Hailey Schwartz - Medicine in Ghana
I searched for countless hours for programmes and came across Projects Abroad. When I came across the High School Special Medicine in Ghana, I immediately knew that this is what I wanted to do over the summer. With the support from my parents, I signed myself up for what I know now to be one of the most memorable two weeks of my life, ones that I know I will never forget.
My host family
Several months later I found myself on a plane to Accra, Ghana. After almost a full day of travelling to my final destination of Cape Coast, I had finally arrived in what would be the town I would live in for the next two weeks. Upon my arrival to my host home, I was greeted this humble lady dressed in colourful yellow cloth dress, my host mum. I then met my 3 host brothers, 2 sisters and the 4 other girls in my project that through the duration of the 2 weeks, became my best friends.
My new home was basic but comfortable and safe. There were two bedrooms for the volunteers and 2 more bedrooms for the family. There was a living room with a TV and a dining table and across the hall was a kitchen. There was 1 bathroom in the house with a shower. We didn’t have running water besides the morning in which it would turn on for a few minutes. Who knew taking bucket showers could be so adventurous? We did have electricity but sometimes it would turn off for a few minutes. My friends and I would sit on the roof of our house and watch the town go into complete darkness.
One of the first things I noticed when I first arrived in Ghana was the people. I have never met kinder people. Everyone was very friendly and welcoming. The children in the streets were always smiling and waving to everyone they saw pass through. The welcoming atmosphere distracted us from the living conditions, the bare feet, the lack of running water and the reality we were about to face.
Medicine in Ghana
Our typical daily schedule consisted of outreach at a school or orphanage in the morning and local outreach in the afternoon. Our driver would pick us up at 8am and we would be off to where ever our first stop was. We would all work together once we arrived to set up the medical supplies. We would work in a rotation; everyone was in charge of something different. We were taught how to check and take blood pressure, blood type, height, weight, BMI, how to diagnose and treat Malaria, and how to diagnose diabetes. We were also taught how to inform the people how to prevent common diseases there such as hypertension, malaria, etc.
For the children, we did a more basic approach that included cleaning and plastering their wounds, cutting nails, taking temperature, and testing and treating for malaria. The children were very brave and strong.
Every other day or so, we went in the mornings to a leprosy camp. Coming from the United States, Leprosy is a rare site and is only something a few can bravely say that they have seen or even yet to treat it! We cleaned and bandaged the massive wounds left from the disease. It was a bit sad, but the patients were always glad to see us.
One day of the week, we had the opportunity to intern at Cape Coast Teaching Hospital. It was here at the hospital where reality really hit us. Choosing to intern in the Paediatrics and Neonatology Ward, I really became aware of the reality of medicine in a developing country such as Ghana. Watching nurses struggle to place an IV in a child whose kidneys were failing or another doctor who was trying to decide how to proceed with a boy’s deteriorating tibia, was truly heart breaking. However on the ‘better’ days at the hospital, the nurses would let us take vitals of the children, administer medicine through the IV’s, or even pick up a new-born child from the delivery ward and bring it to neonatology.
Learning to take vitals all by hand because of the lack of equipment or watching parents struggle count the money in their pocket to see if they have enough to pay for the next hour or dosage of oxygen or medicine really made me not just appreciate the healthcare I have at home but also for the so-called, taken for granted, basic necessities of my life at home.
The amounts of memories I have made in my trip to Ghana are endless. From learning Fante, playing with the children in the streets, walking through the busy streets of Cape Coast, dancing in the leprosy camp, taking bucket showers, practicing French with one of the patients in the Hospital, or meeting some amazing friends from all over the world, I know for sure that my trip to Ghana was unforgettable.
In my trip to Ghana, I learned a lot about the Ghanaian culture, the local languages and a whole lot more about medicine. But I also learned a lot about myself. I never thought I would have the courage and bravery to do what I did. Volunteering in Ghana has shaped me for the better, making me more appreciative of not only what I have, but also aware of situations outside of the U.S. In the future, I know for sure that I’d like to pursue in the medical field, and hopefully return to Ghana again to relive the memories and make more.
I recommend for anyone interested in going into the medical field in the future or for those who have the courage and want truly life changing experience volunteering abroad.