Ghana – Mandy Meeks

Report on Ghana, August 2012

I spent 3 wonderful weeks volunteering in Ghana in August of this year. I went out with an organisation called the Volta Aid Foundation (VAF). They take their name from the Volta region of Ghana which is situated in the East of the country.

I stayed with a host Ghanian family which gave me a unique insight into the way Ghanaians’ live. They cooked all our food and made sure we felt at home at all times. They had a son called Senyo who is 12 years old and who loved to sit and play games with us at any time of the day. His father Sena told us many interesting facts about Ghana and even taught me some of the local language of Ewe.

My volunteering was mainly in the Royal Hospital in the city of Ho where we also lived. It is a private hospital which was started by one of the doctors who still is the main consultant there. I helped with triage in the outpatients department of the hospital, working alongside a trained nurse. I had taken my own blood pressure kit from the UK along with me which was just as well as they didn’t have enough for us to use. We would take blood pressure, temperature and weight of every patient who came in to see a doctor. Some patients we discovered were very ill and we had to act quickly. A few children with dangerously high temperatures came in and had to be cooled down and given medication to bring down the fever, mostly this is caused by malaria in Ghana. Almost 80% of patients I found out come in with malaria symptoms. I had a chance to see what the workers in the laboratory do which is not something I have been able to do in the UK, they were willing to show me the different tests including malaria and the theory about it. It is not often you get to see at a very basic level how different tests are done and especially to see how things look under a micro-scope!

On some Saturdays the VAF organise diabetic outreach sessions which are free for villagers to attend, so I was able to go along to 2 of these while in Ghana. We’d go to a local village at the crack of dawn and set up a few tables and chairs and get out blood sugar checking machines and blood pressure kits. The villagers would have found out about the sessions through local radio broadcasts and leaflet campaigns. On both diabetic outreach days we had over 150 people just turn up to have their blood pressure and sugar tested, there was also a trained nurse or nutritionist on hand to sit down and educate the people about their health and how they should eat healthily and exercise often. These days could not happen without the volunteers that go out to Ghana, by paying to be out there we contribute financially to equipment used and by our numbers we can see so many people and show them that looking after their health is important. VAF also take supplies to the hospital, take food to a local orphanage and give out free mosquito nets too in order to try to prevent some people getting malaria. I had a chance to go and play with the kids at a local orphanage called Remar orphanage. Some volunteers were staying there with the children and taking them out on day trips of which without the volunteers it would be hardly possible for them to go.

I was able to sit in on many consultations with patients and ask doctors questions about care and the health system in Ghana. I was able to witness an operation and babies being born and through my own initiative I went to a hospital in Accra city to see how women with breast cancer are treated. Having had breast cancer myself 3 years ago I was able to show the women I met how they can have reconstruction and how they can get on with their lives again and work after treatment which they told me was very inspirational to them. I was able to leave behind some things that I had needed through my treatment and no longer need which I had found out through facebook they had been lacking. I made a lot of contacts in Ghana and will do my best now I am home to maintain these and to do as much as I can to help the people who I met and who welcomes me so warmly. I am already planning a fundraiser in to help raise some money for VAF.

VAF have asked me to be their English ambassador which I am very honoured to have been asked to do. It means I can encourage others to volunteer with VAF and give them an idea what it is like and what we can bring to others in the world. Some of the people of Ghana who were able to speak some English said how grateful they were to have us there and for us to have given up time to volunteer there. This is the only reward that I could have wanted that I did some good over in Ghana. The people were so warm and friendly and I know I have left a lasting impression on some of them. My family I stayed with in particular really looked after us well, we felt safe and secure with them and always looked forward to coming home after a long day at the hospital or on one of our outreach clinics. We swapped photos and life stories and talked about the differences of our culture and became very close. I was so sad to leave but when filling in their special book they have for volunteers let them know how much they meant to me and how their kindness will stay with me always.

I would like to thank the Eleanor Peel fund for contributing to my trip of a lifetime. The friends I made in Ghana will stay with me for a very long time and I hope one day to go back and take out more supplies and help out at more clinics. It has also reinforced how much I love volunteering and giving up my time for people. I hope you enjoy some of the photos I took while I was out in Ghana.