Fiona Bell - Medicine in Togo
With a gap year on my doorstep and the desire to investigate Africa, a volunteer placement in a Togolese hospital seemed to tick all of the boxes. With Projects Abroad booking the flights, accommodation and organising a French teacher, there wasn't any better way to do it! Before I knew it I was on my way to Gatwick airport, leaving the thick November fog behind and arrived in the 36 degree heat of Togo.
The noise, vibrant clothes, smells of sizzling food, smiling faces, and bustle of the capital, Lome, was quite overwhelming but very exciting. What first struck me was how almost everyone went round on motorbikes!
Staying with Adjima
I couldn't have wished for a more homely host family. Madame Adjima lived with her daughter Diane and niece, Rosa in a stone house near the Adidogome Asiyeye market. Adjusting to the new routine of Togolese life took a couple of days but it was a great experience to reflect on compared to the easy luxuries of English life. It really makes you grateful for what you have in England.
My day started at 5:40am so to the sound of the market starting up and cockerels crowing. I spent the evenings with the family. They taught me some of the local language, Ewe (pronounced "evey", as opposed to like a female sheep!) whilst I taught them to knit, helped Rosa with English studies and we shared each other’s music tastes.
One Thursday evening I also went to church with Rosa. The congregation was over 300; continuous words spoken by one man throughout the service - created a surreal energy in the building. Rosa and I hit the road to Kpalime one weekend; to the cooler mountain air, beautiful waterfalls and a visit to the president's castle. Before I left, family Adjima bought me cloth from the local market and had me a dress made. I was gradually becoming more and more African!
At Hospital Ragina Pacis, I shadowed the doctors a few times a week, helped in the maternity department by weighing babies and administering medications, took blood samples from patients in the laboratory, helped fill in routine paper work, and measured the blood pressure, weight and temperature of new patients coming in.
I also spent one day talking to the patients on the topic of heart disease and healthy lifestyles to help reduce disease rates of these diseases that were becoming a big cause of death here.
I made a kind friend, Germaine, who was a one of the patients but had studied in Canada. We still exchange emails and phone calls and have promised eachother to help if we ever have the need to go to England or Togo!
All the hospitals were Roman Catholic, so every day started with 15 minutes of prayer. For religious or non-religious people, this was a beautiful start to the day; gentle reflection, appreciation and focus on working well. My final day was very special: I helped pound fufu (traditional Togolese food), shared dinner and wine with the nurses and doctors and was presented with yet more cloth for clothes!
Additional excitement and events
My first arrival day was exciting enough, consisting of African drumming and dancing. Later in the week I met up with the other volunteers on various projects to visit a farm, and together we also took a day trip to Togoville to see the slave house, markets, beaches and learn about the voodoo culture which was still special to this former capital city.
After seeing the litter, which lined the streets, I also learnt about the malaria that many of the locals often suffered with; I liaised with my enthusiastic French teacher, his friend and pastors at churches in the area to come up with a litter collection campaign. We still keep in contact by email and I would like to help this project continue even whilst I'm still in England.