July 15th, 2018
My mind in beginning the week at Accra Ridge Hospital was set to take my passion for maternal and infant health from a different angle. I had spent the previous week solely involved in all things nutrition, I decided that it would be interesting to begin my week in the Maternal High-Dependency Unit. We arrived on time to sit in the 8AM meeting, which consisted of chart-filled slide shows, decision-making on old and new cases, prayer and inside jokes. After the meeting, I witnessed the doctors take cases on pre-clampsia, post C-section complications, and iron-deficiency — which I was familiar with from class lectures. During the review of each case, the doctor would engage us in conversations regarding treatment, and it came to be that all of my answers were either nutritional-based or that I was looking for the nutritional answer. I soon realized that I wasn’t going to get the information that I wanted out of this day as planned. I began to see blood, shots, and even a miscarriage, which I couldn’t handle. I appreciate doctors for being able to handle even the messiest and toughest cases that come their way. My gift, however, is elsewhere.
It’s rather interesting, that such a great occupation can be so wrong for you, and this is a concept that I’ve tried explaining to my parents, who have always aspired for their only daughter to be a medical doctor. I’m glad that I was able to get a little taste of what a day could look like in that profession. The moment that I entered the dietitian container, which was a small office outside, next to the children’s welfare clinic, I immediately knew I was home. I got so much out of those two days and wished I even spent the whole week there. One of the interns gave me links almost every eBook he had, mostly on nutrition and then two about Jesus. He inspired me to join the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, which I should have done a long time ago. He is not only a member all the way from Ghana, but he attends webinars and reads the books they recommend. He sat down with us and introduced us to the Ghanaian diet and how he goes about advising modifications. This is what I love— being specific to someone’s culture in order to help them effectively. I posted a picture of a guide he gave me to my instagram, and I received so much feedback. Africans living in America needs to be counseled specific to their own diet, and the same goes for other cultures living in foreign countries. I have this new zeal and good ground to act on when returning home. I thank God for the experience and the friendships I’ve made in both hospitals. The students at Accra Ridge ended off our last day making sweet banana smoothies, which is something they haven’t done before. I think it’s safe to say that we saved the best for last!
Alexis Adaure Nosiri
July 15th, 2018
My experience at Princess Marie Louis Children’s Hospital was eye-opening as well as inspiring. The people I shadowed were able to use the few resources they had to make the best replicas of materials that are provided when money is not a problem. The two most obvious places that worked well with limited resources was the Emergency room and the Physical Therapy room. These two places were each one room, which was crazy since these would be two of the largest places for other hospitals in the United States. In the Emergency room, a patient would arrive and depending on how pressing the case was would be sent to find the veins in the child’s hand (since the veins in the arm are very difficult to find). Sometimes there would be multiple children on the same bed being treated, since they had more children coming to be treated than patient beds. There was one case specifically, that I was blown away with. It was a child whose name was Yam.
Yam was a seven-month old child who was suffering from sepsis and severe seizures, as well as an unknown infection. This child was immediately put in the top priority and rushed to the open bed to be checked. Everyone flowed so well into this crazy transition and without stopping care of others they were able to treat Yam. The most impactful thing I saw was how they used their own imaginations and knowledge to treat Yam. They created their own CPAP machine through a water bottle and a tube. Their lack of resources did have an effect on treating his infection, but everything else they were able to makeshift and completely treat as well as if they had the equipment for it. This was so impressive to see and also made me wonder if the type of care they gave was better than a doctor relying on machines.
The Physical Therapy ward was just as innovative. This ward was also a single room with only a few resources to their disposal: matts, a walker, a ballet pole, some toys, and wooden stools. That was it. The physicians were so knowledgeable about the human body and how to stretch it that they didn’t need all the machines. Overall, it was such an eye-opening experience to see how much people can achieve with so little.
Madeleine Williams #GHANA2018
July 15th, 2018
I would be lying if I said that when I walked out of Greater Accra Regional Hospital at Ridge for the last time on Friday afternoon I was not emotional. This past week shadowing in Ridge Hospital has been one of the most impactful weeks of the Ghana Service Learning Program for me. My time spent in Ghana has consisted of enormous amounts of personal growth, first time experiences, and more learning than you can fathom. In Ridge hospital I didn't just learn about medicine, I was able to gain the affirmation I have desperately been searching for to pursue a career in obstetrics and gynecology.
I have been interested in becoming an OBGYN for a while now, but I have been unsure of whether or not that was God’s purpose for my life. The past few months, as my undergraduate career has slowly been dwindling down, I have been praying for signs to continue on this long journey to MD and this week in Ridge Hospital I finally recieved just the one I needed. I shadowed in the Gynecology/Post-Natal ward, the Labor and Delivery ward, the NICU, and the Day Surgery Ward, but the connection I felt to the Labor and Delivery Ward was unsurpassable in comparison to the other wards.
The morning of working in the Labor and Delivery Ward I woke up feeling excited. I couldn’t help but think about how amazing it was going to be to experience new life coming into the world. A little person with a clean slate and so much opportunity to become whoever it wants to be is so beautiful. I walked in and introduced myself as Cheese; the nurses and midwives loved it and we automatically formed a connection. The charge nurse told us that there was a woman in active labor and we could go observe there. When I walked in the room, she was at 9cm and it was 8:30 AM. After just a few moments in the room, I quickly became invested in this woman and her unborn child. I sat with her until she delivered at 10:52 AM. I learned how to count her contractions and reassured her that everything would be okay and that she was doing a great job. When the baby finally came, I can’t even explain how I truly felt. Tears welled up in my eyes and I was filled with joy at the first sound of the baby crying.
Later in the day, a midwife told me that a c-section was going to be happening soon and I immediately began to feel ‘giddy’ again! This would be my first time walking into an OR, much less to see another baby be brought into this world! Not much in my life has felt as right as suiting up in that hairnet, face mask, and booties and then walking into that sterile OR. Upon walking into the OR I felt overcome with a strong sense of belongingness. I got nervous as the surgeon went in to make the first incision but she worked with such precision and cofidence, within five minutes we were welcoming a brand new baby girl into the world. Seeing the imediate intimate connection between baby and mother was truly heartwarming. In the mere thirty minutes that it took to finish the entire c-section, I knew that I was meant to be the person that holds a new mom’s hand as she starts to push or save a baby’s life by performing a successful emergency c-section.
I was so excited about being a part of these miracles that my face was hurting at the end of the day from smiling so much! My colleagues mentioned that I was even blushing as we were waiting to enter the OR for the first time. While standing in the OR I felt very comfortable, like it was my hundredth time witnessing a c-section. As I observed the procedure, I felt inspired by the way that the surgeons confidently performed the operation while maintaining a cool, calm and collected demeanor. I couldn’t help but imagine myself as the surgeon, carefully stitching the sutures, as the newborn baby cries in the background while being cleaned up. The day dream left me feeling motivated to fully pursue my dream in the years to come. Leaving Ridge Hospital that day, I felt a new sense of calmness in my life because I knew that what I have been working towards for the past four years will all be worth it soon.
July 15th, 2018
Going into this program I was really hopeful that I would find that profession that just clicked and felt right for me. I’ve always known I was interested in health care, but I never knew what would be best for me. Each clinic we did and hospital we went to provided me with a unique perspective of the health sector, and specifically patient care.
During freshman year of college, I had the goal of becoming a travel nurse because it combined two of the things that I want in my profession: travel and the ability to help people. Since then, I have struggled with changing my mind and then getting overwhelmed, especially when I had friends that have known what they wanted to do for their whole life. This program had brought to light that there are so many different professions out there that include those two things and that there is no rush to go into them.
I had the opportunity to go into the surgical ward for one of my shadowing days at Ridge Hospital. This day was the most eye-opening day, because not only was I able to see myself in this kind of hospital setting, I was also able to speak to surgeons that had some of the best advice. Dr. Fatima and Dr. Kong were doctors that specialize in Laparotomy, and they talked about their experience in surgery as well as what they had to do to get there. We asked if they had any advice into which specialty they would say for us to go into, and they said, “NOT SURGERY.” But then, when we asked if they could go back and do it all over again what they would choose, and they said, “Surgery for sure.” Haha. I loved hearing that because it meant that it was rewarding yet challenging. I want to be challenged every day in this kind of field. Dr. Fatima went on to say that she was just volunteering at Ridge Hospital and that she left her job in the United States because she got bored. The only reason she came back to Ghana was because she had studied abroad here in her undergraduate years and loved it. This is something I can definitely see myself wanting to do if I do go this route. Overall, I loved being in this type of setting and even though blood and intestines were visible, I felt that sense of calm and excitement about being there. It has made me seriously consider applying to medical school and even if I don’t this will be an experience I will never forget.
I have learned so much from this program, about Ghana and about myself, and it wouldn’t have been the same without the people I got the opportunity to meet. So, my advice to those that come in next summer, be vulnerable and open to learn, because man are you in for a time of your life.
Meda ase Ghana!
July 15th, 2018
Growing up in a small town is something I have always cherished and felt so blessed by. I love knowing every person I went to school with and almost every person in my community. Coming into college at the University of Georgia, I did not realize that my background was not common among my peers. Almost every single person I met was from metro Atlanta or bigger cities. I graduated with about eighty students, and the only traffic I ran into on the way to school were tractors. UGA was a cultural shock for me to say the least. It took me months to figure out that going two miles in Athens took fifteen minutes, not two minutes. Despite the shock, over the past three years the University as well as Athens have become my home. I am so thankful for of all the opportunities we have as students. I am so thankful for the incredible people that I have met along the way. If it weren’t for my fine institution I would have never made it to Ghana with this program, which has undoubtedly changed my outlook on life, especially medicine.
I say all that to say that living in a city like Athens has become comfortable to me. In my hometown I have to drive pretty far to do anything. I did not think anything about it until I came to the big city and everything was in arm’s reach. I have always had plans to return to my small town and serve the people that have done so much for me. Recently, I have been wondering if I was meant to serve in a place like Athens, or even Athens itself. I do love it so much and even call it home. I love my family, and they keep me grounded so it’s really hard for me to be two and a half hours from home. This has been a decision I have thought about a lot and honestly, I used to be torn, well until this program.
Week three of our program we shadowed in Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital (PML for short). It was not the most glamourous looking place. It lacked organization and did not look too inviting. Week four, this past week, we shadowed in Greater Accra Regional Hospital (Ridge Hospital) and it was so nice and modern. Resources and staff were more abundant. It was equivalent to a nicer hospital in the United States. After shadowing in both hospitals, I can say the people at both places were extremely skilled at what they do. The only difference between the two is PML has substantially less resources. They may lack resources and facilities, but none of the doctors or nurses lacked any skills. Patients were being saved, and because of the lack of resources the practitioners had to be even more skilled at their jobs. One of the best things PML does is malnutrition rehabilitation. Parents with children that suffer from malnutrition flock to that hospital to receive adequate care.
I talked with a parliamentarian during one of our clinic weeks. He told me he had received education in the States and even lived and worked there for a while. His family still lived there, Delaware to be exact. I asked him why he wanted to stay in Ghana since his wife and child were not there. He looked at me and said, “The states are so nice, a dream even. But here in Ghana I know I am making the most difference, more than I ever could in the states. My people need me.” I was taken aback. He had a comfortable life with his family but chose to leave it to serve the people he loved. Talking to him and being in such different hospitals showed me that rural medicine is my true calling. I want to make the most difference in my hometown. It gives me hope that one day I will be able to take care of the people that have taken such good care of me. Resources are not everything, and it may take a little creativity to get the job done, but believe me, the job gets done. I just pray that I will receive the honor of practicing medicine in my little community. It would be a true privilege.
For the last time,
July 15th, 2018
I used to think that an HIV diagnosis in a developing country was equivalent to a death sentence. As I shared that I would be spending one month on this service-learning program in Ghana, I had people constantly reminding me to protect myself around blood. I knew exactly what made them say this—the preconception that they had about the prevalence of HIV in African countries.
During my second day at the Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital, I had the opportunity to shadow in the Retrovirus Clinic, where patients with HIV can seek treatment at no cost. In fact, there are clinics just like this one throughout the country because of the National Aids Control Program (NACP). The country has this program in place to control the cases and prevent the spread of HIV by providing labs, medication, and counseling for individuals who have been diagnosed.
The doctor who works in this sector of the hospital was extremely informative and took time to teach us about HIV management in Ghana. As expected, he told us that the stigma around HIV is still extremely prevalent throughout the country. Because of the stigma, many patients are not proactive about getting tested for HIV. The doctor told us that the clinics provide outreach programs and offer free testing to the community. If anyone tests positive, they are able to bring them in for counseling and begin treatment soon after. He told me that during the counseling, he informs the patients that they need to comply with the medication so that the virus does not build up resistance against it.
I was impressed by the treatment plan in place for patients with HIV. In Ghana, there are two lines of treatment. Each line is composed of three medications. When the virus is controlled, the patient will be able to live a normal life without the fear of a weakened immune system. Meanwhile, without treatment, the weakened immune system makes the patient more susceptible to opportunistic infections such as tuberculosis or pneumonia.
The country has also begun working toward preventative care. The Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission (EMTCT) is a program in place to protect babies born to mothers with HIV. When a woman gets pregnant, she is immediately tested for HIV. If she tests positively, the doctors will put her on treatment and then put the baby through treatment for the first six weeks of his or her life. The goal of this program is to completely eliminate mother to child transmission by the year 2020.
Overall, I found myself amazed by all that the country has put into gaining control of HIV in the country. In fact, less than two percent of Ghanaians have the disease. After my day in the Retrovirus Clinic, I felt encouraged by the management and prevention of HIV in Ghana. This program truly has opened my eyes to the importance of researching a situation before making any judgments.
July 15th, 2018
Diabetes. Hypertension. I can’t fathom how many times health science majors have heard these terms during their classes. I guarantee any dietetic students could recite the DASH diet in their sleep. While shadowing a dietitian at The Greater Accra Regional Hospital at Ridge, the dietitian (Sarah) was called to counsel a patient with both hypertension and diabetes who had been admitted into the emergency room. I may not be as well versed in malnutrition as the other dietetic students from Ghana, but the prevalence of diabetes and hypertension in the US made me confident approaching this case. This confidence soon diminished as an important lesson was instilled in me instead. No matter how knowledgeable one is in a subject, the information will not be effective unless applied through an appropriate cultural lens. With help from Sarah to understand what certain foods were I was able to analyze the diet as if I would in my nutrition classes at UGA, but without this understanding I would not have been able to help the patient. Our first week on the program a nutrition professor at the University of Ghana, Professor Matilda, made a statement that struck a chord with me and I have kept it in my notes ever since. She said, “A carbohydrate is a carbohydrate, a fat is a fat, and protein is protein no matter where you are. You just have to apply the principles of the food systems to the culture.” This statement became so relevant during this week at Ridge, as I realized how import cultural understanding truly is.
Cultural nutrition is more then just the difference in food, the context of a patient’s lifestyle is also just as important. The dietitian took her time to explain the diet analysis to the patient, but her main concern was connecting with his caregiver. Ghana practices very traditional gender roles, and this patient was no exception. Although it is import for the man to know what his diet should consist of, his wife was the primary cook within the household. Communicating the information to the wife, and caregivers of patients in general, is more important because they will be the ones implementing the changes in meals. Without this cultural context of gender roles in Ghana, the consultation with the patient would have been less successful because an extra step was needed to reach out to his wife. Such distinct gender roles are diminishing in the United States and something an outside lacking cultural knowledge may have over looked.
Often people volunteering from developed countries in developing countries force westernized practices on patients. Whether or not these actions are done purposefully or through ignorance, volunteers should learn to conform their knowledge to the culture of those around them. Although I cannot foresee what my future is or where I will be, this concept can be applied anywhere in the world, even the United States. Different cities have different ethnic populations and beliefs to cater to. I am beyond blessed to have had the opportunity to shadow dietitians in Ghana and be incorporated into such hands on learning experience. The program maybe coming to an end, but the lessons and knowledge we learned will not be lost. Working as a health professional, I will carry this very lesson with me always to be the most effective dietitian I am able to be.
July 15th, 2018
Sometimes life has a way of surprising us with the most wonderful gifts when we least expect it. Today when we got home from our day at the hospital, Madeleine asked me if I wanted to go for a run. I thought about it for a second and offered back a quick yes! By the time we made it out the door, we had Lindsey, Muyly, and Leslie with us. As we were walking down the stairs, a car pulled into the driveway. It was our neighbor, Mr. Eugene. To the left of him were seven little children. In a matter of minutes, we had abandoned our run for a hike to a nearby waterfall with the children and Mr. Eugene.
We walked down the street and turned left onto a dirt path, continuing up and down the rolling hills. We walked over streams, under banana trees, and past fields of corn. The sun gave everything within sight a pink hue. When we arrived at the waterfall, we climbed up the boulders to the sound of the water smoothly flowing between the rocks and down the creek. We laughed and we talked about our passions. It was the perfect way to spend the evening.
It felt so freeing to leave everything behind and just live like a kid again. So often we get caught up in our schoolwork, job, or commitments, and we forget to simply live. I find myself saying no to things that I want to be a yes because I feel that I could use my time more wisely. But the older I get, the more I realize the value of a yes. Children always have a way of reminding me of this.
There is one child in particular who brings this realization to light for me. His name is Roland, and when you ask him how old he is, he holds up eight fingers. Every time we come outside, this little boy is standing there, smiling ear to ear, filled with joy. Today was not any different. He greeted us as our van pulled into the driveway when we got home from the hospital. He was waiting there one again when we walked outside. He lives simply but lives fully. He followed me down the hill and reached up to grab my hand. I looked down to see which child was beside me and I couldn’t help but smile when I realized that it was Roland.
Today was nothing short of wonderful, and it wasn’t even planned. All that I had to do was just say yes. Likewise, this program has been a constant reminder of the value of a yes. Thanks to this three-letter word, I have fallen in love with a country that I didn’t even have on my radar. I have tried some of my favorite foods, built relationships, and developed a deeper passion for medicine. It wasn’t always easy, but it sure has been worth it.
July 15th, 2018
After any extended time away, the first things people ask you are questions like “How did you like [insert location]?” or “What did you do while you were in [insert location]?” You’ll often hear the responses of people vehemently assuring they had a good time or that they thought wherever they went was incredibly beautiful, but sometimes it can be difficult to summarize a whole experience in two or three fleeting sentences in conversation. Hopefully, this blog post will help illuminate just some of the countless lessons I’ve learned throughout this experience.
1.You never ever stop learning.
A common clarification often made about this program that it is not a study abroad program, but rather a service-learning program. The key difference is the fact that in the past four weeks, we have not been in a formal lecture style classroom setting, but rather, we have been out in communities and in hospitals learning medical and nutritional related content as well as out all around the country learning the culture and (some) of the language. What has been incredibly eye opening is how seemingly perfect medical professionals are also constantly learning, too, and there has been a great culture of continuing education in all the hospitals we’ve been too.
This was especially noticed by me during the examination of a preterm baby with conditions such as a cleft pallet, swollen head, hairy body, rock-bottom feet, conjunctivitis, and oddly clenched fists. The house medical officer did a full body examination and explained to the students and us that he thought the infant had trisomy 18, which is more commonly known as Edward’s syndrome. He explained that the condition is rare, but he had seen a case before which is why he was able to diagnose the infant so quickly. What amazed me next was that he called over all the nurses and other medical officers and pointed out the specific symptoms of the disorder, harping on the fact that this was a learning experience for everyone and now everyone was more equipped for a more correct diagnosis if a case like this should ever come again. This happened at every hospital we went to in every ward. Nurses and doctors and medical officers and students would continue to ask each other questions about medical theory and cases. People kept pushing each other to learn, and that’s the type of environment I want to surround myself with in a professional setting one day.
2. The human body is capable of some crazy stuff.
My experiences in both Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital (PML) and Ridge Hospital reminded me just how amazing of a thing the human body is and what it is capable of. In the emergency ward of PML, I watched a young boy have spinal fluid drained from his back without any anesthesia of any form. The doctor simply cleaned his back with iodide, turned him on his side, and stuck a generously sized needle in his back. In a matter of seconds, a gush of clear liquid flew out of the connecting needle, and the young boy didn’t even make a sound. In the states, this procedure would typically be one you scrub in to as well as get anesthesia for the pain, but the patient literally gritted his teeth and endured the pain, showing me bravery manifests itself in many different forms.
Shadowing both the day surgery and the emergency surgery wards of Ridge Hospital also affording me the opportunity to see the human body in action. One of the most amazing things I watched was a laparoscopic gall bladder removal with the procedure ending with the enlarged gall bladder coming out of a small incision through the patient’s belly button. During laparoscopic procedures, the cavities are inflated with CO2, and it was so interesting to watch the doctors literally have to yank the gall bladder out of the inflated cavity. Skin’s elastic yet extremely tough nature will always amaze me, as the process looked like a person playing Pacman with the doctors trying to wiggle the gallbladder out in a joystick fashion. When the gallbladder was finally released from the cavity, there was a collective feeling of accomplishment in the operating room, and the results of the three hour procedure had come into fruition.
3. You can’t take care of others if you can’t take care of yourself first.
I would consider myself a pretty stubborn person; I don’t typically like to give in or give up. Because of this mentality, I found myself really struggling with not being able to do much after falling down some steps and spraining my ankle. After the fall, one of the first thoughts in my mind was “wait, does this mean I won’t be able to work in clinic tomorrow” as we had a community screening the next day. When I woke up the next morning, there was still a lacrosse ball sized lump swelling on the side of my ankle, there was still a lingering thought in my head to push through it and just got to the clinic and help out. After some consideration after talking to people around the house, I came to realize that me being at the clinic with a hurt ankle would be more of a liability and hindrance rather than a positive contribution, and what would be best for me and the team in the long run would be to rest for a day and wait it out. Though extremely counter-intuitive for me, I learned that being self-sacrificing with the intent of being helpful isn’t always a good thing. As someone wise once told me, “Though they were amazing people, you have to remember that all martyrs are dead.”
These past couple weeks in Ghana have been unbelievably amazing. From the delicious food to welcoming people, Ghana has been an absolute dream. I know I wouldn’t be here without the unwavering support of my parents and friends back home whose love I can always feel from oceans away. Thank you to our fearless leader, Dr. Alex Kojo Fianko Anderson, for organizing such an immersive and integrative program; the experiences you’ve provided for us have been empowering and eye-opening. Thank you for putting up with the 14 of us these past couple of weeks as it takes a special kind of person to be able to achieve such a feat. Last of all, thank you to all the friends I’ve made on this program. From watching World Cup Matches to playing games of What Are The Odds to afternoon naps to endless conversation on the buses, I can’t imagine this experience without the incredible people that have been a constant in my life this past month. I know I feel a sense of home in Ghana, but most of all, there is a sense of home because of y’all. Meda ase!
July 14th, 2018
One of my favorite things in life is to challenge myself to experience the unusual. When half of our group traveled to the Volta Region for the weekend to visit the Wli Waterfall I knew I had to visit the Tafi Atome Monkey Sanctuary on the way back home to Mampong-Akuapem. When will I ever be able to say I held and fed a monkey in the wild? However, after we confirmed we were going I started to have hesitations. One of the students who recently visited Thailand had shared that the monkey sanctuary she visited drugged the monkeys, so you could handle them. Another student related an experience where monkeys through fruit at the visitors. I was looking forward to a once in a lifetime experience with the monkeys, but I did not want to support a sanctuary if the monkeys were treated unfairly and drugged. Then there was the thought of getting a disease from a monkey; what if one scratched or bit you? Luckily before I came to Ghana I decided to get the rabies vaccine, so I figured that was at least on possible disease of my list. I thought hard about the possible treatment of the monkeys and decided I would evaluate the sanctuary once I got there. I am glad I did not back out the last minute; my time at the monkey sanctuary was amazing and the monkeys were not being mistreated and/or drugged for the client’s enjoyment.
The first monkeys we saw that were closer to the road were so gentle. If you held out a banana firmly in your hand, a monkey would gracefully climb up to your arm and start peeling the banana. By the end of our time at the sanctuary, I did not get one scratch, nibble, or bite. Some of the other students that went to the monkey sanctuary however had a slightly different view. Apparently, holding and feeding a monkey is not everyone’s cup of tea. One student ended up flinging off two large monkeys when they started to both go for the same banana in fright of being bit. I guess growing up with parrots I’m used to having odd creatures perching on my shoulder and eating. There was also another student who had a very hungry, breastfeeding monkey who jumped on her; with the extra weight and the feistiness of the mother it was overwhelming. I later held out my hand to a breastfeeding monkey to feed her from the ground and I had a very difference experience. She was a very polite and calm monkey. Yet, I will admit, as we got further into the jungle, the monkeys became possessive of the bananas. Instead of calmly and gracefully climbing on you to reach the banana, the monkeys came out of nowhere, would fly across you and snatch the banana out of your hand in midair; it was quite impressive. I myself played a few rounds of tug-a-war with the monkeys, when they tried to snatch the banana I was holding; these monkeys were also a lot larger than the previous ones.
I enjoyed the gentler monkeys more but feeding the monkeys from both areas was an adventure I will never forget; I definitely made the right choice. In the past in Egypt I had an opportunity to ride a camel. My travels to Ghana has provided me to hold and feed monkeys. My next bucket list experiences are riding an elephant in India and riding a donkey in Greece.
-Rebecah Brooke Horowitz-
July 14th, 2018
A wistful feeling came across me as I was leaving Ridge hospital for the very last time. On this walk out of the labor ward, through the main reception area, and across the nutrition unit, I could not help but to use this time to reflect on the experiences I have had in this hospital and in Ghana, and the many friends I have made along the way. Not only have I become close to the other 13 girls on the program, but the many nurses, medical students, and doctors that I am now connected to through Facebook messenger.
Going into this program, I had trouble explaining to my family and friends what exactly it entailed. I had technically completed my bachelor’s degree in May, yet I was still participating in a UGA study abroad program to finish my minor in Nutritional Sciences. In this limbo of educational status, I would often refer to it as a medical program rather than a study abroad to alleviate the confusion around the question of “wait, I thought you already graduated?” Wrapping up the final days of the program, the blatant description of the program that has been on the FACs website this entire time could not have proved to be more true. A service learning program designed as a hands-on practicum.
As there has been a shift in recent years from the typical classroom setting to experiential learning, I did not fully understand its significance until I participated in it myself. This program has allowed me to apply what I have learned in my undergraduate career to a real life setting. Developing a strong advocacy for health promotion throughout my 4 years as an undergraduate student, this program allowed me further comprehend the health and nutrition needs of specific communities while also gaining valuable clinical experience.
I spent my last day at Ridge Hospital in the labor ward, which is something I was looking forward to since the moment I was accepted into the program. The majority of my day was spent being treated as midwifery student. We had a lesson from the supervising midwife on what to do within the golden minute of a baby being born. No, I did not get to observe a live vaginal birth, but I did get to learn at a graduate level the proper steps on how to resuscitate a baby and practice it on a dummy, which could ultimately save a life at the end of the day. If there is anything I want tell prospective students coming on this program, it would be to find beauty and value in every lesson, observation, and favor asker whether or not it is something you were expecting to do and whether or not it is something that would challenge you. I am eternally grateful for the unmatched exposure I got in Ridge Hospital as a student. From taking vitals to lipid panel testing to feeding formula to malnourished children, the hands-on experience I acquired throughout my 4 weeks here is the most constructive thing I could do as an aspiring Physician Assistant student. My friend Michelle turned to me this morning after discussing her experience scrubbing in on a laparoscopic hernia repair, “I love to struggle. It’s the best way to learn.” which was reflected to me over and over again within the unique nature of this service-learning program.
July 14th, 2018
As I look back on the past four weeks, I think about all of the emotions that I felt through our many varying experiences, but one feeling felt constant: empowerment.
When we headed into communities to set up clinics we went in with the goal of empowering the people. We have no ability to change any aspect of the members lives, but we do have the ability to make the life changing knowledge known. We saw how important the little nutrition knowledge we could give them was, and how thankful they were for our help. Through it all we noticed that the communities were taking the initiative for better health and we were only aiding them in that. We were working alongside to empower and help prevent the problem instead of just using a band-aid to cover it up. Though our clinics I was able to see the importance of empowering people rather than giving the quick, short fix.
We were able to empower communities in their health, but through this program we were also empowered. We are empowered by opportunity and support. Dr. Anderson is the vessel in which we get to work with communities and shadow in hospitals. He connects us with the right people and makes sure we are in the right place to encounter the action and learn from the experience. I also feel empowered by his support for us, our opinions, and our learning experiences.
Along the same lines, Jo, Madeline and I had the opportunity to meet two amazing surgeons at Ridge Hospital this week. Dr. Fatima and Dr. Kang, amazing strong women who have worked so hard to get to where they are, took time out of their day to teach us. We were able to watch two endoscopies while being walked through the procedure step by step. We then were able to learn how to use the laparoscopy tools and practice suturing. Dr. Fatima was even impressed by how quickly I was picking up suturing using the tools, which made me feel so proud. We were beaming because of this opportunity and the knowledge that was being shared with us. I felt as though they cared about our education and wanted us to succeed. I left feeling inspired and confident in myself and my future in healthcare. Being able to look to the top and be inspired by women who have been through the long journey that seems like it will never end makes me feel like I too can do it.
This program has taught me so much about myself and about the healthcare field I want to go into. I have learned that as a practitioner you cannot force your patients to do anything or to take your advice, you can only empower them to make the change themselves. Thank you, Ghana, for letting us empower you and for empowering us with your culture, knowledge, and kindness.
July 13th, 2018
Prior to embarking on this journey, I can admit that I was afraid. I carried prejudices and fears that were rooted in ignorance and unknowingness, such as associating the phrase ‘third world country’ only with negativity. The phrase in itself is derogatory and insinuates that developing countries have a sense of inferiority. Every single day, my experiences in the community, healthcare facilities, and tourist attractions broke down my preconceived ideas of what this country was ‘supposed’ to look like and painted a picture for what Ghana truly was - breathtakingly beautiful and rich in diversity.
For instance, Ghana has such a bright future as it moves forward with its own advancements in areas such as technology and healthcare (just to name the two we’ve been around the most). The Greater Accra Regional Hospital at Ridge is very comparable to the type of facility I would expect to see in a developed country. Prior to this program, I didn’t believe that a developing country would have the resources to produce and maintain a facility this advanced. There were monitors everywhere, bright lights illuminating the halls, and most importantly, cleaning products to upkeep sanitation. My time at Ridge was so full of thrill and learning, especially as I got to observe practices that are done similarly, if not the same, in the US! It is important to realize though that the differences in healthcare administration shouldn’t be considered ‘wrong’ here because they’re not what I would typically see in the US; they should be examined in the context of their own resources, availability, and culture. Over my time at Ridge, I have had the opportunity to see babies be brought into this world, an emergency appendectomy, more jaundice babies than I could have ever imagined, and some of the tiniest humans I have ever seen (premature babies as early as 24 weeks gestation). This facility was more than receptive of us and encouraged learning with every movement. To be honest, I’ve probably asked more questions over the last four weeks in Ghana than I have over my last three years of undergrad!
My preconceived notions also brought me to believe that I wouldn’t be welcomed in this country. I was black, so visibly I’d blend in, but I was obviously not African. I was easily distinguishable as a foreigner and my American-ness showed through my little habits, like my accent or even taking photos of everything (I just wanted to record my experience). It’s often easy to divide countries and cultures based on differences instead of realizing that similar values are practiced worldwide. Once here, instead of feeling overshadowed, I felt welcomed. Being immersed so suddenly into a community that was so different from what I was accustomed to actually did me justice. I’ve furthered developed the ability to adapt, absorb, and readjust. I wouldn’t have been able to do this without the strong and welcoming community around me comprised of my classmates, Dr. Anderson, his family, and the Ghanaian people. I found joy in confiding in my sisters about how I felt about the program and working alongside them in our journey towards experiential learning and personal development. I found peace in Dr. Anderson’s wisdom (we’ve concluded that his spirit animal is the owl). I found comfort in Aunt Margaret’s home cooked meals after long days on our feet and connectedness in her love. Happiness oozed from the children as we played, and laughter came from adults as we tried to immerse ourselves into their culture by speaking Twi. The people here place such a strong emphasis on community and collectivism that I couldn’t imagine not feeling apart of this community. This strong emphasis on community made the readjustment period a little bit easier and even offered its own sense comfort. I didn’t feel like I was readjusting though, but instead felt like I was growing. After breaking through the stereotypes that I was expecting to see, I actually found a home away from home. The food covered in spices, the fabric full of bright and vibrant patterns, and the music that flowed through almost every street, brought me closer and closer to believe that this could easily be the best decision I've made in college.
After being in Ghana for four weeks, I am now cognizant of my unnecessary fear of what I didn’t know or understand, and that my fear of ‘culture shock’ should have been interpreted as a fear of unfamiliarity. Growing academically, emotionally, and mentally in this country has been the most rewarding experience of my life and I’m grateful that I gave myself the opportunity to travel here. Who would have thought that I’d eventually fall in love with Ghana? What I’ve learned here has birthed the deepest respect for the land, people, and culture around me, and these lessons will be carried through the rest of my life.
Ghana, thank you for teaching me the importance of open-mindedness, taking chances, and believing in myself. You will always have a piece of my heart.
July 13th, 2018
The 2018 World Cup runs from June 14th to July 15th, and coincidentally, this service learning program this year runs from June 13th to July 15th. In the back of my head, I naively thought to myself “I guess I’ll watch some World Cup matches when I can” and assumed that I would be rather disconnected to the World Cup this year because of the busy nature of the program and limited internet access, but quite the opposite is true. I definitely have watched more World Cup matches here in Ghana than I probably would in the United States and also feel way more invested in the outcome than I ever have watching soccer before in my life.
Something I have come to fully appreciate is how devoted Ghanaians are to the game of soccer. Wherever there is a television, you can almost guarantee that a World Cup match is playing. I have been amazed by the huge billboards lining the city streets with slogans such as “Unite Behind Africa” and “Cheer for Africa”, encouraging people to root for the whole continent’s success in the World Cup. I think there is beauty in the unity and support Ghanaians have shown for other African countries, and people root for teams such as Nigeria and Tunsia almost as zealously as they would have rooted for Ghana. When Nigeria played Argentina during a group stage match, we were watching the match at a restaurant in a mall in Accra. The restaurant had a slew of TVs near the bar area. There were several Ghanaians watching from both inside the restaurant and outside through the window, and when Nigeria scored, everyone was jumping around celebrating with some even sliding on the floor.
One of the most unexpected places the World Cup has impacted my life is while interacting with people during community screenings and the hospitals. During these settings, there are plenty of opportunities to interact with people whether it be bedside at the emergency ward or in the waiting area or while talking to someone in line for a lipids test at our community screenings. I’ve had many fun conversations start with the question, “So, did you watch the World Cup match last night?” and run into a flurry of topics ranging from people’s childhood experiences playing soccer, favorite players on each team, and the status of the African countries still left in the Cup (which is sadly none as of the group stage). Talking about soccer has been a great gateway into conversations with people, and I have greatly appreciated the passion and enthusiasm out of everyone I’ve talked to so far.
The more I wonder why soccer is a universal sport, the more I realize it’s partly because of how accessible soccer is to people. I noticed this when we played with a couple of kids one day while waiting for a tour of the Akosombo Dam, and we were entertained for a long period of time kicking a small rubberish ball the size of a golf ball around with two children and a couple of some other girls on the program. Other sports such as American football and hockey and skiing entail costs for things such as equipment, adequate practice space, and special uniforms, but soccer does not require that at all. All you need to play soccer is a ball of any kind and your own two feet, and this level of accessibility can explain why you can find people playing soccer on all corners of the globe. I think that we, as Americans, can sometimes underestimate the scope of soccer around the world because of how little the American public generally pays attention to professional soccer at home, but as a lab technician at Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital told me, “To us, soccer is life”, and this is a sentiment that rings true for many people around the world, and these interactions I’ve had in Ghana have reminded me how true that statement is.
Some of my favorite memories from this program have been centered around watching World Cup matches. We’ve watched matches from televisions on display at the mall to villages driving to Mole to the outdoor area of Remy’s to the comfort of our own living room in the main house in Mampong. I've experienced heartbreak during penalty shoot outs, elation at seemingly improbable goals, and owed debt of digestive crackers and other things after losing one too many bets. From people in clinics to strangers in supermarkets to other students on this program, soccer has been a way to relate to others: an unexpected universal language. The World Cup ends in two days, with France and Croatia going for it all, but I know no matter which countries comes out victorious, the World Cup has greatly enriched my experience in Ghana in a joyously unexpected way.
July 13th, 2018
After an incredible yet long week at Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital, we had two free days available on our syllabus. 7 of us decided to explore the lush mountains of the Volta Region and the rest decided to explore the lively city of Accra. After the 4:30 AM wake-up calls we had every morning this week, the 8:00 AM alarm that went off on Saturday morning was a real treat. Miss Margaret’s kitchen was abnormally quiet as the other half of the group had started their weekend early. I know we were only spending at most 48 hours apart, but after having no sense of separation in the past 3 weeks, I had no doubt that the 48 hours would feel like a lifetime.
With hiking boots and bathing suits on under our athletic attire, we hopped in the van and made our way to Volta. The 7 of us planned this weekend around Wli Falls, the tallest waterfall in West Africa. Today, we planned on hiking to the upper falls and then swimming in the lower falls as a reward after the strenuous hike. Our plans quickly changed once we saw the conditions of the roads. The 3-hour van ride to our destination suddenly became a 5-hour van ride. Even more time was tacked on from the couple wrong turns made, the lack of street signs, and our reliance on locals on the street pointing us in the “right” direction. We arrived to our accommodations a couple of hours behind schedule, meaning we had lost a couple of hours of daylight. Because the upper falls hike took at least 4 hours to complete, we decided to save the hike for the morning to avoid getting stuck somewhere in the middle of the jungle or on the top of a mountain after sunset.
Putting my haggling skills to the test the next morning, I rationed back and forth for about an hour with the hiking guide agency to lower the entrance fee for the hike from 50 Cedis per person to 20 Cedis per person. Observing that there was no government ownership or regulation to this land and understanding the value of 50 Cedis, I could not justify paying the “fixed” rate given to us. For lack of a better term, I knew we were being “ripped off”. We are loud, we take pictures everywhere we go, we are blatantly American, and we stick out like a sore thumb. Although this is not necessarily a negative stereotype, presumably Americans are associated with wealth, which was reflected in this situation. We handed the manager the money and he pulled me aside to shake my hand and tell me that I may have been difficult, but he appreciated my ability to talk things through.
After the unexpected journey to Wli Falls and the pricing fiasco, we enjoyed the hike to its entirety as it gave us the opportunity to experience breathtaking views of the mountains and waterfall. Covered in dirt, sweat, and almost tears, we finished the hike in 4 and a half hours with a sense of accomplishment not even 50 Cedis could buy. The weekend trip instilled in me a reoccurring theme of the program: patience. Patience with the travel time, patience with the tour guide manager, and patience with the 2 and a half hour incline up the mountain. Living in a mid-sized city in the United States, I am used to having easy accessibility to power, water, or even road signs and GPS. I can get into my car when I am hungry, drive within a mile radius, and have several food choices to choose from. Having these privileges at my disposal has also created a sense of urgency notoriously recognized in the American culture. I have become aware that these type of things may be more difficult to acquire, may take longer to acquire, or may not be acquired here at all. After experiencing this first hand in Ghana, I no longer want to take accessibility and convenience for granted. Throughout my time in Ghana and during this weekend trip specifically, I further understand the importance of patience and the ability to improvise when a situation goes a different route than planned.
July 12th, 2018
Being vulnerable is never easy. Being honest with others about who you are and what demons you face internally and externally every single day does not come as easy for some as it does for others. Vulnerability is a skill that is learned and eventually a practice that becomes more comfortable with each opportunity you take to put this practice into performance. Being vulnerable takes strength and there is beauty in that honesty and openness.
Living and working with thirteen other women for a month forces these internal and external demons to surface – constantly slithering in and out of your daily life – showing bits and pieces of their glowing eyes, slimy scales, and sharp teeth. We all face these demons despite the form in which they take to wreak havoc on our hearts, minds, and life. Departing for this service-learning study abroad program, I believed I had my demons under control. I thought I had them tamed, maintained, and trained to stay back until I was ready and willing to face them with swords drawn and shields up. I was unprepared to fight these demons in Ghana and when the time came to put on my armor, I soon realized I left my sword and shield back in the United States.
My demons made their way into my daily life here in Ghana – showing themselves in my alone time during reflection, group time with my teammates, and bedtime in my dreams. No matter how hard I fought, these demons would win time and time again. Being stripped of my happiness, comfortability, and support with each loss I faced in battle, I was soon left with hopelessness and unhappiness. I called home searching for some sort of comfort or support more often than I would like to admit. I would explain to my mom through my deep breaths, broken speech, and falling tears how happy and blessed I was to be here in Ghana, one of the most beautiful countries in the entire world, and how much I loved it here, but despite all of the amazing activities I was participating in and the incredible lives I was touching along on the way, I was still unhappy underneath it all because my internal demons kept winning and I kept losing. Guilt took over my heart and my mind as I struggled with being unhappy while being so happy at the same time.
One night during book discussion, I stepped away, like I periodically did throughout the day and night, to go into battle. Adaure found me on my bed in tears and talked with me through my personal internal struggles. She suited up with me and stood firm by my side as I fought my internal demons on the battlefield. Dr. Anderson joined in the fight soon-there-after and together, he and Adaure gave me the support I needed to conquer my demons and the courage I needed to be open, honest, and vulnerable with my team about the battles I had been fighting daily while abroad. I was stronger with this new community, fighting a fight I no longer had to fight alone.
Through the encouragement, love, and support of Adaure and Dr. Anderson, and daily thought-provoking and personal testimonies of Cheyenne and Rebecah, I was finally courageous enough to allow myself to be open, honest, and vulnerable with a group of women I was reluctant to be transparent with for the past month. I discovered the beauty in vulnerability within our team, bringing us closer together and stronger than ever, and my team (myself included) discovered the importance of grace in being open-minded, understanding, and forgiving towards others who may act or be different from ourselves.
Given the opportunity, I would tell the next team of students who participate in this learning-service study abroad to not be intimidated by vulnerability. Be open, be honest, and don’t be afraid to allow others to support you and help you through your daily struggles and personal battles. Utilize your team members in everything you do from needing a break to sit down and eat during clinic days, to needing emotional support after witnessing a death at the hospital, to needing words of encouragement and affirmation after sharing a personal testimony during book discussion, to needing extra water on your walk home because you ran out. Don’t underestimate the magnitude of the community your team can create. Spend time understanding your team as a whole and the individuals who make it up. Engage in genuine conversations and share as much of yourself as you feel comfortable. There is beauty in openness, honesty, and vulnerability and your team will not only appreciate but also recognize your strength when you transparently allow others to stand by your side and fight with you on the battlefield.
One of the most valuable lessons I had to learn and I hope you, my readers, will also understand is that despite all of the wonderful experiences and incredible people I met during my time here in Ghana, I am still a person with struggles and challenges that don’t just go away because I am in a different country. In order to make the most out of this program and have the best experience possible, I had to embrace developing a new support system and allow my team to know me. I had to be willing to share with strangers, which was so incredibly hard, but through this, I realized how much more I have in common with others than I knew or even thought possible. Being vulnerable allowed these necessary connections to happen, and I finally understood that alone we can do so little, but together we can do so much.
July 12th, 2018
This past week I was able to shadow in the physio department at Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital with my fellow student Natalie. I walked in not really knowing what to expect. I have been in physical therapy before, so I thought I had some clues. Turns out I did not, and my expectations were completely wrong. A lot of the children we saw come in had cerebral palsy. They had limited control of their motor skills. Most of them had hyperextended limbs while some couldn’t bend limbs at all. The therapists focused on strengthening their cores. They would tickle their backs to prompt them to sit up. The caregivers were so involved in the therapy. They did almost everything and helped the therapists whenever they could. Some of the babies would cry, but others weren’t bothered by what the therapists were doing at all. It was a truly amazing thing to watch. The therapist told us that most children complete about three years of therapy and have good success as long they stick to their regimen.
The case that stuck out to me was a nine-month-old baby that was so severely malnourished he had no control over his limbs and was about the size of a four-month-old. He looked like a limp noodle and responded to no stimuli at all. He rolled around all morning. The therapist would use his hand to caress his face and the baby was not phased at all. It was truly heartbreaking to watch. The saddest thing about his case is he didn’t have any underlying conditions, the only reason for the loss of his control was malnourishment. He literally had no control over his body because of a lack of nutrients. The therapist explained to us that the mom really didn’t understand either. The good news they placed her in nutrition therapy as well to learn how to adequately feed her baby. If the baby continues with therapy he will regain complete control, but the mom has to bring him. I wonder how his case will turn out.
When I thought of malnourishment before this program I thought of pictures of sad children with their ribs showing. It is so much more than that, and my view was so skewed, as with other aspects of developing countries. Dieticians are doing everything they can to educate caregivers. There are a lot of people that are doing everything they can to ensure the nourishment of children. Ghana is rich in skill and potential when it comes to its people. There are so many stereotypes about Ghana and developing countries in general that have been broken down for me because of this program.
July 11th, 2018
Let me set the scene for you: a 5’2” blonde, white female in the kitchen of Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital attempting to learn how to make traditional Ghanaian food. Exerting all my effort, I was barely able to complete one stir stroke in the metal pot I was standing over. Banku, a tough sticky starch, was my lesson of the day. With sweat dripping down my back from the open flame I was working over and the Ghana heat coming through the windows, the kitchen staff surrounding me laughed at my pathetic attempts of each stir. They were not laughing from ill intentions of mocking me, but because I was providing them with comedic relief from their daily routine and I laughed along with them. Needing a break, a staff member took the wooden paddle from me and with ease stirred the pot until the banku was ready to be served. I was beyond impressed by how incredibly strong the women surrounding me were. I was not strong enough to even move the wooden paddle though the banku, but for the women around me banku was a food made frequently. To my surprise, banku isn’t even the hardest of the starches on the menu to cook. Meanwhile back in the US women are hiring personal trainers and subscribing to “boutique gym” to motivate themselves and improve their health. One day in a Ghanaian kitchen had my arms hurting more then any personal trainer could have accomplished.
I was in the kitchen as one of my rotations shadowing in the hospital, and was blessed to be taken under their wing as they taught me about all the meals served to the patients. The kitchen is responsible for providing breakfast, lunch, and dinner to the children in different wards; the formula for the children in the malnutrition ward; and meals available for purchase to the rest of the hospital’s staff. On average the hospital feeds 40-50 kids hot meals everyday. The menu is a set schedule each week and is based on traditional Ghanaian foods such as banku, bean stew, and groundnut soup. Our experience in the kitchen incorporated aspects of learning the process of making these different traditional foods, banku being the most memorable.
By the end of my experience in the kitchen my appreciation had not only grown for the women, but their service style as well. Most food service programs in the US follow a ready to serve style, meaning food is made at a central location and disturbed to be reheated on sight. This ready to serve style is implemented in some hospitals in the US as well. Watching all food served to patients in the PML Children’s Hospital be made from scratch made me really appreciate their food service. Although it is a longer processes, it ensures freshness for the patients. I believe that extra effort in food service for the most valuable population is very important and something the US could strive to reincorporate.
July 11th, 2018
For the third week of the Ghana Service Learning Program, we spent our time shadowing at Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital, locally known as PML. The children’s hospital is 92 years old and was the very place that Kwashiorkor, a disease that results from severe malnutrition and protein deficiency, was first discovered and diagnosed. Because of its historical past, the hospital specializes in the treatment of malnutrition cases in children seventeen years and younger. I chose to focus my time at PML shadowing and learning about things that were more unique to Ghana, like the malnutrition cases, that I will most likely not be exposed to in the United States. My week at PML was split up between the malnutrition ward, the HIV clinic, and the rehabilitation clinic for mothers with malnourished children.
In the malnutrition ward earlier in the week, I was able to learn ample information about the causes, treatment, and clinical symptoms of malnourishment as well as experience the severity of some of the cases and the tender care that the nurses and dieticians provided to their patients. On Friday, I shadowed in the malnutrition rehabilitation clinic for mothers with malnourished children. The purpose of the clinic was to track the progress of the malnourished patients and provide mothers with the nutrient dense products used for treatment. Weekly weight and arm circumference measurements, edema examinations, as well as temperature and respiratory counts were used as the means to track the child’s progress. The arm circumference measurements were the main determinant for how malnourished a child was. The red section signified severe malnourishment at less than 12 centimeters, yellow was moderate malnourishment between 12 and 12.5 centimeters and finally green, more than 12.5 centimeters meant that the child had been cured and could be discharged from care.
One of the last patients that I evaluated for the day was able to be discharged. I took the baby’s arm circumference then recorded it onto the patient folder without even realizing the importance of the number I was writing down. Upon reporting the number to my supervisor, he excitingly said “This baby is cured!". I immediately felt an overwhelming sense of joy and was almost moved to tears looking down at this now healthy baby. Being able to witness the fruits of the doctors, nurses and dieticians labor was an enlightening experience because despite the challenges the hospital faces due to lack of resources, the treatments are working and lives are being saved. In that moment, the preconceived notion I had of hospitals in a developing country were broken down and I was able to marvel in the fact that although this hospital had differences from U.S. hospitals, the underlying motive was still the same and that was to save lives. The ingenuity the staff used when they were faced with a challenge truly revealed their skill level and ability to do their job. I aspire to obtain that level of skill in the future especially if I decide to practice in a rural area and may be faced with some of the same types of challenges. Observing the work being done at PML sparked an interest to look into different kinds of medicine or to even do non-profit work in developing countries after I become a licensed physician. The sense of passion carried throughout the entire staff at Princess Marie Louise Hospital was truly inspiring and at the end of the week I left excited to pursue a future in medicine with hopes to make a difference like the one being made at PML.
July 11th, 2018
"Whatever your hands finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave you are going."
During our week at Princess Mary Louise (PML) Children’s Hospital in Accra, I had the pleasure of cooking with the kitchen staff during lunch and the experience was truly humbling.
PML is a public hospital and in fact, the only one that caters to specifically children in the region. Amazingly, this is the hospital where Kwashiorkor, a disease defined by malnutrition due to a severely inadequate amount of protein,by Cicely Williams in 1931. Though PML's ups and downs with patient relations and employment conflicts, it has become the primary heath center for urgent and severe cases of malnutrition. Because of the hospital’s credentials, I instantly became interested in all things nutrition in this facility and I thought a soft (and fun) place to start would be the kitchen.
I ordered lunch and sat down while I waited. Next to me, I saw the staff getting ready to prepare fufu. They brought out a wooden stick (pestle), a wooden standing bowl (morter), and a bucket of water. The stick was used to pound the fufu into the bowl and the water was used to keep the food from becoming too hard or dry. Staff member, Ruby, asked me if I wanted to learn. My eyes lit up and said, "Yes!” before my mouth did. I’ve prepared fufu on my stove top before, but never in the “traditional way.” I watched Ruby put two hands on the pestle and pound with force, as another staff member folded the fufu.They would go back and forth. It looked easy, so I looked at her and said, "I’m ready.” I was quickly humbled due to the fact that it wasn’t easy at all. I was afraid of pounding the woman’s hands which were folding the fufu because of how fast the process went. You just had to get the synchronization right or there could be a bad accident. So because of this, I was often afraid to make the move altogether. For this reason and also the way I underestimated how much strength this actually took, things weren’t going too well. Ruby got up and grabbed the pestle with me and said, “No — you it needs to make a sound!” The pestle needed to hit the bowl straight to the bottom— wood on wood— so the fufu can be made correctly. I started pounding the fufu by myself again, with all my strength on me and my fear to the side. She said, “Yes, that’s it!” This lasted for just about 15 seconds, but I still felt accomplished!
How many times have we been ineffective in doing the right thing due to the risk of possibly hurting someone else? Sometimes we underestimate a task, and the new question to ask is not if we still want it, but if you’re willing to face everything that could go wrong. My fear of hurting the woman’s hands was in the way of me doing the job. Although my fear was valid, she was a professional. My fear controlled my efficiency, not her hands.
Even while working in the hospitals, I’ve realized that in doing your job, you can’t always please everyone. You may have to make tough calls, and the most imprtant calls pose great risks. The word “safe” has a positive connotation, generally, but how can you reach new discoveries in life while remaining in a safe place? It's important to conisder the feelings of others of course, but there's the way you perceive they will feel and there's the reality of the situation. Sometimes we have to have those tough conversations despite the awkwardness. We have things that we cannot condone, although it may mean so much to that person. Making an impact and bearing fruit in any relationship will take strength & courage. Otherwise, we will have surface level relationships that fail to make a sound, or impact, on either party. Let's work at this with our might, leaving no room for regrets.
"For am I now seeking approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."
Alexis Adaure Nosiri
July 10th, 2018
After shadowing in the nutrition ward at the Princess Marie Louise (PML) Children’s Hospital and making rounds in other areas of the hospital, I headed to the hospital’s kitchen to learn how to make formula. It turned out that they were not making the formula that day but luckily, I was still able to shadow and participate in the kitchen. Unlike the hospitals in the United States, everything was made from scratch, the aroma was absolutely amazing. A sidewall of the kitchen was lined with large cauldron like pots filled with foods such as yams, soups, chicken, and banku. After I had a quick tour of the kitchen, I met all of the aunties (the women that keep the kitchen running). Once we were acquainted, Lina, another student from a different program, and I chopped a few yams. Our next task was to stir the impossible, banku. The auntie that showed us how to stir the banku, made it look like she was whipping air; however, when it was our turn to give it a try it really showed our lack of upper body strength. I imagined, stirring the pot of banku was like trying to stir a pot of drying cement. The auntie helping us was having fun watching our attempt to stir. As pathetic as we looked trying to stir the banku, the auntie said I actually did a better job at stirring compared to the other student, but I don’t know how she could tell since we both could barely move the stirring utensil through the mixture. Either way, I will definitely take the complement. I don’t know how somebody could do that on a daily basis; on the other hand, you would never have to workout again. Later in the kitchen I was able to actually try the banku that I had “stirred” along with some fried fish. It was delicious; it was the best banku I have had during my time in Ghana. Everyone in the kitchen got a kick out of me liking banku and being able to eat it properly. However, I was not able to handle the spice of the homemade green chili sauce but luckily nobody noticed. I had an incredible time getting to meet everyone in the kitchen and learning the ropes. Fortunately, the next day I was also able to learn how to make F75 formula, a particular mixture of hot water, milk, sugar, and oil and was able to try my favorite Ghanaian food, fufu. The staff once got a kick out of me liking yet another Ghanaian food and being able to eat it properly; it was the talk of the kitchen. My two days in the kitchen were truly a memorable experience.
-Rebecah Brooke Horowitz-
July 10th, 2018
Starting hospital work and shadowing last week was a little nerve-wracking. I was jumping into a running hospital with real patients who needed care, and I didn’t want to get in the way. I also didn’t know how the patients would react to a stranger especially one that looked so different. I walked into the 2nd floor ward full of 0 to 12 month old children with mixed emotions, but within the first hour I had made a friend. Mahirah, a 2 month old baby, had been hospitalized a couple of days before for a high temperature, but her very low weight was very concerning too. Her parents allowed me to start a conversation about why they were at the hospital, how long they had been there, and about her current health. I was then able to hold her and truly feel how light she was. Over the next 3 days, I checked back in with Mahirah and her mother to see her progress, hold, and feed her. Each day I would be hopeful that the number on the scale was larger so that the sweet little girl could be stronger and able to go home. By our last day, I had such a hard time telling Mahirah and her mom goodbye because of the bond that we had made so quickly. Leaving the hospital on Friday made me realize just how much I love patient connection and being able to stick with a patient for a longer period of time.
Mahirah was admitted to the hospital for a high temperature, but the fundamental issue was that she wasn’t getting the nutrients and food she needed to grow and develop. This is crucial for infants because they are in a period of rapid growth unmatched at any other time in their life. It was in that moment that it clicked: I loved Mahirah’s case and the other cases on the ward because medicine and nutrition both had an impactful role. I loved the idea that all the knowledge I was learning in my Nutritional Sciences classes mattered significantly when I put them in the clinical setting. There would be no way to treat a child like Mahirah without understanding that the food and nutrients she eats affects every part of her health.
This realization inspired me so much. Knowing that my dream to be a Physician’s Assistant could be married with my love of nutrition to better understand my patients and give them the best possible care blew my mind. I felt like maybe there was a real future for me in pediatrics, but more specifically, infants and toddlers. Having this experience in Ghana to try new things, get to know patients, and integrate nutrition as an important part of overall health has been so incredible in my pursuit of a healthcare career. I know that I will look back on Mahirah and her sweet mother as two people who made a huge impact on me, and I know that with the help of Princess Maria Louise Children’s Hospital Mahirah will grow up to be happy and healthy.
July 5th, 2018
During week three of the program, we shadowed in the Princess Marie Louise (PML) Children’s Hospital throughout various wards and departments. I got the opportunity to shadow in the Physiotherapy Department with physical therapists, counselors in Family Planning, and staff for the Infant Care Department. Throughout the hospital, I noticed a few things: staff were scarce, common sanitary measures weren’t being practiced (ex. wearing gloves), and monitors were rarely used for admitted patients, just to name a few. I thought that the lack of resources, space, and staff ultimately had to negatively affect the quality and quantity of the work being performed in this hospital. When comparing the lack of resources to the abundance of resources that the United States seems to have, this hospital gave me the illusion of only having the physical capacity to provide mediocre to poor patient care. That was actually not the case.
You know the saying ‘looks can be deceiving?’ That applied here.
A wise man once told me that sometimes parallels are cause for consideration of long-held assumptions. He also mentioned that at other times, comparing things to US life doesn’t work that well, as local practices are best understood in local contexts, so I should examine benefits in context (Thanks, Dad). He was completely correct. If I spent my time in this children’s hospital comparing it to perhaps Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, I would not find a single positive thing about PML Children’s Hospital and that would be unfair to not only this hospital, but to the community and Ghana overall.
Although medical resources aren’t in abundance, the passion within the providers are present in every room, interaction, and service. Doctors and nurses here provide the best possible patient care with what they have, and more often than not, will improvise for what’s needed! For instance, in the physiotherapy department, the same equipment is repeated throughout the room, so it didn’t look like there could be much variety in treatment plans. I was wrong. Throughout my time there, I saw different treatment plans for each child, accompanied with different stretches. For the necessary equipment that wasn’t there, the therapists would step in and mimic the very equipment that they needed! I saw plenty of them act as backboards for children with cerebral palsy, elastic bands for stretch resistance, and used their hands to mock neck braces. The shortage in resources is made up for with their depth of knowledge. Because they don’t rely on technology for assistance, these doctors have to be more knowledgeable of and confident in the procedures they’re doing! One of my favorite parts though about my time is the hospital is how willing everyone is to teach. They don’t just teach us though; they teach other students, interns, residents, and even the senior doctors are teaching each other. I would like to attribute this to their kind personalities, but if you think about it, the more people that are knowledgeable in patient care and procedures, the more likely a child is to be received within an adequate response time, especially in the case of an emergency, regardless of staff shortage. This hospital does not let its lack of access to resources hinder it from providing quality patient care and treatment.
There are so many positive programs throughout the hospital as well. Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital is known for being where Dr. Cecily Williams first described and diagnosed the protein deficiency Kwashiorkor. There’s an entire ward dedicated to malnourished children and a clinic specifically designed to teach mothers how to prepare meals for their children! Giving these women access to education decreases their chance of having a child fall behind in developmental milestones due to malnourishment and develop further medical complications. It also contributes to decreasing their chances of falling into the cycle of poverty. The education provided here is so easily and readily accessible to the community that the hospital stands as a pillar of hope, showing that there are tools available to prevent and combat malnourishment.
Being at this hospital reinforced the idea that it doesn’t matter what you have. A hospital can have all of the latest technology, sterile facilities, and resources possible, but if it doesn’t have a working staff that is knowledgeable and passionate about patient care, it won’t function efficiently. This hospital finds the will to work every day and more children are alive and well because of it.
July 5th, 2018
I stand at the edge of Miss Margaret’s driveway, the open iron gates closing behind me. I stand there, analyzing the open road ahead, seeing its potential and comparing it to my own. I look at Erin as we both stick our ear buds into our ears, our workout music of choice blaring through the tiny speakers attached to our cellphones. I can feel the beat of the music in my heart. Steady. Consistent. Strong. I imagine my feet hitting the ground with every downbeat. Steady. Consistent. Strong. “I can run to this,” I think to myself, nodding to Erin. Her eyebrows raise as the word “Ready?” escapes her lips. I look away from her and grin, my eyes narrowing on the dirt road ahead of us “Ready!” I yell. And we’re off!
Our legs start moving at a speed we haven’t felt in weeks - fast. I feel the rockiness of the road beneath me, the pressure pulsing through my legs with each step I take. Our steps are in sync. She moves. I move. She moves. I move. We watch our feet hit the ground, avoiding pot holes and broken asphalt, trying not to break our bones by taking one wrong step. The cool mountain breeze blowing the hair out of our faces as sweat droplets begin to form on our noses. The awestruck eyes of the neighborhood children widening as they watch us speed by. Smiles form on their faces, their arms raising to wave us goodbye. I flash a smile in their direction and tell them we will see them after our on-foot exploration. I redirect my focus back to the dirt road ahead, seeing a giant downhill on the horizon in front of me. “I’m going to take it,” I think to myself in reference to the hill. I run a little bit faster towards it. I have always loved running hills. The uphills are painful yet technical, and the downhills are fast yet freeing. I live for the downhills - the weightlessness my body feels as my feet carry me faster than my mind can fathom and my heart can pound. “I’m going to take it,” I say again, but out loud this time. My eyes narrow, my eyebrows shift downward, and my cheeks lift as my mouth forms into the shape of a smirk. It’s just me and the open road in this moment. Reaching the top of the downhill, I am anxious as I anticipate my absolute favorite part of any run. I begin descending, my feet flying, my strides widening. I feel free. Freedom in the wind blowing cool air in my face. Freedom in the sound of the trees wisping by me. Freedom in the asphalt breaking beneath my feet. Freedom in the open road ahead of me for meters to see. Freedom in this moment – just me, my shortened breath, and my beating heart.
As I run along the open road that continues to switch terrain from dirt to asphalt to rock and then back again, I make a point to continue to look behind me. I want to keep an eye on Erin, but I also want to see how far I have come both mentally and physically from where I started to where I am in this moment. Physically: Erin and I started at Miss Margaret’s house and now we are nearing the top of our third hill. Mentally: we didn’t want to even run in the first place, but we forced ourselves to get up and be active and now we are loving what we are doing. We have both come so far, of course we aren’t going to stop here. There are more hills to run and more breathtaking views to see. As I continue to look backwards for progress checks and Erin checks, I notice a dark figure chasing after us. The figure starts off really small in the distance and gets closer and closer each time I look behind me. The figure passes Erin and continues heading towards me. It isn’t until I stand on the top of my fifth hill that I know who it is – Amarté! Amarté is a little 10-year-old boy in Miss Margaret’s “neighborhood.” He is full of joy, energy, and endless smiles. I adore him. Whenever my team and I get home from working in the clinics or shadowing at the hospitals, Amarté, his brothers and sister, and the rest of the neighborhood children always greet us at the gates of Miss Margaret’s house with smiles wider than the oceans are deep. He never fails to yell out my name with the most unforgettable smile on his handsome face, his cheeks making his eyes squint into little slits. I give him a hug hello along with his little brothers and sister no matter how big of a rush my team and I are in to get inside to do whatever we need to do – eat dinner, unload the supplies, finish schoolwork, etc. – I always want to make a point to hug them all hello, even if it’s just a quick hug. I want them to know I care no matter how crazy life gets. I want them to know I will always care about each and every one of them whether I’m near or far, busy or lazy. I never want them to forget that. I hope this small gesture of kindness will portray all the love for the children of Ghana (and more specifically the children of this neighborhood) I possess in my heart.
As Amarté approaches me all out of breath and of course still smiling, I say with the most loving smirk on my face “You wanna run with me?” He nods his head and utters the word “Y-es,” his breath breaking the one word into two syllables. I smile so big as my heart fills with the deepest love and respect for this little boy, his commitment, his willingness, and his ambition…but there is no time to think or feel, we have more running to do. And we were off again!
Down the road, he and I run, our feet hitting the rocky ground to the beat of an imaginary snare drum. He moves. I move. He moves. I move. We are a synchronized running pair. My Adidas sneakers hitting the ground in sync with his Nike slides. We run like this until the terrain turns into broken rocks like bits of a broken cliff. He and I flying through the air bouncing from this rock to that rock. My hair whipping me in the back as it sways back and forth. Finally when we are all out of breath and literally dripping sweat from all parts of our bodies, we stop to enjoy the view. The open sky. The shining evening sun. The cool mountain breeze. The untouched greenery. The blue mountains in the distance. So picturesque. So perfect. This is beauty. This is happiness. This is freedom.
When it is time to turn around and go home, we decide to walk some. We are all out of breath and exhausted, Erin, Amarté, and myself. It is time to cool down…that is until we see another downhill on the horizon. Erin takes off first, jogging down the road at a steady pace. Amarté looks at me and then looks at her, contemplating whether to run ahead with her or stay back with me. I look at him, smiling, and say “Let’s go!” nodding ahead in her direction. And then the two of us are off once more, chasing after her, running down the uneven dirt road. As we approached the downhill, I look to my right to check up on my new synchronized running partner. He looks to his left, smirking at me as he begins to speed up, his feet hitting the ground faster than I had seen them move yet. I laugh to myself as he eggs me on the race him, which is an offer I just can’t pass up. We race down the hill. His Nike slides flying with his feet with every step he takes. My Adidas sneakers doing their best to stay in sync. He is ahead. I am ahead. He is ahead. I am ahead. Both of us taking this hill with every move our bodies makes. Him. Me. Him. Me. Both of our hearts beating outside of our chests. Him. Me. Him. Me. Who is going to win? I think to myself, “For sure it will be him.” That is until my mind surprises me by letting go of any and all control it has over my body. Any pain I feel in my lungs or in my joints vanishes. Any thought about school or work vanishes. All I feel is complete freedom as my feet carry me down the hill. Amarté and I laugh when we reach the bottom, our breaths breaking up the joyful noise escaping our mouths from the bottom of our bellies. I might have won this round, but I know he is determined to never let me win another race again and I don’t mind in the least. As long as we are outside, spending time together, and enjoying each other’s company, I am happy and I know he is, too.
When I leave Ghana, I know I will cry. I will shed both tears of both happiness and sadness. Sadness for leaving this beautiful place behind - all of its picturesque views and all of its incredibly kind people. Sadness for leaving all of the most joyful children I’ve ever met in my life - their smiles and laughter playing like a record on repeat in my head. Sadness for leaving my new family away from my family – Miss Margaret who takes care of us when we are sick, Erica who helps us wash our clothes when we can’t figure out how, Kojo who accompanies us on all our outings into the city, Jennifer who makes us clothes in her shop from scratch, Kofi who teaches us how to dance whether we have rhythm or not, and Dr. Anderson who is not only our professor, but also our father, navigator, caregiver, friend, and chief. My tears of happiness will be shed as I thank God, my parents, all of my sponsors and scholarship donors, and the University of Georgia’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience so much that Ghana has to offer in only one month. I will cry because I am sad to leave, happy I came, and anxious to see this awe-inspiring country once again.
July 5th, 2018
There are several reasons why people exercise. Some may exercise to lose weight, improve health, relieve stress, etc. For me personally, I work out because of the endorphins it releases. It does not matter how long or how hard of a work out; I will always leave happier than I came. I soon remembered this familiar feeling after a run throughout Miss Margaret’s neighborhood for more reasons than one.
After a morning of washing clothes by hand for the first time, a few other classmates and I wanted to keep this sense of accomplishment going. We decided to run. Little did we know, this run was a great way to not only explore the surroundings of our new home, but to also understand more about the Ghanaian people. We passed the local cocoa farm, a lookout from the top of the mountain, and most importantly five children playing in the street. These five children stopped what they were doing and quickly sped up to join our pace. While the humidity and the constant incline we were on left us huffing and puffing, these children were un-phased. Even in jean shorts, dresses, and broken flip flops, they still managed to outrun us. We joined in on their contagious smiles once we were able to catch our breath.
The curiosity of these children and their ability to explore their curiosity was an inspiration to me. In the United States, I would never imagine children leaving their home to follow four strangers of different color running on the road. At such a young age, Ghanaian children are taught ownership and responsibility. They are expected to contribute to the inner-workings of the household, which comes with a sense of trustworthiness between the children and their guardians that was reflected in today’s encounter. I was also able to observe their joy. These children were happy, their smiles were genuine without the toys, bikes, and sports you see kids playing with back at home. They were able to make fun and entertain themselves from the little resources that they had. The lack of resources the people of Ghana may face can be found in any sector. I have also seen this in the several healthcare settings we have been in, yet what these people do with the minimal health education or healthcare supplies they do receive is incredible. Author John Dramani Mahama sums it up perfectly, “The key to Africa’s survival has always been and will most likely be in the story of its people, the paradoxical simplicity and complexity of our lives.”
July 4th, 2018
Way Down Yonder on the Chattahoochee
Submerging yourself into a new culture can be intimidating, especially when a language barrier exists between you and the very people you will be interacting with. Before leaving for the Ghana Service Learning Program, I was extremely concerned with how the Ghanaians and I would communicate, mainly because of my thick southern accent. Immediately upon being in Ghana for a few days, I knew that the language barrier would not hinder the capability for us, two very different people, to communicate.
During our sixth clinic in the Teshie community, a beautiful blending of cultures occurred that I was fortunately able to participate in. All throughout the day, the local children kept congregating around the area where Dr. Anderson was conducting his consultations and where we collected samples to test blood lipid levels. Clearly, they were curious about who we were and what we were doing, but we had to keep shoo-ing them away in order to maintain patient privacy. All day I felt little eyes staring at me but I could not talk or play. As the day came to a close and patients lingered in the clinic, another group of kids had gathered around me but this time I was able to talk amongst them.
A teenage girl asked me my name, and we chatted a little bit. Before I knew it, a whole audience of tiny people with wide eyes and big smiles had formed again. I could tell that they wanted to talk to me but were scared, so I said “Hi”, and the rest is history. Within minutes, the kids and I were laughing and communicating like we were old friends. Soon, Michelle joined in the conversation and the laughs just got louder. The kids were sharing some of the Twi words with us, so in turn, we thought it would be fun to share a little bit of our South Georgia culture with them. Of course, the first thought to pop into our head was to teach them how to say “yee haw” which somehow snowballed into a full blown “Way down yonder on the Chattahoochee” and even “GO DAWGS” (of course)!
In the midst of the laughter, I stopped and paused to revel in the beauty of the situation. How amazing is it to be on a totally different continent, surrounded by completely different people but still be able to share one commonality: joy? For the past two weeks, I have felt very welcomed and at home here in Ghana, but in this particular instance, I felt a deeper, more personal connection with the people we were working with in the community. My heart burst as I looked around and saw our team laughing, the kids laughing and even all of the adults and elders in the community were getting a kick out of this exchange. Loading up the bus and driving away was especially hard while watching our newfound friends waved good bye, but I know that I'll never forget all of the laughs we shared!
July 3rd, 2018
When we first moved arrived to the main house, we found out that six girls would have to live in another guest house because the main house could only fit eight. The guest house was great. It was beautiful. You could see a spectacular sunset in the midst of the hills. It was also a bit more spacious. The guest house seemed to be the obvious choice.
Then I found out that to live there, one would have to travel, hills and all, 25 minutes to the main house each day because that would be where we had breakfast and meet up to head out for the day. My first thought was “No way!” As a dietetics major, I make great effort to eat healthy, and although I know the importance of an active life, I have to admit that I struggle in that area because I lack the self-motivation. I normally opt out of activities that require a lot of physical effort -- and that's the issue. I realized that I cannot allow the risk of being uncomfortable stop me from a healthy lifestyle.
We witness many people daily in Ghana who are walking very long periods of time whether for work, school or for errands. I often think, "many of them really have to do this. Taxis and cars are not always affordable or accesible to where one is located." In my case, I'm priveledged to have a choice, and I'm prone to decide on the one that's easiest. So I chose opposite. Living in the house further away gives me no choice in the matter of making the long walk. Sure, it was (very) hard for the first few times for someone like me, but then endurance builds up. This is the beautiful part. I began to see results. My legs are toning up and I’m not as tired when I walk up hills.
I believe that we all desire to experience our lives to the fullest. There’s goals we want to achieve and an ultimate Truth we long for. As great as this sounds, sometimes the issue is that we are not willing to position ourselves to receive. Change is going to be uncomfortable. If you are willing to go through growing pains, the end results will blow your mind. Don’t allow the fear of being out of your normal comfort zone keep you from truly living.
This reminded me of someone who once positioned himself for the greatest gift he would ever receive:
Luke 19: 1-10
"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything,I will pay back four times the amount.”
Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus had to position himself to receieve because in the state that he is naturally in, he was not able to see. Powerful.
Alexis Adaure Nosiri
July 3rd, 2018
This week was an incredible one to say the least. On Sunday, some of us went on a run around the neighborhood. Not even five minutes into our run we were joined by the sweetest little boys. They looked to be around six years old. They were dressed in blue jeans and flip flops. Despite their attire they kept up with each step, even running circles around us at times. All they wanted to do was be around us. It warmed my heart, and I can’t help but think nothing like that ever happens to me at home. I never see a stranger running and think to myself, “oh I should join them.” Their joy was contagious. We finished our run and began the mile walk back to our house. The boys didn’t miss a beat. They continued walking with us. I could barely breathe from the run, yet they were laughing and did not seemed phased at all. They held our hands as we walked all the way home, giggling the whole way. I can’t help but think how different our lives would look if we treated strangers in our life like those little boys treated us. Not only did they run along with us, they literally went the extra mile and walked with us home. Their kindness made an impact on my life that I will never forget. I hope I can treat those around me the way they treated me.
We were able to complete health screenings as well as nutrition education in several different communities. The week was full of highs and lows. Most of the patients we screened had the biggest smiles on their faces. I could see their gratitude from across the room. At the beginning of the program I wondered if we would actually make a difference here or if what we were doing really mattered. I have seen in one week that what we are doing here is so important, and it is so much bigger than me and the month I will be here. A lot of times in life we do not see the fruit of our labor until much later, but this week I have seen immediate fruit. People were told they needed serious life change and they were excited to do it. Other people were told they were completely healthy and left almost jumping up and down. I’ve had some of the best hugs this week. It has truly been a pleasure to work in each community.
Gratitude has been something especially on my heart since my plane touched down in Accra. I knew that I was blessed before I came, but oh I have taken so many things for granted. My good health is one of them. The fact that I have access to healthcare or that I know where the nearest hospital is located is not something that all our patients can say. I have seen so many challenges in each community that would have never crossed my mind. Community leaders are doing an incredible job ensuring that their people have access to something better. They have impressed me. This program continues to educate me in ways that I have never been taught before. I am thankful to be here. I hope to go the extra mile for those around me including my future patients one day.
July 2nd, 2018
The perpetual vice of the twenty-something-year-old is a feeling of invincibility; the lingering thought of “yeah, there’s no way that can happen to me”. There’s an old saying that goes “when it rains, it pours”, and life unleashed a monsoon on our group during our visit to Cape Coast. The scene of the crime was a place known as The Airport, a mishmash combination of a restaurant, gas station, live music venue, and overall hangout hotspot perfect for a Friday night dinner. The culprit was a goat meat and onion kabob cooking on an open grill only a couple feet away from our table. The savory smell of the food was calling out at our empty stomachs, and once one person bought a kabob, several of us answered the call and followed suit. The victims were those of us who ate the kabobs, thinking that our gut biomes were better than the several warnings we received before the program about eating street food and the ramifications that would follow. That night, we munched happily on the goat and went to sleep not knowing what the next 24 hours would have in store for us.
We had an incredibly busy itinerary that day: Kakum canopy walk, Elmina Castle, and Cape Coast Castle. Our bus ride to Kakum was noticeably bumpier than most of the other journeys we’ve had, so when I began to feel a bit nauseous at Kakum, I attributed it to our travel, not thinking much of it. The moment I realized it was more than just normal nausea was in the middle of our canopy walk. I had thrown up once before, but I brushed it off, dismissing it as a one-time instance. We had crossed the fourth bridge out of seven, and once I tasted bile seeping in my mouth, I knew there was no way to keep it down. I leaned over the edge and was mortified and embarrassed as I watched my vomit travel hundreds of feet down the trees below.
By the time we had left Kakum, it was not only me feeling the pains of food poisoning, but three other girls in the group as well. They say that collective experiences bond people, and there’s a level of closeness you gain when you’re in situations such as sitting on the ledge of Cape Coast Castle comparing the outlandish places you’ve thrown up that day and laughing at the absurdity of the situation you’ve all found yourself in. Those 24 hours were full of trips to the washroom, naps on the bus, and sips of water and Pedialyte. By the time we arrived back in Mampong, it felt like the most comforting homecoming ever, and I went to sleep that night relived the odyssey of the day was over.
From my stomach to yours, let this be a kind warning of aversion towards street food. No matter how much you may think you can handle a goat kabob or a pastry from the side of the road, the costs far outweigh the benefits. Don’t let your pride and stubbornness cloud your judgement as it did mine. Your stomach may be aching from hunger, but we are fortunate on this program to know that food will come eventually. The rumblings from food poisoning are a whole new level of discomfort that as one girl on our program would say, “I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy”. I want to say a huge thank you to all of my friends on this program who have been there for me along the way. Thank you for holding back my hair while throwing up on the bus, lending neck pillows when mine flew out the window, and always offering support and kind words. It’s comforting and uplifting to know so many people genuinely care about you and your well-being, and I know that no matter what else happens these next few weeks we’re here, I have people that have my back (and my stomach and my ankles).
July 1st, 2018
Sometimes we forget that the smaller things in life can often times a play a role in the bigger things in life. During our clinic days, we saw waves of people from various communities throughout Kumasi, Nyanyano, Gomoa Buduata and Teshie. We saw many differences amongst the communities, including differing overall health status, infrastructure, power and housing. Despite this, they all had a common similarity — appreciation for the most basic items in life. As we rotated our stations through the clinics, I saw that nearly everyone who were screened lived in homes with no power, was wearing clothing torn from wear, sandals repaired by a drawstring and phones that many of Americans would consider “outdated”. Both the men’s and women’s hands had thick, rough skin — a likely indication that they use their hands a lot. One may think, “Wow, they must have it hard.” However, another way look to look at it is that they make the best out of everything they have.
In the two weeks that I have been here, I have gained so much knowledge about the history, culture, people and appreciation for the things I once took for granted. I have also definitely lost some of the habits I had such as brushing my teeth under a constant stream of water. At home, my parents always reminded me of how far they have come from living in poverty in Vietnam. Both of my parents emigrated from Vietnam, also a developing country as in Ghana, to a foreign country in the name of the “American Dream.” As fearful and anxious as my dad was feeling escaping from the poverty-stricken town to halfway across the world, he knew one thing for sure: his risks would not nearly outweigh the advantages. My parents raised both my brother and I to be thankful for everything that we have — that we are lucky to have a roof over our heads, a table full of home-cooked dishes, hot running water, air-conditioned home and having the luxury to go shopping on a whim. I knew that I am lucky to be born in the states with everything all ready for me — and that I didn’t have to work my way up like my parents did. Because of their sacrifices, I am amongst the first in my family to attend and graduate from a prestigious, public university.
Even with the constant reminders, I was not prepared to see what I would encounter in Ghana. Our host home was equipped with fans, instead of air conditioning units, no hot showers, no washer or dryer units and a room ready to be shared for four girls. To be truthfully speaking, I was terrified. I didn’t realize how much I missed cool air constantly blowing in my face until we got our hotel rooms in Mole Motel over a week into our program. I became to realize that even having a fan is luxury and a hot shower is not even a thing here in Ghana. Cold bucket showers and water rationing became a reality that is now becoming much more easier to handle. But amongst all this, I thought to myself that you really do not know how good you have it until it’s gone.
What I saw was that many of those who came out to the clinics lived in poverty and was wearing ripped clothing. Despite this, everyone greeted me with such bright, beautiful smiles. Children sang, danced around and welcomed me with open arms. I saw how genuinely happy people are without having a materialistic mindset. Life is too short to waste our time thinking about what we do not have. We need to remind ourselves that what you get out of life depends on your outlook and attitude. Every day spent here in Ghana is not as luxurious as it is in the states, but I know that it is valuable. I am still learning and adapting to a lifestyle different that what I am used to but I am loving life even more each day!
June 30th, 2018
Anyone who knows me has probably has heard about my love for children and medicine. One of my favorite quotes is, "A hundred years from now it will not matter what my bank account was, the sort of house I lived in, or the kind of car I drove...but the world may be different because I was important in the life of a child." This quote was first introduced to me through UGA Miracle, an organization that works directly with Children's Healthcare of Atlanta. To a child who doesn't understand what is happening, a doctors office or hospital can be terrifying. Understanding this makes me want to love care for these children in a way that makes them feel comfortable. I have dreamed of working in pediatrics since I was in high school, but have only had the chance to work with adults in a patient care setting. I have been so excited for the opportunity to work with children in a clinical setting since the program began. Although I have been anxiously awaiting this experience for all of this time, it still seemed to sneak up on me.
One morning this past week we were choosing which station to work for the day. I volunteered to run the hemoglobin and glucose tests. At this station, I would prick each patient’s finger and collect two microcuvettes of blood. After collecting the sample, I would get the readings from each of the machines. From the beginning, I felt confident in my ability to prick and collect the samples of blood. Most of my patients weren’t flinching and many would actually smile back at me after I finished. I loved being able to comfort each patient from the time they sat down until we were all finished. I loved that despite the language barrier, I was able to make them feel cared for.
I looked to my left to motion for the next patient to come to my station and realized that this time my patient was a four-year-old little girl. She had been watching as she waited, and she looked extremely apprehensive. My heart broke that I was going to have to prick this already anxious little girl’s finger. Up until this point, I never let my fear keep me from pursuing medicine. I always assumed that when the time came, I would have the strength to do what I needed to. The time had come without much warning, and I knew that this moment would either make me realize that pediatrics was not for me or serve as affirmation of my love for this field.
I talked to her from the time that she sat down to when we were all finished. I could tell that she primarily spoke Twi since her responses came in head nods and smiles. In no time, I had sterilized her finger, pricked, collected the blood sample, and cleaned up the site. Once I was finished I said, “see not so bad.” She smiled at me and nodded. Both of us were relieved to have that over with.
This experience made me excited to grow through my skills and knowledge in medicine. I gained more confidence in my ability to work in pediatrics someday. I am grateful for this brave four-year-old and all of the other children and who came to our clinics this week. I could not be more excited to shadow in the children’s hospital next week!
June 28th, 2018
I have always known I have a gift for making friends with strangers. It is a strength of mine I am notoriously known for; a characteristic anyone and everyone notices within the first few minutes of talking to me. I strike up conversations with ease, laugh without hesitation, and smile almost always. Being friendly, vulnerable, trusting, and open-minded is second nature for me. This is because my greatest strength is being a Woo.
According to CliftonStrengths Quest for Students, Woo stands for (w)inning (o)thers (o)ver. The CliftonStrengths Theme for Woo explains why I enjoy the challenge of meeting new people and formulating genuine connections. I am rarely intimidated by strangers and am in fact drawn to them because I find them to be energizing and exciting. I want to learn their names, ask them questions, and find some areas of common interest. Some people shy away from starting up conversations because they worry about running out of things to say, but I don't. In my world, there are no strangers, only friends I haven't met yet – and there are a lot of them (https://www.strengthsquest.com/193541/themes-full-description.aspx).
I use my strength as a Woo to welcome patients into our clinic and make them feel as comfortable as possible amongst so many individuals who look different and speak different from how they do. The first thing I do when I meet a new patient is make direct eye contact. Before I say a word or even crack a smile, I let them look into my eyes. I want them to know that we, my team and I, have good intentions in being in their country. I want them to see that I am genuine and someone they can trust. The second thing I do is smile. I have a beautifully contagious smile, partly thanks to my amazing orthodontist and partly thanks to my mom and dad for having some pretty awesome genes (thanks guys!). Smiling is a universal language that speaks in volumes louder than I can in Twi or in Ga. A smile says welcome, thank you, how are you, you’re welcome, and have a great day – words/phrases I struggle to pronounce correctly in their native languages, but speak flawlessly with my body language. The third thing I do is attempt to speak in Twi or Ga. I don’t even speak in English if I can avoid it. I want our patients to know that I respect their culture, language, and traditions. I want them to see that I am not trying to push my own language onto them in order to make myself feel comfortable, but instead fully immerse myself in all that this country has to offer and connect with its people in their way instead of my own. Yes of course I pronounce words incorrectly and mess up on the phonetics and rhythm of the phrases, but at least the Ghanaian townspeople know that I am trying, and they appreciate that. Some people will just laugh at my American accent when I try to speak in the native languages, but I have learned to laugh with them, and others will take the time to reteach me old words and phrases so that I may speak them correctly or even teach me new ones to keep the conversations going. The fourth thing I do is allow myself to feel comfortable being touched, which isn’t always easy for us Americans with our love of personal space. Ghanaians are warm, expressive, and more touchy-feely than Americans. They enjoy hugging me hello and goodbye, holding my hand as they try to teach me Twi, and slapping me on the back when we have our laughing fits. They are all displays of affection and comfortability I’ve learned to accept and respect and have gotten comfortable with each new clinic we set up. There is something personal and intimate about connecting with another human being physically. I feel as though our conversations have that much more weight and our laughs are that much more boastful because our connection is that much more genuine. The Ghanaian people have taken a real liking to me and I think a big part of that has to do with who I am – my personality and my strengths – and how I strive to convey exactly who I am and what I’m trying to do here to each and every person I meet.
June 27th, 2018
The language of a new place is one of the most prominent characteristics of a culture that immediately sets one population apart from another. However, language can also be a way to bring those differences together. Today we went to a clinic in Akraman, predominantly a farming community, and I was able to have a full conversation with fewer words and more body language. The language barrier is one of the hardest things to overcome since communicating is a necessary part of learning and experiencing. Overcoming one’s shortcomings in the knowledge of a language and being open to attempt to learn that language is one of the most valuable things you could do in a foreign country.
At this clinic, I was testing for blood glucose and hemoglobin levels which requires you to sit them down, have them lift their left hand to the table, relax the finger you’ll prick, and then prick once everything is prepared to be collected. All of this could be done without a single word spoken, especially since body language and expressions could guide them to the right place. Does that mean that doing it with some spoken words is worse? Or better? I think it leans more towards the latter, especially if you attempt to do that in their native language. A few words and a smile can go a long way to change someone’s whole experience.
Having gone through many patients without saying one word of Twi, I asked one of the clinic organizers how to say, “How are you?” and he said “Ete sen?” and that a correct response to that would be “Me ho ye meda ase,” or “I’m fine, thank you.” From that moment on, I tried to repeat that question in the correct tone and syllable stress that he had. There was a dramatic shift in the patient’s attitudes once I started to attempt to speak their language. I immediately noticed how they were more relaxed and comfortable, even laughing. And even though I may have been red-faced and embarrassed, I would much rather the person I’m interacting with be more comfortable at the expense of my embarrassment. They would laugh at how wrong I was pronouncing it, but then they would also try and correct me. I was being taught as well as trying to immerse myself in their culture. Embracing the culture of a new place is something I strive to accomplish while being in every place I travel, so getting this opportunity to talk face to face with a local is an amazing experience. It also helps with the feeling of not belonging, because they enjoy the conversation and want more. One specific man I had to prick decided to go into a full-blown conversation, which I loved, but sadly knew that it would have to be cut short since we were there to do clinical work. Knowing that a simple smile, eye contact or even speaking in Twi could change the outcome of a patient’s experience, I will make it a goal of mine to become better in Twi.
#FACS100 #GHANA #WHATAPROGRAM!
June 27th, 2018
Thus far my favorite part of the program has been the health screening clinics. Many of the individuals that attended our health screening clinics have touched my heart. These women and men are strong, brave and have trust that is unimaginable. Imagine, you live in a village and you have never seen a classically trained doctor before. Additionally, the assistants helping the doctor are from a foreign country, act and look different and speak a foreign language. Personally, I would be terrified. I would be scared and hesitant to trust. What amazed me the most during our clinics, were the children that went through alone. On our second day of health screening, a girl who I believe was 9 or 10, went through the clinic all by herself. She did not have siblings or an adult with her. I could not believe how brave she was, she did not even cry when I pricked her finger to collect blood. When I was that age I dreaded the thought of getting my finger pricked, would become clammy, and sweat profusely; not to mention my mother took me to the doctor until I was 18 years of age. How could a 10-year-old be so brave and see the value of our clinic? On our fourth health screening clinic there was another brave girl who was 8 years of age, many young female students between 12 and 14 years of age, two male students that were 12, and a young boy who was around 7 or 8 years of age with his little sister around 3 that attended the clinic by themselves. I was surprised we did not see more male students that came alone. When I asked the 14-year-old female students where the male students were, they giggled and said they did not want to come. Other than the two, all the other male students were younger and accompanied by an adult. I told the girls they must be really smart and they all gave me a large grin. Most of the children I pricked and collected blood from were so brave and did not even flinch; however, the individuals who were scared trusted us. On the second day of clinics I remember pricking a 17-year-old boy and a 20-year-old woman to test their glucose and hemoglobin levels; they were both not afraid of us, but were terrified of getting pricked. When I cleaned the 17-year-old boy’s finger and started to massage for a good blood supply, he curled his hand to squeeze mine and squealed. My classmates that were working at my station joined me in comforting him. If I was in his position I would opt out of that part of the screening however, he trusted us and relaxed his hand. Similarly, before I pricked the 20-year-old woman’s finger she was terrified. She pulled me close to her and I sat there for a few minutes rubbing her back until she was more comfortable and calm. As my partner and I pricked her finger and collected blood she squeezed my arm. Afterwards she pulled me closer to comfort her when we were done. Every day that we have a clinic, individuals surprise me with their bravery and trustfulness; it is truly beautiful to witness. I will forever carry these memories with me.
-Rebecah Brooke Horowitz-
June 27th, 2018
I woke up Tuesday morning tired form last night’s sleep. With our AC shutting off every 30 minutes, I woke up often in a sweat and stayed awake due to the constant beeping of fire alarms needing their batteries changed. The morning continued on the wrong foot when we arrived at Nyanyanu. Having planned the day specifically on a Tuesday, a day of rest in the fishing community, we expected a large gathering. Showing up at our usual time of 8am, we arrived to no organization and nothing set up. In previous communities we were greeted by the leaders and shown to a clean and prepared setting for our clinic. This arrival differed greatly as the leader of the community never even showed up. An hour later tents and tables had finally been set up for us to work at. Dr. Anderson came back to the bus and expressed his feelings of frustration, apologized to the group for wasting our time, and explained how this scenario has never happened before. The group then filed off the bus to bring the supplies and finish setting up the clinic. Twenty minutes later the clinic was up and running, seeing its first patients of the day. Chaos continued to challenge our clinic through out the day as people tried cutting lines and were impatient throughout the process. Working hard until 1:30pm, we were able to provide screenings and counseling for 150 patients.
I am writing about this experience not to shed bad light on the Ghana Service Learning program, but to show the learning experience we gained from the day. Monday’s clinic had provided a very contrasting experience, working in a well-organized community that was so grateful for our help; they gifted us with watermelons and coconuts before we left. Although this was a sweet gesture and a memory I will cherish, such gratitude will not always be the reality working in the health care field. Things are not always going to go our way but these moments provide lessons of self-growth on how to handle such challenges. Being over tired, cranky, and frustrated with the chaos and disorganization was a test of my strength and I dug deep to continue my work in a positive manor. Working through such emotions taught me to appreciate the moments of gratitude even more.
Later that night the group of 14 girls and Dr. Anderson sat around the dinner table and began a discussion to debrief from the day. As each student began to share their stories from their days, each person touched upon the common feeling of frustration in one way or another. Until this moment I did not know everyone had been feeling these similar emotions that I had felt while working in the community. During the clinic each student acted so professional and had overcome any challenge presented, never letting these feelings overwhelm them or affect their work. Averaging 170 patients each clinic, we have gained lots of experience, but working in a tough environment provided the greatest challenge. Our work in the fishing community showed the strength of the group and each student individually, and we will be able to apply the knowledge we learned to future careers.Lindsey Woller
June 27th, 2018
The purpose of going to another country is to truly immerse yourself and learn everything about the culture different from your own. This program not only does an amazing job of educating us about traditions and lifestyle, but also comparing the healthcare field in Ghana to the US. Being educated about the differences in culture helps to understand just how much they contribute to the unique character of the country. Today, I was very educated about a part of life in Ghana different than my experience in America: laundry. The best part of the day was that I was put in my place and taught this lesson by 10-year-old girls, and I loved it.
In preparation for our week away from the main house and traveling to communities for clinic work, I needed to wash my clothes to have enough to last the week. I set out to hand wash my clothes in buckets using detergent, something I leave to the machine while home. Not knowing there was a technique and system to best wash them, I got some soap and started scrubbing. After I had finished most of the clothes the girls, Rebecca, Alice, and Joanna, came around the corner most likely looking for a playmate. I was finishing my last piece, and one of them picked up my sock and looked at me in a strange way. I was so proud of my washing skills until she started laughing at the brown spots I had left. In my head the brown on the white socks were stains that would never come out, but she knew I was the issue. They laughed some more, put some more water in the bucket, grabbed a soap bar, and dumped ALL of my clothes that I had just washed back into the water. I had failed, and thankfully the girls were willing to come to my aid.
They taught me how to spread the piece, dump it in the soapy water, rub it between the palms of both hands in a certain way, use the bar on the spots, wring it out in the end, and hang it up to dry. And the girls were right: my socks are white again and my clothes are squeaky clean. The best part was the conversations we had while cleaning my dirty clothes. One girl looked at me and said “You don’t have to wash your clothes in America do you?” The sweet question made me realize the privilege I have back home to let machine do the work that these girls were doing at such a young age. How fortunate am I to have made some 10 year old girls giggle at my ignorance, but also to have those same girls help me with my laundry (something that they did not have to do). Ghana you have been a blessing. Thank you for the kind people, the yummy jollof rice, and the clean laundry.
June 26th, 2018
During the first day of our nutrition clinic, we set up at Presbyterian Church of Ghana, Mount Moriah Congregation, in Adiebeba-Kumasi. The nutrition clinic aspect of this service-learning program is to provide screenings for members of the community so that they become aware of their health statuses. In addition to the basic health screening, we provide them with tangible pieces of information that enable them to take control and increase the quality of their health. It’s about empowering the community through nutrition in an environment that is familiar to them. On the first day, I volunteered to greet people as they entered the clinic and record basic information prior to them being seen in our work area. I recorded age, sex, and if they had eaten or not for the day. My job was simple: greet, collect, and regulate patient flow into the work area.
In order to take it one step further and continue to immerse myself into the culture, I challenged myself to learn two basic phrases in Twi to help as I recorded information: ‘how old are you?’ and ‘have you eaten today?’ My attempt to use the language was in regard for the patients. I hoped that using their language would be a sign of me showing respect and my appreciation for their culture, in addition to creating a space where the patients could feel welcomed. My use of local language was essentially for the same reason we performed the clinic at a local church: to have the patients feel as comfortable as possible.
Much like anyone attempting to learn a new language, my pronunciation was not up to par, and my accent, or lack thereof, inhibited me from fully capturing the delivery of the phrase. I received plenty of blank stares, but what really provoked emotion from me were the laughs. People would literally laugh at me as I mispronounced words. Granted, they were not malicious laughs, but more so laughs in admiration of my failed attempt to speak the language, sort of how you laugh to convey “aww, how cute.” My feelings were slightly hurt as I continuously tried and failed to make a connection with the patients through language. In these exchanges, I put myself in a place of vulnerability as I visibly struggled with pronunciation, much like a child learning to speak! I quickly became uncomfortable with the laughs, and ironically, created an uncomfortable situation for myself while trying to create a comforting environment for the patients! The patients saw my discomfort and offered encouragement as they continued to teach me the pronunciations. By the time the clinic closed, they thought I was Ghanaian because after an entire day’s worth of practice, I could finally do it!
The entirety of the day, outside of my language struggles, was amazing! I got to meet and interact with so many people and learn so many new things about nutrition and health that I hadn’t been exposed to before. My love for this particular community was solidified by the children. The children give the sweetest hugs and show so much enthusiasm when we play with them in our spare moments. They’re particularly fond of my Justice League stickers (I brought a variety pack)! The elders in the community also show so much patience with us as we learn ourselves (they’re really the ones who taught me Twi) and offer encouraging words of wisdom to help us throughout the day.
Moments like this remind me how limiting a language barrier can be. Communication is the primary factor in anything functioning effectively, so the fact that I didn’t feel like I was communicating effectively, left me feeling a sense of inadequacy in this medical environment. Although this specific language isn’t provided at UGA, this experience did reemphasize the need for being at least bilingual and the importance of taking advantage of language lessons.
This feeling of momentary defeat also reminded me of moments in the United States, especially on campus. Being a part of the language speaking majority in the US, I have not struggled with the embarrassment that I was feeling in Kumasi, but foreign exchange students have. Exchange students are in abundance at the University of Georgia, whose first language are not English. Every single day, these students speak English and receive consistent stares and giggles, from their now UGA peers, for their inability to pronounce certain words or sounds. How do these students feel being immersed in a foreign country, away from their communities, and being the subject of laughs? I myself have even playfully giggled while correcting someone’s English, but never did I ever think of the discomfort I could have potentially created for someone who was immersed in my community, as the language speaking minority. Now that I have experienced this interaction from the other side, I can be more aware of how I unintentionally make others feel.
June 24th, 2018
It has been a week since my arrival into the Accra airport. Prior to starting the health screenings and nutrition assessments we have come here to do, we have spent our days visiting the local markets, villages, companies, and landmarks this beautiful country has to offer. The people we have met, the experiences we have had, and the travel along the way has allowed me to take a glimpse into the Ghanaian culture and understand how things operate around here.
While these types of tourist activities first came off to me as the “calm before the storm” before the medical work begins, I cannot help but to think about the interrelatedness between the two. Through observation and conversation throughout the past week, I have learned about sanitation and food insecurity issues that Ghana faces. I have also been able to pick up on the cultural values and the sense of community and family among the Ghanaian people. All of these factors and many more serve as determinants that play a role on the health and health behaviors of the people we will be working with the next couple of days.
While medicine, nutrition, and science in general come off to be concrete and empirical, their application often does not. Dr. Matilda Steinr-Asiedu, a professor at the University of Ghana, explained it as, “Science is science, a carbohydrate is a carbohydrate, a protein is a protein, but the application of this depends upon the culture surrounding it.” For the same vitamin deficiency, the food source you would advise a Ghanaian woman to consume versus an American woman would differ due to the foods readily available. From a public health standpoint, it is important to understand the entirety of a patient: their culture, socioeconomic status, education, and living conditions, to name a few. We also had the opportunity to visit the Health Department for the city of Tema, where we got to listen to Dr. Yabani, a public health physician, talk about the public health initiatives in place to improve the health status of the Ghanaian people. In order to do so, he instilled in me the importance of understanding the background and underlying reasons for health related issues in Ghana. The solution of a problem is found almost always at the source. Maybe after all, the “fun and games” associated with our local visits were meant to be a learning experience to comprehend the culture and the needs of the community in order to better serve and sustain the Ghanaian people in the upcoming three weeks.
June 23rd, 2018
Anxiety can be so crippling that it holds you back from the very things that you yearn so greatly to do. Adventure and new experiences are exciting but at the same time remove you from the comfortability of home and steadiness. But, in order for someone with anxiety to live out their dreams, they have to throw that comfortability out the door. On day six in Ghana I had to open up the door and kick anxiety out of my mind because there was no way I would let that hold me back from experiencing all of the things that this beautiful country has to offer.
After our walking safari Wednesday morning in Mole National Park, we had the opportunity to go on another tour in two of the villages next door to the park, Larabanga and Mongoori Eco Village. In Larabanga, we were able to go into the village and observe how pure shea butter is made from the beginning to the end and we even had the chance to purchase some at a great price. I found the process of making the shea butter very interesting and I also enjoyed getting to interact with the local people in an up close and personal way. On the way to our next stop, Mongori, the tour guides informed us that we would be going on a canoe tour on the Mole River and I immediately began to worry. So many negative things were running through my mind like whether or not the canoe would be safe or would I be too heavy to participate or would a crocodile attack us when we were in the water, I had already made up my mind that I would just wait on the river bank for the rest of the group to return.
Although I was still very nervous about going on the canoe, when we arrived to Mongori for some reason I still began walking towards the river bank and I began to panic even more. In my state of panic, the wooden canoes sitting in the water looked so small and dainty I thought there was no way we would be safe in them. I initiated freak out mode and had to tell the group and the tour guides that I was not going to participate. Everyone’s responses were exactly what I needed to hear, they were encouraging, supportive and understanding of what I was going through in that moment. I said a prayer in my head and reluctantly climbed into the canoe with the rest of my friends.
The first ten minutes in the canoe were so intense that I would not even move but I finally realized that I was not in imminent danger. Everyone in my canoe made it a point to make sure I was feeling okay and that meant so much to me. Once I was able to relax and really take everything in, I was able to see the true beauty surrounding me. The river banks were covered with lush green vegetation, there were huge elephant foot prints in the mud, and large lizards climbing on roots near the water. The slight breeze on my face made me feel alive and in that moment, on that canoe, I knew that I had the power to overcome this debilitating disorder. I made a promise to myself that I would not let anxiety have control in my life, especially during this program where the opportunities for adventure and experiences are endless. Because I took a step outside of my comfort zone I got to ride in a canoe on a river in Africa surrounded by breath taking sites. The sight-seeing was marvelous, but the personal growth I experienced on the Mole River that day was powerful.
June 22nd, 2018
I have grown up as a Buddhist Vietnamese, attending temple every week and occasionally visiting local Cambodian and Indian temples. That being said, I have never attended a Methodist church service. Our professor, Dr. Anderson, graciously invited all of us to church service our first Sunday here in Ghana. With so many people personally valuing religion on this program, I thought this was a very generous offer as it gives people an avenue to practice their religion if they choose so. For those individuals, like myself, who are from a different religion, or those who are not as religious, this is an opportunity to learn and experience a new church culture here in Ghana. Unlike all the other thirteen girls on the program, I was the only one who have never attended church.
I grew up observing a different religion, and from the knowledge that I have gained, the rituals and prayers of Buddhism are very different from that of Christianity. When I first walked in to church, I felt somewhat uneasy as I have never been in a church, yet alone a Methodist Ghanian Church. Second, I believed we would not understand what they are preaching as they were speaking in Twi. Third, I thought we would illicit confusion and curiosity that could serve as a distraction to the service due to the fact that we are not part of the regular congregation. However, during my first week, I have only had good experiences with all the natives and locals. I noticed that everyone is so welcoming and love interacting with you. Because of that, I was not as hesitant to attend service and was looking forward to experiencing all the “excitement” and “dancing.” My first impression of the church was its beautiful cream-colored stone exterior that overlooked the city of Mampong-Akuapem. The church was just as magnificent on the inside, filled with endless rows of pews on all three sides of the podium and decorative roses on every corner. I noticed many people shaking hands, and nearly everyone, including young children, had wide smiles on their faces and looked genuinely happy. They greeted all of us warmly and welcomed us to their home. Shortly after we sat down, service had already begun and we started with several verses from the Bible.
One of the reasons why I chose to go, despite my religious beliefs, was because one of the girls back at our host family’s home encouraged us to go and told us that service is very exciting. She said there would be an abundance of dancing and singing, and she was absolutely right. There was so much dancing! It was very different to the temple experience at my home where there is typically chanting for about an hour long, followed by a brief discussion. This was very different to me as the service we attended lasted for over three hours. However, those three hours went by so fast that I could hardly the time passed. During this service, there was a lot of standing up and sitting back down, which may seem funny, but it is something that I am not used to. All throughout, there was swaying side to side, clapping on beat, and singing in synchrony with the rest of the locals. I loved everyone second of it.
The main message I took from the service was “Grow your own seeds”. This is a very good message than can be applied to anyone. There are many interpretations one can get away from this message, and to me the quote means that if you are want something enough, you must always give it a start before it can begin to grow. For it to grow, there must be compassion, consistency, and patience — as in raising a plant. As my grandmother says, “Only time will tell when your plant is ready.” I will definitely take this message and apply it to my life. Patience gives us the ability to work steadily toward our goals, and it is when we persist that we can achieve anything. Like plants that overcome rain, storms, predators, and more— we too should be ready to face adversities and not be ready to give up. Overall, I liked taking the time Sunday morning to learn not only about some of the ways of Methodist church service, but also Ghanian culture. I believe that it is really important to be open-minded and respectful about all aspects of culture and religion. I learned a lot and it is definitely a different experience than from just reading it from a book!
June 21st, 2018
As I was preparing for this program, I had a mentor tell me that one of the best ways to avoid culture shock is to think about the experiences ahead of you. I imagined how we would spend our days at the hospital, braced myself for the cold showers, and researched unique Ghanaian dishes that we would be eating. For some reason, all of the time that would be spent on the bus never really crossed my mind. During our 12 hour drive from Accra to Mole National Park, I realized how much time we have had to process life outside the comfort of our bus windows.
During this drive, I found myself facing many challenging thoughts. I struggled as I imagined the difference between the lives of these Ghanaians and myself. At first, it upset me to think that most of the individuals we drove by today will never have the opportunities that I do solely because of the circumstances that they were born into. I kept asking Dr. Anderson questions throughout our ride as I processed the difference between their home and my own. He helped open my eyes to the fact that there are two sides to the situation and that many Americans live far removed just like the people in these villages.
This moment triggered me to realize how frequently we point out the negative characteristics of a society without bringing light to positive aspects of the it. For example, each community had homes that appeared sturdy, were painted, and had a nice roof. Of course, It was easier to point out the aspects of their society that appeared more foreign to me. I saw homes constructed out of mud, sticks, and straw. I saw women cooking meals for their family in an iron pot above a fire. I saw some homes without electricity. I saw villages without a single car. I saw mothers selling food in the street with a baby strapped on their back. I thought about how challenging it would be to live under these circumstances. This life seemed nearly impossible to me.
While these were the first few realizations that I had, I decided to dig a little deeper to see the beauty of this lifestyle. As I continued to see the villages as we went by, I realized that there are blessings in the lifestyles of these individuals. I thought of how nice it must be to rise with the sun and finish the day soon after dark. Family must be the center of each person’s life. From what I could tell, they spend most of their time worshiping, crafting, cooking, and spending time with loved ones. After today, I found myself with a new appreciation for the way that the people of these communities went about their lives.
June 21st, 2018
We’ve been in Ghana a week now and I think I’ve learned more in this one week than in a semester of some of my other classes. I have been immersed into an entirely new culture, yet I feel so comfortable here. The more I learn, the more comfortable I feel. I had a lot of preconceived ideas about the country before I stepped off of the plane, and they were all mostly wrong. I fell victim to the stereotype that the media gives us of “developing countries.” I should know better. I’ve been taught to learn everything I can and then formulate any opinions after that. I think Africa felt so far away and so off my radar that I just didn’t care. Oh, how I was wrong.
It turns out that Ghana is more diverse than I could’ve ever imagined. From the landscape to the people, the country has a lot to offer. We have spent a lot of time in Accra, which is a booming city. Traffic is almost as bad as game day traffic in Athens. We have also spent time in rural villages, where people are selling bread or shea butter to make their living. I’ve seen local trade as well as products being produced on a mass scale. I’ve seen barren land and I’ve seen lush vegetation. I’ve seen the most vibrant clothes. I’ve seen huge groups of people gathered around TVs outside watching the World Cup. I’ve seen goats on leashes and some galivanting around the road with no regard to their surroundings. I watched huge elephants play in water like small children. Our house sits a top of a large mountain with some of the best views I have ever seen. I watched the sunset and the sunrise. I’ve seen so much, yet I haven’t even seen a fraction of what this beautiful country has to offer.
I have learned a lot about the world around me, but I have learned so much more about myself. I am breaking down walls that I didn’t even know that I had up. I am learning that the world and its people are more diverse than I could have ever imagined. We are all uniquely made and so much more than our stereotypes. Our homes are unlike one another, but that should be celebrated, not feared. I think our differences are what make us so beautiful.
June 21st, 2018
Day one started early and Dr. Anderson threw us in the thick of culture. The Athens farmers market is a trendy place to go with friends and walk around maybe even grab some veggies and flowers while listening to a band play casually in the corner. The Mindina market in Ghana cannot be described as anything but chaos. All 14 of us met Professor Steiner-Asiedu, a professor at The University of Ghana and one of Dr. Anderson’s former teachers, to guide us through. Each side was lined with stands piled high with vegetables, starches, fish, meat, fruits, spices, truly anything and everything. We weaved in and out of the tiny passages to avoid getting trampled and dogging the people carrying baskets and buckets on their heads.
While walking around and trying not to be trampled, my senses were screaming. The smell of fresh spices filled the air, but around the corner there was a stench of fish. The colors from fruits like mangos and plantains gave so much character to the market as well as the green greens of okra and giant avocados. Walking along hearing bargains, laughs, and conversations in local languages served as a great background to the hustle and bustle. We stopped to take in the scene and talk about the unique foods of Ghana and how they give nutritional value to meals. Studying nutrition also means studying culture in order to understand the food options and create a balanced meal based on the local foods considering cost, season, and location.
The culture in the market and the excitement of the new experience wasn’t enough to cover up the issues the market held. Sanitation is important with all foods, and we were warned to seek out the most trust worthy stands especially those that kept their food off of the ground and didn’t clean all of the raw vegetables in the same water. Along with sanitation we talked about some long standing traditions in Ghana that are very harmful such as the clay, pica, that some pregnant women suck on to fight nausea and can contain heavy metals dangerous for babies. The lack of knowledge is an issue for many Ghanaians that continue to keep up detrimental traditions and are unable to pick out nutritious balanced meals. I realized just how important knowledge and understanding is, and why Dr. Anderson brings students to Ghana every year. After our market experience, I cannot wait to go into communities and share the knowledge and life giving abilities of food! Week two here we come!
June 21st, 2018
We begin our walk before dawn. Before the sunrises and the nighttime fog fades away. Walking up the steep inclined driveway, I question why I volunteered to stay at the guesthouse. I chose to walk a mile and a half at 5am each morning to reach the main house. I chose this. My heart rates elevates and breath becomes short as the hill continues, but when I finally reach the main road and I am reminded why this is my favorite part of the day. The town is starting wake and morning routines are beginning as we pass by. We walk by women on their way to the water tank to fill their metal buckets for washing and cooking. With such ease and grace they lift the filled buckets onto their heads and proceed back to their homes. Each and every time I am in awe to watch Ghanaian women display such raw strength and balance while carrying heavy objects and do so with poise. Walking through the village we are greeted with hellos and waves. Since we are the foreigners in their community it is a nice gesture of hospitality. Their friendliness and welcoming spirit has been a blessing in a foreign country that is much different than ours. Continuing on our way we pass by shops that are beginning to open. The shops that we pass are similar to convenient stores back home, selling bread, snacks, and other necessities. Each house and shop we pass exhibits bright and different colors from their neighboring homes. Colors vary from lime green to bright blue to yellow and many more. These bright colors are attention grabbing in contrast to the deep green and tropical vegetation covering the landscape. A mile later we reach the street the main house is on. We know we getting close when we hear loud music being played by the barbershop, which proudly displays a picture of Ludacris on the front door. Returning back to the guesthouse after dinner provides us with a very different scene. The town is no longer peaceful and serene, yet loud and alive. We pass by two separate church with speakers cracked high. Their songs of praise echo forcefully into the night. Singing and dancing is common in Ghanaian culture and the church is no exception as spiritual individuals worship passionately and freely. We are now are passed by groups of people socializing instead of quiet individuals completing chores. All these memories would not have been formed if I hadn’t chose to live in the guesthouse. Each walk allows me to greet more members in the community and get a feel for the town, more then I would just driving through. Taking in all the sounds and smells are memories I will only have from walking. When I finally arrive at the main house in the morning I am awake and ready to tackle whatever adventure is headed our way. Although most college students might opt out of a hilly mile and a half walk at the crack of dawn, I appreciate and cherish the experiences I have gained from my morning walks.Lindsey Woller
June 20th, 2018
“Welcome to Kasapreko” were the first words I saw as we pulled through the red sliding gate of the big grey factory building. The letters were big, bold, and bright red, sitting in the middle of a white sign about seven feet below the white roof. We pulled in and parked in the middle of the gigantic shipping yard lined with yellow and black stripes serving as safety markers for pedestrians. Francis, Dr. Anderson’s friend from high school and employee of Kasapreko Company, welcomed us as we hopped off the bus. Francis is one of the marketing managers at Kasapreko Company. He helps promote both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages produced and sold by the indigenous Ghanaian company that is now one of the leading beverage producers and distributors in Ghana and the African continent as a whole.
Francis led the group into a large meeting room with perfectly aligned chairs, colorful walls, and a table located at the front of the room. At that table sat three men who informed us about the history of the company, safety rules and regulations, and current progress and distribution of products made by the indigenous Ghanaian beverage company. We learned about Dr. Kwabena Adjei who started the company in the garage of his home in 1989. Kasapreko Company has now grown to be a multinational company with state-of-the-art automated machinery from both the United States and Germany.
Once the information session concluded and the applause by my classmates and I had come to a close, we were given white lab coats and hairnets to wear for the factory tour. My lab coat nearly swallowed me whole seeing as I’m a 5’1” female, but my classmate Alexandra helped me roll up my sleeves so that I could not only see my own hands, but also use them freely. This attest to the value this company place on quality control and the wholesomeness of their products.
The first stop on our tour of Kasapreko Company was the washroom where we washed our hands for sanitary purposes before even stepping foot into the actual factory where the beverages were being produced. Once we were all washed up and ready to go, we were given an explanation of how the plastic bottles were made. The company buys plastic cylinders from Germany that they heat, blow-up, mold, and then cool to create the specific shape of the company’s plastic bottles. We were then walked around the entirety of the factory watching the plastic bottles being made and molded, observing the plastic and glass bottles being cleaned and sanitized, seeing the liquid for the beverages being mixed and dispensed, watching the conveyer belts of bottles being labelled and capped, observing the plastic and glass bottles being boxed and wrapped, and then seeing entire crates full of bottles being moved to the shipping yard for distribution. The nicest part of the entire tour though was the private, personalized tour my classmates Erin, Johanna, and I received of the entire facility. The three of us were very intrigued and were therefore very curious about the factory, its employees, its products, and its distribution. We asked TONS of questions, thankfully Clarence, the International Business Director of this super innovative company, not only walked the three of us around the entire facility multiple times, but he also answered all of our questions with so much poise and knowledge. Learning from Clarence for the majority of the tour was such a treat, he was a joy to be around and talk with. He even snagged a drink off of the conveyer belt for each of us to try before they were labeled, boxed, and shipped which was awesome!
Before we said our goodbyes, Francis, Clarence, and the Kasapreko Company as a whole, blessed us with tons of boxes full of a variety of the drinks they produce and distribute from the factory. I can’t wait to try them all with our traditional Ghanaian dinners of the next month. Thank you Kasapreko Company for the tour, the drinks, and a really great time!!
June 20th, 2018
It is very funny that as a Nigerian-American, Americans do not think I'm American enough, and Nigerians do not think I am Nigerian enough. Out of the students participating in this program, the culture of the Ghanaians relates most to mine at home, but I'm often overlooked by civilizians because I look most like them, as oppose to my non-black classmates, to whom the local people are fascinated by. Everyone stares down our bus, runs to them at times, and at times seize the oppotunity to take pictures of them.
This past Sunday, we were welcomed by a congregation and were asked to present our names and why were in Ghana. I was the very first person to speak, which I cringed at-- almost like I knew what the response would be. I tried to give it to someone else, but everyone I laid eyes on shook their head "No."
I smiled, and said "Hi, I'm Adaure. I'm here from the University of Georgia studying food and nutrition." After this, I heard murming, and a bit of laughter. I felt the unaccpetance. One of the church leaders confirmed, "We cannot understand you. Your body is black, but you speak like you are white."
Being West African like the Ghanaians, I know that I don't look too far from them. They didn't expect my accent to be what it is, and their shock may have distracted them from what I was actually saying. I repeated myself, followed by silence, and when other students introduced themselves immediately after, they recieved a warmer welcoming and engangement.
The situation was kind of embarassing for a few minutes, but I was over it shortly. After all, there are times where I feel the benefits of looking like the local people. Sometimes they are more comfortable with me communicating something to them from the group. I often get asked where in Africa I am from, which sparks conversations. Many also assume that I speak Twi so they approach me speaking, but I have to quickly notify them that I only speak English, and we laugh about it. I also love Dr. Anderson's sister, Mrs. Margaret. She identifies with my desire to learn more about the culture and has offered to teach me how to cook the local food and do things like pound cassava into powder (which requires A LOT of strength), which I always see in the African movies. In America, myfamily only buys it in the already powdered form, for example, so I'm very excited for all that I can learn from her before I leave.
We start out first say of community work on Friday and I'm really looking forward to serving them. The reason that I do not feel fall into a hole when I do not feel accepted by others is because Jesus Christ has already validated me. He's already filled my cup and I've came to a point where He is the only one that has thay authority. I gave it to Him because His love NEVER fails. His love in unconditional, never-ending, overwhelming, and underving. It's not here one day and gone the next. He doesn't "love" like humans do. So when humans fail me, I don't take it personal, because everyone is raised differently, and heals wounds when it is their time. So we don't judge them, we pray and we remain a light to the world-- a lamp that cannot be covered. Amen.
1 John 4:18 -
"There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out ALL fear, beacsue fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."
Psalms 20:7 -
"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God."
Alexis Adaure Nosiri
June 20th, 2018
Throughout my life, I have enjoyed traveling. I love experiencing new cultures and beliefs, meeting people, and eating new cuisines. Recently public health and global health has become a new component of my life. When I heard about the Ghana study abroad program, I knew this would be a perfect opportunity to mix my first love (travel) and with my new love (public health and global health). Before this program I knew public health, efforts were needed in Ghana, however I was unaware with how many efforts were already in play.
Our visit to the Madina Market, the second largest market in Accra, a professor from the University of Ghana, Matilda Steiner-Asiedu, showed us around and opened my eyes to different ways to help the public with their health. I found it fascinating. One public health effort that really stuck out was that there is a National Sanitation Day. National Sanitation Day takes place every third Saturday when the market closes and is cleaned. If individuals do not close shop during this time there are legal consequences. Matilda Steiner-Asiedu went on to teach us many nutritional values in foods that we take for granted. One being cocoyam leafs, which is high in calcium, folic acid, and iron. In the states, as a whole we do not take advantage of the whole plants, which is extremely wasteful. She also talked about foods, for which there is a public health effort to incorporate into a person’s diet. An example of this would be okra and snails. Okra has many nutritional benefits along with snails, which are rich in both protein and iron. Unfortunately, do to certain superstitions about both okra and snails it is hard to convince individuals about the benefits. Matilda Steiner-Asiedu also spoke about public health efforts to educate and stop the cultural practice of Ghanaian women eating clay. This clay can contain different heavy metals and mercury and can cause harm to babies in utero, and lead to worms in the mouth. Women who eat clay develop pica. Although there have been strides in the area of public health, women still eat clay and it is readily sold in the markets. I was also shocked to see fish in the market being sponged off and burning of incense to remove bugs. In addition, public health efforts are being made to encourage individuals to buy whole foods that they would normally buy ground. If people grind up their own flours or spices they will know exactly what is in it. This enables them to take advantage of all of the nutritional benefits. That day I also learned that people of higher economic status are able to shop in grocery stores which are much more hygienic and have foods that are safe to eat. Since people of lower economic status are unable to afford shopping at the grocery store it is very important for Ghana to continue with their public health efforts in the market places and to educate the population on the health benefits and negative consequences of different food. This program will provide me with an in depth knowledge of global public health. The knowledge I have gained will assist me in the United States. For example the knowledge of eating cocoyam leafs and its many nutritional benefits. I cannot wait to continue my journey in Ghana and learn as much as I can about the Ghana health infrastructure, what cultural practices need to be discouraged, and new public health efforts that they are trying to incorporate in the Ghanaian culture.
Besides the public health aspects of the market, I found the market to have beauty of its own. The market was fascinating, filled with rich culture and brightly colored clothes. Women were carrying babies on their backs with only a piece of cloth fastening them on while carrying large bowls on their heads filled with produce and merchandise. Although busy and packed, the market was magical.
-Rebecah Brooke Horowitz-
June 20th, 2018
Traveling to a new place has always been something I look forward to. Growing up, travel has always been a crucial experience as my parents believed it would further our learning, especially through our own experiences. Having this background has taught me to be openminded when going to a place that is new to me, but it has also made me want to travel even more. Ghana was a natural second study abroad after going to Tanzania. Besides being on the same continent, I was so excited about the opportunity to learn from and about a different country in Africa.
Upon arrival, my first reaction was one of relief. I have been so excited about this program, that I felt as though it would never come, but it finally did! I felt an odd sense of familiarity coming off the airplane, but through the stress of getting through customs, I put that feeling to the side. I suddenly realized while driving from the airport to the main house, that I was so comfortable and relaxed, without a stress in the world. My comfort stemmed from my familiarity of the situation having experienced the same thing in Tanzania and from the people that I have come to meet. Walking in the back door I was immediately greeted by Ms. Margaret, Dr. Anderson’s sister, who was so accommodating and welcoming. That was the beginning of what began to feel like a family. It has only been four days since I arrived, but the friendships I have made are already some I know will last a lifetime. Surrounding yourself with peers that are interested in the same subjects is not only stimulating, but a way to learn of different perspectives and ideologies. It surprised me how comfortable and at home I feel only being here for a short time, but it doesn’t surprise me that the reason is because of the people I came with and also the people I have met here.
- Madeleine Williams #FACS100 #Ghana #Family
June 20th, 2018
It didn’t truly hit me that I was in Ghana until my third day here on the bus ride back to the main house we are staying at. Up until that point, I would look out the window of the bus and approach the sights with a sense of disbelief that I was actually was in Ghana; life was a dreamscape, and I had merely not woken up yet. The ride from Accra to Mampong-Akupsem where the main house resides sits atop of a huge mountain with winding roads littered with quippy motivational signs for people that run up and down the mountain for exercise with phrases such as “a slow start is still a start” and “walk it, run it, just do it”. I am always in awe and appreciation of the hordes of people we see running at 6AM while a quarter of us on the bus are already asleep within the first couple of minutes, highlighting the value and motivation that Ghanaians have on health and well-being.
On that third day, we were driving back from a long day, and the sun had long been gone from the horizon. I was zoned out, looking through the window, when I noticed small dots of light peering through the tree line. Within minutes, a sea of lights flooded my vision, and the true size Accra appeared before me with the view seeming to go on for eternity. In that moment, I took a deep breath, stuck my head out the window (sorry Dr. Anderson), and breathed in the fresh air whipping past me, taking in one of the beautiful views I have ever seen. My disbelief had transformed into a clear sense of peace, and in that moment, I fully began to embrace my new home for the several weeks.
I have been looking forward to this program for months, anticipating the activities and community work we will be doing here with endless excitement. What surprised me is how my favorite aspect of the program so far has actually been our journeys. Whether the ride is an hour to the Madina market or 14 hours to Mole National Park, our journeys have been filled with laughter, fascinating conversations, speed bumps, and sleep (but only sometimes). Whether it’s people selling goods to people in their cars in traffic or stepping off the bus to witness a lively and beautiful funeral procession we passed in a village, each ride is full of new and unexpected experiences. Looking out the window and passing through cities and ports and villages has allowed me to truly realize how diverse of geography lies within Ghana. Our drive to Mole consisted of sprawling, lush forest to rolling hills to arid, rural areas that I would have never been able to experience without these bus rides.
Learning is not limited to a classroom or a structured setting, as I have come to understand more and more with each bus ride we take. Thank you to Daniel, our driver, who not only navigates countless speed bumps and potholes, but also handles being around 14 girls with patience and understanding. Thank you to each of my peers on this program for the countless conversations and laughs we have already shared; learning through hearing different perspectives has reminded me there is not one truth, but many truths that are equally as salient to each of us and should be treated as such. Y’all have made our 20 passenger Toyota van with stitched head rest insignias and wicked suspension a second home for me, and I cannot wait for the bus rides to come.
June 17th, 2018
As a student preparing to go abroad, every travel resource seemed to stress our ability to recognize and understand culture shock. Of course, I read the pamphlets, listened to the lectures, and gazed at the notes, but I didn’t quite know how I was going to handle culture shock in the moment. As a seasoned traveler, surely it couldn’t happen to me...
I was completely wrong and would soon realize that I was a victim of my own belief in invincibility.
Shortly after entering the arrivals hall of the Kotoka International Airport, I found my professor, Dr. Anderson, and the excitement began to overflow. A few of my classmates also arrived around the same time and we each had a similar eagerness to start our program in Ghana. The unknown experiences that lied ahead of us were enough to glue smiles to our faces. As we walked out, I noticed a few different things:
I had my bags loaded onto a trolley to push across the lot, since this is the most I have traveled with in quite some time. My already exhausted body from traveling was confronted with ramps and rocky roads that I would soon need to push two, fifty-pound luggage across. These weren’t what made me nervous though - it was the people. Their stares burned into my sides and you could tell that we clearly were not travelers from Ghana. Men were all around our particular group attempting to ‘help’ us with our luggage by tugging on our arms, bags and trollies, and even shouting at us to get our attention. This span of 10 minutes was so overwhelming that I nearly dropped my bags a few times and soon after, stopped completely after a failed attempt to get my luggage and self to the bus. Of course, these same men saw my momentary sign of distress and swarmed me in my pause to capitalize on their opportunity to ‘help.’
Dr. Anderson warned us prior to our entrance to Ghana that people tend to gather around the arrivals hall to help travelers as they enter Ghana, with the intention of being paid for their services; however, actually experiencing this came as a shock because that is a completely different welcome than what I would normally receive from my airport homes – Atlanta Hartsfield and London Heathrow. I have been traveling across the world nearly my entire life and I have never been to an airport where I felt truly distressed and uncomfortable. I took this discomfort and decided to conclude it with a moment of silent reflection (after I made my way safely into the bus). My own discomfort stemmed from preconceived ideas that Africa was a scary place, but in reality, it’s not and each country should be recognized for its uniqueness. However, it is a place unknown by me, so I should take this opportunity to break down prevalent and pervasive stereotypes of African countries, for myself and those around me.
In Ghana, the fact that people literally swarmed us at every turn spoke volumes to the widespread of poverty and the prevalence of economic hardships. I reaffirmed this idea as I saw the structural builds of houses that lined the side roads and as people walked the streets in attempt to sell various goods out of the baskets on their heads and straight into vehicles. The eagerness and persistence of this ‘help’ emphasized a need from the people for a means of income. What easier way than to capitalize on people who have no idea of what’s ahead, like myself. However, poverty is not a concept foreign to the US, so why does it feel different to me here? The uneven distribution of health, resources, and wealth is universal, and every country experiences this phenomenon, so why do I feel a sudden sense of discomfort? I feel as though I can credit this uneasiness to what I have been exposed to about Africa prior to this program. The media portrays African countries as primitive, unindustrialized, disease ridden, overflowing with poverty, and any other negative stereotype to pose on developing countries. This is absolutely not true, so I was not going to let a single overwhelming experience take away from the unique and beautiful culture of the Ghanaian people.
July 14th, 2017
Before today, I had always felt squeamish at the thought of viewing surgery. Just watching the human body being cut open and seeing the surgeon maneuver fat and other body parts around just looked so unnatural to me. I thought I would never be able to sit through one. Today, I was genuinely surprised. I witnessed two hernia repairs on two men. I watched as the nurses administered the local anesthesia by inserting it through their spine. I watched as they prepped the area that wss going to be cut open for surgery. And I watched as the surgeon oh so casually cut open the spot on the abdomen where the hernia was located and began his work. As the surgeon was working, he had house officers (those who were fresh out of medical school) assisting him. He would quiz them on the internal parts of the body he was manipulating. It was incredible to me how he and the house officers were able to quickly identify what they were working with. Everything was covered in blood, and everything just looked the same to me. It was also amazing to me how fast he worked. He burned through the layers of fat until he got to the specific area he wanted to work on. He moved the different muscles around. He cut through layers of muscle, and he stitched up areas to help fix the problem. This hernia repair was not groundbreaking surgery. In fact, I am sure it only took about twenty minutes to repair and had the surgeon not been quizzing the house officers it would have taken even less time. However, with this being my first surgery, it was a pretty awesome experience. I am not all that knowledgeable about the anatomy of the human body, but the thought of applying what you have learned is just so amazing. To be able to learn about the different parts and functions of the human body in a diagram and then watch people use that knowledge to help fix a problem and make a person's quality of life better is a very gratifying feeling. I wish I had been able to stay long enough to witness the other types of surgeries thay they had planned for the day. Now that I know that seeing a person's insides does not make me feel weak, I am so eager to view more. Florence Urum
July 14th, 2017
This is my last week in Ghana, and I’m thinking back to the first week as if it was a million years ago. It sure feels like it was. I’ve had a lifetime full of experiences in the last four weeks. Even in the last several days! The title of this blog post is both the perfect and the only way to describe this week. It. Was. Nuts. I don’t even know where to begin describing my time at the Greater Accra Regional Hospital.
Our first full day shadowing, I was in the operating room. Before that day, I had never stepped foot in one, only having seen surgery on TV thanks to Grey’s Anatomy. P.S. It’s so much better in real life. Anna and I walked in during the middle of an umbilical hernia repair on a 5-year-old girl. Throughout the rest of the day, we got to watch (up close and personal): an inguinal hernia in addition the surgeon deciding to also pull the patient’s testes down into the scrotum; an excision of a huge mouth polyp in a 7-month-old; the tying of a leaking peritoneal tube; an intestinal hernia repair in a grown man; and the removal of a literal 6-inch-long umbilical hernia that looked like an elephant trunk hanging from a toddler’s belly button. Yep. Six surgeries in one day. That was only Tuesday.
The next day, I was in the labor and delivery ward and stayed with a patient from 5 cm dilation to when she decided to take it upon herself and start pushing at only 8 cm dilation instead of waiting until 10 cm. That sent the poor midwife into quite the frenzy. I saw a live birth, heard the baby girl’s first cry, witnessed her first snotty little sneeze, saw her mother hold her child for the first time. I cried when I saw a husband see his son for the first time.
Thursday, I saw another four surgeries: A breast lump biopsy, an open examination of the knee tendons/ligaments from a man 5 days post motorcycle accident, the removal of a peritoneal sac that had filled with fluid in a woman’s inguinal area, AND the freaking amputation of an index finger.
Friday… Oh. My. Gosh. Friday. The day that tops all the other days. I scrubbed into surgery. A C-section. It was the whole shebang—changing into boots and a plastic apron, scrubbing my hands, not touching anything unsterile, getting tied into another outer gown, putting on two layers of gloves. Our surgeon, Dr. Dadzie was so incredibly patient with Anna and I as we were learning. He included us in the surgery way more than I ever dreamed. I not only held the clamps, but I also assisted in ripping the muscle (WAY harder than it sounds…Almost knocked me over) to get to the uterus. I not only cut the sutures, but I also held this woman’s uterus in my hands while the surgeon was suturing. I saw him pull the baby fresh out of the oven and handed him to Anna. I CANNOT explain to y’all how amazing that was. I wish I could relive that hour over and over again. It was fascinating and surreal and I am still on a high from it.
How could I see all of that and not have anything to say about it?
Takeaway #1: The human body is T O U G H. My first thought in surgery was how amazed I was that surgeons had to use so much force and the body completely withstands it. A girl’s small intestines were coming out of her stomach during a hernia repair, and the surgeon just pushed them back in and sewed her up and she’ll be just fine. A woman literally pushed a human being out of her body on pure willpower and both of them are perfectly healthy. I held a uterus in my hands before Dr. Dadzie just put it back in the abdomen. How is that even possible?
Takeaway #2: TV glamorizes birth way too much. Natural births AND C-sections. Even the most dramatic portrayals with crying, sweating women going into labor—that’s NOTHING. I’ll spare the details, but geez y’all, don’t rely on the movies if you want to know what really goes on. It’s nuts.
Takeaway #3: My mind is blown. Absolutely 100%, over the top, filled with awe and thanks. I can’t even say that this week has exceeded my expectations, because how could my expectations even come close to watching 10 surgeries, a live birth, and assisting in a C-section? Are you kidding? Am I dreaming?
The past 4 weeks… This has been the trip of a lifetime. No doubt about it. This is a time in my life that I’m going to look back on and wish I could relive every moment. I’m already looking back on what I’ve experienced and I can’t believe that this is my life. My real life. In no way can I put all of my thoughts into words. There’s no shot. But I am so beyond thankful: To my “black dad” and professor, Dr. Anderson, for setting up this trip. Yes, to UGA (but still, go jackets always). To my new friends that lifted me up and lived through every single moment with me—I will forever be thankful to you 11 girls and the friendships we’ve made. And of course, thank you Ghana. I will never forget you. Medaase.
July 14th, 2017
About four weeks ago I arrived at the Atlanta airport with two bags stuffed to the brim with clothes, supplies, and more snacks than should have ever been allowed. I was ready to start an adventure I hoped was going to shape me both as a person and as a student. As I said in my previous blogs, there have been so many times during this month I saw something or had an experience with someone that helped me mature and opened my eyes to a new way of looking at the world. However, I have not truly shared how this experience has shaped me as a student. I came on this trip knowing I am interested in the medical field, enjoy helping others, and want a career in a fast-paced environment. However, I hoped our time administering the community health clinics and shadowing in Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital and the Greater Accra Regional Hospital would give me better insight to a more specific department that caught my attention.
The clinics throughout our second week showed me that I enjoy that task of setting up and running a clinic from the start of inpatient processing through the final counseling phase. I loved having to work as a group to find the most efficient and effective way to get patients through the line. The shadowing at PML Children’s Hospital also gave me an amazing opportunity to shadow a public health doctor establishing a health education program in local schools, dietitians working with malnourished children, and in a newly established physical therapy department that works with about twenty-five children every day. Additionally, our time in this hospital gave me insight in the differences in healthcare between a developing country and the United States. One of the most prominent lessons I learned this week is health care should never involve excuses. The health professionals in this hospital are always innovating new ways to make the most of what they do have. Although there were times the newest technology or advanced equipment would make their jobs easier, they never stop working to offer the best care possible for their patients.
Finally, we are spending our last week shadowing in the new Ridge Hospital in Accra, which opened its doors to patients a little over two month ago. Within this state of the art facility, we have the opportunity to watch emergency, general, and pediatric surgeries, observe labor and delivery, and work with patients in the NICU and pediatric departments. These are opportunities that an undergraduate in the United States would never dream to be possible, but the doctors at Ridge were more than excited to involve us as much as possible. This became extremely prevalent to me on Wednesday. When we got to the hospital, Kerri, Chelsea, Jenna, and I headed to the labor and delivery ward with hopes we were going to learn more about pregnancy and the labor process as a whole. However, we left the hospital with a lot more than simply gaining new knowledge.
When we got to the ward, there was one patient, Philipine, in active labor. Ernestina, the midwife on duty explained to us that when she arrived to the hospital about three hours before she was five centimeters dilated and started the active labor phase. By the time we entered the room, she had progressed significantly, was now eight centimeters dilated, and was experiencing intense contractions. We spent the entire day in the room with Philipine, Ernestina, and a few nurses watching the labor progress and seeing first hand the process the body goes through. Although it was hard to watch the amount of pain she was in, it was amazing to be bedside with Philipine from the start to the end.
After about four hours, a doctor came to assess Philipine because the progression stopped after she was eight centimeters dilated. With the intense contractions she was experiencing and the minimal change in dilation, her cervix was beginning to harden and they debated moving her to the theater for a C-section. However, just minutes after the doctor left the room, Philipine had the most intense contraction we had seen all day. Seconds later, Chelsea, who happen to be watching at the right time, notified Ernestina that the baby’s head was beginning to come out. Even though she was not fully dilated and the staff was not prepped for birth, Philipine was determined to start pushing. Ernestina and nurses sprung into action, and without the slightest look of panic, they had Philipine holding her baby in minutes. Coming into this day, I never imagined that I would have the ability to stand directly over the shoulder of a midwife, watch a baby being brought into this world, and then aid the nurses tending to the baby after. It was truly one of the most beautiful things I have ever experienced and I am still in awe at the fact this all took place during a day “in the classroom.”
These last four weeks have given me hands-on experiences that I believe are what truly shape you as a student. These experiences and the ability to talk with doctors, nurses, and administrators, who are so willing to help, have taught me more in a month than I could learn in years behind a desk. I feel as though I have transformed to a student who will also be the first to ask questions, will do anything to get my hands dirty in the work I am passionate about, and will never stop pushing myself to continue to learn. For this transformation and the life changing experiences I have found this month, I just want to say thank you, or better yet Meda ase, to the Ghana Service Learning Study Abroad Trip.
See you in a few days America!
July 14th, 2017
Our group was given last weekend off for an independent travel opportunity. We chose to go to the Volta Region to hike Mountain Afadjato and Tagbo Falls. This was around a five-hour drive from Mampong, but it was well worth it in the end. We arrived in a small town where a tourist center for the hiking was located. We paid a fee for the hike and tour guide (with some negotiating help from our driver Samuel) and started our journey. We were eager and excited about the day’s adventure.
Almost instantaneously, as we began to make our way towards the hiking path, rain came fast and hard. Of course, a rain jacket was one of the things I forgot to pack to bring to Ghana during their rainy season. Although it was not ideal, the weather did not ruin our spirits. After a brief walk we made it to where the real hike began. The path was steep, almost straight up at certain points. It was a bit more strenuous than a lot of us were expecting. About 30 minutes into the hike, Jenna and I started slowing down. The steep incline, mixed with the higher altitude, began to make us feel dizzy and weak. To avoid passing out, we decided it was best if we rest and let the group continue on. It took us a few minutes longer, but we finally made it to the top. The view was incredible. I think the effort it took to get there made the end result that much more satisfying.
This experience was very comparable to things in the week to come. Everyday while we have been working in the hospitals here, I have witnessed situations that kept reminding me of our hike. I have seen different are cases, patients, and surgeries that don’t go as the doctors have expected. Sometimes the right tools are not available, machines are broken, or there is a lack in staff. Like climbing the mountain, the plan can change and become more complicated or harder than it was originally imagined. Instead of giving up or turning away patients, the health care professionals make do with what they have and save lives regardless of the circumstances.
My strongest example of this observation trend is when I have scrubbed into different surgical theaters. As only an undergraduate student, this has been an amazing opportunity. I have watched a surgeon cut open a body and not see what they thought they would. I have also witnessed surgeons and nurses perform procedures that would be far easier and simpler to complete if they had better machines, updated technologies, and other supplies. I have seen women give birth in not the most comfortable surroundings without epidurals because drugs like that are not as accessible or affordable. I have been amazed by the great patience I have seen from the health care workers and patients both.
Something I have come to learn and accept on this trip is that the majority of time things don’t go how you planned they would. These unknown obstacles that come up in life are scary to face, but they are unavoidable. It is best to expect for plans to change and embrace this fact. Most importantly, I have learned not to panic when these situations arise. People are always stronger, and most of the time smarter, than they think. The workers and patients can make it through the struggle of pain, stress, or pressure and reach the top of the mountain, whatever that end goal may be.
July 14th, 2017
Ridge hospital is also known as the Greater Accra Regional Hospital. They just had renovations done in May, so when we pulled up to the front, we pulled up to a state-of-the-art hospital. One of the doctors told us this hospital was comparable to any other hospital in the world. We just did a tour on the first day. I was very impressed with the architecture and amenities of this building. I expected the building to be similar to the children’s hospital where parts of the hospital were run down, but Ridge was far from it. Everything about Ridge said modern and futuristic.
On my first day of shadowing and observations, I was stationed at the NICU. This is where I met baby John Doe. The NICU ward has two high dependent room for pre-term babies, one room for full-term babies, and one contagious room for babies sent to Ridge from another hospital. The NICU also has a milk prep/lactation room and a baby wash room. It was good to see that the hospital has a lactation room because that indicates they promote breastfeeding. From all the nurses I’ve talked to, they all encourage mothers to produce milk and breastfeed. For most of the day, I stood behind doctors performing CNS exams on the babies and midwives feeding the babies. The peak of my day was entering the room where John Doe stayed. He was in the general room for full-term babies. When I entered the room, I saw around seven soundly sleeping babies and one baby screaming at the top of his lungs. That baby was John Doe. I thought that was a peculiar name for a baby since 1) Ghanaian babies are not named immediately after birth and 2) I only hear that name for missing people and found people who have not been identified. I asked the nurses what happened to the baby and they said the baby was abandoned in a public bathroom and someone brought him to Ridge. I was so heartbroken. It made me wonder how often that happens here since having children of your own is of such importance. Anyways, the nurses in the NICU saw that he had a soiled diaper and changed it, but he was still crying after. One of the nurses picked him up, but saw how interested I was in the welfare of the baby, so she passed him to me. It was one of the greatest moments ever. I felt like a mom, nurse, friend, relative, and doctor all in one. It was one of the most peaceful things I have done in my life. I held him to help him stop crying and then he fell asleep in my arms. Holding that baby for 40 minutes and interacting with the midwifes, made me rethink my career interest. The idea of being a midwife is becoming more appealing to me, but I would still like to be an OBGYN or neonatologist. The only thing that I am certain of is that I am interested in pregnancies and babies. The midwives in Ghana work right alongside the doctors and they do most of the natural deliveries which is why midwifery became a big interest of mine. The doctors in Ghana usually will do the C-sections. In America, the midwives are more for private and home deliveries outside of the hospital. In that case, I would rather be an OBGYN or neonatologist.
I had two more amazing days. On the first day, I witnessed a live vaginal birth! I was right next to the midwife delivering the baby. I learned so much about the process of labor and what happens as the baby moves down the vaginal canal. I learned about how they measure how many centimeters dilated a woman is as well as how to deliver the placenta after. The woman who we were observing was named Philipine. This was not her first pregnancy, so the midwives told me labor would go quicker. Even though it was not her first child, her contractions were so intense. She was yelling and thrashing and wailing. I was scared for her and the nurses. We stayed with her for hours until she delivered her baby girl. She actually had her when she was 8 cm dilated because she kept pushing even when the nurses told her not to. The baby was beautiful and I held her in my arms (See blog picture). Holding her made me tear up from happiness because I was there to witness life being brought into this world. The task of the doctors was finished and it was up to the mom from that point on to create a life for the child.
On the second day, I was an assistant surgeon in a C-section in the Obstetrics Theatre. I would never be able to do that in America as a third-year undergraduate student. The surgeons actually allowed me to help deliver the baby and help tie the sutures after delivery. One of the head surgeons, Dr. Davis, passed me the baby as it was taken out of the uterus! I cannot believe it. I held the baby just a second too long because the midwife yelled at me to put it down into the rolling cot. Then after the baby was taken out, the surgeon showed me how to tie the ends of the sutures. I have not even applied to medical school and I am assisting in surgeries! I will never forget that. I also witnessed two other C-sections. I am very grateful to the medical staff for teaching me as they performed each delivery as well as allowing me to participate. I learned about the levels of suture for C-sections. The surgeon also allowed me to touch the uterus and told me the names of the different parts. I was very excited.
This was a wonderful way to end my stay in Ghana. Every day, I was exposed to what each of my careers of interest would be doing. I saw what an OBGYN, midwife, pediatrician, and neonatologist would be doing daily. I am excited to start my classes in the fall and to go back to America to find my health-related experiential learning opportunities.
July 14th, 2017
In a matter of seconds, many things on this earth can happen. Within the span of this 4-week learning experience in Ghana, I have surely seen this prove to be completely true. Especially in the past week throughout shadowing in The Greater Accra Ridge Regional Hospital, I have had the opportunity to witness babies born both naturally through vaginal birth and surgically through Caesarian section (C-section) in a matter of seconds. This had brought wonder to my mind and allowed me to question the overall miracle known as "life".
Yesterday, I had the rare opportunity to scrub in on a C-section surgery that was being performed in order to remove a recently deceased fetus. The mother had discovered at 2am that morning that her 38-week-old baby had died in the womb, an intrauterine fetal death (IUFD), due to an unknown cause. Although she was an older pregnant woman at 42 years old, the doctors did not believe that this was the sole reason why the baby had died within the uterus. I thought more about how the mother must feel in this moment as they open her uterus to remove a motionless, lifeless new child. How is it that between 1:59am and 2am that this 8 and a half month old fetus was able to transition from life to death? Why is it that this unborn fetus did not get the chance to experience life out in the earthly world? I will never comprehend how situations like this change in a matter of seconds.
Soon after I stepped out of the OR where this saddened mother was being rolled out into recovery, right next door there was a miracle happening. Although the doctors in the obstetrics department see this everyday, the delivery of a baby must still be special to them as there are brand new lives being brought into the world sometimes within minutes of another life being taken. This was the mother's first child who turned out to be the most beautiful little Ghanaian baby girl I had ever laid my eyes on. From her little fingernails to her perfectly placed wrinkles all over her body to her sparkling dark eyes, I could not believe the detailed miracle that was crafted before me. The baby girl received this unmatchable gift of life all within seconds of being conceived up until the moment she was removed from the womb. I just could not get over the fact that she was being prepared specifically for this world as a daughter of this special, blessed woman. In a matter of seconds, this new mother received a treasured gift and a new love of her life.
Overall value of life & this experience
The few rare births that I have witnessed while at Ridge make it easier to appreciate life as it is. Although I may see today as just another day, in a matter of seconds it could either be the last time a heart beats in a baby that has not yet entered the world or the first celebratory day of a precious human's new life. I know now more about just how valuable life is and how I should never take my health and happiness for granted, no matter where I am in the world.
Signing out & sadly saying goodbye to Ghana,
July 14th, 2017
If you can’t tell by the title, I had the most incredible experience on Wednesday at the Greater Accra Regional Hospital at Ridge and quite honestly I’m still pinching myself making sure it wasn’t a dream. My rotation was in the obstetrics surgical theatre to watch cesarean sections be performed, which is an incredible opportunity in and of itself. I was able to watch a C-section from start to finish for a variety of circumstances, either scheduled due to failure to progress naturally or previous C-sections with prior pregnancies, and even an emergency case due to the mother having pre-eclampsia, which puts the baby at risk so immediate delivery is necessary. I would watch and listen as the surgeon described each layer that he was going through at that point in time and ask questions to have a deeper grasp of what the process entails. It was such an amazing opportunity to see a glimpse of new life coming into the world and learning things that I never knew along the way, such as seeing the placenta with my own eyes and realizing it is much bigger and more intricate than I’ve ever learned in a classroom or imagined in my mind. This is how the first two cesarean sections went: watching the process of anesthetic be given, incisions being made, the baby being delivered, cleaning up, and then suturing everything back up. In between surgeries the theatre would have to be cleaned and the next patient would have to be prepped so I would wait in the main theatre area where the mothers are kept post-op and chat with the nurses and doctors in the meantime. What happened next is where things get even better.
During my time chatting in the main area waiting for the next surgery to observe I met Dr. Kubi, one of the obstetric surgeons that was rotating doing the Cesarean sections for the day. We briefly talked about what my plans at the hospital were for the week and how I would be in the operating room during the day. He asked if our group was just observing or if we were getting involved and I told him that if he was willing to let me get involved then I would be more than happy to. Next thing I know it’s half an hour later and in walks Dr. Kubi, introducing us to the surgeon and surgical assistant currently working, telling us to pay attention to this surgery because it will be me that’s assisting on the next one. Right on cue just as the C-section is almost complete, he walks in and asks if I’m ready to go and of course I say “yes!”. I follow him to the wash station where I get all suited up with surgical boots and apron and learn how to properly scrub in. This is when it hits me that this is really happening. I followed Dr. Kubi and the surgical assistant into the theatre where they gown and glove me and next thing I know I’m right across the table from the surgeon with my hands on the patient, ready to assist in a cesarean section surgery. I had gauze in hand ready to clear the field while he made incisions through the multiple layers and held back the metal clamps until he got down to the uterus where the magic happens. A small incision and a few seconds later there was a perfect baby girl breathing her very first breaths. I never knew that the uterus is completely taken out of the stomach cavity after delivery to clean it out and suture it up before being put back in. Not only did I get to witness this firsthand, I got to hold the uterus while the surgeon sutured the patient back up…I mean WOW. I told Dr. Kubi that this was the best day of my life and he replied in classic Ghanaian fashion, “Are you sure?”. Oh, I’m 100% sure…never in a million years did I think that I would get this experience but I’m so thankful that I did. His reply, “Well good, I’m glad you learned something”.
I learned something and then some, not only today but throughout my entire experience in Ghana over the last month. I’ve been able to witness inventiveness with the most limited of resources and a determination to save patients no matter what it takes. I’ve also learned a lot about myself and my own passions and strengths that have encouraged me to continue pursuing my dreams for a future career in a field that I love and I’m reassured that I’m heading in the right direction. I’ve learned that there’s truly nothing like experiential learning and doing something yourself will always make you have a greater understanding and appreciation for it than just learning about it in passing. I’ve learned that willpower, hard work, and adaptability go a long way in life and you’ll never regret putting in your best effort. I’ve learned that there’s so much out there to see and experience and that what we are accustomed to isn’t all that’s out there. I’ve learned to never give up on your dreams and appreciate the support that helps you get where you’re aiming. So on that note – thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who has helped me get to Ghana to have the experience of a lifetime. You are so appreciated and I can’t tell you enough how much your support means to me. I can’t wait to see y’all so soon and continue sharing other amazing stories like this one.
July 14th, 2017
I am overjoyed with the experience that I have had in Ghana. I was quite nervous about traveling to a place I had never been, far away from the people I love. I knew that the Lord had called me here but a few days before I left, I kept asking Him, are you sure? I can now say that I am confident that the Lord was sitting in Heaven laughing at my silliness of being anxious about coming. My experience here has been more than I could have ever imagined. It has been challenging at times but so rewarding. I have never met people quite like the Ghanaians. They are so unique in their character and in their way of life. Before I left, many people tried to prepare me for traveling to a ‘third-world country.’ I didn’t think that religion was going to be a focus in this country. Boy was I wrong. I’m glad that I was wrong. There are churches everywhere. They are within walking distance from every house so everyone has access to one. On the back of the tro-tros (buses), there are inspirational quotes like: saved by grace, Emmanuel, God with us. There are signs on the streets with biblical encouragement. I have met people where the first thing out of their mouth is, God be with you. So basically, the Lord is a big deal here.
The aspect that makes religion here so unique is the boldness that everyone possesses. People don’t shy away from their faith or take the Lord out of conversation. My first two weeks here, we participated in community clinics. Most of the clinics were held in churches. Sometimes when we would arrive at 8 am, there would be service going on. The churches here are charismatic meaning that they are very passionate about their faith and show it in ways like praying out loud, dancing, speaking in tongues, etc. I was standing outside the window watching and listening to the pastor sing over his congregation. At one point, the entire body of the church started praying out loud and I felt a chill go through my body. I closed my eyes and felt like I was in heaven, surrounded by angels for a moment. I looked around and saw people praying so passionately, weeping and crying out to their Savior. I was so moved by their genuine faith. I could see the love of God in each person and how it embodied them from head to toe. Their faith shines through their personalities. Each Ghanaian I have met has been so kind, patient with my Twi (local language), welcoming, and overall just happy to see me.
At the children’s hospital, I got to spend a day with one of the dietetic interns. I was telling her how stressful the dietetic internship program is in the states. I told her that there’s less than a 50% chance that I’ll get matched to a dietetic program. I explained to her how competitive our program is and how I’m honestly scared that I won’t get matched. I asked her if it’s like that in Ghana; if she ever worries about getting a job after finishing her internship. Her response was, “Are you Christian, because it’s up to the Lord if I get a job or not!” She laughed and explained how the Lord will provide a way for her regardless of if she is an RD or not. I was taken aback at how bold she was. How easily I would have shied away from telling someone that. She didn’t seem worried or stressed because she is confident that our God is going to take care of her in His way and timing. I so easily want to know what the plan is so I can feel secure in it. But there’s something about not being secure in that. I would rather be secure in my Heavenly Father who spoke life over all of creation. Who knows every minute detail about me. Who is all around me at at all time regardless of if I see Him or feel Him. I want to only be secure in my Father. I believe that the American society has become sensitive to religion. We have to be cautious about what we say about our beliefs to others in fear of upsetting someone. This moment taught me to not be scared of that. To speak what you believe and to be bold in your faith. It was also the Lord reminding me that there is no need for me to stress; that I am completely secure in Him. I hope to be bold in my faith.
This week I have been at Ridge Hospital. When I was growing up, my parents always told me that the purest form of God that we experience is watching a child being born. In my anatomy class in high school, I had to watch the miracle of life movie and watch a baby be born. I could not watch the child come out of her mother because I was so grossed out by it. At Ridge, there is a wing devoted to mothers in labor. On a normal day, around 20 babies are born at Ridge. I had the amazing opportunity of spending a couple of days in the ward and experience the miracle of child birth. I was very nervous and I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about watching a baby being born. Everything happened so fast. I walked into a room where a mother was 8 centimeters dilated. She had been in labor for 6 hours. All of sudden one of the students noticed that there was something coming out. Although the mother was only dilated 8 centimeters, she pushed during her contractions since she was in so much pain. The midwife and nurses had to rush to get ready and prep everything. The babies head was just chilling outside of the womb for about a minute or two. Then the midwife grabbed the shoulders and pulled the precious baby out. The mom automatically started thanking Jesus for the life He had made inside of her. She started singing and praising Him. It moved me so much that I began to cry. God is so evident in the creation of a baby. It blows my mind that a baby is created within the mother’s womb; all of the intricate details that the baby has. Everything about it screams the Lord. The mother was overcome with thanksgiving and couldn’t help but sing praises to her Heavenly Father.
Being in Ghana has taught me so much about my faith. I desire to be bold and to be confident in who the Lord has made me to be. I want my passion for the Lord to shine through me at all times. I want to be who the Lord created me to be and not let anyone stop me from being that. Even as this trip is coming to an end, the Lord is continually showing me things that I have learned through this trip. Even though I have heard this a thousand times, it’s essential to love God with everything you are. From that comes the abundant joy that many Ghanaians possess. I am better for knowing the people of Ghana.
With love from Africa,
July 13th, 2017
This week at the Greater Accra Regional Hospital was supposed to be a deal breaker for me. I could decide once and for all, should I pursue medical school? Well, the answer was not as straightforward as I was anticipating and probably will never be, but now I am willing to take that leap thanks to my experiences in Ghana. I am so grateful for the opportunities we’ve had so far, like shadowing physicians and watching (and even assisting with) surgeries. I have never experienced anything like this and honestly didn’t know what to expect in the O.R. On my first day, I scrubbed into the Obstetrics Theater to view some C-sections. I was amazed at the entire process; birth is as messy as it is beautiful. Although something about the uterus being outside the body really got to me and I questioned my ability to handle simple procedures like this. I have been prone to fainting in the past so I left the theater before the surgery was complete to prevent a scene.
My discomfort during the surgery made me question not only my intentions to attend medical school, but also my capability! I enjoyed our work in the community and at the Children’s Hospital, but was that enjoyment enough to warrant a long-term commitment and investment? Could I stomach surgeries even more shocking than this, which I would surely be exposed to as a medical student? I had the opportunity to reflect on these questions a couple of days later in the Trauma Theater. I witnessed three surgeries in a row and thankfully, I was able to handle all of them. I believe my fears were holding me back more than anything. In fact, I had to be strong in that O.R., if not for myself than for the patients. One of the patients, a female my age, was fully aware while her hernia was being removed. She was obviously anxious about the procedure, and though she could not feel pain at the site, she could see, hear, and smell everything around her. Our group was able to speak with her individually and comfort her throughout the process, which in turn myself feel more comfortable. The procedure was quick and painless, and she was so thankful for our presence. That moment reaffirmed my hopes and suppressed my fears. It proved that medical profession isn’t just about personal achievement — it’s about improving the well-being of others, which is what I aim to do in my profession.
I have had the experience of a lifetime here in Ghana. I gained eleven true friends, a topnotch nutrition-expert-personal-mentor, and skills that make me a better applicant and a better person. I continually pushed myself outside of my comfort zone, which allowed me to learn and explore on an entirely new level. While I appreciate all the places we’ve been and the things we’ve been able to do, more than anything I am thankful for the people who supported me and got me here in the first place. My summer in Ghana has been personally impactful and incredibly meaningful. This nation and its people will always have a special place in my heart.
July 11th, 2017
Hi family and friends!
Signing on here for my last blog post and wow how bittersweet it is because this trip is so much more than I could have ever asked for in a study abroad, but I also miss you all so very much!
I've taken the time to write most of my blog posts on the adventures we've had outside of our medical work, but these past few weeks in the hospitals have been way too cool not to share with all of you! From seeing lab technicians interpreting blood tests, ER doctors calming worried parents when their child is having a hard time breathing, to even radiologists examining chest and spine x-rays, last week was nothing short of exciting. I worked in radiology the most while I was there, and it amazed me how well they worked around not having films to print the x-rays. There were so many emergency cases that they would sometimes just have the doctor come down to radiology and read the x-ray off the screen himself. The technician also designed his own protective lead covering for the sex organs of babies. The work they do there is truly incredible and they do it in much harsher conditions than we are used to, like without AC or much space at all. The rest of this week I'll be working in the larger hospital that has just been rebuilt and renamed Greater Accra Regional Hospital. This hospital, to my surprise is very similar to ones in the US and the employees are all so passionate about their jobs. Later in the week I’ll be shadowing in general surgery, labor and delivery, and the NICU, but I am most excited to share with you what I got to observe today!
I have shadowed in many hospitals in the US before, but never have I come close to experiencing what I did today. I was stationed in the obstetrics surgery unit today and got to observe two caesarean sections, one was an emergency as the baby was in distress and in the second, the baby was breached. These were my first surgeries I’ve ever had the chance to scrub in on and I was in awe every second I was in there. The staff were extremely nice and allowed me to have a great view of every step the doctor took and also answered any and every question I had. They even went above and beyond to explain aspects of the surgery that I wouldn’t have thought to ask. That’s what makes learning by observation so much better. Special thanks particularly to Helen for holding me the first few minutes to be certain I wasn’t going to pass out on her. The anesthesiologist was extremely skilled and showed me precisely where to insert the spinal anesthetic to avoid hitting the spinal cord. The team then made an incision in the mother’s lower abdomen and began the process of the C-section. Every professional in the room had a specific job and everything moved more than smoothly. The baby that was breached was pulled out feet first and it was no question, the most beautiful moment I’ve ever experienced. I was so intrigued by how fast the midwife got the baby cleaned, weighed, measured, and warmed as I watched the doctors stitch back up the mother’s uterus. This process was so different from what I expected and I’m so blessed to have had this opportunity here, because I’m years away from being able to have this same opportunity in the US. This day has made me really fall in love with obstetrics and also with surgery. I am so thankful for an experiential-learning summer abroad that exposes me to such intriguing medical experiences like the ones today. I can’t wait to see how these shadowing experiences will affect my future career. I’ve learned so many invaluable aspects while here, especially just being able to jump into new experiences and go with it. Communicating with medical professionals, strangers, or people who speak a much different language from you have all seemed like such a minute part of this trip, but in reality these are going to be key qualities in my profession. I’d never learn how to deal with these situations if I didn’t push myself to experience these circumstances early on. Medase, Ghana. Hope to be back more than soon. Xo
July 7th, 2017
If you know how much I love the outdoors and exploring new places, then you’ll understand why I feel like I need to catch you up on the adventures that I’ve been experiencing in between health screenings and hospital work. I apologize in advance for not being able to do these places justice with a description or even a picture, but I promise to do my best.
Besides some initial exploring of Mampong, the town that serves as our home base throughout the duration of our trip, our first destination was up north to another region in Ghana to Mole National Park for a safari tour. Even though I had seen many of the animals that we saw on the tour before, there is just something about seeing the animals in the wild that is jaw-dropping…I’m still in awe after being fifteen feet away from elephants walking through the African savanna…wow.
Our next adventure led us to Cape Coast to tour the Elmina and Cape Coast Castles, both of which were incredibly beautiful despite their historical pasts as slave castles. It was so interesting to tour them and hear the history that went along with each and every detail. As the name suggests, Cape Coast is on the coast of Africa so we were right on the water’s edge, able to see the beautiful rolling waves and extending coastline. My favorite part of the day was our visit to Kakum National Park where we went on a canopy walk through the tree tops, which was the perfect combination of slight thrill and calming scenery. It was such a cool experience seeing nature from a whole new perspective and being at the same level with the tree tops – I highly recommend to anyone and everyone.
I guess the coast gave us a tingling for some salty air and water between our toes because our next adventure led us to where other than the beach! July 1st is Ghana’s Republic Day, but since that fell on a weekend the holiday was moved to the following Monday so that it could be properly celebrated, which I wouldn’t mind if we took up in the U.S. as well. Having an off-day the day before the Fourth of July ended up being the perfect way to celebrate our own country’s independence while being on a completely different continent, while still tying in Ghana’s own history and sharing such close dates of independence. We ended up making an entire day of it and spent a good portion of the day at Bojo Beach, enjoying the sunshine and relaxation.
Tomorrow rounds up the outdoorsy leg of the trip with a weekend in the Volta Region to hike the tallest mountain in Ghana and explore a beautiful waterfall, along with a stop at the monkey sanctuary in the area as well. I can’t wait to experience another region of this country and witness all of the beauty that it has to offer.
It’s hard to believe that we only have a week left on this incredible journey. So many great experiences stuffed into one short month that seems to be flying by way too fast. I’m looking forward to spending the last week here in the regional hospital, so stay tuned for a recap on all of the healthcare experience that I’ve had the incredible opportunity to take part in during this trip. See you in a little over a week, America!
July 7th, 2017
This week we volunteered at the children’s hospital in Accra. The name of the hospital was called Princess Marie Louise hospital or PMLH for short. This is the only children’s hospital in Ghana, so it is well known. The hospital was named after the granddaughter of Queen Victoria of Great Britain. One of the most amazing things about the hospital was that Dr. Cecily Williams did research there which aided in her discovery of protein deficiency in children. The name of this condition is called kwashiorkor.
The hospital looks like any other building in Ghana except that there are several connected buildings inside of a compound. After looking at the building several times, I noticed that the building somewhat resembles a big house. There is a large sign with the hospital name and services provided in the front of the compound that can be clearly seen from the main road. We entered through one of the side entrances. The first section I saw was mortuary. Walking by that disturbed me because this is where the children who died were sent. There was no one working around there, so luckily we did not have to go in. The next stop was the outpatient department. This was one of the most crowded areas I have seen. One of the ladies who was giving us a tour of the hospital, Nurse Victoria or Auntie Vic, told us that patients cannot schedule appointments ahead of time. This means that some of the families will be there all day waiting to see the doctor.
For my first day of observations, I shadowed the nurses and doctors in Ward 2. This ward is for admitted patients. The Ward had two big rooms and one small room. The rooms were on a very narrow hallway that was hard to walk through. Most of the patients were divided between the two big rooms. That was the first difference I noticed between Ghanaian hospitals and American hospitals. Usually in the American hospitals, there are either two patients to a room divided by a curtain or each patient has their own room. I think that was established because of privacy laws. In Ghana, all the children patients share the room. There are two possible reasons for this: the privacy laws in Ghana are more relaxed or because the patients are children, they do not request to have privacy and the parent do not find it necessary. From what I observed, the mothers did not mind being in the room all together and there were at least 10 people in the room. After the introduction of staff members of the ward, I was put to work. They assigned me to take vital signs of patients and to record them in the patient folders and the ward register. The vitals were temperature, pulse rate, respiratory rate, and SPO2. I was nervous because I could not understand Twi fluently and I was scared they would not understand me. I was also concerned that I would not do the vital signs accurately. After working with several patients, doing the vitals became easier.
My last two days at the children’s hospital were as equally eventful. I was stationed at the nutrition rehab center. Mothers can go there to cook enriched and fortified foods for their children for free. Usually these are outpatients who will cook breakfast and lunch and feed the children there. Then the mother will cook dinner to take home. On Fridays, the center will have a CMAM clinic. CMAM stands for Community-Based Management for Acute Malnutrition where parents will come in with their malnourished children and receive plumpy nut meals from UNICEF. The center was composed of an open room with a kitchen, a playroom, and two offices. In the open room, there were several cribs available for mothers to put their children down. One of my favorite things about the center was the attitude of the nurses towards the mothers and their patients. These mothers come in every day to cook for their children, so they get to know the staff. It feels like a family setting. Once again, the nurses allowed me to take vitals (weight, MUAC – mid upper arm circumference, temperature, etc) and record the data in patient folders. I would carry children while the mothers cooked and even distributed the plumpy nut meals based on age. I learned that malnutrition is a very big issue in Ghana. The mother or grandmother would come in and look very healthy (or sometimes be overweight), but the children would be moderately to severely malnourished. This occurs because sometimes the mother does not give the child nutritious foods or the mother would not know what to feed the child. On the second day at the rehab center, this young girl was the textbook definition of kwashiorkor. She had thin, light hair with a large distended belly. Her skin was cracked and peeling. She came in with her grandma who you could tell loved her very much. The girl was quiet, but she smiled often. We gave her many plumpy nut meals and sent her on her way. I was grateful to witness the slow, but steady improvement of some of these children. Most of these patients come every Friday to get those meals and you can see the progress being tracked in their files.
Next week, we will be going to Ridge hospital which is the regional hospital. We will be witnessing a lot of surgeries and well as deliveries.
July 7th, 2017
Well, to say I have surprised by Africa would be an understatement. I have not only been shocked at times but I can also say that I have acquired more information about my surroundings and myself than I ever thought possible. This expansion of knowledge throughout this past week is a part of this experience that I hold some of the most valuable.
For Tuesday through Friday of this week, I have had the blessing of shadowing at the Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital in Accra, Ghana. Tuesday was more of a day taken by Auntie Vic, the Head Matron of Nurses, to tour our group around the hospital and give us an introduction into each of the specialization departments. This was great because the following days, I was then able to select areas of the hospital where I was personally interested in observing. I immediately thought of how much I’ve loved past surgeries I’ve viewed while in the U.S. and wondered if that was possible at this hospital.
It turned out that Wednesday was the only day that this location performed any surgical procedures so I jumped at the opportunity to float around in the Post-Operation Recovery Unit. Although not within the surgeries themselves, this was unique since I had never followed patients into their experience post surgery. I got to gain knowledge on the exact amounts of SpO2 (“specific oxygen”) given to the child based on their size and age, as the 3-year-old little boy had less than the 10 year old boy. It was sad because I had to watch this 10-year-old boy complain of groin pain since he has just gotten a Stage II Fowler Stephens in that area. This was right after I watched the nurse use a syringe to extract a bit of blood that he had clotted in his veins noticed by the improper flow of IV fluid. She then adjusted the VTBI (“volume to be infused”) of his IV consisting of dextrose, sodium chloride, and water. Although she did not use the automatic IV draining machine but rather the gravity method of allowing gravity to push the fluid down and through the IV, the doctor suggested this automatic machine as being the best method since it allows for no air to be left in the bag. He said that this allows for all of the fluid to be drained out and used on the patient, as it should be. I was so intrigued by the professionals that are so well informed on the various methods used for these precious recuperating children.
On Thursday, I got to observe a department that my field of study of Nutritional Sciences is within but not exactly what I am working towards as a career: Dietetics. I was disappointed to find out that the dietician was not coming in for the day, but instead I got to follow around a dietetics intern while asking her questions. She had a plethora of knowledge to share with me on malnutrition and the combatting measures that this hospital takes toward this severe issue in children. When a child first enters this ward, they generally look for dehydration, saggy skin, edema, jaundice, paleness, etc. There are two types of formula that they use here to supplement babies for what nutrients they are missing out on, which include F75 and F100. There is also the “ReSoMal”, which stands for “rehydration solution for malnourishment” and is important is helping those babies who cannot keep the food they are being fed down in their stomach and vomit. Each have different formulas specific to the degree of SAM (“severe acute malnutrition”) present in the child. It amazed me however when I saw two different extremes today in the ward, one malnourished underweight 2 year old girl and another 1 year and 2 months old boy who was extremely obese. The dietetics intern told us that obesity in babies like this little guy comes from over feeding breast milk and a simple lack of knowledge on the mother’s part. I was awe-stricken by how blatantly evident this baby’s unhealthy weight was yet the absence of any realization by the mother. Overall, I took away just how much preparatory education mothers here in Ghana are lacking and how badly they need to be taught the specifics of what their baby needs at each age group.
This is one of the most humbling and brain-stirring experiences I have had the chance to embrace. Although it may not be what I traditionally learn about in the classroom, that is the best part about it since it is truly an “experiential learning” journey across the world.
XO Coming back to you smarter and satisfied beyond what I expected,
July 7th, 2017
Ghana is a country that is known for being welcoming to foreigners. In fact quite often as I walk by strangers on the street I will literally hear the phrase "you are welcome", or Akwaaba in the local language of Twi. As a foreigner you will also find strangers will frequently ask you if you would like some of their food they are eating. The nurse I was working with today in the Retro (HIV) clinic discovered my favorite Ghanian food was red red (a sort of bean/fish stew served with plantains). She was thrilled and told the assistant nurses to take me to get some red red that would be made around 1 o clock. I assumed she was referring to hospital kitchen where food is made daily. Around 1 an assistant nurse came and got me and told me to follow her. As we made our way outside of the gates of the hospital I started to become weary about our final destination. She told me it would only be a couple of cedis and I feared she was taking me to a chop bar, where foreigners are warned not to eat at. A chop bar is a sort of fast and cheap food that frequently is cooked in poor conditions without many regulations being followed. She took me to a shack in the alley way where there was a line of people waiting to be served red red out of a big metal pot. I knew I was warned many times by our professor not to eat things made on the street but I feared it would be rude after all the fuss made over my meal (and it was hot so I figured it would probably be okay). I opted for two cedis worth of red red and one cedi worth of plantains. The nurse I was with was going to order for me and she asked me if I wanted a styrofoam container to put my red red in that cost another 60 peswas (cents). I said yes but when it was our turn in line it turned out they had run out of styrofoam containers but we could wait for more or I could be served my red red in a giant leaf. I obviously opted for the giant leaf because how cool is that. As we walked away the lady making the food came after us and handed me a plastic spoon and asked me my name and told me I was welcome in Ghana. The nurse I was with told me the spoon is not free and she gave it to me as an extremely nice gesture. Here is this woman selling food out of her shack giving me something for free. When I unwrapped my leaf I made a comment about the large quantity of red red for only two cedis. The counselor and the nurse informed me she gave me a lot extra because she knew the nurse was ordering it for me. Again I was overcome by the extreme gesture of kindness. They told me foreigners do not usually eat at local places like that and the lady was overcome by my willingness to eat with the local people at their familiar places. The doctors and nurses were thrilled I was eating it out of a leaf as well. I was called daring and down to earth and definitely earned more than a few brownie points with the staff. The doctor then said to me foreigners here are very welcomed and the attitude toward them is very friendly in Ghana. He then looked up at me and said it is not like that in the United States right? I asked what he meant and he said is there not a negative attitude toward foreigners in the United States? I thought about this for a moment and said yeah, I guess there is. I understand the basis of this attitude is the tax paying citizens of the United States not wanting to pay taxes for foreigners staying in the country illegally. The problem with this is the attitude reflects on those citizens from foreign countries who are in the country legally or are simply visiting. The United States could definitely take a note or two from Ghana on the treatment of foreigners.
July 7th, 2017
Hey again everyone! Week three is officially underway and we have started our work in the hospitals. The community screenings we conducted last week provided us all with a truly amazing hands on experience, but I am really excited to start looking into different specialties and aspects of medicine and healthcare here in Ghana. This week we will be shadowing at Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital located in Accra. Within the hospital we have the opportunity to shadow different departments such as surgery, physical therapy, malnutrition, emergency care, x-ray, and pharmacy, to name a few. I am going to spend my week focusing on the malnutrition unit and nutritional rehabilitation center, physical therapy clinic, and the emergency room. This week is going to provide me and then rest of the group with experiences and opportunities we could have never dreamed of and I am incredibly excited to get the adventure underway. On top of the information and knowledge I am going to learn through this clinical work, these last few weeks have also taught me many other incredibly valuable lessons. One of the biggest lessons I have taken away from this week is the value of hard work.
My parents have always ensured that my siblings and I know the importance of a strong work ethic. I am incredibly thankful I grew up being taught that nothing is given to you and if you want something bad enough it is going to take hard work and determination. This mentality pushed me to work hard in high school to get into a good college and continues to push me to work hard in college to prepare for a successful future. However, these past few weeks in Ghana have completely altered my definition of hard work.
Before this month, I thought waking up at 7:30 to get to my 8am class was hard work. I thought taking fifteen credit hours, having a job, finding volunteer opportunities, and maintaining good relationships with those around me was hard work. I thought the pressures of deciding on my future and working on my resume to guarantee success was hard work. All the things that made me tired in a day or made a week seem long, felt to me like hard work. However, observing the people here in Ghana made me realize my “hard days work” is nothing.
For the last three mornings we have left for the hospital at six in the morning, and every town we drive through looks like they have been up for hours. Some women already have their stands set up on the side of the road and are preparing the goods they are going to sell that day, while others are carrying massive buckets of water or food on their heads that they are bringing back for their family. The men and woman in the towns and markets do not stop this hard work until the sun goes down, and even then they spend overtime cleaning up and preparing for the next day. No one walks around with a scowl on his or her face and I have yet to hear one person complain about these long laborious days. On top of the people selling goods in the markets, those with their “mobile shop” in a bucket on top of their head have astounded me. These people spend all day walking up and down the lines of traffic, carrying massive and heavy bins on top of their heads, and still manage to run after every car that passes. They value every cedi they earn and do not stop working until they have enough to support themselves or their family. The people I have seen and met here have taught me to be thankful for everything I have and to never stop pushing myself, even when things do get harder than I could ever imagine. These past few weeks have taught me so much about myself and the world around me, and I could not be more excited to continue to step out of my comfort zone, take in the experiences, and apply everything I am learning to my life back in the States.
July 7th, 2017
Shadowing the physical therapists has definitely been the highlight of my week. I had never been in such a setting where I was able to not only watch the exercises that the therapists performed on their patients, but also get the opportunity to perform those exact same exercises. It was very hands-on, and it is an experience that I will carry with me forever. Many of the kids who came to see us had cerebral palsy, where their muscles are very weak and they are unable to crawl, walk, sit or even just support themselves. Because of this, many kids are delayed; there were kids who just did not know how to walk or even sit up by themselves. During my time there, all you heard were kids just screaming at the top of their lungs as the physical therapists performed the exercises on them. They did exercises that would encourage them to raise their heads, turn their bodies, sit up, and much more. For the kids who did not know how to walk because the joints in their ankles were fused together were given braces. The physical therapists advised the kids to wear them to help put pressure on it. Also, some of kids’ feet were set incorrectly, so the brace was also there to fix that.
The kids only come once of week because the therapists are just so backed up with patients. The parents of these children are supposed to be performing these exercises every day while they are at home. Many of them do not do this however. They do not do it because they either have work or they have trouble getting their child to cooperate or because they just do not want to do it. This slows the progress down for a lot of the kids. One physical therapist even told me that some abandon the help that they receive at the hospital and seek out spirituals instead. They believe their child’s ailment is due to bewitching and would prefer to spend their money at the spiritualists. This also delays the child’s progress since they are not practicing the exercises they learned. They eventually just forget it. This in turn causes the parents to be very frustrated.
One of the physical therapists described to me why cerebral palsy was so common, and she explained to me how many pregnant women carry their babies longer than they need to. The baby often undergoes fetal distress and can experience birth asphyxiation where not enough oxygen reaches the brain. When a C-section becomes necessary, many of them refuse it because of the belief that surgery is evil or because of the tragic stories they may have heard about women who have had C-sections. This can worsen the babies’ condition. Some pregnant women do not even receive any care or won’t visit the hospital until it’s almost time to have the baby. Some do not have the time or money to visit the doctor. Some just do not care to keep up with their health while pregnant.
Hearing these stories and witnessing these kids doing their exercises has definitely given me a new perspective on the way many Ghanaians have to live. No one is really unaware of the tough life Africans have to endure, but seeing it first hand is definitely an experience. I am grateful for this hands-on experience because it definitely helps me to think about the path I want to take in my life, if healthcare is something I really want to get into to. Seeing the way people live here definitely cultivates a desire to help somehow. I do not say all this to sound like I am pitying Ghanaians or to sound condescending because I know the people here are resilient and are only doing the best that they can do. However, I am seeing how much the people struggle here when it comes to healthcare, and as I continue to immerse myself in these different fields, I only become more and more certain that a career in healthcare is the type of career I want.
July 7th, 2017
On Thursday of my third week in Ghana, I experienced my favorite day of the trip. I had met a midwife by the name of Josephine Oteng during the nutrition screenings and after developing a relationship with her I asked her if I could shadow her at work in the future. That day finally came on Thursday, and I couldn't have been more excited. We started by having a tour of the hospital, Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital, and each of its specific departments. We began at the maternity ward where 7 mothers had just hours before had their babies. Since surgeries like cesarean sections are all scheduled for Wednesdays at this hospital, many of the mothers with high-risk pregnancies went under anasthesia and minutes later had their newborns in their arms. Emily accompanied me to the hospital, and being the only two shadowers in the entire hospital that day allowed us much flexibility throughout the day. After talking with the mothers about their labor in the maternity ward, we progressed on to the children's ward. Though it was sad to see so many children in such critical condition, we had a nice time with them laughing about how different our skin looked. Following the time in this ward, we were welcomed by song and praise by the mothers-to-be in the antenatal department. Each day here begins with jubilant song when the mothers pray for the health and safety of their unborn children. Emily and I stayed here and each paired off with a head midwife to observe the monthly follow up appointments. We palpitated the patients' bellies for the positioning of the fetuses to assess their growth. Afterwards we were able to listen to the babies' heartbeats with a fetal scope which was amazing. We met the Physician's Assistant, Jerry, and the gynecologist, Dr. Emanuel Peku, who were both incredible and as welcoming as could be. Dr. Peku even gave me and Emily permission to shadow his surgeries the following Wednesday. Talking to all the midwives there confirmed my excitement for continuing my education with nursing, and each taught me something special about Ghana, their culture, or their profession. I am forever grateful for Josephine for letting me come to her work. It opened my eyes to all the incredible possibilities of working in healthcare and obtaining my masters in nursing.
July 7th, 2017
This week I have had the honor and the privilege of being in Princess Marie Louise Children's Hospital in Accra, Ghana. The hospital is located in the heart of Accra: the market. One must drive down the busy streets of the market to get to the hospital. The hospital is open air meaning that some of the building is open to the outside and the rest does not have air conditioning. There is air conditioning in the operating rooms and pharmacy for safety protocols. When you walk into the hospital, the first thing you see is the mortician ward. There's a coffin outside of it. Needless to say, it's depressing to see that as you walk into the hospital. You then walk into an open area that has multiple rooms along the side. When patients come, they receive their patient records and wait to be seen for vitals. The nurses and doctors have a triage system where the most severe patient is seen first.
There are always about 200 woman waiting with their children. They sit everywhere among the hospital waiting for their child to be seen. The hospital has many different wards including a cholera bay, retrovirus clinic, x-ray, lab, emergency, ICU, PT, malnutrition ward, and nutrition rehabilitation center. The emergency area is crammed pack. It is a very small space with about 10 nurses and doctors and about 30 patients. There aren't enough beds so many parents sit in chairs and have their children sit in their lap while they receive IV fluids. The smell hit me as soon as I stepped into the ER. I didn't know if I was going to be able to work at this hospital. There's no air flow and it just smells of sickness. Thankfully, I was able to calm myself down by taking deep breaths and relaxing.
When I think of the ICU, I think of a very sterile, cold, clean, contained environment. It's the complete opposite here. There are two babies/children at each bed, there’s no air flow, the room is full of sleeping parents, and children receiving oxygen, IV's, and blood crammed into one average size American bedroom. I was shocked by the sanitation of the hospital. The hospital's sanitation protocol is nothing like the hospitals in the U.S. There's no sewage system. This means that surrounding the border of the hospital are concrete slabs with slits in it. Underneath is a moat exposed to the air with all the urine and feces. There's no fresh air. It always smells of urine and poop. There’s also not a lot of trash cans conveniently located around, so it is common to see trash and waste on the ground.
One thing that I have thoroughly enjoyed at this hospital is their emphasis on malnutrition and nutrition rehabilitation. Malnourishment is common in many of the patients that are brought to the hospital. Most children that are diagnosed with malnutrition are at the hospital for different reasons like malaria or pneumonia. I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that some parents have no idea that their baby is malnourished. I just wonder if they ever think that maybe their baby is too skinny or if they even worry about those things. The dietetic interns at the hospital told me that most children/babies are malnourished because their parents just don’t know how to properly feed them. The child/baby will stay in the malnutrition ward receiving different milk formulas until their weight rises to the correct range for their age. Once they are discharged from the malnutrition ward, their next step is the nutrition rehabilitation center. They receive nutrition counseling about what foods to add to their child’s diet. The amazing thing about this place is that the mothers come in everyday and cook breakfast and lunch for their child free of charge. The hospital funds all the food that is needed for the recipes. It creates a welcoming and supporting environment where the moms can come and cook healthy foods for their children so they can be healthy and continue to gain weight. The community amongst the woman is astounding. They get along so well and share a common goal of providing a healthier life for their family.
The last thing I want to share is an experience I had recently in the emergency ward. I was going on rounds with some of the dietetic interns and our first stop was the emergency ward. There was a patient that had been admitted the day before for malnutrition and malaria. I actually saw this patient the day before running around with her mom. The mom seemed very young. When we walked into the ward, she and her daughter were both asleep. The intern tried waking her up but she would not respond. The woman next to her gave her a big push and she woke up. I’m not sure what exactly happened because they were speaking a different language. All I know is that we did not weigh her baby and ended up walking away shortly after. I later asked what happened and I was told that the mother is not being cooperative. She believes that her daughter is not malnourished and does not need any sort of treatment. I could visibly see that her baby girl was SAM, meaning severe acute malnutrition. I asked the intern if she ever gets frustrated when situations like this arise and she simply said no, I don’t ever worry myself. She understood that the patient will come to her when she is ready to be counseled. She doesn’t push it because she wants the patient to choose it for herself and her family.
I was so inspired by that. I am sometimes let my passion for helping people turn into frustration when they are not receptive to what I am saying. I just care so deeply and I want to help in everyway possible. I see this little girl in front of me who is skin and bones and I just want to shake the mom and say, “Why are you refusing treatment for your baby girl? She needs this to survive!” But I have realized that I need to take my own personal agenda out of the picture. This moment was about the mom and the baby and about their needs and frustrations. When the mom is ready, she will seek counsel to help her daughter. In the meantime, I can just encourage her and love her where she is at. I will carry that moment into my profession. I will always remember the importance of patience and understanding.
With love from Africa,
July 6th, 2017
This week, I was grateful to shadow nurses and doctors of different specialties at the Princess Marie Louise Hospital in Accra. While all my experiences told a story of medicine, one in particular portrayed a story of humanity. I spent Wednesday with Aunty Serwah, the head nurse of the “Retro Clinic.” Besides being an intelligent, professional nurse, she was also one of the kindest and most passionate individuals I have met on this trip. She was everyone’s unofficial “Aunty,” and she never met a stranger. She took me in and taught me all about “Retro,” or HIV, prevalence here in Ghana. Additionally, she showed me how to test for HIV and I even got to practice on a few patients and myself. We chatted often while waiting for patients to trickle in, giving her ample time to answer my ample questions. Most she answered with ease, however, there was one that stopped her in her tracks: “Are you scared of contracting HIV?” After pondering for a moment, she replied, “Yes, but I chose this job. I have to do this work, and if I die from it, my reward will be in heaven.”
Her strength and willingness to serve others was incredible. While she tested and cared for patients daily, she said most of her work actually stems from debunking the HIV stigma. In Ghana, many people believe that HIV infection comes only with promiscuity, they don’t know about other forms of transmission, such as that between mother and child. The clinicians had to rename the HIV clinic the “Retro” (a.k.a. retrovirus) clinic just so that people nearby wouldn’t judge the patients. The backlash to an HIV diagnosis is so severe here even husbands and wives won’t disclose their status to one another, further perpetuating the problem. I must admit, I also found myself acting differently around the patients that came to the clinic. I was quiet and extremely cautious around them until their test came back negative. I can certainly see how those suffering from HIV would feel ostracized, even from those aiming to help. Thankfully, there are some public health initiatives in place with the ultimate mission of breaking the stigma and testing a larger portion of the population. Aunty Serwah emphasized the importance of implementing HIV lessons into school health classes as well, though she mentioned this will take longer to roll out. I pray that the community here, and even in the U.S., learns to respect one another regardless of HIV status, so that individuals can get tested without inhibition. I also pray for the Aunty Serwah’s of the world, and hope that one day I can emulate her as well.
July 6th, 2017
To me, this week has flown by faster than any other week we’ve had in Ghana so far. Ghana’s Republic Day is on July 1st, but since that fell on a Saturday this year, they moved the celebration day to Monday so people could have a break. Even most of the hospital departments were shut down for the celebration. This worked out great for our group because this whole trip we had wanted to have a beach day, but hadn’t yet found the time.
The rest of the week was dedicated to working in Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital in Accra. In one of the health screenings last week in Mampong, we met a woman named Josephine. Josephine is a local midwife who came to help us run our clinic. She works at Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital, which is only a 10-minute taxi ride from where we are staying in Mampong. We all loved working with and learning from her that day. Annie is in the process of applying to midwifery programs back in the United States, so she asked Josephine is she could come shadow her this week one day. When I heard about these plans, I was also very interested and joined Annie.
So instead of going to the children’s hospital today, Annie and I separated from the group to go visit Josephine at Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital. The hospital was not what I was expecting at all. After seeing PML children’s hospital in Accra yesterday, I thought this hospital would be a similar, if not a less developed, facility. Instead, it was very well organized, had large departments (on four different floors and multiple different buildings), air conditioning, and seemed well staffed. First when we arrived, Josephine gave us a tour of the hospital. We saw the diabetic clinic, eye clinic, pharmacy, female and male wards, the public health education and antenatal center, family planning, surgical theaters, maternity ward, labor and delivery room, post-neonatal room, pediatrics, retro (HIV) clinic, emergency, and the gynecologic consulting room where Josephine herself mostly works.
We stayed and observed Josephine working with patients for the first part of the day. Then, we went to the antenatal consulting rooms and observed check-ups for pregnant women. It was so interesting to watch how they treat women, and especially how they handle the different disease threats women are prone to here. Every woman was given malaria prevention medicine, and many were tested for malaria if they showed any symptoms. Vitamins and other supplements were also given to every patient. I was able to palpitate stomachs to feel for the baby’s body parts and measure the length of the mother’s fundus to the pubic symphysis. I also got to listen to the fetal heartbeat through a fetal scope. After spending time in that department, Annie and I went to the post-neonatal ward. Here, we met the new mothers and their babies, and we shadowed the nurses on duty. We learned so much spending time there, and we got the chance to get to know one patient very well. She got our contact information and hopes to stay in touch. We met many nurses, doctors, and physician assistants throughout the day today. One OB/GYN doctor we met told Annie and I that we could come back next Wednesday and scrub in with him for his surgeries that day. We both had a great experience today, and look forward to another visit to Tetteh Quarshie Memorial Hospital.
July 5th, 2017
I've always believed that the more adventurous you are, the better your life will be. Even more so, the closer you'll be to getting the maximum amount out of life. This trip has given me absolute reassurance in that thought. I used to love my life being routine and comfortable, but I've seen what wonderful things can happen by moving past that simple idea of life. Just pushing myself to travel to Ghana for a month was adventure enough, but a serious goal I've had is to continue to push myself out of that routine lifestyle while I'm here.
Last week, we worked in communities all around Ghana providing health screenings to the local people there. I learned so many things that could never be taught in a classroom but are key aspects of me succeeding as a professional. Our next two weeks here will consist of working in hospitals shadowing and also getting hands-on experience. I can't wait to see what the last half of this trip has to offer, because the first half has been much more astonishing than I could have ever imagined. Even though this trip has a large medical focus, we have also been able to learn so much more about ourselves and each other through adventuring around this country and immersing ourselves into the culture. I'm not a person who has ever been the biggest fan of swinging bridges, but this past weekend I got to experience walking across 7 of them, 120 feet off the ground. Every minute of it was exhilarating and wonderful. We then got to tour two different slave castles, which taught us so much history and has really helped in my understanding of Ghana's foundation.
The rest of the weekend included seeing a local play and spending a day at Bojo Beach. Since we were missing the Fourth of July in the US, this was such a fun celebration we were grateful to have. This made missing fireworks back at home seem like no big deal. The play was so different from what we are used to in the US, but it still made us laugh and was very interesting to see what kind of entertainment the people here enjoy. The beach day was nothing short of perfect. From meeting people from all over the world, to playing soccer with the kids, to watching the locals catch crabs and fish, I was in awe by how much fun we could have on a beach much different from the ones in the US. I love this trip because every new adventure is looked at in such a positive way. Everyone has fun with it. I'm so happy to be surrounded with girls who are so engaged with life and strive for the most adventure on this study abroad.
I want this trip to always be my reminder to get up from the couch when I'm back in Athens, and go out and train for that new half marathon or plan a random skydiving trip. As Will Smith has said, "life begins on the other side of your maximum fear".
June 30th, 2017
I’ll start off by saying that before I came on this trip, I expected to come home with a renewed or possibly even newfound appreciation for many of the little things in life that I often take for granted on a daily basis without even realizing it. That being said, I didn’t realize the extent of how deeply this would impact me or even the range of the conveniences I have grown up believing are the norm that have ultimately become a mundane part of everyday life.
The first thing I realized that I use without even thinking about is clean tap water. From the first day that we arrived, we have been brushing our teeth with the water from our bottles that we fill with the purified drinking water that comes in little bags. After a few initial times of almost putting my toothbrush under the faucet due to routine habit, I quickly realized that having clean drinking water coming from the water pipes is a big deal. Growing up in a developed country, I often neglect to think about where my water comes from and if it is safe to drink or not. Thankfully in Ghana and many other developing countries there have been initiatives taken that help make clean drinking water easily accessible to everyone, no matter what your economic status, in order to eradicate illnesses caused by unsanitary drinking water.
While we’re on the topic of water, how many of you enjoy taking a nice warm shower when you’re trying to get cleaned up? I know I do and I’ll be the first to admit it, but I’ve learned that having a hot shower is a luxury and we are spoiled to have a showerhead and warm water in the first place. Here in Ghana, cold bucket showers are the norm. No more hanging around in the shower taking your sweet time because it’s so relaxing. You get in and get out as quickly as possible…but I tell you what, that first warm shower that I take when I get home is going to be that much sweeter because I now value this comfort that we get to enjoy so much more.
I don’t know about y’all, but doing laundry is just one of those tasks that I love doing and is even peaceful in a way. After doing my laundry the Ghanaian way for the first time this week, I have a whole new appreciation for this set of appliances better known as the washing machine and dryer. On top of that, I am even more thankful for the hands that wash our whole group’s worth of clothes every weekend – the oh so wonderful (Saint) Margaret. After spending almost an hour and a half sitting in the sun washing my clothes in a metal basin, spinning them around like a human washing machine, rinsing and wringing them out, and then hanging them to dry on the clothesline, I can only imagine how much time and hard work went into doing a dozen loads of laundry for us. Not only does she do our laundry, but she also cooks amazing meals for us and cleans up after unintentionally messy selves…she is truly the best. I can’t say enough how thankful I am for all of the behind-the-scenes effort that goes into making us feel right at home.
Last but not least, coming from a very cold-natured person who thought she would never be saying this – I have never been more appreciative for the invention of air conditioning after living in Africa. The summer here is their rainy season which means it is the “coolest” part of the year, which means the Georgia heat has nothing on the weather here. You learn to accept and become okay with the fact that you’ll always be in a constant warm and sticky state, especially during the humid rainy season of the summer.
I say all of this to try and put my realizations into words to make sense of it all, not at all to highlight the drawbacks of living in a developing country. In reality, Ghana is even more beautiful and developed than I imagined and I can honestly say that I came into this trip expecting the worse but being very pleasantly surprised. You could say that the “lightbulb moment” has definitely occurred during the two and a half weeks that I have already spent here. Many of the preconceptions that I had about Ghana and Africa in general have been debunked and a multitude of personal experiences have shaped my understanding, which have contributed to my expanding appreciation for what I have been blessed with and how incredible of an opportunity this really is. I hope that I will always be able to look back on this eye-opening experience for years and years to come, to stand as a reminder for myself to never become too comfortable so much that I fail to properly appreciate everything that I have been granted. So here’s to unfamiliar experiences that ultimately lead to lots of personal growth and revitalized awareness that make us who we are.
June 30th, 2017
I find myself always wishing for it to snow. This is not because I love snow more than sunshine. This is because I live smack in the middle of Georgia where it is hot year round and only catch a glimpse of a snow flake every other year. In a place where it is hot 355 days of the year it can be hard not to take the beautiful sunny days for granted. The same is true with access to healthcare and health knowledge in the United States. Just like the hot weather healthcare is easily accessible to the majority of the population year round. Access to health knowledge is at the fingertips of anyone with a smart phone or computer (or access to one a.k.a. pretty much everyone). This is not the case in Ghana. Our clinics have been swarmed with people a lot of whom have never been to the doctor. This is their one access point to any sort of medical care for the entire year. Due to this, the information and test results we have given the patients has been received very seriously. Everyone wants to know if their blood pressure being high is harmful and how it is harmful and what they can do about it. Numbers such as blood pressure I do not feel are given as much weight in the United States. People are given medications for hypertension in the United States but there is no real change in mindset and diet or food intake. People are aware of the problem but choose to somewhat ignore it or do the bare minimum to keep their bodies functioning. I have had the discussion with a couple group members that if we conducted the same sort of preventative health screening in the United States that we do not believe nearly as many people would come. People are not only coming to the screenings but waiting in line at five am to get a spot. Concern and genuine interest to know how to make themselves better has really touched me. Healthcare is cherished and appreciated. The sunshine is never taken for granted in Ghana.
Ashley Adams, Health Promotion University of Georgia
June 29th, 2017
Hey everyone! It’s crazy to think I’m already in my second week here in Ghana. It feels like just yesterday I was getting on a plane in Atlanta with no idea of what to expect. However, now with almost two weeks under my belt, I’ve already settled into my own little routine. Me, Emily, Olivia, and Jenna have made our little room our new home, groundnut soup is now one of my favorite foods, all twelve of us have mastered the art of the perfect finger prick, and I have found that a new adventure awaits me every day.
The adventure I want to take you guys on with me happened on Tuesday after we were done with our community work in Tutu. We finished with the last few patients around 12:30, so we still had a whole day to spend exploring. Once I got back to the house and finished with my first hand washed laundry and line drying experience, Ashley and I decided to go on a run. We wanted to do some physical activity and explore the rest of our little town of Mampong. In order to see what was hiding on the other side of the mountain, we decided to go the opposite way of the town, on a road we had not yet ventured down.
This run made me realize two things. The first is that running straight up a mountain in the middle of the day in Africa is not an easy task. Especially, when you’ve consumed your fair share of fried plantains and jollof rice these past two weeks. The second is that this country provides so many hidden, beautiful moments. After we finally made it to the end of the trail, we were met with the most breathtaking view. From this random lookout point we stumbled upon, we were able to see for what seemed to be hundred of miles. We were looking out over the most luscious mountains and green space I have ever seen in my life. It looked like a postcard that was too perfect to be something I was truly looking out on. On a random Tuesday, after I thought my day was over, I randomly found a picture perfect view of Africa that gave me a new perspective on the world as a whole, and that is one of the reasons this trip never ceases to amaze me.
But, after taking in this view for a few minutes, clumsy Anna had to stir things up a bit. Before I knew it, the rocky trail that seemed so stable at the time slipped out from under me and to say I took a little tumble is an understatement. Ashley and I initially died of laughter, but then I stood up to see it might be time for us to head back. The back of my leg was completely scraped up and the stinging definitely started to set in. Luckily, once we got back Mrs. Margret was there to save the day once again. She got out her handy first-aid kit and after a very painful few minutes of cleaning out the cuts, I was good to go. Even though it ended in a less than peaceful way, the adventures of that day are something I will cherish forever.
An afternoon that started with a simple run to get some exercise, ended with me having one of the beautiful hidden moments. A moment that seemed to stop time and give me a second of complete peace. A moment that made me realize the things that constantly occupy my worries and fears are so minute in the grand scheme of life. A moment that gave me a new appreciation of how beautiful this world is and how much I still have left to explore. Granted, this seemingly perfect and peaceful couple of minutes was brought to an abrupt end, the scars my little tumble will most likely leave, will always remind me of this moment and of the life changing adventure every day here provides.
June 29th, 2017
Hello!! For my second blog post, I want to share about the time we have spent working in the clinics this week. Each day, we have traveled to different communities including Kumasi, Suhum, Tutu, Mampong, Amanokrom, and Awutu. In each community, our group set up a clinic for health and nutritional screenings. We have been able to assess people’s basic health factors. There are stations where we measure weight/height/BMI, blood pressure, blood testing for glucose and hemoglobin levels, and then the final station of counseling and discussing the results with Dr. Anderson.
I have first-hand witnessed the struggles the people of Ghana are experiencing from the failures of the healthcare system. So many of the people in the communities are shocked when we tell them they can attend our clinic without insurance. Hospitals here will turn away a patient, regardless of if it is a medical emergency, if a patient does not have health insurance. For this reason, many people don’t have access to the basic care they need. It’s amazing how far some people traveled to reach our services.
Maybe it sounds like the work we are doing is simple, but for people with limited healthcare access it can be a life saving screening. We are helping spread education about health and healthy lifestyles. Health is above all things the most important and crucial part of life.
I am learning so much from our work in the clinics, from our nightly books discussions, and I'm gaining great experience. Everyone deserves the same treatment and chance to live a healthy, long life, and I am so glad to be a part of working towards that goal.
June 29th, 2017
I had just gotten back from staying in a villa in Santorini, Greece with my family, and I had 2 days to pack and prepare for a month-long stay in Ghana. To be honest, I didn't really want to go. In my mind, I didn't have enough time to get my things in order, and the thought of being away from my friends before they all begin their careers in other states didn't appeal to me. I wanted to be able to be in constant contact with my close-knit group as they experienced their first days in a new city. I wanted to be able to have dinner with my little sister after she had her first day of her first real internship. For some reason, being a part of my friends' and family's important moments trumped making important memories of my own. After mindlessly checking off things from last year's packing list, the day came quicker than I had liked. I loaded up my clothes and supplies into two overweight suitcases and made my way to the airport with my parents. The first time seeing this country was exciting and new, but I had a feeling of reservation clouding my mind. This reservation didn't subside until being in Ghana for a couple days when I finally was able to appreciate this experience for what it is- once in a lifetime. Never before and never again will I be able to walk the streets of Mampong at night shopping for Fan Ice and fabric with Anna and Ashley. Never will I get the chance to work alongside 12 remarkable strangers aiding in improving the health of 5 Ghanian towns. Never will I have that shining moment of confirmation that my plans to pursue Midwifery and Nurse Practitioner school are not in vain. Never will I eat red-red or banku in a home filled with such love, or grilled corn off the streets of Kumasi. Never again will I experience such a sight as the one of women carrying fish heads and flip flops on their heads through the narrow streets of the jam-packed market. Never again will I see a wild elephant for the first time, and never again will I see baboons steal mangos out of Rachels hands. Never again will I be so inspired by a teacher to make my own community a better place, just as he does every day. I will never get another chance to learn so much about the world or myself as I already have here in Ghana. Though I do not have the constant opportunity to talk to those back home who are hitting important milestones in their life, I no longer care at all. In my opinion, I am hitting much more profound milestones in my life over here. I have learned who I want to become, how to live in a place not always comfortable to me, and that I should never prejudge a place or group of people before I arrive. I do not share any of the same sentiments as the Annie who boarded the plane to Ghana, and for that, I know Ghana has already changed me for the better.
June 29th, 2017
I cannot believe that I have been in Ghana for two weeks. Time really does fly. This past week we have conducted health screenings in various churches in Kumasi, Suhum, Tutu, and Mampong. I think my favorite destination was in Suhum, where we had the opportunity to see so many of the local children. They interacted with us by playing games and teaching us their little chants. They even came inside the church and tried to get to know many of us. There was one particular girl, the girl in the picture, who glued herself to my side. She was very beautiful with a very good signing voice. The church would have music playing in the background and she would quietly sing it as she stood next to me. The song was in Twi, and she tried to teach me a few words. She said I did not speak it well; I just laughed.
These screenings have been the first real, hands-on medical work that I have done in my life. I am able to do finger-pricking, check blood pressure, height and weight. They all sound like standard and simple things, but the experience of interacting with and working in a real community was priceless. I loved putting my Twi to practice. I loved being able to help provide information on each individual's health. Some people found out new things about themselves by coming to us. Some realized that they were healthy and fine while others found out that they had diabetes or high blood pressure and were going to have to take preventive measures to manage thier conditions so they did not get worse. Just witnessing all these scenarios and being the one who is able to provide them with the valuable information provides you with such a warm feeling. With just one week of work, my desire to serve different communities has only increased. I want to become a doctor, specifically a pediatrician, and being able to work with everyone is so very rewarding. In our last two weeks, we will be able to work in the children's hospital and the main hospital. I am very excited to work in these areas and see what the enviroment is like and what kind of medical treatment Ghanaians receive here. I am excited about everything that I have learned so far on this trip and about everything I have yet to learn.
June 29th, 2017
At the end of the last blog, I briefly mentioned that we had started our community work. Doing community work just means holding free health screenings in different communities every day. I also call these days, clinic days. Something to note is that we always do our clinics in a church. Religion is very big here in Ghana, so it makes sense that town events would be held in churches. Holding the clinics does not offend anyone in our group as it isn’t like our professor or the church are imposing their views on us. Sometimes the pastor of the church will pray for us which I think is very thoughtful. I asked Dr. Anderson how he is able to hold these screenings in the churches and how he gets the supplies. He told me that he has connections and our program fee pays for the supplies. I feel happy knowing that our money actually pay for supplies to aid these communities.
Our second clinic day was in Suhum. The first day went very well, so I knew this day would go just as well. My first station of the day was height/weight/BMI. I always like greeting people in English and in Twi, and sometimes I ask how they are doing in Twi. I realized very quickly that while some people could speak English very well, others could only say a few phrases. At the height/weight/BMI station, asking for one’s age occasionally posed a problem, so I learned how to say it in Twi: Wadi nfi ahie [waydi-infi-ah-hin]. Once I knew I was saying it correctly, I asked it for almost everybody. It worked out perfectly. The only downside was that sometimes the person would answer back in Twi and I did not get that far in my lessons. I would have someone else translate the number. The next station I did was blood pressure. That went well. There is an ongoing debate about which location records the most accurate blood pressure reading – arm or wrist. The next station was bloodwork. I think that station is my favorite. I developed a system on how to maximize the amount of blood squeezed without pricking twice or hurting the patient. We had a ton of children come in that day. It was a holiday, so parents took advantage of the time off to make sure their child is healthy.
By the third clinic day in Tutu, I felt like I had been doing medical screenings for a long time. I know that sounds crazy, but we have a routine for rotating around the stations and we can do each medical test with ease. Our team works very well together. We are communicating and creating some lasting bonds. Aside from bloodwork, I really enjoy being a floater. Floaters are greeters, aids, errand people, and entertainers. They do everything. I like that floaters multitask and go where they are needed. One thing I noticed at the blood station is that people always want to know what blood group they are (as in A, B, AB, O). I wish we had the test to show that. I think for future trips, Dr. Anderson could incorporate that into the screenings. I think that will be very useful information for the patients. At the consultation station, one lady had a blood glucose level of 379! That is insane. Normal blood glucose levels are less than 126. It turns out that she developed gestational diabetes. Dr. Anderson informed her that if not managed, it can lead to Type 2 diabetes. I enjoy learning about various health information from the professor during and in between patient consultation.
Our most recent day was clinic day #4. That was in Mampong, our home base and prof’s hometown. The screening took place at the Methodist Church Ghana – Ascension Society. This is actually the professor’s church. We expected a huge turnout, but we saw less than 100 people. I was shocked. I was very curious as to why we had so few people when prof knew a lot of people in this town and he made an announcement in church. Maybe because it was during a work day, so people could not leave work. The other possible explanation could be because the church was not in a central location. We had one blind man come in. We had floaters guide him through the stations. At the time I was doing bloodwork, so when we came to my station, I explained to him what we were doing and grabbed his hand so he could follow along. That was a really good experience for me because I gained some exposure on how to take care of patients with disabilities. The most profound event of the day was when a woman who was 100 years old came in for the screening. She was in great shape – she walked slow and walked with a cane – and she was happy and energetic. I love when I see people live to be so old. I would have loved to hear her story that spans a century. I helped her throughout each station. My mind kept wondering what her life has been like and how much change she has seen. She did not speak a lot of English, but our interaction was friendly and familiar. Because of my Nigerian background, we call older women: auntie, mama, mummy, or grandma; it felt like I was helping my grandma. I noticed in Ghana people in the community will assist elderly people in daily activities even if they are not related which is what they do in Nigeria too. I just smiled at her the whole time. Overall, day 4 was slow, but is successful because we provide the best care possible and always with a positive attitude.
There have been a couple of adventures outside of health screenings. The biggest one was visiting a market in Kumasi. What a day. I feel like the words I will use to describe it, just will not do the visit justice. I knew how crowded markets in Ghana can get because they are crowded in Nigeria and in other parts of the world. The market progressively shifted from open streets, to backway slums, to a market town made of tin. The marketplace is a community within a community, a world within a world. The atmosphere in the market is different than any other place. So many sites, sounds, people, smells, and items are all being taken in by your eyes and ears. The journey to the depths of the market started out as a quest for traditional fabric. Our leader, Marina asked around for the places with the cheapest prices. We moved from being on the main roads to backway alleys. The alleys gave way to the slums. This was a very poor part of Kumasi that was surprisingly still apart of the market. The smell of livestock and feces completely took over my nostrils. It felt like I ran nose-first into a stinky wall. The ground was muddy and there were people everywhere. There were also several big crates/cages full of chickens. Amid all this, there were tons of food and cosmetic stands with people yelling out what they were selling. How could they sell in this stench and chaos? The smell became so bad that I held my nose as we sped through there. The scene then changed into a town within the market. There were little shops made of tin material that looked like over-sized metal cabinets. The tops of them stretched so far up that there was only a tiny sliver of sky light peeking through. At every point in this market there were people that kept trying to grab me and call me to them. I would politely say no thank you and keep going, but it became somewhat overwhelming. We went so deep into the market that we forgot the way out. Luckily, Dr. Anderson and Marina helped us out. It was quite the experience.
I look forward to next week. We will be wrapping up our clinic days and moving on to hospital observations. There are several hospital areas I am interested in such as pediatrics, women's health, labor & delivery (midwifery), and neonatology. Luckily for me, most of these areas overlap, so I will have a chance to see all aspects of maternal and child health.
June 29th, 2017
Back again for another update!
The first week we were here, we did a lot of in-country orientation, tourism (going to Mole National Park for a safari, going on a tour of the Ashante king's palace), and just getting used to Ghana. We spent a lot of time on a bus driving to different places, literally driving through 5 of the country's 10 regions in one day.
Of course at some point, we have to actually start doing what we came to do. This first portion of the trip, we are doing free health clinics in 6 different communities around Ghana. We started in Kumasi last Friday, and continued in Suhum, Tutu, and Mampong for the beginning of this week. Let me tell you, that first day in Kumasi was c r a z y. There were probably close to 50 people waiting there when we arrived at 7:30 am. By the end of the day, we had seen over 250 patients. The day went by incredibly fast just because we were so busy! I'm exaggerating but it honestly feels like I might've learned more in those 6 hours than in some of my courses at Tech...
When a patient comes into the church (all of our screenings have taken place in a church in each of the villages, mostly because that's the easiest way to spread news), we start by measuring their height, weight, and BMI. Then, we take their blood pressure. At the third station, we prick their fingers to get blood samples to test for blood glucose and hemoglobin levels. Blood glucose is important for screening for diabetes, and the hemoglobin measure screens for low iron levels or anemia. Then, the patients see our professor, Dr. Anderson, for nutrition counseling. If the patients has preexisting hypertension or diabetes, or if their screenings showed high blood pressure or unhealthy blood glucose levels, we'll get another blood sample to test their cholesterol. This test measures total cholesterol, LDL (bad cholesterol), HDL (good cholesterol), and tri-glycerides. Dr. Anderson then talks the patient through what each of their numbers mean, and how to change their diet or lifestyle to reach healthy numbers. Oftentimes, this is the first time these people have learned that they are anemic, malnourished, hypertensive, or obese (and yes, we've seen every range of that spectrum here).
After 4 days of doing this, and two more to go, it would be really easy to get bored, doing the same thing in every village. But it turns out that every place is a little bit different. Friday, we were running around like chickens with our heads cut off (sore subject, considering we literally saw chickens being beheaded in the Kumasi market........). We were getting the hang of everything for the first time, pricking people's fingers, and learning the best ways to calm someone down *who doesn't speak your language* while you're about to poke them with a needle. Monday, local schools were closed for Eid al-Fitr, so we spent at least an hour playing games and dancing with the kids. We were giving away a ton of stickers for the brave little ones who were staying strong while we literally made them bleed. Tuesday, we got into the best rhythm yet and saw 150 people. We learned that having someone DJ from a Bluetooth speaker was the move. We were surrounded by kids on recess shouting "abroni!" ("foreigner") at us. Wednesday, I met a 100 year old woman who was energetic and brave and cheerful (she's the one in the cover photo). I took 8 people's cholesterol levels in 40 minutes (that's a lot). I saw the highest blood pressure AND blood glucose I've ever seen on two humans.
I also had an overpowering feeling that I'm in the right place doing the right thing. I was just sitting there recording the data and realized that I was doing something that felt overwhelmingly right. By NO means am I saving the world or anything, but I feel like I know what I'm doing, I'm getting in a groove, hitting milestones I never imagined I'd get to this early in my life. I get to help people who may have never gotten their blood pressure taken or who may have no idea what foods to eat or that exercise is essential. I can't get over how cool it is that I get to do this much hands on patient care as an undergraduate student. Moral of the story, I'm absolutely loving what I'm doing here.
Until next time,
June 28th, 2017
The Lord is here. He is here in Ghana, Africa just as He is back in Athens, Georgia and all across the United States. Now that I have had yet another week here in Ghana to explore and experience, I have seen Him more and more as I continue to open my heart to all this expedition is offering up to me.
The people and the place are so blessed and anointed by God it has not ceased to amaze me. Just being in His presence sets each day apart and makes it so uniquely beautiful, no matter the not-so-beautiful blood pricking and going to the bathroom in a hole used as the restroom. I pride myself on carrying my own faith journey with me wherever I go in an effort to inspire others. This deep appreciation for something greater than life on earth has allowed me to appreciate voyages, such as this one to Ghana, to a degree I never could before.
On Monday, my group of 12 students along with our professor got to perform screenings at a church in a small town called Suhum. This place was so neat! When our van pulled up, the people of the church were in the midst of an extremely powerful prayer and worship session. A fellow new friend of mine and I who both possess a similar pride in our relationship with God, noticed immediately how passionate this time was. There is a thing called “falling out” which is a mighty way some people believe the Lord communicates with people on this earth. For a moment, you feel the pressure of God with you, beside you, and all around you. I was elated while witnessing this in the church, this special place where we were about to examine the people of this community. Each person was confronting the Holy Spirit and it was awe-inspiring to watch right before our eyes.
Another instance I experienced was in the Methodist on Wednesday morning. The pastor of this church is special friend of Dr. Anderson’s, as this is the church that he attends regularly when he visits Ghana throughout the year. I had just walked into the building about 10 minutes prior to beginning the day of screenings here in Mampong. Before we were to commence, the pastor wanted us to pray together with him in blessing our team, our medical skills, the Ghanaian people we were to encounter, and the Lord’s presence throughout the day. Joining him, about 10 fellow members of the church (including Dr. Anderson) sung out a refrain reciting “praise the Lord…” over and over again because they confidently believed in this worship. The real part that wrecked me was when the pastor prayed for “God to encounter His sons and daughters here today, not only through physical healing but also spiritual”. This was special for me since I have a unique passion for people to have collisions with our Creator in the most unexpected ways, which end up altering the path of their life. I am blessed beyond measure to have this opportunity to be a part of what a guy greater than I could ever imagine does in people’s lives.
This day ended so delightfully as I met a man named Dennis who is now my new friend I plan on continuing communication with when returning to the U.S. He is a 70-year-old man who has 3 children, only 1 here in Ghana with him. He carried such pure joy to the extent that the second I made eye contact with him, I was intrigued by his optimistic and upbeat personality. He had so much to say to me, as he was incredible at speaking English! He showed me unconditional love, mimicking a main ideal of God in His unconditional love for all of us: His sons and daughters across the globe. My conversation time getting to know Dennis as he waited in line to speak with Dr. Anderson was a blessing in disguise, one that I was graciously presented by the Lord. He knew I needed an encouraging conversation with this man I barely knew, brightening up my day and my overall outlook on life and what goodness is yet to come.
Forever in love with Ghana & it’s people,
June 28th, 2017
We have started the screening portion of our trip. If you know me at all, you know that blood and pricking fingers freaks me out. I was the kid that was scared to death going to the doctor in fear of getting a shot. One time my mom took me to the doctor and when I asked her if I had to get any shots she kept saying ‘this is just a visit; you probably won’t have to get any.’ I walked away from the doctor that day with 5 shots in my arms!! Needless to say, I absolutely hate needles. The fact that I was going to have to prick people’s fingers, especially babies, freaked me out. I was not looking forward to this portion of the trip.
After the third clinic, I feel like a pro ‘finger pricker.’ I can prick anyone’s finger! I have my system down. Once the patient sits down in front of me, I wipe their finger with an alcohol pad and I massage their finger to get the blood flowing. I then flash my bright smile and tell them that it’s just going to be a little poke and then it’ll be over. Once I finish pricking, I collect their blood in the micro cuvettes and test their blood glucose and hemoglobin levels. I always smile at them once I finish pricking and tell them that they did a great job and that the hard part is over! Almost every single patient I prick smiles with me and will laugh as I try to ease their nerves.
While the primary language in Ghana is English, I have found it difficult to have conversation with most Ghanaians. I learned very quickly that they don’t understand my English because of my ‘southern’ accent. They understand simple phrases like “good morning” or “how are you”, but once you try to have a conversation with someone, it goes down hill. I’ve become very expressive with my words to help Ghanaians understand what I am saying. I’ll try and make my sentences simple and use key words that I think they will understand. Something that I have learned while trying to learn how to communicate with Ghanaians is that everyone understands a smile. Anytime I smile at someone in Ghana, their faces light up and they always start smiling.
Everywhere we go in Ghana, there are children. There are children walking along the street, in the market with their mom or dad, playing outside their home, playing in the street, at our clinics, etc. Since I am a white American girl, I stick out immensely. I may be the very first white person that some of these children see. I have run into some that are afraid of white people which I completely understand. But on the other hand, some of the children love us white girls! During our clinics, they will come from school and sit outside and just stare at us. One of our clinics was right by the school and when they let out for recess, there were about 200 children outside the church where we were holding our clinic. I was in charge of keeping them outside the church. Many of them gathered at my feet and just looked up and stared at me waiting for my every move. I saw a girl at the back of the crowd who was by herself and looking at me. I gave her a small wave and a bright smile and she immediately waved back and smiled real big. Once I waved to her, all of the children wanted me to wave and smile at them. I spent a good five minutes just waving and smiling at all the children and I loved every minute of it. Although they might not understand my English, they understand my smile. They understand that I am happy to see them and that I want to be there with them. I feel fortunate to encounter the people here everyday.
A smile truly goes a long way. If you walk the streets in Ghana, you will notice that not many people smile. In one of our book discussions, we learned that Ghanaian’s are hesitant at making the first move. They don’t want to smile at someone and then be rejected and not acknowledged. After learning that, I can’t help but smile at every single person I pass here. I may look very goofy and out of place smiling all the time, but I want the people of Ghana to know that I see them and that I am glad to be in their presence. There’s just something about someone smiling at you. It makes you feel noticed and wanted and I want everyone to feel that way. In my last blog I talked a lot about joy. I just can’t help but bring it up again. I myself have found so much joy in simply smiling. I hope reading this has made you smile!
From Africa with love,
June 28th, 2017
I set out for this trip on a mission. I’ve taken all the pre-med requirements, completed the MCAT, and even applied to medical schools at this point. The question, however, always remained in the back of my brain: am I truly fit for this profession? After performing nutrition screenings this past week I can say I am at least closer to an answer. We have visited several different towns throughout Ghana, providing free clinics and nutrition counseling to populations with limited access to medical care. The girls and I not only learned how to take vitals and prick fingers (yikes!), but we were also able to see the transition from results to patient communication firsthand by working under Dr. Anderson.
While I knew the work we were doing was good for the community, I did not realize how vital it would be. Some of these patients did not know they were likely candidates for certain conditions, such as diabetes or hypertension, prior to the screening. Though we could provide them with select resources, it was still their job to find a medical professional to help them determine and manage their conditions. This brings me closer to my answer, would I be able to fulfill that role? What initially drew me to the profession was the ability to serve my peers, and I figured what better way to serve than to promote individual health and wellbeing. But could I be the bearer of bad news? Could I make tough decisions and potentially fail along the way? A family member recently reminded me that my worth is not just based on my wins, but my losses too. Both success and failure come when I challenge myself to dream bigger and do better; there is no one without the other, but both are learning experiences that allow me to improve along the way. I joined this program to challenge myself, and hopefully I can continue to do so throughout my journey applying to medical school.
I am thankful that these screenings were positive experiences for both the community and myself. My favorite moment of the program thus far actually happened during a slow day in Suhum. Monday, June 26 was a national holiday in Ghana and all the schoolchildren were on break. Many decided to stop by the clinics and see what the foreigners were up to, disrupting our provision of services to those who needed it. At the time, I was greeting at the door but I knew we had to find a way to get these kids outside the clinic area. It turned out soccer (or football) was the way to go! I had a blast playing a game of girls vs. boys with more than 30 young children. When they got tired of running, they wanted to teach us some of their songs and dance moves as well. They then asked if we had any songs to share, so naturally we taught them how to “Call the Dawgs!” It was a fantastic moment I will never forget. I am hopeful that the remainder of our trip will be filled with even more enlightening and memorable moments.
June 28th, 2017
Yes, the cover photo of this blog may be a clothes line. Hmm. What’s so important about a clothes line that merits a blog post? But, let me tell ya that this picture encompasses everything that this trip is all about for me: trying new things, as simple as they may be, and doing it with people as great as the girls on this trip.
Though I haven’t been home sick, I have definitely missed certain parts of my home-life back in Marietta and Athens, but I’ve learned that diving into new activities and adventures may very well create a new feeling of home you didn’t even know would exist while abroad. A few days ago, we went exploring at the Accra mall and decided to see the movie “Everything, everything” while we were there. This romance movie had a surprising twist toward the end and it reminded me of how much I love to watch psychological thrillers back home with my best friend Steph, as much as everyone makes fun of us. We also got to experience riding in our first Tro-tro (small bus transportation) and shopping in a Ghanaian mall. You may just walk into a look-a-like H&M store, get matching XXL pajama shorts (shout out Rach and Em) and then get asked if you’re sure that’s the right size, walking away laughing. We also spent the morning learning the best ways to hand-wash stinky scrubs, ring them out, then hang them with clothes pins to dry. We all thought about how crazy hard the people work here and also how beautiful and vibrant a picture of a clothes line can really turn out to be It’s nice to have these new feelings of comfort, but being in a totally different setting experiencing them. Like when your roommate (hey, Em) tells you that you not only started sleep talking last night, but also creepily laughing as well. Shout out to all my roomies in Athens who are probably happy they get the summer away from my strange sleeping habits.
So, as my second week in Ghana comes to an end, I’m thankful for an adventurous and genuine group of girls that can make new experiences here feel like home. This trip is all about pushing yourself out of that state of security and safety. Once that happens, there are so many positive outcomes that come flooding in.
June 23rd, 2017
I had heard stories of the 13 hour bus ride from Mompomg to Mole, and therefore I had prepared for the worst. I packed ample snacks, downloaded 500 new songs to my phone, and saved 9 books to my kindle. To my surprise, time flew as it tends to do on road trips with good friends. Driving up to Mole might have been my favorite part of the tourism aspect of this trip so far, which is ironic since I had the worst attitude about it in the beginning. I loved looking out the windows and seeing how not only the scenery, but also the people, changed from village to village. Religions faded from Christianity to Muslim, people's clothing changed from the traditional kente cloth and smocks to more westernized t-shirts and dresses, and homes changed from mansions to mud huts and back again. Just as Georgia is not homogenous in its demographics or architecture, neither is Ghana. Just as Atlanta does not contain people of just one socioeconomic status or religious background, Accra is the same. I wish that everyone could experience this bus ride. It provided what should be an obvious lesson in that Ghana is neither solely safaris nor desert, neither wholly poor nor rich. We come to see the poverty stricken images of malnourished African kids on our tv screens as the complete representation of a whole continent. This is about as true as saying Texas is filled with New Yorkers and looks like Maine. My place of serenity back home normally comes from driving around with friends listening to music. I got to enjoy this calm place here on a run-down bus in Africa, the last place I pictured having any experience remotely similar to back home. I now know that Ghana is more similar to America than I ever thought before. It is filled with people of all backgrounds whose main goal is to provide safety and a better future for their children. Just as I thought I could never love a 13 hour carride going over a hundred speed bumps, I never thought I could love Africa and learn so much in a week. Lucky for me both of those prejudgements were proven beautifully untrue.
June 23rd, 2017
-ALast Thursday night, me and eleven “strangers” boarded an airplane headed for Ghana ready to take on the trip of a lifetime. I had spent months preparing for everything I could possibly think these next four weeks were going to throw at me. I got the necessary shots, bought my scrubs, loaded up on Cliff Bars and Oreos, and felt ready for whatever was going to come my way. After a month of waiting, I was ready to finally be in Africa and ready for this adventure to truly start.
Going into this trip I knew I was going to see and experience things completely different from what I am used to. However, I did not expect to see things that were going to completely change me as a person within a week of being here. The other day, when we had a little down time, a few girls and I decided to go on a walk around our homestay area of Mampong. We had already driven through this town numerous times on our way down the mountain to Accra, but we wanted a chance to see it on our own. As we walked along everyone waved, smiled, and brought us in for conversation. In this little community it feels as though everyone knows everyone and it was really comforting to feel accepted as well. At the tail end of our walk when we were getting back to Mrs. Margret’s house, there were about ten little kids playing out in front of the gate.
When we walked up they all rushed to come meet us and were almost mesmerized by the fact we were there. As we started playing and talking with them, I quickly realized a few things. The first was that these little kids find joy in the simplest things. The metal ring they got from the inside of a tire occupied them for hours. One kid would roll it down the hill and one kid would roll it back up. They would go back and forth the entire afternoon having the most fun in the entire world. Back in my neighborhood, I cannot remember the last time I saw a group of kids playing outside. They are all glued to their favorite TV show or the newest game that came out and spend hours sitting inside shutting the rest of the world out. I, unfortunately, have fallen victim to this too. I find myself completely absorbed in my phone and social media without even taking a moment to enjoy the simple things in life.
The other thing that really caught me by surprise was these kid’s reactions when they did see our phones. These little machines we were holding fascinated them, not for the different games or music they held, but simply for the camera. All they wanted to do is see what they looked like in a picture. With Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook, we all seem to document every moment of everyday. It seems as though a picture holds little to no value to us because the ease at which we can take and share them. For some of these little kids, they have never had the chance to strike a pose for a picture or see what they look like from the other side of a camera. Watching their eyes light up when we would give them the chance to do just that changed me in a way I never imagined would happen so fast.
These little kids reminded me that you do not need much to make a moment or a memory special. You don’t need the newest phone or camera, the best toy on the market, or a TV with thousands of channels, you simply need a good attitude, a joyful heart, an appreciation of the small moments, and maybe a metal ring in order to live the happiest of lives.
June 23rd, 2017
aka "welcome" to my blog that will be the mouthpiece of my month-long journey through Africa. As many of you know, I've just completed my first week of a service learning trip here in Ghana. This past week has consisted of initial adjustments to the culture, various community activities and excursions, our first community clinic, and many other adventures in hopes to immerse ourselves into the culture and really experience what this country has to offer.
Even though we've been able to witness some incredible experiences thus far that will stick with me for a lifetime such as going on a safari and attending Ghanaian church, it's something so simple that really hit me and has given me so much joy and perspective since being here - Bright Lilies Nursing school. Bright Lilies is the combined school and daycare that we had the opportunity to visit on our first full day here. We pulled up on the bus to see all of the kids outside, ranging in age from 1-8, with their instructors dancing to the simple beat of a drum. After the break to get some energy out, we headed inside and the kids went to their respective age-group classrooms. Our group split up among the rooms and I was with quite possibly the cutest 4-year-olds ever seen. After divvying out the stickers I had brought with me, we got to business practicing our numbers, colors, shapes, and animals, mostly with wooden puzzles and books in the classroom. Once we had done enough studying for the time being, the little ones sang some of their favorite songs for me and showed the dance moves to go along with them before we went outside for some playtime. I brought a couple bottles of bubbles with me and we had a time and a half blowing bubbles and popping them along with some hula hoop competitions, sliding, and foot-powered car rides (one of my personal favorites when I was little).
The part of this experience that shaped me the most was the pure joy that was so evident on each of their faces to have some sweet companionship and simple games to play that we often take for granted. I was impressed with how well-behaved four-year-olds could be. Their tender whispers of "Auntie, can I try?" while playing with bubbles and the huge grin that would light up their faces in awe of how many would come about from each blow. I felt a tug on my shirt at one point and knelt down when one of the little ones asked me while pointing up at the sky "is that God up there?" Bright Lilies is a Christian school and it was so sweet to see the definition of a childlike spirit in its purest form, where kids are learning at a young age who Jesus is and what He has done for them.
When it was time for us to head on our way to our next destination, I knelt down to give the little nuggets one last hug before leaving and they all came at one time so the goodbye hug turned dog-pile really fast and I wouldn't have it any other way. This was such a cool experience because all we knew before arriving was that we would be stopping by a daycare with no idea of what we would be doing or what to expect. We were given the warmest of welcomes to Ghana and I couldn't ask for a better start to our first day in a new place. I'm thankful for instantly feeling like family and gaining a new set of buddies and an appreciation for how simple and joyful life really can be when you put what's most important first.
And of course, I know what you've all been waiting for - this post wouldn't be complete without a picture to help bring my experience to life for you, so please enjoy and thanks for tuning in to my incredible ride through Ghana!
June 23rd, 2017
When you tell someone, you are going to Ghana, they usually ask: “where in Ghana” and “what are you doing there?” I get the chance to say I am going to multiple places and for tourism and medical volunteering. This Ghana study abroad trip’s focus is providing medical screenings in different communities. I arrived in Accra Ghana on the 16th of June. As soon as I stepped off the plane and onto the runway of the airport in Accra, I had this familiar feeling. I felt like this was somewhere I had been here before. Many years ago, I visited Nigeria twice to spend time with my family, so coming to Ghana was like coming home.
Ghana is a site of wonder and beauty. The whole atmosphere is different. My favorite thing to do in Ghana is to sit and watch the towns people go about their business. I get to take in the scenery when we travel and I think back to my family and friends. The streets themselves tell a story. They show the intricate lives of Ghanaians. This week we took a trip from Accra (our home base) to Mole. It was a 13-hour drive, but I took in the landscape of Ghana. I love seeing the schoolchildren walking to and from school in their uniforms. It reminds me of the stories my mother told me that involved her walking to school. What I like about Ghana is that children feel safe enough to walk in the streets by themselves and that there are so many people in the street. Every kind of transportation by road is being used and they all seem to co-exist. There are not many road rules from what I could tell, so everyone just moves about when they can. Also on this drive, we moved from Southern Ghana into Northern Ghana. There were so many alternating towns, villages, and cities. I knew beforehand that Ghana was not just mud huts in villages, but it was refreshing to see a good variety. One of my absolute favorite things are the goats. I know that sounds odd, but besides elephants, goats are my favorite animals. They are so care-free and happy that it is hard to be mad at them for too long. Goats are everywhere in Ghana. They roam the streets, they roam the fields, and they sit in front of people’s houses. I always wonder how the owners of these goats manage them when they roam so freely, but there seems to be a system in place.
So far, we have been doing mostly touristy stuff. On the first full day in Ghana, however, we went to visit a daycare. My initial thought was that our professor seriously wanted to hit the ground running. The daycare was called Bright Lilies and was in Haatso. I love babies so I was very excited to get to play with them. The thing is, as much as I love babies, I am very shy coming up to them and finding ways to warming up. I was very surprised when the teachers of the daycare told us to lead the class in songs, lessons, and games. We ended up running out of games so we moved to songs and then lessons through flashcards. The whole time I was there, I was thinking that I would have to find ways to make kids happy at the doctor’s office as a pediatrician and ways to keep my own children entertained as a parent. It was one of those experiences that reminded me that being able to improvise with children and adults alike is a very important skill in life. It was also an experience that forced me out of my comfort zone. I also learned that when in doubt, always have bubbles and stickers. Little kids will go crazy. One of the most rewarding moments was when it was time to go and a big group of the kids came to hug me. Sometimes, you do not need words to communicate. Those hugs made my day and has stuck with me since.
One of the biggest tourist activities we have done since arriving in Ghana was visit the Mole National Park and the town of Mognori. This day was eye-opening and filled with activities. Starting off the day was the 7 am safari. This is probably what most people think you will do at some point when you visit any country in Africa. The National Park was not fenced and these were wild animals who came and went as they pleased. Before I boarded the jeep (we had to climb a ladder to sit on benches nailed into the roof), I feared that one of these creatures will ram the jeep and take us for breakfast. We saw antelopes, Guinea fowl, birds, warthogs, baboons, and elephants. The elephants were right in front of us. It was great to see my favorite animal up close. It was amazing! I loved looking at the elephants, but I loved seeing the mysterious and majestic antelopes. I also loved the forestry. All that luscious green was so breathtaking. The next leg of our journey was to do the canoe safari. I am not too scared of water, but I am not the best swimmer. The flyer at the information center said there would be life jackets, but when we went, it was just the canoes. Part of me wanted to turn away and run, but most of the group was ready to get on. I did not think it was a safe idea, but I had to go anyways. I hope in future adventures; the group can make decisions when it comes to one’s concerns. My canoe had just too many people in it, so it was very wobbly. The entire time I was in it, I was just thinking of how to survive if this canoe capsized. It was terrifying. While I was internally screaming out of fear, I could not help but notice the beautiful scenery around me; it was hard not to notice. I was going back and forth between terror and awe. The tranquility of the water around me and the surround jungles reminded me of a dream I had as a child about the Amazon rainforest. My poor nerves. The next leg of the journey was to a village where we learned how shea butter is made. The village was called Mognori which means the village that sits at the bank of the river. As soon as we entered the village, dozens of children flocked us and grabbed our hands. That whole experience was good, but in the back of my mind something felt off. I loved the children, but they made me sad as well because I think they have been conditioned to come up to tourist and love on them hoping for gifts and money. It just felt wrong. We then headed deeper into the village to learn traditional dances.
Today, June 23rd, we had our first day of community work. For this, we do health screenings in various communities. The community today is Kumasi. Doing health screenings on the Kumasi people was a lifechanging experience. This is one of my first real exposure to practicing medicine. I will expand more later, but some of the things I did today were: take height/weight/BMI, take blood pressure, record data, and do bloodwork. I was so excited and the experience reaffirmed that this is what I want to do with my future. I think going out into communities implementing public health programs for a period of time after I graduate, will be very beneficial.
My teacher pointed out something that I seldom noticed before. When we visit Africa, we take pictures of the bad things whereas when we visit America, we only take pictures of the best things. I want that to change. I want to enlighten people on some of the best parts of Ghana and West Africa in general. Our professor told us we are the ambassadors of change. We can change people’s negative perception of countries in Africa. I want this blog to be about my journey in Ghana and the medical experience I gain. I am excited for the next three weeks to come. I called Ghana, “sisterland,” because it is not my homeland,Nigeria,but it is so similar to Nigeria that I see Ghana as my sister.
June 23rd, 2017
Hello to all my family and friends if you’re reading this!! I’ve already had so many amazing experiences this first week, but I want to dedicate this blog to how my overall initial experience has been with the people here in Ghana. Establishing my new temporary home in a place that is so far, so different, and so unfamiliar was intimidating. It was out of my comfort zone. I think living in a culture unlike anything you’ve ever experienced is enough to bring anyone out of their comfort zone. I was worried how the people would receive our presence in their communites. Beside the fact that I do not physically appear to belong, I don’t belong to any of the cultural or traditional aspects they practice. Regardless of these things, the people I have encountered have welcomed me to Ghana with open arms. I have already learned so much from the exposure to this new culture and from the people. I first began to realize how interested Ghanaians were about us when they invited us to guest star on a radio show for the city, which was such an honor! The children have been especially interested and excited about seeing and playing with us (with the exceptions of the ones that Ashley makes cry).
Many people tend to avoid leaving their comfort zone. It is easy to want to avoid when you like the way your life already is, or when you just don't know any differently. Although this is understandable, I have come to realize that to truly grow as a person it is something that needs to be done. Change in scenery, conversations, and people who surround you invokes changes on perspectives of life. It broadens your horizons, and you learn things about a place, a culture, or people that textbooks and classrooms could never portray.
I have been so blessed with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I cannot wait for what the remainder of the trip has in store!!
June 23rd, 2017
I have had so many noteworthy and incredible experiences already in my short time in the country of Ghana. We arrived last Thursday and drove to our home base, our Professors home where his sister lives with her children, in the mountains of Mampong. Among my first observations of the country was how beautiful the landscape is and simply put that the country is in its nature very very green. The sights of all the lights in the huge city of Accra was breathtaking as we made our way up a mountain neighboring the city. None of the buildings are very tall so you could see the entire city for almost as long as you could see unlike any place I have ever been to. On our drive home from the airport one of my first observations of the country was several really big and very nice homes that I did not expect to find in the mountains of Ghana Africa. The house we are staying in is also very nice and caught me slightly off guard as we arrived. Dr. Kojo's sister is called Mrs. Margaret and she cooks for us every morning and night and makes an incredible ground nut soup. One of the more rewarding moments was spending the morning at a daycare where I got the opportunity to teach a class of 5-6 year old kids about the different forms of transportation around the world. I also got the chance to speak on a radio station in Ghana called Atinka FM that is broadcast around the world. Dr. Kojo (or Koj as I started calling him) was invited to speak about the community health screenings we are going to do by his friend who also happens to be the host of the radio show that airs 2-4. We arrived at the station an hour or so early and got a tour of the station and got to see how the tv show the radio station created is produced. We got to watch a show airing live before the show Dr. Kojo was invited to speak on. The interviewer all of a sudden got someone to call a couple of us and our professor over to be interviewed on his show as well. This guy was had some crazy name and was much younger than the radio host our professor was friends with. I volunteered to talk with Dr. Kojo because I recognized the moment as what would probably my one and only opportunity to talk a radio show. He asked me my name in twi (the local language spoken by the majority of the country alongside English) and on live radio I instinctively said, "En Engles?" This immediately evolved laughs from the other girls listening and the radio host himself (which to be fair I am not sure if he knew I just responded to him in Spanish or if he was laughing because he had no clue what the heck I was saying). He then went on to ask how I was enjoying Ghana and what Americans perceptions of Africans were and more things along that line of questioning. I also got to wish my dad a happy Father's Day "All the way in Carrollton Georgia" on the next show that was hosted by Dr. Kojos friend. Another highlight of my trip thus far has hands down been the safari. The animals are not fenced in and frequently move around to the surrounding communities (which has caused somewhat of a rift between the farmers and the elephants and baboons who frequently eat their vegetables). When we arrived at the hotel beside the safari for example there were a family of warthogs lying in the doorway of one of our rooms in an effort to escape the rain. Another comical and common problem for the hotels around the safari is baboons knocking on doors pretending to be human to steal tourists food. The cherry on top of the whole experience was definitely the elephants. I have always loved elephants and those who know me well will not be surprised I actually started tearing up when we saw the first elephant of the safari. Seeing something so big and majestic looking in person was a surreal moment for me. The markets of Kumasi and Mampong are also incredible beyond words and to sum up are an overload to all of the senses. We had our first community screening today which was not only great experience in the healthcare field but also so rewarding to give these people health screenings (most of whom have never gone to the doctor and probably never will). All of these moments in themselves are monumental and have taken place in my first week in this very new place.
Ashley Adams, Senior Health Promotion Major at UGA
June 23rd, 2017
I would have never imagined that I would be so thankful for a simple thing like ice. I’m not sure what exactly I expected before I arrived in Ghana. I had never thought about not having electricity or a fan or ice; needless to say reality hit me hard. I knew that I was going to have to take bucket showers, so I had mentally prepared myself before hand. I had come to terms that I was going to be so called ‘roughing it’ while I was here, but it has been nothing like I expected.
Don’t get me wrong, Ghana is incredible and I am beyond thankful that I am here. I needed this kind of culture shock in my life. I’ve never traveled outside of the U.S. except for a couple of cruises. My whole life, I’ve had the luxury of having a nice home with a full stocked pantry, air conditioning, and a shower head. I’ve never been pushed out of my comfort zone like this and it has been much needed. I’ve taken so many things for granted without realizing the true importance of them. I’ve become compliance with the everyday luxuries of America. Everyone says that Ghana is a third-world country. You don’t truly understand the full meaning of that word until you experience it first hand and live it.
One of the first things I noticed about Ghanaians are that they are openhearted to everyone they come into contact with. In the morning as we walk through the village, we say hello and good morning to almost every person we pass. It is a rarity to walk anywhere and not say a single word to the Ghanaians in passing. In the U.S., if you walk down the street in the morning, almost everyone is on their phone or in their own zone and will barely mumble a good morning. Ghanaians find joy in the simple things like a good morning and a smile from the people they encounter.
I went to a day care center on my first morning and the kids that were there were incredible. They were outside playing with hula-hoops, cars, balls, etc. One of the girls on the trip brought stickers and bubbles and the moment the kids saw them, they were beyond excited. It would have been equivalent to a child in the U.S. receiving an IPad or phone. They all wanted multiple stickers and walked around to each other asking what stickers they got and showing them off. We had three containers of bubbles and they played with them for over an hour. They never got tired of them and never stopped giggling when trying to pop the bubbles. Who knew that a simple thing like bubbles and stickers could bring a child so much joy?
I visited a village in the northern region of Ghana this week near Mole. As soon as the children heard our bus approaching their village, they were all outside eagerly awaiting our arrival. When I stepped off the bus, a little girl grabbed my hand and held on for the majority of the time. Whenever we got disconnected, she would always find me. As I looked around the village, the children were playing with tires and sticks and a homemade hacky sack formed from leaves. These children didn’t have a care in the world while playing with these toys. They had bright smiles on their faces with spurts of giggles and joy. The village has learned how to take the supplies they are provided with and the environment around them and create an encouraging community. The women of the village danced for us. The men played the drums while the women danced around the circle. The word that kept coming to mind was joyfulness while watching this village come together and have blissful fun with the simple act of dancing.
Needless to say, people in Ghana don’t have the luxurious lifestyle that we American’s have. Some don’t even have electricity or running water. I didn’t really realize how truly essential electricity is in America. American’s would not be able to function without electricity. Ghanaians have found joy in the small things like bubbles, dancing, having significant conversations, having party’s, and so on. I feel like there are many Americans who struggle to find joy but yet have so many belongings. Ghanaians have very little but yet overflow with joy and happiness. Just in my week and a half here, I have learned so much from this amazing country.
June 23rd, 2017
Hi family and friends! I miss you all so very much and I am so happy you are checking in with my journey. I love you and can’t wait to share an immense amount of stories when I am home!
As I’m sitting on our 12-hour bus drive to Mole, all I can do is reflect on the considerable amount this country has already given me in just five days. Pushing myself out of that constant state of normalcy to come and dive into a new, distinct culture is one I probably wouldn’t have made a few years ago. But, I am so glad that I made it today because I know it will be a life-changing one. The girls on this trip and the people of Ghana have made this trip so worth-while already, but even more so are the kids I’ve had the chance to interact with.
Our very first day here we went to the Bright Lilies School in Haatso and met the sweetest little kiddos. Their smiles and excitement were contagious. They were so eager to learn and took every moment we were there to appreciation. As much as I have been around young kids, I’ve never seen ones so amused and ecstatic about bubble blowing, picking out stickers, or playing duck-duck-goose for the first time. Note to self: duck-duck-goose probably isn’t the best game to try to teach two-year-olds. The diminution in my obsession with becoming a teacher in 5th grade was probably for the best A few days later we went to the Methodist church close by our home and this precious boy named Fifi came running over to sit on our laps. These children are so trusting and loving. It’s incredible.
After a few of us girls were heading back from our stroll around the town yesterday, we met some kids that were having utmost fun rolling a metal wheel up and down a hill. I got to talk to some of the older kids as well and they were telling me how much they really enjoyed school. It amazes me how hard-working and appreciative these kids are at such a young age. Taking the simplest things in life and making them into something wonderful is an incredible message I’ve already taken in from the far younger, but much wiser kiddos of Ghana.
June 23rd, 2017
It is unbelievable how a week has already passed while here in Ghana. In just one week, I have experienced so much of this country, and I can only hope that these experiences will help broaden my worldview and help me grow as a human being. A few days ago, our group traveled up north to Mole National Park where we got to go on a safari and observe animals in their natural habitat. We saw elephants, and they were my favorite. The tour guides allowed us step out of the vehicle and get within 50 meters to observe and take pictures of the elephants. They were so beautiful. I will not lie. I was a little afraid of getting close to them. It is one thing to look at animals up close when they are behind a cage or in other controlled environments. It is a whole different thing to get close to animals in their natural habitat. Nonetheless, the experience was incredible. I got to witness majestic creatures doing what was natural to them. I had never been on a safari before and was truly mesmerized by these elephants.
Just watching the elephants interacting with each other and their habitat with such ease and simplicity reminded me of the life I want for myself--a life that is not consume with things that do not matter. Here, Ghanaians seemed to have mastered this. Electricity is not as stable as it is back in the States. Drinkable water is not readily available to everyone. New clothing, fancy trinkets, and other materialistic things are not on the minds of the people here. Yet, Ghanaians have shown themselves to be a very open, friendly, and inviting people. They are so eager to know more about us, where we are from, and what we are doing in Ghana. They speak so fondly about their country and their people and willingly share all they know with us. They work hard; by seven a.m. the city is just bustling with people running their small businesses. Yet I can see that they are generally very happy, and they enjoy life. I have also learned from the group of girls I am here in Ghana with. Being without our phones and laptops has given us the chance to truly interact with each other. Swapping stories, laughing at each others' jokes, and creating memories will be the mark of this trip. Being in an enviroment where the people are so open has really caused me to evaluate how to interact with people. Back in the States its okay to walk by someone and not say anything, but here in Ghana someone will always say something to you. Being around Ghanaians has definitely made me want to adopt their warm and welcoming demeanor. I want to be less consumed with things that will not matter in the long run and just enjoy the moment and life. I am very grateful for the perspective I have gained from spending only one week in Ghana so far. I cannot wait to learn much, much more from the people here.
June 22nd, 2017
So, I’m sitting in Ghana right now—which is a sentence I never really thought that I would say. It’s been quite an experience getting here, and has been one heck of a ride since we’ve been here. Going into this trip, I really didn’t know what to expect. I was mostly envisioning bright sun, poor infrastructure, endless sweat, lots of rice, and dirt everywhere. I wasn’t exactly wrong about most of that, but Ghana is so much more than what I had portrayed it to be in my mind.
The entire time we’ve been in the country (about a week now) has been spent doing new things. From pricking fingers to trying native foods to bathing with only buckets to getting attacked by a baboon, I’ve experienced more novelty in the last 7 days than in the last 7 months. That’s the part of this trip that’s sticking out to me more than anything else. All my peers (11 other college girls) are so open to experiencing the world. I couldn’t even count the number of times we’ve said, “why not?” or, “might as well!” We’re in freaking Africa!
Sure, trying new things may not always be what we expect. It may not be glamorous. A wild baboon may come running full speed from behind you, snatch your bag of fruit, and run off, taking both your snacks and your dignity with it. You might get some serious food poisoning from spicy foods. You might think your canoe is going to capsize into dirty water full of crocodiles. AND: you could learn that you actually LOVE mangoes after a lifetime of avoiding fresh fruit like the plague. You’ll definitely see some of the most beautiful views in the world, whether it’s an African sunset or the face of a child filled with love or the ocean from 30,000 feet in the sky. Maybe you’ll go on an adventure with 11 strangers and realize you’re going to come out with some bomb new friends. Or, my personal favorite, you could come within 50 feet of the worlds’ most massive land creatures that you’ve been obsessed with for the longest time. Y’all, I met like 12 WILD ELEPHANTS. Creatures that eat for 18 hours a day and are so untouchable and majestic that NO other animal on the continent dares prey on them. How amazing is that? I’ve truly never seen a sight so majestic in my life.
How often in your life do you slow down enough to be able to look around and realize something monumental about yourself? In the last week, I’ve had so much time (usually at least 3 hours daily on a bus) for thinking, introspection, and learning about who I really am. If you know me, you know that I am generally a stressed-out person. I have a test? Anxiety. Sprained my ankle? Anxiety. Gonna be too busy to eat dinner? Anxiety. You name it, I’m stressed about it. Especially the last couple of months, I’ve been piling so many things on my plate about my future, my relationships, and my schoolwork that I’ve been living life only looking forward to the next thing. I haven’t been taking each moment for what it is. All I have been doing is rushing to finish one stressful thing so I can get onto the next stressful thing as quickly as possible.
Recently, I’ve gotten so caught up in other aspects of my life that I forgot to focus on learning and strengthening who I am. Now, I am realizing the person that I can be. Strong. Independent. Determined. Passionate. I see potential everywhere I look: things I can see or do or learn about. I’ve been able to take deep breaths and realize that I really am going places. I’m going to do freaking incredible things with my life. I still have so much to learn, and that excites me.
Until next time,
June 22nd, 2017
Ghana, Africa: a place where pleasure can be found in all the simplicity that the people and the natural landscape have to offer. This developing country where I have been blessed beyond measure to be for just over a week now is slowly opening my heart. More specifically, it is opening my heart to all that I had no idea I would ever establish a deep love for. The saying “you’re going to miss me when I’m gone” or “absence makes the heart grow fonder”…man are those proving to be so true.
I really wanted to make it a point to share how important APPRECIATION itself is. Appreciation, which comes in many forms, is a noun I have truly cultured myself in so much this past week. It is "the recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something; a full understanding of a situation". What is really unique is that I have both learned an overwhelming amount about this already but still have so much more to learn in the remaining 3 weeks here and beyond. As Americans and just fortunate humans in general, we may believe we already appreciate a countless amount of things; things, that is just the thing. Not always, but we often appreciate the materialistic feasible stuffs rather than those things that are evermore valuable; those things that we often misinterpret include air conditioning, a well built home, and car that runs. However, there is so much more behind these items than we will not grasp unless we are able to experience the other side of them.
So far, I have sweated a tremendous amount, definitely not the amount of liquid I thought my body could ever produce in one day. Here, I have been yes, nauseous, but also fairly comfortable even now in the warmer temperatures as I have begun to adjust. It’s funny to me since I am most always the most hot-natured person to ever live. But I have begun to APPRECIATE that this is just simply how the environment is created here. I understand that certain plants such as yams begin their growth during these months around May-June, some of the hottest months. Also, if not for the heat of the sun, cloth would never dry by simply hanging outside in the extremely humid conditions. Although the presence of air conditioning has not been a constant here, it has been such a blessing to sit back and value the benefits that are present in its absence; in the presence of the heat. When you take your attention off of all that is “not your normal” or “not what you prefer”, it is easier to see the purpose in that discrepancy.
Mud…what a simple gift to humanity. I know that may sound silly or strange to anyone who has never witnessed what all that mud is capable of fabricating. We often think of it as “the stuff that is on your jeep after you go driving around in the woods” or “the annoying stain your mom cannot seem to remove out of your sports uniform”. I know I have had it gushing in between my toes and sandals after stepping the wrong direction while here in Ghana. However, it accomplishes one of the most important tasks here: home construction. Each intricately constructed home looks as though so much time and love was put into it. Each geographic designs marked into the outside signify a different meaning, which I had the chance of reading about in my book on the traditions of Africa. An arrow pointed upward could mean the household is wishing for fertility for the female while an arrow pointed downward means the family has suffered a loss and is asking for mourning. The mud that makes up the outer skin and bones of a home simultaneously functions as a cooling system, keeping the indoors cooler than the outdoors almost like a free AC unit provided by nature. How neat is it that mud can have so many different substantial impacts? It may not consist of drywall or stucco or brick like my home in Georgia, but man does it do its job and so much more.
I never tend to realize how essential it is when you have a car; it must run in order to be worth anything to anyone who is not simply a car collector. Hearing the engine roar is a gift we take for granted. Moreover, the horsepower stemming from this gasoline-powered engine is even more pronounced as you either crawl or race down the road. It determines how quickly you arrive at your destination. Sadly, we believe a car determines whether you get anywhere at all, period. Here in Ghana, the various forms of transportation I have seen amaze me. Yes, they do also use a variety of bicycles and cars and trucks and buses like us. But the most often used…feet. They maximize this raw resource that the Lord provided them with. This transportation is always dependable (as long as you are not injured) and horsepower can be adjusted according to the amount of fuel/energy you put into your body. You may wear it out but its gears don’t wear out and eventually time out; rather, they build up strength and become more durable. Not only do these Ghanaians walk places but also they often haul an absurd amount of weight on top of their head. It’s like carpooling, but your passenger being your items to sell. How unique that these people are able to take advantage of and exploit such a reliable, beneficial resource?
So I really just wanted anyone reading this blog to take a moment in time to ponder…have you truly and utterly established APPRECIATION IN CREATION? These unique aspects of creation have been granted to you free of cost provided by Mother Nature. Their value is greater than many material things we own because of their countless resulting benefits. Have you thought about what these things are in your life and how you are able to maximize them in your everyday life just as the Ghanaians do?
With overflowing love & appreciation from Ghana,
June 22nd, 2017
“Akwaaba” was the first thing I heard coming off the plane and it has characterized this journey ever since. Everywhere we go there is a community to welcome us. Whether it’s a choir of children chanting “Obroni” on the streets or church congregation members praying for our successful visit, the openness and friendliness of Ghanaians has continually surprised me. When I first landed and was waiting for the group to pick me up, I befriended a Gambian named Ricky. Ricky told me about all his African travels and explained how I had made the right decision to choose to visit Ghana. He clarified, “Ghana is like the kindergarten of Africa. The people are kind, the culture is easy to learn, and it is an experience best shared with others. It is not the same story for other countries.” This made me realize that Ghana is a special place even to other Africans, and I believe it comes down to this feeling of “Akwaaba.” This community has been as warm as the weather, and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I am excited to continue immersing myself in this culture, especially through community nutrition screenings, where we will individually interact with Ghanaians and perform basic medical examinations. Until next time, Akyire yi!