Volunteering in Ghana with Solutions for Life Initiative-Ghana

In the summer of 2015, I spent a month volunteering in Kumasi, Ghana through Solutions for Life Initiative-Ghana. My primary volunteer placement was at Asokwa Children’s Hospital, however I also volunteered at Cherubs Orphanage with the other volunteers I was living with. In my free time I had several opportunities to travel around Ghana, where I saw what beautiful attractions the country had to offer and learn about the country’s history and culture.

Before going to Ghana, I had certain expectations of what I thought it would be like. In America, ever since we are little we learn about Africa in school, and people talk about all the “help” that Africa needs and the relief efforts that are currently being done. We grow up with this view that Africa is an underdeveloped, poor continent riddled with disease and political instability. On the other hand, I also had the opportunity to grow up with several friends who moved from Africa when they were young, and heard from different people about how Africa is not this primitive stereotype that many Americans believe. But I learned that Ghana was unlike anything I could have imagined. It’s not that it is a negative or even positive difference from my expectations, just that I could not have understood what it was like until I went there and experienced it for myself. My view of Africa is now completely different. Because I had the opportunity to fully immerse myself in the culture and learn so much about the country’s history, as well as health issues that affect it’s citizens, I feel as though I left with a much more accurate view of what Africa is truly like.

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Much of what I learned about Ghana came from simply living there and experiencing the culture for a month. I, along with two other volunteers at the time, stayed with a family (Sally, her husband Nana, and they’re 11-month old son Kwesi), so it got about as close to “real life” as it could get. Sally, who was the founder and director of the organization I volunteered through, also housed us and cooked for us, so I became very familiar with Ghanaian food. We had to get around ourselves, so we learned how to navigate the public transportation system there. I had to get used to the idea of buying most of the things I needed from shops on the side of the road, rather than supermarkets and convenience stores. There was also the fact that I stuck out like a sore thumb, and Ghanaians are very vocal about that sort of thing. But I was welcomed very warmly by the immense amount of hospitality each Ghanaian displayed. Wherever I was, somebody was always willing to lend a helping hand, or just start a conversation with me. I never felt in danger, in fact, I felt even safer in Ghana than I do at home. There were a few luxuries that I enjoy at home that were not in Ghana, such as always having electricity and flowing water, but Ghana is much more developed than many Americans perceive it to be.

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I learned a lot about Ghanaian history when I visited the cultural center in Kumasi, as well as my trip to Cape Coast where I took tours of the Cape Coast and Elmina castles, which doubled as slave dungeons during the time of the Middle Passage. At the cultural center, we took a guided tour of the museum. Our tour guide taught us about the kings of Ghana, the role of colonization, and other interesting cultural facts. At Cape Coast and Elmina castles, we learned about the history of their construction, which European countries had possession at which time, and what all the rooms in the castle were used for. This was extremely interesting for me because the slave trade is something you learn so much about in school, but to actually be there and see where the middle passage was propagated, it really helped me visualize what the history books were trying to say. Both of the castles were very sobering because it reflects on a horrible injustice that humanity inflicted upon itself, but it also serves as a reminder to never allow anything like that to ever happen again.

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I learned a lot about the Ghanaian health system, and the diseases and health issues which are most prevalent. Because I worked in a hospital, I got a lot of hands-on experience and spent a lot of time observing what the health infrastructure looked like in the community. Everyone in Ghana has health insurance, either through the National Health Insurance Scheme, or private insurance. A remarkably high percentage of people contract malaria at some point in their lifetime. So much so, that the lab supervisor joked around that they didn’t even test for malaria in blood donors, because whomever they were donating it to probably already has it anyway. Other diseases and disorders such as Typhoid, Sickle-Cell Anemia, and Meningitis are also common. I had the opportunity to give an injection, assist in the emergency ward, take vitals, prepare prescriptions, perform lab testing on blood samples, and observe malaria parasites and sickle cells under a microscope. All of these experiences taught me so much about healthcare in Ghana, as well as preventive measures that are being taken and methods of treatment.

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My change in the way I think about Africa will affect various areas of my life. From the academic standpoint, I will have much more perspective whenever Africa is brought up in the classroom. Many people have twisted views of what Africa is like by no fault of their own, simply because they can only go by what they hear. But, I had the incredible opportunity to live there and experience the culture for myself, and learn about Ghana’s history from their perspective. I am currently studying public health, and I plan to go to dental school and eventually become an oral surgeon who works in third-world countries. This trip gave me an opportunity to observe the health disparities that cripple places like Ghana, and confirmed for me that this is something I definitely still want to do with my life. Because I worked in the hospital and now have many contacts, I feel as though maybe Kumasi is a place I would one day want to help establish a dental clinic. I truly loved my time there, and I can’t wait for the opportunity to go back. Kumasi was gracious enough to welcome me with open arms and kind hearts, and I want to do what I can to return the favor.

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