This past week we did our final outreach in the Oti Region. It was far and the car ride was bumpy but we made it and had a successful 4 days of work. It was really out in the bush which was kind of nice. With no wifi we enjoyed each others presence and played a lot of frisbee in our downtime. It was sweet to get paired with all of my favorite guys from the trip for this last outreach. We had a blast being in each others company.
Overall, this trip has been amazing. I have mixed feelings about leaving. I am excited to go home and see my family and friends, but I will also miss the opportunities I’ve had on this trip to serve and help the people of Ghana. It hasn’t been easy for sure, but the the things I have seen and the experiences I’ve had have been invaluable.
Also, a BIG SHOUTOUT to all of those who donated to the fund which contributed to all of the cataract and pterygium surgeries. We were able to raise $2150 dollars, AMAZING!
Lastly, I want to close with something from the scriptures found in Matthew 25:40 which says, “Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have adoneit unto one of the bleast of these my cbrethren, ye have done it unto me.” I know that service is the way to find true happiness. Ive had my dark times and tough moments, but the times I have felt the light of Christ and true joy have been when I have served those in need.
I’m beyond grateful for all my experiences here in Ghana!
Being in Ghana has been a very special and exhilarating experience for me. It hasn’t been easy at all, but being able to interact with so many people and visit all of the main regions of the country has left me amazed and humbled. As students we were instructed by our professor to read a BYU speech written by Sharon Eubanks, director of the LDS charities. In her talk she explains the importance of utilizing yourself/presence to bless those you come into contact with. She shares how the physical gifts and things we bring to the country will eventually fade out, but our example and charity can have a far more lasting impact.
The times where I have strived to be kind to every single person that we see and to go out of my way to be helpful and patient, I feel better and I know they feel better as well. Simple things like smiling more and waiting patiently for them to perform the visual acuity test or grab money to pay for their medications goes a long way. Even using words such as “please” and “thank you” liberally” demonstrate a strong sense of professionalism.
I know for sure they won’t remember my name or even what my face looked like, but I hope they will remember the good feelings they felt when they were around me. It can be hard at times to be the gift on these outreaches, especially when you are tired and the humidity is getting to you. There can also be grumpy people who are impatient causing you to want to snap back We learn though in the scriptures that a gift is not a good gift if given with a contentious heart, rather we must find ways to purge ourselves of these nagging thoughts and feelings to truly be the blessing in these people’s lives.
Im not perfect, but the amount of good going on here is amazing, and it goes both ways. The people of Ghana have been very good to us and it is my responsibility to be good back; a gift in their lives.
It was a real adventure yesterday. We went on an outreach Tuesday, so we stayed in a hotel in the northern part of the Voltic region. Then, yesterday morning we were told by the doctor and nurse that the chiefs of the different villages had cancelled because they were unsure if the outreach would benefit their village. I also think that they were confused with what we would be even doing. So, the doctor and nurse told us that we would just be heading back to Accra, but 30 minutes into our drive the doctor called the clinic and informed them of what happened. They then told him that he needed to return to the villages and talk to the chiefs and explain to them what we did and the benefits of free surgery which would be a great blessing to the people of these villages.
We backtracked and took some sketchy roads that shook our van like none other haha. I think for Ghanaians vans like ours are the best forms of off-road transport that they offer because I was amazed with how well the van handled, at least in the beginning, all of the bumps and potholes. Anyways, we continued and on and were able to meet with the village chiefs and talk with them about the purpose of the clinic’s outreaches and they all led to very positive outcomes. By the time we finished we were all super hungry, but we still had an hour drive before we would reach a place where we could eat. I would say 30 minutes into our drive back for food our van just broke down in the middle of the road and wouldn’t start no matter what we tried. A mechanic came as well as an electrician but they had no idea what the problem was, so after waiting 3 hours on the side of the road we pushed the van to a local health centre. Then, we waited for another van to come which the doctor and nurse negotiated for. Once we got the van we had a 4 hour drive back to Accra.
We did get stopped again by the police because we weren’t in our medically labeled van, but thankfully this time we had our passports. The officer did give me some flack saying that I didn’t look like the picture on my passport. That made me kind of mad, but it was also funny at the same time. Anyways, he couldn’t do anything because we had all of the right documentation. All in all, we made it back safely to Accra! 🙂
One of the things that has been a highlight on our outreaches is getting the time to throw the football with the kids here. I brought a bright colored nerf football that is easy to throw and catch. Whats amazing is how good the kids are at picking up the process f throwing and catching. It’s really amazing. The NFL really needs to start branching out to Africa because these kids are super athletic!
The Africa Cup is coming up at the beginning of June so we will be here to witness some cup games. Sadly, we won’t be able to watch one in person, but it will be in Africa as the cup games are played.
This week we worked for the Crystal Eye Clinic which does the most work and deals with the most patients. It also has the biggest team so it makes the 3 hour car rides really cramped, but I’d have to say I’ve gotten used to sleeping in the van in pretty much any upright position.
One thing that has been particularly frustrating this week was the language barrier. They say that the national language is English, but in the areas we’ve been traveling to I would say only 25% speak English well, the rest speak very few English words and mostly the Twi dialect. It can be frustrating dispensing medication to a mob of Ghanaians who are speaking Twi to you in a loud way and you have no idea what they are saying. You also have to describe the usage directions of the medication to the patients, which requires you to be very thorough and methodical.
The craziest thing that happened this week was on Tuesday when we worked inside a Government compound and there were tons of angry protestors who were upset about the fact that they hadn’t had electricity for the past couple weeks. They were so angry that they had been throwing large rocks at the police who were guarding the entrance of the compound. The police in response fired shots with their AK-47s but we were told they were just blanks. Later, when we finished helping all of the patients we exited the building in our van and saw all of the rocks on the road and the angry people stared right at us. Luckily, we took an alternate route to avoid the protestors. We later found out that 4 people were killed and 9 were injured. I was grateful we got back to our hotel safely.
Im ready for the weekend and the opportunity to gets some rest. Our hotels wifi has been out for the past couple days so I’m at an Internet cafe right now typing this up. We really are getting the full Ghana experience haha.
Days tend to fly by here in Ghana. Every day we do similar activities in our outreaches to local villages all around the eastern and western regions of Ghana. For each outreach we travel with a team that consists of fellow volunteers, an optometrist, ophthalmic nurses, and an outreach coordinator. We usually meet them all in the van outside of the Telecenter or outside of our sleeping accommodations if on a faraway outreach. We are usually expected to have eaten breakfast before leaving which usually consists of delicious bread and egg. The egg also has onions and other vegetables mixed in with it.
Once we are all packed into the van, we drive anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours to our outreach location. Usually on the ride I listen to music or play games on my phone to pass the time haha, but most often I’m asleep. It’s funny, even though the van is cramped, my backpack can be used as a nice pillow that I set on my lap and rest my head on. Once we arrive to the outreach location, we help the others unpack the van. The stuff we have to unload usually consists of medication, visual acuity charts, eyeglasses, the optometrist’s instruments, and other things. The interesting part about our outreaches is they all tend to be located in Christian Churches. It was cool to see people of all religions come to meet in these churches. They would always treat each other with love and respect. I thought this was a prime example of how people of opposite religions ought to treat each other.
Once we had unpacked the van, we would set everything up which usually consisted of 3 stations. The first would be the visual acuity station which is where us volunteers would work. Once the people had completed their visual acuity test, they would go on to meet with one of the ophthalmic nurses where they would get prescribed medication and or get referred to visit with the optometrist. If they weren’t referred to visit with the optometrist, they would proceed to the medication table. Where one of the officials worked along with 1 or 2 volunteers. Here the patient can buy their medication and or buy eyeglasses. The eyeglasses can be purchased for 3 Ghana cedi which is around $0.60. The reason they attached a price to the glasses is so that the patients didn’t take the eyeglasses for granted. They had noticed that when the glasses were free, the people didn’t treat them well, but once they put a small token price on the glasses, people also wanted to buy cases and they immediately saw an increase in the appreciation for the glasses.
Occasionally the optometrist would refer the patient to Accra for surgery. The patient would then talk to the coordinator and plan how they would get to Accra. The patient is expected to pay for his or her own travel, but the cost of the surgery is free, which is absolutely amazing because some of these people have no way to pay for surgery. Every once in a while we have the opportunity to shadow/observe these surgeries.
Once all of the patients have been cared for, we pack up and head back to the hotel or telecenter. We can now eat dinner and do whatever we want. Usually we go out and hang out on the beach or stay in the airconditioned areas of the hotel where we work on our assignments and use the WiFi. Life is good and I feel so blessed to be a part of this adventure.
This week we have had the opportunity to work with a different eye clinic. They run things a little differently than the other clinic so its been interesting to have the chance to work with them. Our group is bigger than St. Thomas’ group. We have 1 optometrist, 2 ophthalmic nurses, 2 drivers, and then 5 of us global health volunteers. With a team of this size all crammed into one van, we can really get a lot of patients tested, examined, and prescribed medication all in a days time. Yesterday in our outreach in Bonyere Junction we saw over 300 people and then today we went to the border town of Elubo where we saw over 450 people all from the country of Cote d’ivoire who had crossed the border earlier this morning, some making serious sacrifices, just to receive eye car. All of the people spoke French which was a challenge for us. Also, the Ghanaians that we were traveling with speak Twi and English, so they weren’t much of a help either. 4 of us volunteers did the visual acuity testing while the others worked on check-ups and dispensing medication. The people were so kind and I enjoyed picking up a few French words.
On the drive back I fell asleep but woke up pretty quick when my friends in the van told me that I needed my passport as we had been stopped at an immigration post. The problem was none of us had our passports because we had left them at the Telecenter in Accra for safe keeping. We would all have to stay at the post until our passports were presented. Luckily, a higher ranking official stepped in and assessed the situation. He noticed that we were driving in a medically registered vehicle with hospital signage etc. and told us that we shouldn’t have been stopped and reprimanded the other two officials. One of the officials was upset that we were getting let off. He had just wanted our money, but we didn’t end up having to pay a cent or spend the night at this police outpost. A total blessing. Everything is well and the work we are doing carries on.
This week was full of adventures as we worked with the St. Thomas Eye Clinic. On Tuesday we began our 3 day and 2 night outreach. We worked in the coastal town of Elmina and worked til around 5 pm, then got the opportunity to tour the Elmina Castle. The castle was originally built by the Portuguese then it was later taken over by the Dutch. The castle was mainly used as a port and hold for the many slaves being exported every day. There were many atrocities and terrible things that happened in the dungeons of this castle that are a staunch reminder to treat people of all races and ethnicities as equals, with nobody being lower or less important than anyone else. On Wednesday, we finished early and had the opportunity to go to the beach and relax. It felt good to get some beach air and sunshine (we are used to working indoors). Then on Thursday, we travelled back to the St. Thomas clinic where we spent the rest of the day shadowing the doctors as they performed cataract surgery and pterygium removal. It was so cool! Friday, we slept the night at the telecenter and it felt amazing to have air conditioning again. We then did another outreach Friday and then relaxed all day Saturday. I did my laundry, by hand, and then we went to the beach. Life is good!
Today we experienced our first day of actual service. We travelled to the St. Thomas Eye Clinic where we met up with the doctor (Juju) and nurse (Margaret) that we would be working with. We then travelled about 30 minutes to a local church where people were waiting to be examined. I was assigned to assess peoples vision by using the stereotypical visual charts that we see all the time at doctors offices. It was a fun job that kept me on my toes. I met a lot of fun people and the highlight for us was meeting this cute little African girl who loved playing with us. At first she was scared of us, probably because of our white skin, but over time she got really comfortable being around us! It was interesting to see the different eye problems that some of these people had. Many of them had 20/20 or even 20/17 vision for their distance vision but struggled to read words up close. There were also quite a few people who were nearly blind or completely blind. Many of these people will have surgery here in Accra to restore their vision.
I made it safely to the beautiful city of Accra! The air is warm and the people are so so kind. Im blessed to be with a good group of people that I have loved getting to know and also have the opportunity to travel with my good friends Andrew Wood and Gavin Morris. We are all settled in and have had some time to travel around the local area and eat some of the delicious food and see what culture is like here in Ghana. We were able to also go to Church at one of the local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints buildings here in Accra. It was nice to be able to settle down and just focus on Jesus Christ after being so busy traveling. I have more pictures to upload by the end of this week. Tomorrow we will travel to an outreach clinic and will be staying there for most of the week before we return to Accra on Friday. Keep you all posted!