I had always wanted to go to Africa as a volunteer nurse when I graduated but when I saw the opportunity to complete my 3rd year nursing elective and volunteer at the same time I decided to partake in an international placement for 2 months in Ghana. Projects Abroad arranged a placement for me at a hospital, arranged my food and accommodation, helped me plan things like flights, visas, vaccines, immunisations, clothing and equipment. It cost me my entire life savings but I also saw this as a once in a lifetime experience!
I was extremely nervous being in a foreign environment, knowing nobody, with new customs and languages I knew little about (the local dialect being Fanti and Twi but most people also spoke English). I was met by the friendly Nyame at the airport and taken by another person to Cape Coast via Tro Tro (mini bus) and any worries were allayed by the friendly volunteer co-ordinator Eric who introduced me to my host family including the Mother Millicent and Sister Angela. He helped me change my money into local currency, buy a local sim card to contact home, himself and other volunteers.
My host sister showed me around town during my first day and I was lucky to see the last day of local celebrations with lots of dancers and tribal kings. During my time in Cape Coast I lived with, met and worked with volunteers from all over the world including America, Australia, Austria, Canada, Denmark, England, Germany, Holland, Japan, Scotland, Switzerland and Wales! Every week we would meet together at the Projects Abroad local office, play quizzes, drink sodas and have pop corn, the staff also work really hard and will help with anything you need, I remember losing my bag and they helped me get it back and if you become sick they will take you to hospital.
Bernard the medical co-ordinator (a qualified nurse and lecturer) started me working at a volunteer run clinic at Ankerful Leprosy Village established by the Catholic Church treating wounds on hands, feet and legs. Though many of the village’s children would also come with minor wounds during their school holidays. We enjoyed seeing them as they brightened up our day first thing in the morning. The clinic is handed from volunteer to volunteer and on the last 2 weeks of my placement I took the opportunity to manage and operate it, organising staffing, purchasing supplies and preparing equipment.
The main placement was at Cape Coast Regional Hospital where the Head nurse arranged for me to rotate in Accident and Emergency, Male Surgical Ward, Male Medical Ward and Paediatrics. I saw many unique things that I would never have had the opportunity to observe at home, conditions such as Tuberculosis and Malaria as well as more common reasons for hospitalisation like road traffic accidents, complications in pregnancy, hernias, leg wounds and retro-viral patients. I exchanged knowledge, methods and ideas, working very closely with doctors, nurses, healthcare assistants, physiotherapists, pharmacists and dieticians, who were very kind; engaging with and educating me.
I also helped to operate medical outreach programmes at Wakomm and Akatuah villages, where we assessed and treated the entire population for things like infections, wounds, malaria, worms, malnourishment and dehydration, those without access to medical care due to their location or its cost. My family had donated money for me to use charitably so I decided to fund the medication for the outreach programme in Akatuah, which I hope made them feel very proud.
I spent my evenings and free weekends with the other volunteers, eating and drinking at the local bars like Oasis in town next to the beach and Solice Bar close to where we lived and only a few minutes walk away. We also travelled together to places like Kumasi, a city with huge outdoor market and cultural centre where we purchased materials, crafts and arts. The Nezulo Stilt Village where we rowed from the town through marshes to a village in canoe boats, met the village leader and observed the lives of the towns folk.
We also visited the Kakum National Forest, where I camped with 6 Dutch girls overnight; we walked through forest late at night and on high wire suspension bridges in the morning over beautiful scenery. My favourite place to spend time to relax and swim after working hard all week was at the Elmina Beach Resorts on beautiful sunny days, I will never forget the amazing 3 layer club sandwich that came with chips!
The placement enabled me to enhance communication, develop new nursing skills, gain a trans-cultural awareness, experience a managerial role and most of all it was very rewarding. I thoroughly recommend that anybody who can, participate in an international elective during his or her programme. Not only has it enhanced my career prospects in finding employment as a nurse at home but also it was an eye opening, life-changing and life-affirming adventure!