I am currently on a plane flying home from an absolutely fantastic 3 weeks in Ghana. This might have been my favorite trip yet. Everyone that knows me by now understands that we operate at a speed that seems impossible, but actually it is attainable. We accomplished more in these three weeks (two weeks with the Middlebury Students) than I have on all of my trips combined. Success has been redefined. This trip was a learning experience for all of us. Never would I have ever thought I would be leading a group of 18-23 people (plus our “adult” medical professionals) on a 2-3 week service trip to Ghana. I should start with saying thank you to Kofi, my right hand man and the person that made this trip the amazing trip it was. We could not have done it without you. I learned what it was like to be a real leader and to understand that not everything can be perfect nor can everything go the way we planned. We went into this trip with extensive planning and organization, and I learned that sometimes all that planning doesn’t actually hold up to the circumstances on the ground. Flexibility is the number one rule for leaders and international travel. A plan to leave at 8AM that turns into an 11AM departure can throw a bit of a kink in to the plan for the 11AM activity that had been planned for several months. We learned to go with the flow, apologize once and then move on. Every trip I take to Ghana I fall more and more in love with the people, the community, and the culture.
I left off the last blog on Monday evening, which also happened to be our first day of clinics. That was a HUGE success and we went on to spend the next two days at the same community in Have. We had hundreds of people lining up every morning before we got there to see our doctors and Dr. Spaniel for dental needs. I don’t think any of our volunteers have brushed so many teeth or taken as much blood pressure readings as they did in those three days in Have. We did a lot in this community. We had the welcome ceremonies and home visits and we felt like we knew everyone. We all struggled with the concept that we couldn’t “fix or save” anyone and that some members of the community came to us with problems that we had no ability to fix. This was hard for everyone as we wanted to do the most that we could (and we might have falsely thought we could “do anything.” But, in the the world of international healthcare there are actual limits to how much we can do. We focused and we were successful with what we COULD do and that was our motivation and that was enough.
On the second day of clinics in Have we launched our virtual education program with Champlain Valley Union High School, and our new partnership with Days for Girls International. Tuesday was the first day that I was able to work with students at Have (5 of them-Rita, Michel, Jon, Rosemary, and Sandra) on UN Sustainability Goals. We demonstrated how to use the computers that were purchased for them (shout out to the Bonnie Wall Memorial Fund for purchasing the computers). Student were able to have their first interactions with CVU Freshman. The students talked about problems they saw in their own communities and started their conversation about a project that they would want to work on together. By the third day of these daily calls the students (on both sides) decided to choose a project focused on Environmental Concerns. The students will both be able to collect evidence in their own communities and come together to create a solution. Kofi will continue to facilitate this program once I am back in Vermont.
While the virtual education program was launching we also had the opportunity to have Dennis from Days for Girls come to Have to lead a program on how to use our new sanitary materials. Every single girl at Have Junior High School was able to walk away with a new pad that will last them three years and will help to keep them in school. Dennis also came with us another Junior High School on Monday to Dzolo Gbogame (where I worked last year) to pass out pads and do a program on Sexual and Reproductive Health. Finally, we distributed pads at MadamFo Children’s Shelter and Lady Volta Vocational School where I was able to visit my old home from last year and see my friends. We are beyond proud of the work we are able to do with Day’s for Girls and we cannot wait for next year to continue the mission of allowing access to sanitary and hygiene materials for girls. Stay tuned for our next project… :)
Thursday and Friday were spent in two new communities: one community was a smaller offset from Have where we worked in a primary school with lots of little kids as well as elder community members. Friday was spent in the “slums” in Ho where the population mostly consisted of Togolese immigrants. Working in both of these underserved communities was a huge learning experiences as it was the first time we had ever done clinics there and we didn’t know the communities as well.
When our group wasn’t working we were able to spend Saturday and Sunday relaxing and exploring the communities where we where. A group went to visit the monkey sanctuary on Saturday while the rest of us explored Ho. On Sunday another group went to visit the Wli Waterfalls, which was absolutely spectacular. We definitely got some much needed R&R after 5 straight days of clinics.
Tuesday was our last official day of clinics where we all went and were able to provide oral hygiene to the entire Dzolo Gbogame school and community. Being able to get through everyone really was an accomplishment. I also remembered everyone from last year so it was so much fun being able to see the students and friends from last year.
On Wednesday we had a change of plans and decided to road trip to Cape Coast (about 3 hours past Accra) to visit the Cape Coast Slave Castle. This trip was one of the best experiences I have ever had. I think the rest of the group will agree with me on that. You can feel the energy as soon as you step foot into the castle. Listening to the stories and the history is chilling. That night we spent the night in a small beach town and fell asleep early to the waves crashing outside.
On Thursday we headed back to Accra to check into our hotel and prepare for our information session at the US Embassy. There we learned about public health policies and how USAID and the US Embassy work with the Ghanaian nationals. We even got to meet the ambassador, Mr. Robert Jackson!
I can’t believe that this trip is officially over. I am so proud of ROC overall as an organization and I want to thank every person who believed in me and the organization for this trip, specifically Middlebury College (Pam Berenbaum), Dr. Julie Spaniel, Dr. Andrea Green, Dr. Maja Zimmerman, Alison Parker, Lee Van Ginkel, Dani La Berge, and Champlain Valley Union High School. Thank you to all of our amazing students and volunteers for helping to make this pilot program a success and for being patient as we start to learn the ropes of running an international health and education non-profit organization.