, allowing us to enjoy a range of Ghanaian cuisine. We were taken on little trips - including to nearby markets and to the coast line. We were also made the honorees in a send-off celebration the last night of our stay at the hospital.
Outside of Apam, when with other teams of the IHCV group, we were given the opportunity to spend time with children at an orphanage, to hike the trails and cross the suspension bridges of the Kakum National Forest, and to tour the Cape Coast Castle in Cape Coast. Through volunteering with IHCV in Ghana, I met amazing people-both adults and children, and I learned many things pertaining to medicine and service, things concerning ways of thinking, and even things about myself. I can only hope I gave as much as I received from this trip. As a whole, it was truly awesome experience, and I would recommend it to anyone who has the desire to help others, to learn more, and to enjoy a different culture.
Although I had been to Ghana with the International Health Care Volunteers many years ago, my most recent travel with IHCV gave me a taste of the type of work I hope to remain involved with in the future. Shadowing physicians and nurses, I learned more about infectious diseases like Malaria and other health and infrastructural issues plaguing the Apam Catholic Hospital where the team was stationed. I collaborated with other volunteers interested in patient education and developed a curricula tailored to the varying demographic we encountered each day. Teaching young mothers how to care for their children’s growing bodies as well as the importance of acknowledging their own health was truly rewarding, as we received positive feedback from them and in turn, were propelled to include more in our lesson plan.
Volunteering at a Catholic hospital limited our ability to tactfully teach some aspects of sexual education, so we sought out a nursing school where we taught nutrition, hygiene, CPR, Heimlich Maneuver, and sexual education to nursing assistants. The students hailed from different backgrounds, and thus had varying interests and attention spans, but ultimately, I worked with other volunteers to facilitate an engaging learning environment where students continually challenged my colleagues and I to invent and reinvent new ways of explaining things that I had previously taken for granted. Overall, this was a great experience that I definitely recommend to anyone interested in public service and excited about traveling to a country with such generous and welcoming people.
According to Henry David Thoreau, 'One is not born into the world to do everything, but to do something.' What is your something?
Within the Pediatric Ward of Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST )Hospital, 5042.76 miles away from the luxuries that I took for granted, I felt inspired by a simple flash of teeth from a seven-year-old Ghanaian boy.
When I started the trans-Atlantic journey accompanying the IHCV medical team to Ghana, my most critical concerns consisted of the imagined agony of iPod death and whether the Internet existed for daily Facebook updates. Finally, the 10- hour trip ended as the wheels of the plane gently made contact with the runway. I felt relieved to have experienced a safe flight but also apprehensive about experiencing a new culture. At the time I did not realize how this adventure would change my perceptions of the world.
Stepping into the waiting van, fourteen people were crammed into a space meant for ten. Worries about my iPod and Internet connections dissolved into worrying about the living conditions. Children my age were walking though busy streets balancing baskets on their heads, filled with items to sell. They appeared to need the money to help support their families. Many of the storefronts along the roads were basically just metal sheds. Goats and dogs wandered everywhere.
After spending hours traveling on poorly paved roads, our tired group eventually arrived at the KNUST Hospital late on Sunday. Monday morning, the first concerns for the group centered on setting up for the medical mission. I was impressed with how effectively our team organized the medical supplies and started scheduling the patients for various surgical procedures.
Our hosts at KNUST were fantastic, especially Dr. Bio. The other Junior Volunteers and I eagerly helped.
As part of this mission, I had also planned to perform a portion of my Girl Scout Gold Award Project: Over the past several months, I had gathered donations of toothbrushes, toothpaste and other dental supplies. These donations were carefully packed into my luggage and any other nooks I could find. I had planned to distribute these supplies to children of the Kumasi area.
The following day, the surgical team was very busy at the Operating Theatre. I helped with supply management and observed the surgical procedures with great fascination. Eventually, my sister and I found our way to the Pediatric unit of KNUST Hospital. Walking through a dim hallway, we encountered two rooms with several children in old metal hospital beds. Even though many of them appeared to be very uncomfortable, the children would quickly light up with contagious smiles. Handing each child their very own toothbrush, tubes of toothpaste, and a few toys felt like Christmas morning.
Kofi D. had checked into the hospital to be treated for severe burns and he was only seven years old. Every morning when I went to visit the ward, he smiled at me, despite his obviously painful condition. I could not imagine Kofi or any of these children begging for an iPod or iPhone, or expecting a car on their 17th birthday. Instead, they seemed content with what they had. This revelation helped me realize how truly fortunate I am. Instead of wondering when that brand new car will show up in my driveway, I will be thinking about the lives of the many families I met in Ghana. I want to continue helping them and others like them. Each year I pledge to collect and send dental and school supplies to children in Ghana, 5042.76 miles away.
Ten hours and fourteen minutes later, the wheels of the plane finally hit the ground. It was now time; it was now suddenly real. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach, my heart raced faster. My cramped legs carried me down the aisle of the plane. I stared at my feet, concentrating on the endless set of metal stairs. Would Ghana be what I had expected? My eyes landed on a red, yellow, green, and black sign: “Akwaaba”, welcome.
Our hardy group of medical volunteers waited in lines, had passports stamped, and gathered over 100 items of luggage and medical supply bins. Out in the Kotoka International Airport parking area, we somehow split people, luggage, and supplies into the appropriate four destination groupings for our IHCV mission. The next day, after a night in Accra, our smaller Kumasi group boarded a propeller plane which flew us to Kumasi.
People and luggage finally boarded another small bus for the ride to KNUST Hospital. We were all tired. The ride was silent; people were pacified by their various electronics. Someone’s Android illuminated the bus. Another constantly tapped an iPhone with serious intent on beating ‘Angry Birds’. The beat of the latest Maroon 5 song blared from someone’s headphones. Still jittery, I stared out the window.
So far, our trip had been hectic and exciting but also fairly comfortable. However, I was struck by some of the images of poverty as we drove. Dilapidated buildings were scattered everywhere. Small shed-like structures served as storefronts along the streets, offering various groceries and other supplies. Women carried baskets on their heads, filled to the brim with food and water for sale. Children played in open lots. Chickens and goats wandered along the roads. I tried to imagine if I could live in this environment. How can people live without all of the electronic “necessities”? I firmly held on to my iPod.
At a stop, as my eyes scurried around the scene to take it all in, they found the big, brown eyes of a young boy. He wore a T- shirt and pants that were too short and too tight. He was surrounded by what appeared to be other family members: his mother, two sisters, and a brother. Their clothes were somewhat frayed. The children had no shoes but they were all smiling. They looked happy.
It dawned on me that maybe these electronic material items were probably near the bottom of ‘the list of wants’ for this Ghanaian family. Computer games, iPads, and ‘Angry Birds’ were not a part of their lives. Although poverty surrounded them, they did not let it consume them. They appeared to be such a happy family.
I gazed over at my parents and sisters on the bus and thought about how much I had seen and learned since first landing in Ghana. Although we live in a complicated world that contains both high priced electronics and tremendous poverty, family is the most valuable possession that one can have. Akwaaba!