Hannah Ugarte - Dentistry in Ghana
Arriving in Africa
Two flights delayed and a flight missed later, I arrived in Ghana and was greeted by a Projects Abroad staff member, who assisted me in finding my bag in a closet filled with piles of nameless bags. Projects abroad maintained constant communication with me and made appropriate adjustments as my day and time of arrival constantly changed. Needless to say, I was both elated and relieved to see the Projects Abroad symbol and my name on a piece of paper. We waited for another member to arrive, and then we headed towards the Projects Abroad house to check in before heading to my placement.
My host family
When I first arrived at my home stay, the woman who would soon become my mother for the next 6 weeks greeted me. The other girls in the house were away, which gave me time to get settled in. There were four other girls staying at Mama Djuan’s at the time—two from Holland, one from Sweden, and one from England.
I stayed in a room with a bunk bed, with my own connecting bathroom with running water. I would soon discover that this was a luxury, not a right. Sitting on my desk was a travel guidebook for Ghana, left by the previous volunteer. Your payment with Projects Abroad includes three meals a day, and three meals a day we had. Projects abroad far exceeded my expectations in providing me with a holistic home stay experience and creating a safe space for me to grow as an individual and with others from different backgrounds.
My first day in Accra
My first day was more of an orientation day. Richard, a Projects Abroad staff member, greeted me at my home stay and took me to the Projects Abroad facility in Accra to fill out some documents. As a local, Richard had a wealth of knowledge that he was willing to share. He took another volunteer around, and helped us navigate the transportation system.
At first, I was overwhelmed by the hustle of jumping from one Tro-Tro to the next, however; I soon adapted and enjoyed the thrill of the lifestyle. It was difficult at times to decipher what exactly the man on the Tro-Tro was saying in order to alert you of where it was going: “Circ-Circ,” “Labadi, Labadi, Labadi.” I came to rely on the visual hand symbols versus the audible indicators.
Richard, took us to get SIM cards for our mobile phones, showed us some of the local spots, and then took us to our placements. I was introduced to the matron of the hospital and the dentists and nurses I would soon be working with. The orientation day was definitely a bit overwhelming at first, but you do adapt and learn. And you certainly learn fast!
Working at my placement
My placement at the Police Hospital became my second home to Mama Djuan’s while in Ghana. It was here where I shadowed and assisted three dentists at the Police Hospital in Ghana. As an officer in the military, I was very fortunate to be able to shadow police dentists who are dual hatted as police offers and dentists. These dentists work on police officers and their families primarily, however; at times you will see a prisoner come through in need of dental assistance. Also assisting the dentists is a nursing staff of four nurses.
I was able to get very close to the nurses as we formed a family inside the office. The dentists and nurses were extremely professional, and constantly shared information with me. One dentist in particular, Dr. Wussah, worked diligently with me to ensure I understood what was going on with each patient, and the reason behind the procedure.
The dental experience and exposure I received while at this hospital is unmatched. The days lasted from around 8 until 3 or 4 in the afternoon, and the days flew by quickly as they were filled with patients and conversations. I was the second dental volunteer this hospital had ever had, and I would never have known with the way the placement and Projects Abroad guided me.
Projects Abroad listened to what I wanted to get out of my placement, and made sure that I got what I wanted and more. Richard actually went out of his way to take me to the Ghanaian military hospital so that I could get exposure to a military dentist as well.
Dental outreach programme
One of my favourite parts about the Projects Abroad Dental and Medical volunteer programmes are the outreach programmes. Twice a week, volunteers were given the option to travel to schools and orphanages in the vicinity of Accra to provide limited medical care to the children. We would primarily check for lice and ringworms, and treat blisters, cuts and scrapes.
Richard spearheaded each of these visits. He was efficient, effective, and natural with the children. For the volunteers, it was an opportunity to work directly with some of our favourite patients- children in a more relaxing and jovial environment. It was a nice release while also providing needed care to children who generally never see a doctor. I think these experiences set Projects Abroad apart from some other volunteer programmes and organisations.
I think it is important to touch a little bit on some of the opportunities that the country has to offer. While in Ghana, my housemates and I took full advantage of some of these. We slept in tree houses, climbed to the highest waterfall in Ghana, visited a weaving village, the island of Rum, danced to the beating of a drum, sat by a campfire, listened to a village elder share stories of bats and spiders, fed and held monkeys, and got on stage at a reggae party.
Travelling in Ghana is not that expensive and well worth it. We coordinated with some of the other volunteers, and for some of the trips I would recommend getting a guide and your own bus. Trust me, it is well worth it!
My final thoughts
In words, it’s difficult to describe. However, my experiences in Ghana gave me exposure to a diverse population, new food, oral health care problems that need to be addressed, and fresh perspective on life. I have since volunteered through other programmes, but Projects Abroad went above and beyond to provide both flexibility and structure so that I could make the most out of my volunteer experience. It truly was an experience of a lifetime, and a place I hope to revisit after dental school.