Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Project GROW

On Sunday we traveled to Bolgatanga to visit the Project GROW (Ghana Rural Opportunities for Women)village for a celebration day. Our van pulled up to about 200 women gathered around us all singing so beautifully, dancing and clapping as we arrived. It was a surreal and wonderful moment. Project Grow was started by Vida, a nurse from Ghana who did her masters thesis at UBCO.
Although some parts of Ghana are doing well, rural northeast Ghana remains far behind, with an infant mortality rate that is among the highest in the world. The leading cause continues to be poverty. The people have skills and knowledge to be self-sufficient, but in their developing world, they lack the resources. Project GROW taps into local knowledge and provides these resources. All of the initiatives have been determined by the participants. Self-determination, local knowledge and abilities, and community goal setting are the key elements of Project GROW.
It offers women micro loans to buy livestock so they have a source of income for themselves. When women have control over income it empowers them in the village. The project has taken off and it has been amazing to see how much their hard work has accomplished.  Of each goat bought, it's first baby goat is given to the next woman in the village so that she also has a chance to make a change and sustain the project. From this, the women have been able to get together and purchase a grain mill to make food, and were able to build a store house to cover the mill and stock the grain they are producing. The ability to store and produce so much more food has helped their village in incredible ways. Now the women have been able to raise enough money to build a new building. This building will house a maternal health center, a community meeting room, and an adult literacy program. As well, they were able to send a woman to a larger center to learn how to make baskets, sew, and other trades, which she could then teach other women in the village. There is a group in Salmon Arm who donated money and the women were able to buy two donkeys and a cart which will help them take their supplies to town. Our nursing grad class also had four girls who worked with the project in their third year, and for Jackie, who was on the trip with us, I think this was especially wonderful to see what they are doing. The adult literacy program will teach the women basic reading and writing skills, such as how to write their names, and basic math skills for working in town and going to the bank. It was an amazing day, and seeing these empowered women who are working so hard and have been able to do so much for their village, was heart warming and inspirational. There is a famous quote that they use here in Ghana: "If you help a man you are only helping a man, if you help a woman you are helping the village". This is what Project GROW has done.

You can read more about it on facebook: http://www.facebook.com/groups/191469730895043/#!/pages/Project-GROW/169593749760275?sk=info

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Arriving In Tamale (Rachel, Michelle, Lyndsay and Ellen)

It took us two days to travel from Enchi to Tamale and we even managed to get onto a Yutong which is like a mini bus with air conditioning and no loud Nigerian soap operas blaring in the back ground. We were honestly in heaven as soon as we arrived in Tamale. Our instructor Muriel was like “what is wrong with you guys? It’s like you’re on cloud 9″ AND IT WAS. We were so grateful that Tamale had internet, and Indian food, great pizzas, hamburgers. We didn’t even know a land like this existed in all of Ghana. There’s a few new sounds to get used to. The morning prayer from the mosques at 4 am being one. These strange pale bats that make this repetitive bomb ticking down kind of sound would be the second.  (There are an unreal amount of bats that are in the trees at all times. They are huge and wethought bats were nocturnal!) The weather felt hotter but it was dry so we weren’t in a mask of sweat 24 hours a day. The girls let us know that they left a thermometer in the sun for the day and temps reached 45 degrees. yeowzaaa! Just another factoid: We (aka Lyndsay) realized that Ghanaian time would be relative, but did not know temperature could be relative. When we were in Enchi it was at least 37 degrees out and people were dressing in winter jackets and warm sweaters. We were like “so what’s with the sweaters??” and they laughed at us and replied with some statement about it being so cold and how they were awaiting the warm season. Apparently the clinic had also been less busy during the last few weeks because people were less inclined to visit the clinics in this “freezing” weather. All the while we are sporting sweat mustaches; the least flattering of all the mustaches.
Our first night back we were reunited with groups we hadn’t seen since we left and so we celebrated like nurses do. On the dance floor. It was Anna’s birthday so we headed out to Crest which had a roof top bar. It was overwhelming, but we definitely had a good time.
We will post soon about our hospital experiences and our wonderful time at Mole National Park!

Late Entry from Our Time in Enchi (January 16th to February 2nd)- Our group (Rachel, Michelle, Lyndsay and Ellen).
We got there on a tro tro and we would probably describe it as a skeletor version of an astro van? They often pack it with 16-20 people, live stock, luggage and any other goods they can cram in. We learned from my past bus experiences that dehydration was the key to an enjoyable journey, because you may only stop once in these 6-8 hour long trips.
When we arrived into this red dusty town after a very dusty and sweaty ride, the most wonderful lady picked us up, the clinic’s midwife Philomena. She is the best. We can honestly say there are very few people as welcoming and as generous as her. She’s got this cheeky sense of humour, knew where to find the best mangos, pineapple, and avacado (which tastes almost sweet here!), says the cutest ‘so sorry’s” AND when you were having a bad day you’d completely forget about it after you had dinner with her. Everyone in the town knows Philomena, because she’s worked with the Presbyterian church to get the clinic off the ground over the last 18 years or so. She’s traveled to Germany and Canada, and when we asked her where she went in Canada guess what she said… Salmon Arm!! If that wasn’t a sign that we were meant to be in Enchi, I don’t know what is.
Enchi was great. Reasonably priced, our hotel had AC and a fridge (luxury) and the people were unlike any other. If you were ever thinking of coming to Ghana, we would recommend Enchi but only if you have the time to meet the locals because they’re what made it worth it. It’s like a 3 day treck from Accra, there aren’t many interesting tourist attractions other than the Cocoa fields and the view of the rain forest, the food lacks variety but we learned so much from this little excursion.

The clinic - For two and a half weeks we worked at the local clinic which was made by the Presbyterian church but is now financially funded by the Ghanaian government. When we were there, there was a German midwife visiting for a month from the church so they’re still very much involved. The health care system is set up similarly to Canada. It’s largely government funded and if they pay 17 Ghana Cedis their care can be fully funded by the government (wealthier people pay more, but to give you some perspective lower income jobs pay 3 cedis a day and one cedi is 60 cents Canadian.)  The clinics treat a lot of the major diseases. Malaria, respiratory tract infections, STIs, antenatal care, and births. Emergencies go to a larger hospital in Enchi. I was actually really impressed by how much they do. But of course there were sketchy things we saw – but I won’t go into details here. A lot of the first week was observation but then we learned the ropes and started IVs, gave a lot of injections, participated in 3 births (including a caesarian section at the bigger hospital), spoke up in the staff meetings, and politely questioned their practice.
Our favorite time of all though was our trips to the villages outside of Enchi. These places were RURAL. like  RURAL RURAL maybe 300 people to a village, mud and grass huts, little to no english spoken and kids who’ve never seen a brunie (or a whitie) in their lives. Community health nurses visited these villages monthly to give immunizations and weigh the babies to make sure they’re growing. Moms come because they get to meet up with other moms. It was pretty sad to see a lot of the kids were in the 60-80% percentile in terms of growth and weight and that the Ghanaian health care standards of how much a baby should weigh is lower than in Canada. But man those kids were CUTE, and it was sweet to see how much good was going on with these rural outreach trips.
Our second favorite part was probably learning the local language. It’s called twi/chi and we mostly learned it when we spent our days with the pharmacy girls. It was the best thing we could do, it made it easier to chat with our patients, shop at the market and when we said our few phrases it was like an instant joke with whoever we were talking to.

The Presbyterian School- Philomena helped us arrange a visit to the Presbyterian School in Enchi. Michelle had worked with the Aberdeen Hall Grade 3 and Grade 5 students in Kelowna in her Political Action Project earlier in the year. They had donated packages with items like toothbrushes, soaps, combs and toys for the children in Ghana. They had also created brochures about themselves, and included a world map to give to the school. We had brought these items as well as Canadian souvenirs and visited each class in the school. The students ranged from age 5 to 20 years of age. It was a very exciting and fun day meeting with the students and teachers. We were exhausted afterwards, but it such a wonderful experience and rewarding to see how excited they were to meet us!

The Food – We tried many local dishes including banku and fufu which are like a spicy tomatoey soups with this uncooked dough made out of corn meal and casava root. You dip the dough in the soup and eat it. There’s usually fish or grass cutter thrown in there for protein. Grass cutter was like this beaver/rat animal. We couldn’t eat it after we went to the grass cutter farm because it weirded us out too much but at the time it tasted kinda like pot roast. Red Red was a dish we actually quite liked. It was fried plantain (a starchy version of a banana) and spicey tomatoey beans. Otherwise we were really glad we were told to bring ichiban, oatmeal, and protein bars. The guide book couldn’t be more spot on when it described Ghanaian cuisine as ‘something to be tried, but rarely missed by travelers’.

The Church - Almost every single person would inevitably ask “Are you married? do you go to church every sunday?” We went to church twice during our stay and that was quite the experience! The sermon vasilated back and fourth between the local language and english but the rest of the service was in Twi/Chi. Our favorite part of it was the dancing. Ghanaians get down! In many ways it would rival a dubstep concert, and it was probably the loudest experience of my life (they popped us right beside the speakers, and the services we went to were 3 hours long and we were told that we were leaving early!!).

So all in all we wouldn’t have traded Enchi for anything. We met amazing people, were treated so well, learned so much.

Life in Tamale

The first week in Tamale passed in a flash. Many of us had the opportunity to try working in wards we had never tried before; Emergency, NICU, Labour and Delivery and Paediatric Emergency. A couple of us were truly amazed to see the babies being born in the labour and delivery ward. It's an incredible feeling to witness such a magical and precious moment in a persons' life.

A few of our group members were also able to bring about change in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) as they had additional training which allowed them to relay further knowledge to the ward. Babies who were once dehydrated plumped up, and the reasons why we are in Ghana became tangible once again.

Alongside the clinical experiences, we were able to travel to Mole national park and bask in the beauty of the surrounding area. Baboons paraded around the restaurant, and elephants were in full view at the watering hole down the canyon from the mole motel. A jeep tour took us through the natural splendors of the forest. The next day, a morning walking tour brought us up close and personal with elephants, antelope, monkeys, and the like. The rocky tro tro ride on the dirt road back to Tamale was exhausting, however the
comedic baboon thief who stole bread from a truck in the mole motel's parking lot kept a smirk on our faces.

We have begun another week and are starting to feel the time slipping away. Only one more week and we will begin traveling once more.

It has been an incredible journey thus far, and things are not over just yet.

Amy D., Amy W., Darlene, Jennifer, Brittney

Monday, February 13, 2012

Nurses Guide to Ghana: The Do's and Don'ts and facts for survival

Alanna G, Alanna B, Emma, Ingrid and I (Kim) are having a great time in Kaleo working at the Kaleo Health Clinic. We have helped deliver a baby boy in the middle of the night, diagnosed patients, and got to buy the clinic a nebulizer, examination table and sterilizer with the money we raised at the International Gala! We are loving our time here and it feels like home! This past weekend we went to the Hippo reserve where we biked 18 km into the reserve in the sand, saw hippos and slept under the stars in a tree fort! We've learned a lot over the past 5 weeks we have been gone! Here's some wisdom from us that we have sometimes learned the hard way!

- Do get your wisdom teeth removed before you get to Africa, unless you want to get them removed in the back of an RV
- Dont think you'll get anything stronger than Advil after your dental surgery
- Don't think you are tanned before you shower - its probably mostly dirt!
- Don't think that biking 18 km on Ghanaian roads is going to be as easy as 18 km in Canada
- Do try the street food - dough balls, egg sandwiches, guinea fowl, red red, plantains, and all the amazing fruit!
- Don't ask whats in your food
- Do expect that outside the washrooms might be nicer than inside
- You know you are in Africa when; you suddenly love canned food (beans and fruit cocktails), when all you can see in the dark are sometimes peoples smiles, rice and beans are a favorite meal, and there are as many goats as there are people
-  Don't expect vans (tro-tro's) to have a maximum capacity, there's always more room on the roof or someones lap!
- Do expect to share the tro-tro with one or more goats backed on the roof or in the trunk baa-ing in your ear the entire trip
- Don't expect your tro-tro to make it anywhere on time, or in one piece
- Do keep your scrubs and gloves next to your bed in case there are births during the night!
- Don't expect the dirt and dust to come out
- Don't forget to introduce yourself to EVERYONE on the ward when you come to work
- Don't projectile vomit on the street
- Do bring a headlamp for hands free, night births and suturing
- Do expect everyone to have a cell phone, even if they live in a hut in a small village and aren't wearing shoes
- Do say yes to all invitations - you never know when you will be invited to watch a football match, a Muslim wedding, your professor being kinged by a village, play ultimate frisbee with Engineers Without Borders, or a good-bye party for Canadian chiropractors
- Do try the local dishes: banku, fufu, and red red!
- Do bring headbands - it hides the fact that you haven't showered this week
- Don't be offended when people hiss at you - its how people get others attention
- Don't expect traffic to stop for you. ever.
- Do play soccer with the local kids
- Don't expect to win. Even if you challenge 7 year olds who aren't wearing shoes
- Do expect to find a use for everything - even garbage. Water bags make good hats, coats, and soccer balls
- Do expect baboons to chase you if you have food
- Don't expect to have power or water all the time, Do fill up your bucket the night before just in case
- Do go dancing with the locals and do bring your professor!
- Do make friends with the Cuban Dr's, you will learn Spanish, Dagbani, and get to diagnose your own patients
- Do expect everyone's stories to break your heart
- Do expect to nurse in sandles
- Do expect everyone to be in the hospital because of Malaria or motor vehicle accidents (scooters mostly)
- Don't expect to always have a Dr around
- Do expect to drink 3L of water a day
- Do expect to learn a lot about the culture, nursing and yourself
- Do expect everyone you meet to want to become a nurse
- Do expect to meet the most heart warming and amazing people. Sister Edith has devoted her life to the clinic we are working at and is so kind and loves to joke around with us. Dr Abdulai received the Martin Luther King award this year for his work and we were so fortunate to go to both his clinics to work for a day. He helps people in villages for free, the only condition is they work together to care for each other and must build a hut on his property for their village people to stay in with their families while they are being treated. We also were able to bring seeds from a previous student so Dr Abdulai could continue to grow his garden that helps feed people living on the street with Mental health issues. Google him if you have time, he is the most compassionate and upbeat man. We were so lucky to have gone and worked with him!

Heres a news report about Dr. Abdulai: http://www.modernghana.com/news/373431/1/dr-abdulai-given-martin-luther-king-jnr-award.html

We will finish off our week in Kaleo, it has been the best experience so far, and are heading to Bolgatanga for the Project Grow celebration!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Two weeks in Kaleo

Our group (Amy D., Amy W., Jennifer, Darlene, and Brittney) went to Kaleo located in the upper North-West region of Ghana. It was here that we were able to experience village life in Ghana to the fullest. Upon arrival, we met Titus the clinic driver, and sister Edith the main nurse and midwife. She let us help within the Kaleo health center clinic, whose main focus is on safe labour and delivery, and antenatal care. We quickly learned what an amazing person sister Edith truly is. When asked how many babies she has delivered in her career, she couldn't answer. She eventually estimated about one a day for the past 25 years. This is in part becuase she works at all hours of the day and night. She is one of the driving forces in a village who has become a shining example of how to decrease infant and maternal mortality rates with basic health care access and awareness. We also met brother John Boscoe, the mastermind behind the Kaleo clinic, and the main organizer of many health care programs within this region.

We were fortunate enought to witness and help sister Edith deliver two babies. They were amazing experiences, ones which we will not soon forget. We also gave school health talks to the local elementaries and high schools. Each school laughed at the sound of our Canadian accents! We were careful to speak in slow pronunciated dialogue so that our points could be clearly made. However, each school had a teacher who was brilliant at translating our points when necessary. The children came up with great questions, and many came up to us afterwards for further enquiries.

Up North a bit from Kaleo is a bigger city center called Jirapa. We worked in the hospital there in the pediatric, and maternity wards. We witnessed many interesting things here, but it was the friendliness of the people that caught our attention. Some of us were able to give many babies their first bath on the maternity ward. We taught the students on the ward how to do it; the staff in turn, taught us how to bundle the babies in the blankets giving them a hood on top. On the pediatric ward we were able to hand out stickers and brighten up some of the kids' days. However, some of the children were scared of us strange foreigners and cried instead.

The wonderful part of Kaleo was the sense of community and togetherness. The kids stopped by our compound regularily to play a game of soccer. It was a big event because we would pick up more wandering children as we walked to the field to play. They would lumber onto our backs, hold our hands, and outrun us around the field when it came to playing soccer. They were absolutely adorable, and truly humbling to meet.

The nurses at the clinic were all lovely and including of all of us. One night a few of the women made fufu and groundnut soup for us! Fufu is a yam that is pounded until the consistency of a dough. Groundnut soup is a peanut soup with a bit of spice, and usually made with chicken. The food was amazing, and the company of the whole clinic made this night a memorable one.

The very last day was spent in the company of women from around the Kaleo region in the "mother to mother celebration." It was a celebration of motherhood and the support they provide for each other in keeping their children healthy. This is the opportunity for mothers to promote the health of their families and the knowledge they can share among each other. Skits were included in the gathering as well as many dances, which we joined! The women from the clinic were there, and we all danced together in celebration of the last two weeks. It was a lovely day and a lovely way to say goodbye to the community at large.

I think we all miss Kaleo, but we are now in Tamale and looking forward to the experiences ahead.