Jonathan Nash – Public Health in Ghana
After graduating from University I had six months before I would start my new career. I had two options; continue in the job I was frustrated with, or go travel. I had a desire for activism, and self-exploration which I hoped to fulfilled through volunteering; I always wanted to give back. I had been growing increasingly frustrated with our healthcare system. I wanted to experience working where there are only very basic healthcare services, I wanted to understand how the people in these countries managed their systems, and help those who needed it most.
After a quick stop in Turkey, I arrived in Accra. When I stepped off the plane, I felt like I’d been punched fair in the face by the heat. I walked out of the airport into a mosh pit of people; it was such a relief to see Naame from Projects Abroad waiting for me. I had never seen a place like this before. You couldn’t see the sky because of all the dust blowing in from the desert. People were dressed in colourful Ghanaian clothing, goats and chickens seemed to roam freely. Ghana is called the heart and soul of Africa because of its welcoming, passionate, and peaceful people; I was welcomed like an old friend by my host family. I was the only volunteer for a few days but I had no trouble settling in before Kelsey and Haruka arrived from America and Japan respectively. I was in Ghana for the New Year Celebration which is spent praying, singing and dancing, all of which makes for an unforgettable New Years’ experience. The Ghanaian heat takes some adjusting to; drink heaps of water and hydrolyte. The most challenging aspects of working abroad are also the most beneficial. Being placed in an unfamiliar environment forces you to use your initiative and develop self-confidence.
Public Health Placement
An average day in Public Health began at 8am at the hospital where we would gather record books, equipment and pack immunisation coolers before walking out to nearby villages. We would set up in a central place in the village. Mothers would bring their children along where we would weigh, immunise and check on their development. They received this service every month until the child was five years old. We would educate mothers on feeding, managing fever and family planning. We played with the children, who were very inquisitive. They have so little yet are so happy and creative in their imagination. In the villages we would visit houses and restaurants, ensuring that their salt was iodised. Many times we visited orphanages and schools by taxi, Tro Tro or motorcycle to provide wound care including scratches and debriding necrotic skin from a snake bite. We would also educate the children on hand washing and general health. It was here that we would play and engage with the children who craved attention and someone to talk to. The schools had open classrooms which were just wooden benches, seats and a blackboard, absent of any windows or doors. The orphanages were often crowded, but the children had nowhere else to go. We were known simply as Oburoni (White Westerner) by the children. Work would finish by three and you had the rest of the afternoon to yourself.
I was truly surprised at how effective and organised primary health care in Ghana is, tenfold better than Australia. Local people actually seeking out and wanting the services really made a difference. I volunteered because I wanted to give something back to the world, however I benefited just as much from my experience. In a unique way it has improved my emotional intelligence and I developed hordes of transferable skills. It has taught me to appreciate the value of things that we take for granted, such as clean drinking water and showering facilities, it offers the opportunity of developing personal growth and learning to be resourceful as a clinician.
Living in Ghana was an incredible experience. I stayed with a host Mumma Anna and her family and truly experienced Ghanaian life. Power is out more than it is on in Ghana so don’t rely on it. The accommodation was simple although of very high standards for Ghana, I learned to take bucket showers, which was quite the experience, and I also washed my laundry by hand. Making Banku (a traditional dish) is the Ghanaian version of going to the gym; you’ve never had such a workout! Food was amazing, Ghana is a country on the sea so be prepared to eat a lot of seafood, or if like me seafood is not your thing, I recommend the Red Red. Each day Aunty Dora would make us the most incredible dishes.
You have a lot of spare time as a volunteer which is perfect for exploring and weekends away. Ghana is a relatively cheap country so great if you’re on a budget. On the weekends I travelled into Accra and experienced the beach and wandered through the vast markets in Madina and Kaneshie, buying all sorts of treasures and tasting foods. We travelled to Cape Coast, a fishing town on the Atlantic, which is rich with culture. We got an insight into Ghana history by learning more about the imperial invasion of the British. Cape Coast offers some great time for reflection. There are many bars and other volunteers to meet from all over Ghana, I returned home having made friends from across the world. Ghana also has some incredible natural sights and jungles to visit. Getting around in Ghana is wildly fun. You can get a Tro Tro just about anywhere and it’s cheap. You play musical chairs the entire journey and it’s not uncommon to be given a child to hold at some point of the journey. Not to forget the beautiful nature of Ghana, the waterfalls and jungle are a must see! Afternoons were spent exploring the village of Dodowa, going to the local bar or indulging in the masses of fresh fruit, there was a pool in the town where you could swim to cool off.
To future volunteers, you will learn so much about yourselves through this experience. You will do things you never imagined you were capable of. The biggest difference you will notice afterwards is not only the difference that you made, but also how the experience has changed you. You will personally and professionally develop because you will have a greater understanding of another culture, you challenge your personal limits, and you will develop friendships. The world is a big place and only by getting out there can you find yourself.