Volunteer Medical Assistant Sanaa in gorgeous Ghana

Posted on the 26th August 2019

Sanaa was a volunteer medical assistant in gorgeous Ghana. Her placement gave her the opportunity to learn new skills and immerse herself successfully into a culture wonderfully different from home.

Why Ghana?

I chose Ghana for a few reasons – I knew I wanted to do one of Lattitude’s volunteer medical assistant placements so my decision was basically between Japan and Ghana and I was more interested in spending my time in a small African health centre/hospital rather than a bustling hospital in Japan. Plus travelling to Africa has always been a dream of mine and I knew I would be able to make a bigger difference volunteering in a 3rd world country.

What made you volunteer in the first place?

When I was still in high school, my brother took a gap year through Camp America and he absolutely loved it. By the time I got to year 13, I was certain that I was going to take a gap year but I wanted to spend my year of doing something with more meaning and purpose that ideally would help me make a decision about university. When Lattitude came to my school and talked about the placements they had in health care (I was considering Health Sciences), it was a no brainer for me!

My Placement:

I spent my 6 months volunteering in Supomu Dunkwa Health Centre and I honestly don’t think it could have been better. It was a small clinic but it had a laboratory, family planning unit, treatment room, maternity room and in a separate building there was a prosthetic centre where my host dad worked.

I spent around 2-5 weeks in each department although on quiet days I went wherever  the patients were – originally they made a roster for my volunteer partner and I but they had no problems with us altering it whenever we found a department we loved. All members of staff were so welcoming and they loved teaching us and helping try new things on the job, there’s no way I would’ve had the confidence to try the things I did at work without them.

As well as many aspects of hands-on patient care, I also helped with insurance claims and administering/packaging medicine in the pharmacy, taking the vitals of patients and general admin work in the maternity unit. I was also lucky enough to witness a few natural births which was an experience that I’m super grateful for.

My accommodation and host family:

Before I left for Ghana, the thing I was most nervous about was my host family which looking back seems crazy because they were hands down the highlight of my 6 months. There was a change in my host family a few days before I arrived due to unforeseen circumstances which caused my original family to move to a smaller house however a few months into the placement they ended up building a new room in their house purely so they could host my volunteer partner and I as originally planned so we ended up having two host families!

They were both incredible and it was pretty cool to have two homes in Ghana. I genuinely think my host dad is the kindest man I have, and probably will ever, meet in my entire life! He and my host mum went above and beyond in every way possible – building an extension to his house for us, taking us out to celebrate Ghana’s independence day and so much more.

They also had 4 kids, who I now consider as my own siblings. Most evenings spent with them we played football or other games outside, watched TV together or played card games. My favourite weekends in Ghana, were the ones I spent with them, especially when we went to the beach for the afternoon, watching them throw themselves into the waves and have the time of their lives was a priceless experience. I could go on forever about how incredible and kind my family was, I already have plans to return to Ghana just so I can see them again!

In both houses, my roommate and I shared a room, slept on a mattress each and the windows and doors were fitted with mosquito nets. Our homes were a lot better than I was expecting, families in Ghana are all very clean – they often wake up around 5am to sweep the compound! We mainly had bucket showers which you come to love.

Language:

At first, the new language and understanding people’s accents in Ghana is a little bit difficult – in my region I lived in, the local language was Fante. I remember on my first day in the lab, I thought I’d never understand the head lab technician but a couple of weeks later we were easily having full conversations.

All the children learn to speak english in school plus most adults know common phrases at very least. I’m horrible at learning languages but almost everyone I met – my family, staff at the clinic and strangers on the tro tro (Ghana’s version of public transport) – wanted to give me a Fante lesson so I ended up picking up the language pretty easily.

Orientation:

Orientation is all a bit of a blur with all the nerves but it was super helpful to settle in to. Our Lattitude managers and other staff briefed us on the local culture, taught us a bit about healthcare/hospitals in Ghana, taught us some of the language we’d be speaking at our placements and sorted sim cards for us (SUPER helpful). It wasn’t all just sitting inside the hotel though which was nice, we got out to see a few sights in Accra and had a lot of down time which gave us an opportunity to get to know the other volunteers.

Differences between home and Ghana:

The main difference between home and Ghana was that their way of life is simply more basic. They wash by hand, often have bucket showers and have far more basic technology. At first it’s a bit of a shock but now that I am back in New Zealand, I can honestly say I miss it. Another difference, is that the people in Ghana are so much happier – less really is more. The simplicity of life in Ghana brings out the small pleasures in life and it reflects in almost everyone you see, especially the children!

Obviously, another huge difference is the climate but as long as you stay hydrated, you get used to it pretty quick, I ended up feeling like it was getting cold when it went below  26 degrees.

Ghanaian Food:

I hyped myself up to lose weight while I was in Ghana, thinking that the food would be average and I wouldn’t eat much. I couldn’t have been more wrong. My host mum was the most amazing cook, street food (as long as you’re careful is delicious and everyone wants to feed you! Of course I didn’t like every bit of Ghanaian food I was given but my host family made it clear from the very beginning that if I ever didn’t like something to tell them so as long as I was open about how I felt we were both happy. Ghanaian food is all quite heavy and it’s carbs all day every day. Some of the most common foods are

  • Jolloff rice (basically just rice cooked in tomato paste)
  • Plantain (kind of like a savoury banana) and bean stew (my absolute favourite meal)
  • Rice and stew (some examples of stew:
  • egg stew, goat stew, bean stew or my favourite: tomato stew)
  • Rice balls in soup (one of my favourite dishes)
  • Fufu and soup (a traditional Ghanaian dish)

Favourite moments:

There’s no way I can pick a single moment that was my favourite over the 6 months in Ghana but like I said before, the best part was that I gained a new family. Their kindness and how easy they made it for me to transition into a completely new way of life was something I will never forget. They are most of the reason I can say confidently say that coming to Ghana was one of the best decisions of my life.

The second best part of my Ghana trip was having my real family meet my new family! Mum has always wanted to go to Africa and after describing how beautiful the country and my host family were I managed to convince her and my cousin to travel from NZ and spend just over two weeks with us at the end of my placement! Sharing my new home with them and watching them fall in love with the people and the country was unforgettable.

My impact on Ghana:

I think by being a volunteer helping out the nurses, meeting new people and spending time with people in your community you end up making a small impact day by day without even realising it.

Every Tuesday, myself a few other volunteers living in the area used to travel to a town near by called Kissi where we would play a game of football with some kids from that village. It was another highlight of the trip; we played on a bumpy dirt field with half punctured balls but everyone was always SO happy.

Anyway, I decided to start a givealittle page in hopes of raising money to get every kid we played with their own personalised football shirt and I got into contact with some companies in NZ which ended up working really well. We raised over $900.00, had shirts and footballs donated and some of printing costs covered so were able to get the children their own t-shirt and a few footballs plus with left over money and huge contributions from a few people we donated a suctioning machine and tubes, aprons, lab sample tubes and hand sanitisers for the clinic.

Travel in Ghana:

I travelled all over Ghana in my 6 months there, all the volunteers had around 3 weeks off over Easter where we went travelling plus I spent many weekends exploring new places on the West Coast. Travelling around Ghana was a lot easier than I expected and there is so much to see and do around the country which made travelling a high point of the trip.

I think my two favourite places while travelling was Mole National Park (a Ghana must do) and a village called Amedzofe. We spent a few days at Mole going from safari walks and drives a couple of times a day which was incredible, especially because you get up super close to elephants! Amedzofe is a village built up in the mountains, the highest human settlement in Ghana, which had a really strong sense of community and the most welcoming people!

Other volunteers:

For me spending 6 months with the same group of people meant I ended up closer to the other volunteers than I am with people I have known for years. I can definitely say I built some lifelong friendships while I was away and I’m stoked about that. Having a group of volunteers near by that are in the same situation is like having your own support system and I’m also super grateful to have them now that I’m back in NZ re-adjusting to life at home.

Personal Development:

Ghana definitely helped me grow a lot as a person. Being around such kind, warm and genuinely happy people while living a much simpler way of life made me appreciate things we all take for granted back at home. I admire the way people in Ghana are so much happier although it seems that they have so much less so coming back to New Zealand, I am trying to apply the ‘less is more’ philosophy to my everyday life.

Additionally Ghana has definitely helped me gain confidence in myself and my abilities and has shown me the benefits of pushing past my comfort zones.

My future path:

Ghana has had a huge impact on helping me decide my future path. For the last 5 years, I thought I’d study health sciences but during my time in Ghana I realised that I spent far more time thinking about the pollution, waste and rubbish across the country than my patients and the healthcare. I absolutely loved the placement and I would be keen to do a similar volunteering program but the 6 months helped me decide that it’s not the career path for me.

 

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