I participated in the medical volunteer program in Ghana, where I volunteered at Asokwa Children’s hospital. They rotated me around the different departments of the hospital: emergency ward, taking vitals, pharmacy, and lab, so I got to experience a little bit of everything. It was definitely a great learning experience, and I honestly feel like I got more out of it than I was able to contribute. Because I didn’t have any medical training, I couldn’t always be of help but after I got more acquainted with the place and the people, I began making a lot of friends and trying more and more to offer up help. I was actually very grateful I was working in the hospital, because there were a lot of nursing students my age who were also working there. They were very nice to me, and taught me some of the local language, took me to try local foods, helped me understand what I was supposed to be doing, and just befriended me in general. One girl actually invited me to her house, and when I was there she had her friend give me a few henna tattoos. It was such a great experience, and I am still in touch with many of the people I worked with.
When I was there I stayed with Sally, the founder and director of the local NGO, and her family. There were two other volunteers living with me for at least part of the time when I was there, and the way that their trips overlapped I was only by myself for two days (but by that point I had made really good Ghanaian friends so I was kept very busy). They were both volunteering at an orphanage, which was a really great opportunity for me because many days I would go to the orphanage after I finished at the hospital, and volunteer there too. They were both really great people, and we became really close over the time that we were there. On weekends we went on trips together, so I got to do and see a lot of really neat things around Ghana.
Ghana, in general, is a very beautiful and safe country. I want to emphasize the safe part, because before I went I had no idea what to expect and I just assumed that it would always have to be on my guard. However, I honestly felt safer there than I did at home. Everyone is very kind, genuine, and hospitable. They treat each other and foreigners as “brothers” and “sisters.” But if you are white you will stick out like a sore thumb, and people are definitely not discreet about it. I constantly heard people yelling “obruni,” which means “white person” in Twi, probably a dozen guys asked me for my number, I can’t even count how many pictures I’m in (both knowingly and unknowingly), and I even had a few marriage proposals. At first it’s a little overwhelming, but it’s something you get used to. But it’s not menacing at all, it’s just because they rarely see white people and want to get to know you. They are also very helpful, especially when you are travelling and trying to find your way.
However, the transportation system in Ghana is very different from anywhere I have ever been, and it will definitely take some getting used to. But once you figure it out, you’ll find that you can travel basically anywhere in Ghana for extremely cheap. And if you ever get lost just ask somebody for directions, and they are always happy to help. My friend left her Ghana travel guidebook at Sally’s house, and it was extremely useful for us. So if it’s still there, definitely use it! Be aware that the electricity will go out and the water will stop running very often (not necessarily always at the same time). This is more of an inconvenience than anything else, and you get used to it almost immediately, but make sure you plan accordingly.
This was such an amazing trip, and I feel like I learned so much about Ghanaian culture and medical practices there. It really gave me a new perspective on what I want my future role to be in healthcare, and how I want to tie Ghana in to my plans. I really hope I can return soon, and I know that without a doubt I will have family there who would be happy to see me.