Emily Toms - Medicine & Healthcare in Ghana
One dark winter evening in rainy England, I decided that what I really needed to get myself through the rest of the school year was an adventure waiting for me at the end of it. So after days of research, I found a two week project that perfectly suited my desire for new and exciting challenges whilst being sufficiently safe and well supported for my parents to give their permission. Seven months later I waved goodbye to my teary mum and dad at airport security, and began the most exhilarating two weeks of my life, in Ghana.
My new home and family
Two main buildings around a square yard housed thirteen volunteers from all over Europe and America, alongside the ten Ghanaians that already lived there, three members of their family who were visiting from Belgium, two cats, three dogs and a handful of chickens. Thanks to this close but comfortable (fly nets, fans, a TV and indoor shower!) living situation, I quickly got to know and love my very large and very strange new family.
I have never met a better cooks than my host mum and aunt, harder workers than my older host brothers and sisters or funnier, friendlier kids than the ones I played with every morning and evening. Nor have I made faster friends than with my fellow volunteers, which made parting only two weeks later all the more difficult.
Living surrounded by a completely different culture is something I can hardly begin to describe. Being fully immersed in a land of golden beaches, brightly patterned clothing and ever smiling faces is enough to stop you even noticing the basic housing, shoeless feet and undrinkable tap water.
But certain situations, such as diagnosing malaria in a small child or watching a nurse struggle to use the only stethoscope in the whole ward because it is broken, brings you back to reality. The lessons that I learnt from this other world will stay with me for life, and always fuel my appreciation for the luxury of my life at home.
Medical project and outreach
We spent most mornings at a small school or community in or around Winneba. We would arrive in our tro-tro, unpack our tables and medical supplies, and set up clinic. Adults had their BMI, blood pressure, blood sugar level and blood group checked, and was then advised as to how to use this information and what steps to take to improve their health.
Children queued up to have their wounds cleaned and bandaged and any infections treated. We were taught all the procedures on the first day and by the end of my stay I felt like a pro. The Ghanaians themselves were the most brave, uncomplaining, friendly and thankful people that I have ever met, even when I was still figuring things out at the start. All this was overseen by various members of Projects Abroad staff and nurses, who were the most fun and relaxed teachers that I have ever had.
So many unforgettable experiences!
There are too many moments that I will never forget for me to list them all, but they include the cheering and waving Projects Abroad staff greeting me on arrival at the airport, walking on rope bridges in the jungle canopy, eating fresh coconut on the beach, watching a baby being delivered by C-section, the best fried rice that I have ever eaten, endless piggy-back rides and countless games of cards, among many others.
Looking back on my time, I realise that I did so many things that I could never even dream of (who would have imagined playing a football match against, and being completely thrashed by, the local deaf team?). Even better than the confidence, independence and sense of adventure that I gained, is the group of friends, in Ghana and all over the world that I now have.
A few tips...
If I were to give advice to my past self or any other future volunteers, this is what I would say. Go with an open mind and open heart, and people will receive you with open arms (cheesy, but still true). Enjoy yourself in every moment; the whole thing will be over before it's even started. And stay for longer! I discovered that two weeks was too short a time, I left before I had done half of what I wanted to and had to say goodbye to new friends too soon after making them.