Medical

Learning New Things All Day Every Day

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

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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… :)

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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.

Natalie

Kicking Off the New Year in Ghana

As I sit in the town Ho of Ghana, almost a year after my last trip here, I was reflecting on my old journals and blog posts.  I cannot believe how much has changed, and at the same time how much is still the same. On January 13th, 2017, I wrote: “The people of Ghana are said to be some of the kindest and most heartfelt people in the world.” One year later, I can confirm this statement is absolutely true. This year I came to Ghana with a group of 14 people to run medical, dental, and education programs for two weeks in collaboration with Middlebury College’s Global Health Department. I feel so fortunate to be the director of an organization where I am able to bring students to a place that I am able to call home.

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Last Wednesday night Aiden Shumway, Graham Byers, Anna Rowland, and I traveled to Accra with 12 checked bags total (as of right now only one is missing). Getting to Ghana was a little more hectic than we had anticipated, since we missed our Burlington flight and had to drive to JFK in a snowstorm to catch our flights. Kofi Nyalimba, our in-country director, was thankfully there to meet us at the airport in Accra and then we met Alison Parker at the hotel.  

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Thursday morning was a very eventful day! We got up early and set out to meet the General Secretary of the Ghanaian National Football Association with Samira Gaherty (whose sister currently lives in Vermont). The GFA is our newest in-country partner for R.O.C. Inc. As we connect our students through the world’s game (soccer!) we will be able to use the GFA as sponsors and ambassadors for our R.O.C. Ghana programs. In return R.O.C. is providing dental care to all its players. In the afternoon we traveled to the Football Team’s Soccer Camp where we met the U17 Players and provided dental hygiene clinics. Alison, Aiden, and I did the cleaning while Anna, Graham and Kofi conducted interviews! We even got to watch their practice. Thursday night Dr. Julie Spaniel and Dr. Maja Zimmerman arrived at the hotel.

Friday the Middlebury College students and Dr. Andrea Green and her son Callum Mahoney arrived in Accra and joined the rest of the group. We picked everyone up and headed back to the hotel where we ate lunch and then set out on our journey to Ho where we will be spending the next two weeks together.

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On our way to Ho we stopped by our partner NGO, Day’s for Girls, where we were able to tour the facility where the sanitary materials were made by women in Ghana. We are incredibly excited about this partnership as we will be able to provide non-disposable sanitary materials to the girls at different partner schools throughout the Volta Region. When we finally arrived in Ho we had a late dinner and went straight to bed.

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Saturday was our official “day of welcome” in the Have community with Felix (the headmaster who you might remember from last year’s blog).  This day of welcome consisted of a blessing ceremony with the paramount chief, and other chiefs from the region. We learned about the traditional hierarchy of the chief system in the Volta Region. The paramount chief, for instance isn’t allowed to be talked directly to, and has to first talk to their linguist. The paramount chief’s name was Caesar and he gave all of us a huge hug at the end of the day… and added us on WhatsApp.

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From the chief’s house we set off to the Have Junior High School where we were greeted by the entire student body, faculty, and several community members for a traditional drumming and dancing ceremony. I think it is fair to say none of us had ever seen women dancing with fire on their heads. It was also the time to introduce ourselves to the school and explain our medical and educational project plans. We all got a chance to practice our drumming.  Aiden and Alexis seem to have natural talent. Anna and I on the other hand do not… It was a fantastic day.  

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Sunday the whole group was able to sleep in (until 9:00AM). We spent the entire morning med packing bags of all the penicillin, amoxicillin, clindamycin, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, and all the other supplies that was donated generously by Patterson Dental, Delta Dental, and UVM Medical center. Once we finished med packing we went back to Have to meet Felix and took a tour through the entire community.  We visited families in their homes. Felix welcomed us into his home and showed us his yam barn. It was the hottest day so far-around 100 degrees with direct sunlight all afternoon. Water became our best friend. I spent Sunday night trying to get a handle on all of our technology programs (thank you Dani, Lee and Joe for the hours of FaceTiming support). Once that was situated, the whole group packed up for our next adventure.  

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Monday morning, we went back to Have Junior High School for our first day of medical and dental clinics. We knew that the day might get a bit hectic as it was the first time the majority of volunteers had ever run a clinic. We set everything up and we were able to get through almost the entire school! Everyone got a chance to work in a new field. Patients first went to intake where we got basic medical history and information.  Then they moved on to triage and then to specific areas (dental or medical). By the second half of the day the mood of the entire group (students and our ROC group) had shifted and lightened. Everyone seemed to finally connect and form a mutual understanding of trust and respect with one another. Even though I was there for 9 weeks last year, this was the first time I felt like we had a real connection with the students of Have Junior High School. By spending the first three days acclimating to their culture and being introduced to their community through the welcoming ceremony, it just made a huge difference this time. It was clear to everyone that we are all more similar than different.

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I cannot believe it has been nearly a week since we arrived. Our group has amazing chemistry and talents. We are all learning from one another and growing as a whole. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week brings. This was the first time in all of my trips where we have spent a lot of time in one community learning about their cultural.  It has really given me a new perspective about quality over quantity.  Thinking about the future, I realize how vital it is to create a safe environment where we can learn from one another. I think that this is exactly what we are doing here, right now.