Rachel Morse - HIV/AIDS in Ghana
My trip to Ghana began as my third journey to Africa, but it soon became my most memorable trip to date. I joined Projects Abroad on the HIV/AIDS Project, and travelled to Ghana as a 17 year-old volunteer from the small state of Vermont in North-eastern United States.
My Ghanaian Host Family
When I first arrived in Ghana, I was met at the airport by a Projects Abroad staff member, who did an excellent job of giving me the basic information I needed to know to meet my host family. That afternoon, I met Mrs. Djan, the wonderful woman who hosted me for the following three weeks. I stayed in a well-equipped house that even had Wi-Fi for a small fee. The cold showers took a little bit of adjusting to, but with the heat I learned to appreciate them! We were located about a 30 minute drive from the centre of Accra and catching a taxi to the city was as easy as stepping outside of the gates that protected Mrs. Djan’s home.
I stayed in a room equipped with a set of bunk beds, a desk, and a dresser. I roomed with one other volunteer and shared a bathroom with three others. Mrs. Djan hosted seven other volunteers in the house aside from me, two from Denmark, one from Australia, and four from the UK. Experiencing a variety of cultures inside the house, as well as outside, was a hugely enjoyable part of my volunteer trip.
When it came to mealtimes, we could always expect the best from Mrs. Djan. She prepared three meals a day for us. The menu was typically toast and fruit for breakfast (the mango was unbelievably good!), rice and eggs for lunch, and a variety of traditional Ghanaian meals for dinner.
Volunteering on the HIV/AIDS Project
During the work week, I spent my days in either the HIV/AIDS unit at Korle Bu Hospital or in the field. The hospital was about a 25 minute tro tro ride from my host family’s house. Part of the experience was taking the local transport known as tro tros. It made any trip fascinating whilst giving a taste of the local culture and daily routines.
At the hospital itself, I worked with one other volunteer preforming different tasks, which were dependent on the day. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays were clinic days which meant that if we were in the hospital that day, we would help patients being seen for a check-up or any number of reasons. On clinic days, we would often take blood pressure, but from time to time, we would weigh or take the height of the patients as well. On non-clinic days, we would either visit the lab or do rounds in the ward.
The hospital was home to twenty beds, and the patients that were selected for these beds almost always had AIDS, as well as an opportunistic infection. Doing rounds at the ward was probably the most challenging part of the project – each patient pulled at your heartstrings. However, this was one of the most informative parts of the trip and well worth it. Although we simply observed the doctors on these rounds, we gained an inside look at how a hospital is run. On the other days in Korle Bu, we visited the lab and learned how much of the laboratory work is done with blood and testing.
In addition to working at the hospital, we spent one to two days a week in the field. This was my favourite part of my placement. We spent time at schools, orphanages, and slums preforming rudimentary first aid on children. One of the Projects Abroad staff members showed us the basics and then gave us the opportunity to truly make a difference in the children’s lives. This volunteering also showed us another part of Ghana, helping to make the experience complete.
Our work day typically ended somewhere between 2:00pm and 3:00pm. This gave us the time to explore Accra and its surrounding areas and experience Ghana. The day before, we would do some research and find a place to visit. Then it was as easy as finding a tro tro, and we would be on our way. We visited the local beach, as well as the beach geared more toward tourists, the local lagoon, the markets, and a number of other places. To make a long story short, Projects Abroad will give you the chance to see any part of the city that you would like.
Free Time in Ghana
I want to touch on the opportunities that we had outside of our volunteer placements as well. On any given night we could take a taxi into town and grab a western style dinner, watch a movie at the local cinema, or even go for a round of bowling. Although an immersion in the culture was great, having this opportunity to spend time with other volunteers in different parts of Ghana was much appreciated. Especially the gelato, which rivalled for some of the best I have ever had anywhere in the world!
The weekends provided a chance to see the rest of Ghana outside of the capital city. Taking a tro tro to another area was affordable and always interesting. On my first weekend, we took a day trip to Boti Falls where we visited the waterfall and went hiking. On another weekend we rode a six hour tro tro to the Volta Region. We easily found an affordable place to stay and enjoyed a weekend at the base of Mount Afadjato on the Togo border. We ended up hiking this mountain (the tallest in Ghana) and enjoyed the spectacular view of clouds all around us!
Even after doing my best to describe the most memorable and important parts of my trip, I have not covered nearly all that made this trip wonderful. So, I want to end by saying that despite having visited and worked with medicine in a myriad of countries, Ghana was by far the best. Projects Abroad staff facilitated an environment where I could learn about the culture whilst simultaneously lending a helping hand to those in need. I learned more than I ever imagined possible and made friends that I continue to talk to on a daily basis. I hope that you take advantage of this opportunity and experience all that Projects Abroad and Ghana have to offer!
This volunteer story may include references to working in or with orphanages. Find out more about Projects Abroad's current approach to volunteering in orphanages and our focus on community-based care for children.