The Ghana Experience

By Aziz Mama

Life is precious. While most people would hastily agree with that statement, not enough people truly understand what it means.  I am just a young man only newly acquainted with some of the beauties and horrors of life, but after having accompanied my father and the International Healthcare Volunteers (IHCV) on two medical missions to Ghana I feel confident in saying that I now truly understand that life is precious.

My role on these medical missions was that of Junior Volunteer, essentially it was my job to do whatever it was that the nurses and doctors on the mission needed of me. Whether it was managing the medical supplies, organizing the patient paperwork, running necessary equipment into the Operating Room, or helping to round on patients in the wards, I was constantly kept busy. There seemed to be a never ending and relentless stream of patients in need of care. There were so many different faces, each with their own story, all requiring care and assistance. It was a daunting thing to face.

My response to the daunting size of the need that the IHCV faced was very simple: start working. Everyone on the team wanted to be useful. We all wanted to do our best so that upon leaving Ghana we could feel that we not only saw copious numbers of patients, but also managed to leave behind a legacy of learning.

This legacy of learning is in fact what I considered the most important aspect of the medical missions I was on. Despite the best efforts of the doctors, nurses, and all the other admirable people involved in the IHCV organization, we are after all only a small group of people. The patient need in Kumasi alone is vast. The patient need in the country of Ghana is nearly unbelievable. The patient need in all of Africa and the rest of the world is impossible to conceive. Small teams of doctors can do great things for the small amount of time that they are present in an area of need, but the real gift that doctors like my father and Dr. Aikins can bring to a place like Ghana is knowledge. Knowledge is power, in this case the power to save lives.

People should not have to suffer and be in constant pain when there is a medication or procedure that could allow them to live in comfort instead.

A woman should not have to wait until her uterine fibroids are so large that she constantly looks pregnant before she is taken care of.

Children should not have to suffer and die when they could be saved by being brought to the hospital at the right time.

It is horrible to watch people suffer. Hope however, is not lost. Organizations like the IHCV are doing their best to take a step in the right direction and help alleviate some of this suffering. Many doctors  go with IHCV to a country they have never been to, pay their own way, take time from their own vacation, and go to an underdeveloped hospital and work flat out for the entirety of the mission so that they can pass on some of their knowledge and  they can help people in need. I have the deepest respect for anyone who is willing to do mission work of this sort. It is not easy to step out of the luxurious environment one is used to and enter a country like Ghana, which might I add is one of the best developing  nations in Africa. Let that put into perspective the trials facing many other far less developed nations.

Looking back on the two medical missions that I took part in with IHCV I would say that I am overall quite happy with what was accomplished and proud to have been a part of these medical mission teams. In the end I can say with no doubt in my mind that we did make a positive difference in the hospital and in the lives of the patients we saw.  My proudest moments on these trips were always the happy looks on the faces of the patients who we managed to take care of. After all, it is for them that we were working so hard and for whom we are continuing to work. It was the most rewarding feeling you can imagine to see them smile, and it is something that is impossible for me to forget.