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Nicola Valentine - Veterinary Medicine in Ghana

Elephant at Mole

Ghana is amazing; the people, the culture, the environment, the wildlife – everything.

It was so easy to fall in love with Kumasi; running around on tro-tros and haggling for shopping; even getting lost in the depths of the market. There are so many stories I could tell from my month in Ghana. You’d probably regret getting me started – I just wouldn’t stop! But I’ll try and restrict myself to a few, glowing and life-altering moments.

At my placement, at the Amakom Veterinary Hospital I saw many, many dogs, goats, sheep and even rabbits, cats and poultry be brought in. There were rabies and canine parvovirus cases, tumours, parasites, neurological disorders, severe malnutrition, castrations and vaccinations. The team soon taught me to do subcutaneous vaccinations and even intra-muscular injections of vitamin solution.

Local woman

And in my final week, I performed two open castrations on dogs. I’ll never forget them; it was just an amazing experience to be able to fulfil a dream. My first ever surgeries! I knew I wanted to be a vet before, but wow, now I knew there was nothing else I’d rather do. I was made for this.

Sometimes it was hard; seeing a dog having a fit because of some obvious neurological problem no one could do anything about except hold the dog to stop it hurting itself. Seeing a puppy with a grossly swollen abdomen, clearly in pain, but there just wasn’t the equipment or expertise to deal with it. Perhaps hardest of all was seeing a puppy’s tail being docked and hearing the puppy cry in pain as the local anaesthetic wore off too early. Yes, these are hard experiences, but I learnt a lot from them; about how I so wanted to be able to help them and about being thankful for everything we have in MEDCs to further advance our veterinary abilities.

Volunteer group

At weekends, I loved visiting other parts of Ghana. My ultimate favourite experience was watching 6 wild bull elephants for hours and hours in Mole National Park while they came within 10 meters of us before bathing in the watering hole in the heat of the day then disappearing off into the bush. The wild beauty of Mole National Park was overwhelming, everything from the fantastically multi-coloured bee-eaters to antelope, cheeky baboons, warthogs and the great, majestic elephants. And don’t forget bright yellow moths bigger than my hand and a night sky full to the brim with stars – we watched the galaxy slowly rotate for hours in the clear, warm night. Just beautifully fabulous and uttering awe-inspiring, something I will always remember. It was even worth travelling down the worst road in Ghana to get there, and with the other volunteers, it made a greatly amusing story to indulge in!

Warthog at Mole

Another weekend we took a day trip to the surrounding area – visiting Techimen and surrounding villages. Exploring the rainforest and banana plantations was fascinating, gigantic butterflies, loads of birds and lizards; truly a place bursting with life. Not to mention squeezing through the pitch-black caves to witness hundreds of endemic fruit bats!

Green Turtle is an idyllic stretch of white sand in the middle of no-where on the infamous Gold Coast of Southern Ghana. The collection of huts, benches and hammocks make it a great weekend away from the hustle and bustle of the cities. Not to mention the amazing food at easily affordable prices – I urge you to try the chocolate bananas and a Green Turtle cocktail from the boat-bar!

With staff at placement

But there is so much more I could say, about Kumasi, my wonderful and caring host family, about taxi drivers, about yams and fu-fu, shopping from a tro-tro, lack of dairy products, meeting a village chief, learning “Kom ende me!”, hiking into the rainforest to explore the great fruit-bat caves, about the smiling children who didn’t care that all they wore were rags, the fact that there is always somewhere to buy phone credit, even in the middle of no-where! And I’ve probably still left things out, in fact, I know I have. But that’s part of what I love, just how much I learnt, about Ghana, about the world, about people, about veterinary medicine in Ghana and about myself.

The other volunteers, especially my room-mate Kate and also my friends Catherine, Julia and Manuel made my Ghanaian experience all the more complete. Not only was I learning about the amazing Ghanaian culture and people, but here were other volunteers from different parts of the world also here to learn and embrace other cultures. I’ll never forget our time together, especially at Green Turtle on the Ghanaian coast and at Mole National Park in the north. We’re still in touch to this day and I hope we will be for a long time to come.

Nicola Valentine

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