The First American Medical Brigade to Ghana
A blog post by: Orion Haas, Co-Founder of GB Ghana
On the evening of December 21, the first American Global Brigades group to visit Ghana departed for home after one of the most powerful and inspiring Brigades ever to happen. For 10 days, UCLA’s group of 59 volunteers worked alongside the community members of Ekumfi Abuakwa to support the community in increasing its access to holistic healthcare. This was accomplished through an inspiring opening ceremony, more personal door-to-door conversations, 4 full days of clinics and a final day of Public Health initiatives. In this short time, UCLA was able to see almost 1,200 patients, representing 3 different communities. Even more surprising and impressive was the team’s ability to connect immediately to the town of Abuakwa. We can be sure that neither group will ever forget each other.
Beginning on the first day in the community, UCLA’s opening ceremony set the stage for an unprecedented interaction between a Brigade and a community. As our largest and most experienced group ever to come to Ghana, UCLA brought enough energy to keep up with the community’s powerful presence. The opening ceremony engaged more than 400 people, including most of the chiefs, the Asaafo Company (the traditional warriors) and the majority of the households in Abuakwa. Still, the students were not intimidated at all, and during a final dance competition, organized by GB and the community, UCLA students gave everything they had. Unfortunately, they could still not beat the community’s reigning champion (and previous winner versus King’s College London GMB in August), a boy of 8 years who goes by “China”.
On day 2 in the community, all 59 UCLA students split into groups of 2-3 to visit almost every house in the Abuakwa. The goal was not to interview or survey the people, but rather to simply spend time getting to know the families of the town, to share stories and experiences and to practice communicating through interpreters. Through this process, students were able to understand the lives of the community members more fully, and the families of Abuakwa were also able to more completely understand the lives of the UCLA students. This laid the groundwork for the clinical days to come.
Brigade days 3-6 in the community were the clinical days, defined by the beautiful “chaos” that all Medical Brigades create in Honduras, Panama and Ghana. The triage team took blood pressure, temperature, conducted glucose tests, and gathered basic symptoms and patient history, while students shadowed doctors in our consultation room and others ran the hectic, yet efficient pharmacy. UCLA was also happy to provide 3 additional clinical stations, some for the first time ever in Ghana! These stations were Dental, Public Health Education and OBGYN. In dental, students shadowed both local and foreign dentists doing cleanings and tooth extractions, while others taught community members how to properly floss and brush their teeth. In OBGYN, female Brigaders had the opportunity to shadow a Ghanaian doctor working with women’s health, and for the first time in GB Ghana history we were able to offer pap smears to any female patients! And lastly, at the Public Health Education station, students engaged with community members on topics including nutrition, physical therapy, malaria and clean drinking water. Through powerful sales pitches, the UCLA team was even able to sell (at a heavily subsidized rate) more than 55 LifeStraws! Each LifeStraw is able to filter water for a home of 8 people for 2-3 years. In other words, more than 400 community members in Abuakwa now have access to clean drinking water until 2014! And, as students began discussing other issues of health, it became clear that body pains were a very common challenge within the community. What was the students’ response? Massage! Community members were offered a massage by several UCLA team members while waiting at the pharmacy. What excellent service!
Overall, there were smiles on all faces, and by the time that the last day in the community came around, our “Public Health Day”, UCLA students had made life-long friends. On our final morning of work, students went door-to-door once more to install LifeStraw filters (we installed more than 30!), follow up with all prescribed medicine to ensure proper usage, and to share best practices for family and individual health. By then, these were just conversations between friends.
The day ended with a powerful closing ceremony, a final dance competition and some words from the UCLA team leaders. Goodbyes and “see you laters” were exchanged and the bus loaded for Mankessim, the location of the UCLA GMB accommodations.
As UCLA left to return to the U.S., the leaders expressed their final thoughts. “”My 10 days in Ghana were easily the most life changing in my 22 years of life,” says Adnan Khan, President of GMB at UCLA. “A textbook never would be able to adequately relate the experiences I had in those short 10 days. I come back from Ghana having a rekindled passion for development with a holistic approach…I know I can speak for the rest of my group in saying that we are itching to get back.” Priscilla Mapelli, the co-lead for this trip, adds “[My time in] Ghana has created an entirely new outlook on developmental work. It inspired me, and I realized for the first time what it truly means to not only empower a community but more importantly, empower students to be socially responsible. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart for the opportunity to work with Global Brigades.”
From the staff and the community members of Abuakwa, we say a huge thank you to UCLA for all of your work and for the energy and kindness that you brought to each of your interactions in Ghana. Your Brigade will not be forgotten, and we hope to see you and many more volunteers from the United States in Ghana very soon.