Victoria Hoelscher - Medicine in Ghana
When I first planned my trip to Ghana, I never envisioned it to be the incredibly diverse and beautiful nation that I found it to be. After packing seven cans of bug spray (thankfully I only needed two), I travelled for over 30 hours before arriving in the town of Koforidua where I spent the next six weeks.
Arriving in Ghana
The first thing that struck me about Ghana was how different it appeared than I had expected. I have to admit that I thought it would look like the Sahara desert with barely any trees in sight and not so much infrastructure. I was immediately proven wrong when I was driven through the incredibly developed capital city of Accra and out towards my placement through the hills of the Eastern Region. Massive trees and shrubs lined the tall hills that continued as far as the eye could see and I remember thinking that I had not yet seen such a beautiful place anywhere else in my lifetime.
On the way to my placement, I met three members of the Projects Abroad staff. I, like many other volunteers, was extremely nervous, but these three people made me feel welcome and answered all my questions. I was given general information about Ghana and a daylong tour around the city in which I would live and work for my entire placement. After learning where the bank, food, currency exchange office, internet café and hospitals were, I felt like I already belonged in my town and could not wait for work to start the next day!
My first night was comfortable and exciting, as I got to know my host mom and other volunteers that became like siblings to me. Dinner was a huge plate of jollof rice and chicken, a local dish that soon became my favourite. Throughout my time in Ghana, my host mom made a variety of other local dishes including rice bowl, banku, fufu and plantains that made my mouth water. I felt very at home in her house and continued to feel welcomed throughout my stay.
My Medical placement
I worked at the Koforidua Regional Hospital for the entire duration of my Medical project, as someday I hope to be a surgeon. In my first week, I worked in the paediatric department treating a number of sick and injured children. I followed doctors on rounds, asked questions about the children’s conditions, helped administer medications, kept parents company and interacted with the children themselves.
Then, in the weeks to follow, I worked in the laboratory, surgical ward, trauma ward and operation theatre, where I was given many more hands on duties. In these wards, I was taught how to draw blood, change bandages, observe surgeries, prepare operation theatres, take blood pressure, update charts, admit patients and perform many more small tasks that helped keep the hospital functioning. I was even allowed to scrub in and assist on a surgery once I had developed relationships with a few of the surgeons!
At the hospital, I found that the doctors, nurses, technicians and other staff members were among the hardest working and most dedicated group of people that I had ever met. After becoming accustomed to the slower pace of the hospital (due to the lack of complex machinery), I saw how the hospital staff used every bit of knowledge they had to help their patients.
Every morning during rounds, six or seven doctors would visit the patients together so that they could collectively determine the best course of action for each person and avoid small errors that could occur if only one doctor were to make the rounds. This collaboration, combined with the day and nightlong attentiveness of the nurses, gave many patients a quality of care that was unmatched in the area.
The hospital staff was phenomenal at teaching volunteers. When I asked a question at the Regional Hospital, it was answered almost immediately. In this manner, I was able to learn about diseases, injuries, medications, procedures and patient care in a practical manner from the people whom I aspire to become one day. I looked forward to going to work every day because of this hospital!
On Thursdays and Fridays the Medical volunteers did not go to the hospital, but rather travelled for medical outreach. We drove out to local schools with huge bags of medical supplies that took two or three people to carry and tended to the wounded school children. This was one of my favourite parts about my trip to Ghana. Our medical director was extremely knowledgeable and taught us how to efficiently treat a variety of wounds on a large number of children in a short amount of time; this allowed me to make a difference in many children’s lives even though I only partook in this for six weeks.
During outreach, I also helped teach the children about illnesses and hygiene in an attempt to minimise the problems they would have in the future. At one outreach, I actually brushed my teeth in front of about 30 kids in the middle of a classroom! The smiles on their faces when the other volunteers and I gave them their very own toothbrushes melted my heart and made me feel like I was truly helping even the smallest group of children.
Free time in Ghana
Another part of my time abroad in Ghana that I enjoyed was meeting and befriending volunteers from all over the world. Every Wednesday, the coordinators of our town planned an activity for us to do as a group. Sometimes, we had group quizzes and told stories about our week. Others, we had drumming lessons and shopped at the local bead market together. One time, we even had cooking lessons at our coordinator’s house and played Uno on the living room floor.
The Projects Abroad coordinators made us all feel like part of a family and they soon felt like a second set of parents to me and allowed all the volunteers to have a blast.
In my six weeks in Ghana, I got to walk 40 metres above the rainforest floor, pet monkeys, tour a slave castle, walk with elephants, visit the oldest mosque in Ghana, hike to the highest point overlooking the hills and play in waterfalls! All of these trips showed me that there is much more to any country than immediately meets the eye and I fell in love with the beautiful nation of Ghana!
It didn’t take long until became accustomed to the incredibly friendly nature of the Ghanaian people. In the roadside shops while simply buying cookies or in a taxi headed to work, I would become engaged in long conversations about my hometown and my time in Ghana while also learning more about Ghanaian culture from the local people. I also got about 15 marriage proposals in my time there and have yet to receive one in the US!
My house in Koforidua was part of a neighbourhood with over 40 kids that became like my brothers and sisters. I learnt each and every one of their names and played soccer, danced, sang, coloured pictures and ran around with each of them almost every night. When it was time to leave, I cried while hugging each of them goodbye.
The six weeks I spent in Ghana were the most eye opening and amazing weeks of my life and I cannot be thankful enough that Projects Abroad gave me this opportunity and made my time there so great!
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