I had no idea what to expect once I arrived in the airport and got off the plane. I had never been outside of the United States before so a mixture of excitement and anxiety filled me up as I prepared myself for whatever there was to experience in Ghana.
In the two months that I spent in Ghana, I feel that I have grown as a person and have been opened up to new ideas and experiences. Volunteering in Ghana was an amazing experience and one of the best decisions I've ever made. My experience there enabled me to meet new people, try new things and gain medical experience, all while helping others.
I am a pre-medical student currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Biology and a concentration in Poverty Studies. I had to complete an internship for my studies and so I looked for medically oriented internships or volunteer opportunities that would also enable me to serve those who normally do not have access to medical care.
My Medical project
In the end, I decided to volunteer in Accra, Ghana for the HIV/Aids programme. I worked at Police Hospital and Korle-Bu Teaching Hospital from May until July 2011. I spent most of my time working in the HIV laboratory, Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission unit (PMTCT), and the counselling unit.
While volunteering in Ghana, I learned many skills that will help me with my future medical career. I was taught how to perform HIV and syphilis tests, CD4 counts, treat wounds, and to collect blood samples.
I was particularly thankful for the experience I gained because, as an undergraduate student, in the US I would only be allowed to observe patients being treated, maybe observe counselling sessions if I were very lucky, or observe testing. However, as a volunteer in Ghana I was expected to be active and interact with the patients as well as learn to and eventually, if I felt comfortable enough, perform the duties that nurses and lab technicians perform.
Medical outreach programmes
As part of the HIV/AIDS volunteer programme we also conducted outreaches in some of the surrounding areas of Accra. We provided medical services and education on HIV/AIDS to children living in orphanages and attending schools in nearby areas. Many of the children had easily treatable wounds but sometimes the wounds would become infected because there was not much access to treatment.
We became their only chance for receiving any medical attention because either their families could not afford doctor visits, or there simply were not enough medical resources in the area.
Free time in Ghana
When we were not working, volunteers had the opportunity to explore Accra and travel during the weekends. Within Accra there is the Arts Centre where you can buy handmade souvenirs like bracelets, bags, and artwork and also get a quick drum lesson. There is also Makola Market where there are vendors who sell just about everything but most volunteers go there to buy beautiful fabrics from various vendors.
Outside of Accra I visited Cape Coast which has a nice beach resort that many of the volunteers stayed in and also historic Cape Coast Castle which provided a glimpse into Ghana's connection to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. There is also Kakum National Park where we walked within the forest canopy on bridges made out of nothing but wooden planks and rope.
Cape Coast also has a Monkey Sanctuary which includes different animals such as Nile crocodiles, civet cats, baby antelope, and pythons, in addition to monkeys. They also have turtles that they’ll let visitors hold. I've also been to Ada Foah, where I drank sugar cane water (delicious) for the first time and relaxed on the banks of the Volta River while having lunch.
Outside from the medical experience and the travel opportunities I had while volunteering, I was also able to experience West African culture. There are so many different rich cultures in Africa and being there exposed me to this in a way that could not happen in the US It also led me to understand a little more about my own culture as I am African American, and how it is still similar to these cultures that it came from.
Being a volunteer gave me the opportunity not only to be exposed to Ghanaian culture but also the culture of the other volunteers. The volunteers I've met came from all over the world including places such as the US and Europe to countries like Morocco and Japan.
Volunteering in Ghana was an experience of a lifetime, something that I remind myself of every day. There is not a day that I don't think about Ghana, the things that I got to see and do, or the people that I've met there.
I have learned a lot about other people and myself in this experience as well and I can only hope and pray that one day I'll eventually be able to visit again. Until then, Ghana remains forever in my heart.