David Novo - Medicine in Ghana
When I began planning my trip to Ghana with a classmate of mine, we were excited but a bit unsure as to what we would encounter in the foreign country. One can only associate the continent of Africa with what is portrayed by the media: much open space and several underdeveloped countries. However, after about 20 hours of travel (three more by car to arrive in Koforidua!), I was immediately shocked to find it was far from what I had anticipated.
Upon arriving at the airport in Accra, I was immediately greeted by a staff member on behalf of Projects Abroad. He knew my name, he knew small facts about me and within a couple minutes assured me that I would safely arrive at my placement and would thoroughly enjoy my time in Ghana.
Since I arrived fairly late in the evening, I was driven to a local hostel where I would spend the night and head out to Koforidua the next morning. At the hostel, employees greeted me and also gave me my Ghanaian name (Kwasi)! The accommodations were comfortable and it did not really hit me until that night that I would be spending the next five weeks of my life in Ghana.
Driving to Koforidua the next morning, I was truly blessed with the opportunity to see the country’s natural beauty; the ride was filled with striking panoramas of mountainsides and lively, earthly forests. I was immediately falling in love with the country.
I arrived in Koforidua and soon met the coordinators of my project: Kwasi, Mickey and Gifty. I was taken to my home where I met my amazing host mother, Barbara. I was told to leave my things, because we would immediately head to the office to discuss my project and soon after get a tour of the town of Koforidua.
Mickey took me into town and showed me the hospital, as well as many other locations I would frequently visit: food spots, the internet café and where to buy more top up cards for my mobile. I met Richard that afternoon, the HR coordinator at the hospital. After meeting most of the Projects Abroad staff that would assist in my project as well as having several encounters with the Ghanaian people, I realised the people of the country were truly humble and genuine.
On my first night at my host home, Barbara prepared a plate of jollof rice and chicken for me, which would soon, and very easily, become my favourite Ghanaian dish. The next day, I began my placement at Koforidua Regional Hospital.
The Medical placement
During my first week, I worked in the surgical ward, the area of the hospital that dealt with patients before or after surgery. At first, I didn’t do much except get acquainted with the hospital and its staff, as well as observe and occasionally lend a hand in very minor things. However, as I expressed more interest and took greater initiative, I was able to build better connections with the doctors who truly mentored me and broke down all procedures for me to understand.
I performed small tasks, such as taking blood pressure, building on the foundational skills necessary to work in the health field. The second and third weeks I assisted in the operating theatres, which just so happened to be my favourite ward as I aspire to one day become a surgeon. I couldn’t “scrub in” or anything of that nature, but I was allowed to witness every surgical procedure as closely as I wished.
Surgeons described anatomy as we encountered it, while also explaining the reasoning behind every single move that was made. Due to the lack of modern medical technology, the hospital staff had to truly work hard and apply all foundations of knowledge to help patients, qualities I grew to truly admire and respect. The staff was very patient and always willing to teach something new to volunteers.
Although it was required to work in the hospital Monday through to Wednesday, Thursdays and Fridays, volunteers were given the opportunity to do outreach work. I attended outreach every week - I loved it! Gifty would travel with volunteers to a local neighbourhood, school or orphanage where we would dress children’s wounds. We interacted and played with the children, while often trying to educate them on preventative measures. Though I enjoyed working in the hospital, it was the outreach work that would truly make my experience in Ghana memorable.
Other activities and weekend trips
Every Wednesday, all the volunteers would meet with Mickey and Kwasi at a local “spot”, where we would all interact and discuss the prior week’s experiences. Volunteers mingled over refreshments and snacks, a very nice time where we could all come together.
The coordinators often had a cultural experience planned, such as learning to cook a local dish or learning to drum to several local tunes. On weekends, volunteers would meet at a gas station in town on a Friday, where we would travel by tro-tro to several parts of Ghana, to then return Sunday night.
During these weekends, I got the opportunity to travel to Kokrobite, Cape Coast, Ho and Accra. Though these destinations were fairly distant from Koforidua, it was amazing to see the country in its raw form while travelling from one city to another. At these weekend destinations, we would all stay in a hostel, typically where we would encounter many other tourists/foreigners.
It was during the weekends that I got to experience much of Ghana’s culture: football, traditional dishes, music and drums. As a volunteer group, we all became fairly close to one another. The Projects Abroad staff set the precedence in making everyone feel comfortable, trying to impose a “family” environment. It was perhaps for that reason that I truly was comfortable in Ghana and got to enjoy my time so much.
Leaving Ghana was perhaps one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do to date, as I was forced to say goodbye to my very caring host mother, as well as the several children in my junction that I became very fond of. The weeks I spent in Ghana were eye opening and helped shape a mind-set I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Thanks to Projects Abroad I was given the opportunity to make small change, whilst bettering myself as an individual in today’s society and finding a “home away from home”. I plan to return to Ghana as frequently as I can and recommend it to anyone looking to partake in such an experience!