I travelled to Ghana in August of 2012, when I was 16 years old. I had been to Africa a few times before but had never dreamt of travelling there alone, until I discovered the great opportunity that Projects Abroad offers. Also being one of the youngest volunteers I was able to learn from older volunteers who were in nursing school and medical school to get a better perspective of how things work in our modern hospitals compared to the hospitals in Africa.
I flew from Vancouver to Accra where I was thrown into new way of life very quickly, taking a tro tro (minibus) to Cape Coast. On my first day I was given tours around the city and hospital and told what to do, which allowed me to get started with my placement very quickly.
Why volunteer in Ghana?
I travelled to Ghana to learn about a new country and see how things work in a different part of the world, in a way that a tourist would never see unless they were injured or sick. I not only travelled there to take part in this amazing opportunity, I went there to learn about a new way of life, different careers and of course to try my best and help as much as I could. While I was there I realised how different it is than it is here at home and even having travelled to many places I never fully realised the dramatic differences in these societies.
The Medical project in Ghana
I was working in the accident and emergency department seeing injuries and illnesses that you would never have suspected to see at home. Every few days we would change to a different medical ward, such as male surgical, male medical, neo natal intensive care and paediatrics. We were also given opportunities to help clean and bandage wounds, help with pharmacy runs, take patients for X-rays, take blood samples to the lab and accompany the doctors and nurses on hospital rounds.
While at Cape Coast Central Regional Hospital I saw patients suffering from AIDS, diabetes which were septic, bullet wounds, cancer, drug addiction, malaria, typhoid, hunting or work injuries, premature babies, babies with birth defects and even a prisoner who suffered from mental illness. While I was at the hospital it ran out if oxygen and they didn't receive any more for 3-4 days, which made a very risky and challenging situation for doctors having to operate on emergency and extremely ill patients.
The hospital ran quite smoothly considering their lack of supplies and huge array of injuries that we would never see here. The doctors and nurses gave us many jobs to keep us busy and as many learning opportunities as possible.
Visiting the leprosy camp
Volunteers taking part in the medical programme were also able to visit a local leprosy camp, where we helped bandage wounds and talked with the people. At the leprosy camp we were able to put the skills that we learned in the hospital to use.
Volunteers were also given another opportunity where we were able to work with nurses to help mothers with newly born babies in a nearby town. There we gave babies vaccinations, vitamins, and weighed them. Seeing how the nurses took care of their patients was an eye opening experience, to watch them make such a big difference with such few supplies.
While I was in Ghana I talked to one of the Projects Abroad staff, and asked if I could take part in another placement after mine ended at 3pm each day (such as at an orphanage or child centre). I was given the amazing opportunity to work with two girls at Mothers Pride Day Care who suffered from cerebral palsy, since I had prior experience working with children with disabilities back here in Canada.
These children normally are not given much attention since there kept separate from children without disabilities. Through working at the hospital and these extra activities I saw a world that I had never imagined before. It opened my eyes and I learned way more than I would have ever expected to.
Staying with a host family
Our homestay families where very nice and welcoming, and gave us our space and independence yet they always looked after our needs. It was also nice having a few other volunteers around to share ones experiences with and to walk to the hospital with. Our homestay mom was able to give us advice and to help us whenever we needed her. She told us what to see and also the necessary safety precautions we needed to take.
One of the best experiences I had with my family was going to church with them. Church lasted for many hours, almost six hours with singing, dancing and also prayers and readings just like church at home. Things that were difficult to adjust to upon my arrival was the water that cut out quite often, electricity cut outs, lack of wifi and the different food. The other volunteers and myself quickly adapted to the lifestyle and accepted these challenges as they came, even though they would seem like a big deal at home.
On the weekends other volunteers and myself travelled by tro tro and taxi, to nearby attractions and further away cities, such as Kumasi, The Monkey Park, Stilt Village, Kakum National Park and of course enjoying the town of Cape Coast after our days at work. These were some of the most enjoyable experiences since we were able to talk about what we had seen and learned throughout the week and also see more of the country giving us even more experiences.
Ghana has many wonderful places to visit and beautiful scenery to see outside of the city, which made our often long bus, tro tro and taxi rides much more enjoyable. This extra travelling taught us even more independence and also allowed us to experience more of the culture.
My trip to Cape Coast, Ghana was an incredible experience that I will never forget. It allowed me to learn and experience so much and to experience a new way of life very different than that at home. I will never forget my great experiences at the hospital, day care centre, Leprosy camp, outreach and travelling. I was able to really see the dramatic differences in the way of life and also experience and see things that you could not even dream about at home. I would highly recommend Ghana as a Projects Abroad destination.