Friday, December 27, 2013

Project G.R.O.W Reunion in Bolga!

Project G.R.O.W Goat Recipients
April 21st 2013 - Bolga

Well it’s been a while but we realized that we left all of you hanging… In our last blog entries we were all off in our small groups spread out across Ghana. Our trip and stories definitely didn’t end there so we wanted to write a couple more posts to sum things up. The Enchi and Kaleo girls braved Ghana’s wonderful transit system to join Muriel, Megan, and Tori in Bolga, situated in the Upper East of Ghana, close to the border of Burkina Faso. The Enchi girls did a marathon 17 hours of busing, covering the 700km distance, in order to be at the Project G.R.O.W. day celebrations in Bolga (only to turn around and head back to the coast a week later on another marathon bus trip that we’ll talk about in our next post!).

In the past few years the UBCO groups in Ghana have had the absolute privilege to be involved with Project G.R.O.W. and join in a yearly celebration and distribution of animals, bicycles, and mosquito nets at a village nearby Bolga. The G.R.O.W. stands for Ghana Rural Opportunities for Women and you can read more about this awesome organization on their website at Megan was heavily involved with Project G.R.O.W. in 4th year and continues to be involved in some of their initiatives. We had an AMAZING day out at the village. In total 33 goats were purchased through donations as well as 2 donkeys, 1 cart, and 2 bicycles. The first stop of the day was at the HIV positive community, made up mainly of women and children who are HIV + and have left their own communities due to either shame, rejection, or stigma associated with their diagnosis. We were all very happy to see a portion of the livestock and resources go towards this community. When we arrived to the community where Vida (who is currently completing her PhD
at UBCO) and her sister Philomena (Nurse and head of the health clinic in Enchi) are from, we were greeted with the most vibrant celebration we have seen yet. Our welcome came from a large group of women who began singing in unison with stomping and clapping as they slowly advanced towards our group until they were mixed within us singing, clapping, stomping, and dancing. In this region they have a very unique noise they make that sounds like a high pitched squeal-like call and then move their tongue back and forth really quickly. Crystal was surprisingly talented at making this sound, impressing even the locals! The bus ride back home was filled with the 10 of us trying to imitate and master the coordination of tongue movement and pitch, a hilarious scene if you can imagine it!

We were honored to be part of the celebration that our hard working UBCO colleges, Vida’s passion and Philomena’s dedication have allowed for. Seeing the amazing presence and strength of the women within the community due to the empowerment gained through financial independence is absolutely inspiring.

Happily reunited with all our ‘sisters’, we were all busy catching each other up on the adventures we had experienced as we drove back to Tamale. Returning to the city where we spent the first portion of our practicum, it was surprising how quickly we settled in to the Catholic Guest House and were overcome with a sense of familiarity and comfort. We made the most of our last days there seeking out our favourite street foods (rice balls and peanut soup for some, rice and beans for others, dough balls for everyone!), and visiting the markets and shops, navigating the once foreign streets with ease. One last Tamale late afternoon rain storm, a reminder of the approaching rainy season, dinner at our favourite pizza place, Mike’s, along with a last group reflection signaled a close to our final Nursing practicum.

Better late than never - Ghana Gals

Monday, April 29, 2013

Rainforest Recap (Enchi)

April 13-20 - Enchi
Late entry (2nd post from the Enchi gals!)

The Presbyterian Health Centre is feeling even more like home. We took part in the outreach days where we visited remote villages outside of Enchi. Bouncing in the back of a truck through the rainforest with the wind blowing through our dusty hair, we continued to be in awe of the forest's deep lushness. We weighed hundreds of babies from a scale that hung from a tree or support beam before starting the child vaccinations. With monthly nurse visits to these communities, we were glad to discover that the majority of the kids were up to date and on track with their immunizations.

Back at the clinic we continued to teach, learn, and be involved in all the departments. We got quicker with dispensing medications, improved our antenatal assessments, dressed wounds, analyzed blood for lab work, observed malaria parasites under the microscope, and prayed and played with everyone!!

Our weekend was spent touring the cocoa farm (which is located just behind the clinic!), where the big cheery farmer took us through the process of fermenting and drying the cocoa pods. The white fleshy fruit surrounding each cocoa seed, whichyou eat by sucking off the seed, is delicious! We sampled the "palm wine," the sap siphoned directly from the palm trees and then tried the 50% palm alcohol- some powerful stuff! Madame took us to church Sunday- a joyful and lively service where we joined the dancing line and enjoyed the choir's loud and harmonious music. We were introduced to the congregation and had a prayer said for us for our health, safety, and nursing success!

After one of our days in the clinic, many of the staff got together in the clinic's front yard to unwind and play a football match! It was fun to spend time with the staff outside of work, getting to know them over tea or dinners out!

With much excitement, we presented our donation of health care items to the staff. They insisted on setting out all the items on the front steps for the staff to see, and they invited the Presbyterian minister to receive the gift! They were especially thankful for the nursing reference text books we brought and the fetal Doppler used for monitoring the babies' heart rate in utero.

The four of us gals, Robyn, Marisa, Rose, and Kirsten in the Western Region were sad to have to leave the green and gorgeous town of Enchi after only 2 weeks. We are forever grateful for having the life-changing opportunity to meet and work with our Ghanaian mother, Madame Philomena, and the unbelievably accommodating clinic staff!

We are off for a full day of bus travel to meet up with the rest of our sisters (as in true Ghanaian style, we have become used to calling everyone our sister or brother!) in Bolga in the Upper East Region. Depending on road conditions and bus timeliness this may take us up to 18 hours! Wish us luck!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Hello from the Upper West of Ghana (Kaleo girls yet again)

Yesterday (April 16th) we headed off with Muriel and Sister Edith to another town to visit a nursing school and hospital. We're nearing the end of our time as students and we were excited to have the chance to pass on some of our knowledge.   The night before we all did a brush up on infant rescuscitation as this was our teaching focus. With some of the fundraising money the group had purchased a few kits called "Helping Babies Breathe). They come complete with a model baby - NeoNatalie - an ambubag, and various other teaching props.  After meeting the school director we gathered in a room with 24 students and their instructor. The decision was made to include some students from every year so that these students could in turn teach their classmates. We spent about an hour teaching and taking questions and then gave each student a chance to practice on NeoNatalie with the bag and mask. We left the kit at the school in hopes that it will continue to be used to educate nurses on this important skill. The students were already somewhat familiar with the material we were teaching so it wax like a refresher course for all of us. We've been very impressed with the quality of the nursing education here in Ghana and we have a lot of hope for the future of health care here.   We took a brief tour of the hospital there and dropped of some more supplies at various wards.    We got back home and took a nap as we had been called to a 4 a.m. delivery the night before (a beautiful baby girl)! Our friends Hassan and Kamal came from Wa to cook us a traditional dinner of Red Red. Hassan made us the "best sauce in the world" to go along with the fried plantains. We all agreed that it was our favourite Ghanaian meal so far, and we've had some pretty great food. Muriel left on the bus at 3 this morning to go visit Tori and Megan in Bolga. We're looking forward to our last 2 days in Kaleo and then we'llbe joining everyone in Bolga as well. This has been a whirlwind trip and we can't believe it's almost done. T-12 days in Ghana. 

The adventure continues... (Kaleo)

Part 2 from Wechiau: Well now that we're safely back in Wa we can laugh about our adventures in the last 24 hours. When we left off we were heading to the "hippo hide" to sleep on a platform in the trees. Getting there was an adventure in itself. Picture 1 motorbike, 1 Ghanaian man, 2 girls, and 3 mattresses. Now make it dark and muddy. Haha we made it safely back to the river side and climbed up into our giant tree fort. After setting up our mosquito nets and killing any bugs that had snuck it, we settled in for a good chat and some stargazing. We were so happy that it was finally cool although "cool" still meant being slightly hot while sleeping in shorts and a tank top and a light sheet. We couldn't believe that our guide brought a fleece blanket to sleep with. Ghanaians commonly say that they "fear the cold". Maybe telling them they should come visit us is a bad idea :) We woke up in the morning and repeated our motorbike ride from the night before. Believe it or not that wasn't the scariest transportation experience of our weekend. Our tro tro ride home was decidedly the most worried we've been this entire trip. Things were going well until we neared the end of the trip when we pulled over. We were sitting at the very back but definitely noticed a heat wave coming from the engine. Then we saw the smoke... And then the steam after something was poured over the engine. To set the stage, there are bars on the windows and there were 12 people between us and the door. We were all silently nearing a panic state as we thought the engine was on fire. The rest of the passengers seemed pretty relaxed so we stopped short of screaming and crawling over everyone. The van eventually started again and we headed off like nothing happened. From what we gathered the engine overheated and needed to be cooled down with some water.  Well like we said, we're here safe and sound and feeling slightly more like seasoned travellers. We just picked up Muriel from the bus and are looking forward to the next 3 days with her!  

Hello again from Jessica, Kristen, Lisa, and Crystal

Right now we are sitting outside waiting for some water to boil over an open fire. It's twilight, the crickets are chirping, and we can hear cattle in the distance. We're revelling in the fact that we're not sweating and are also excited that the clouds have cleared - we should have a great view of the stars tonight.  We are in Wechiau at one of the two hippo sites in Ghana. Earlier this morning we hopped into a tro tro and headed off on an adventure. There was no phone number for the tourist centre so we decided to wing it. Sure enough as soon as we stepped off the tro tro a man came and showed us to the visitor centre. We met our guide Luuta and headed off in a motorking to the hippo reserve. We've been wanting to ride in a motorking since we arrived and today our dream came true! It's like a motorbike with a trailer attached and you ride in the back. We were smiling and laughing the whole way. We headed down to the Black Volta river and got into a canoe for our journey upriver. We were on the hunt for hippos! And we were successful!! We got to sit and watch 10+ hippos bathing in the river. They were a bit shy and never fully emerged from the water but it was still so fun. I think it's the most peaceful place we've been to yet. It's lush and green here as we're hitting the beginning of the rainy season.  Once we're done cooking our gourmet dinner of instant noodles, we'll be heading back to the river and settling in for a night in the trees. We're going to be sleeping on platforms and hoping to hear some hippos having their dinner below us. We'll let you know how it goes!

Kaleo Update :)

Hello again from the Kaleo girls - Crystal, Jessica, Lisa, and Kristen. We briefly talked about our first week in Kaleo in our last post, but we wanted to give you a better idea of what we've been doing here. We live just steps from the clinic and a typical day begins at 8. The staff are just completing dusting and gathering to say morning prayers. We don't know the first one, but we join in for the Lord's prayer at the end. After that we do some little jobs like getting water from the tap outside so there's a way to wash our hands inside. During this first week we've all had a chance to cycle through the different areas in the clinic. A patient will first go to the OPD (outpatient department) to fill out insurance forms, have their weight and temperature taken, and give a brief history of why they are here. They will then have a consultation with a nurse and the medical assistant. Having a medical assistant is something new to the clinic and he is just settling in as well as he's only been there for 3 weeks. His role is similar to a GP at home. There is no lab at the clinic, although they are hoping to get services soon, so diagnosis is based entirely on presentation and assessment. We're definitely learning a lot and stretching our brains! After a diagnosis is reached, treatments and medications are prescribed and the patient heads over to the dispensary. They keep a stock of common medications and give them out right there. If any dressings are needed they are also done there. There is a room for people to stay overnight if need be. It is a 24 hour clinic so we've also had the chance to help with a few after hour cases such as accidents and snake bites.  The clinic has a big focus on maternal health and Mondays are prenatal assessment days. Postnatal check ups are also a common task at the clinic. We mentioned that we'd been a part of a few births here and we're loving these experiences. The midwife is wonderful and knowledgeable and has taken us under her wing. As you all know, babies don't pay attention to business hours so we've been called to the clinic a few times at late hours. We rushed there excitedly at 5 a.m. the other morning and were all a bit dissapointed to see a baby sitting there when we came in. This particular mother was having trouble delivering the placenta but had no other complications in the end. Home births are very common here despite the increased risks but we feel like this trend might be changing and we have to give credit to the clinic for this. Their skillful and compassionate care make birthing at the clinic a more attractive option.  On that note, we wanted to talk a bit about the attitudes at the clinic. The staff really seem to care for their patients which is wonderful to see. For example, the midwife was fanning a patient who was in labour as it was VERY hot in the room :) It's been very interesting to see how socially conscious Ghanaians are. We've seen signs up all over the country that talk about common issues such a TB, homelessness, mental health, and HIV. This continues on in the clinic where most walls display some informative poster. We also had a chance to visit a centre for people with disabilities that was founded by one of the former staff at the clinic. He is now in an administrative position but continues to work to further this centre in Kaleo. From what we gathered, the focus is on people with musculoskeletal issues such as polio and paraplegia. There are many different ways that the centre brings in revenue which include producing purified drinking water, making soap, weaving cloth, sewing clothes, and producing modified bikes for the disabled. We all took a spin on the bikes and had a good laugh over our lack of skills.  Muriel comes to join us for a few days this next week and we'll be heading to another town to do some teaching at a nursing school there. Aside from that we will spend the remainder of our practicum days at the clinic. We are bonding with the staff and starting to feel more productive as we get a sense of the workload here. It's starting to sink in that we only have 4 more clinical days before we graduate!!!!  Thanks for reading, we really enjoy the chance to share our adventures with you! 

Monday, April 15, 2013

An Update from Bolgatanga

As it has been a whole week since our group of ten divided into three groups, we (Megan and Tori) felt it was time to give an update on what has been happening with us. Currently we are sitting in our guesthouse after having just finished a mango (amazingly fresh one!) and are munching on ground nuts, a nut very similar to the peanut. Anyways, back to our update: After a three hour bus ride north from Tamale, we arrived in Bolgatanga (often referred to as Bolga) which is located in the Upper East Region of Ghana close to the Burkina Faso border. In true Ghanaian style there was no shortage of people to help us, and our many bags (we still have an extra one full of medical supplies) off the bus or to help us find a taxi. Once the taxi driver had clarified via phone with our contact Florence, a local nursing instructor, where our guesthouse was, we were on our way.
Megan riding her bike into town
The next day we met up with another contact, Josbert (Joesbert is Vida’s nephew. Vida is a Ghanaian nurse who did her masters and now her PhD at UBCO and is one of the founders of the Project GROW charity- for more information visit -  Josbert was an invaluable guide that day as we traveled to meet first, the regional director of Health Services of the entire Upper East region, and then the district director for the region that the clinic we would go to is in.  The director welcomed us into his office, and after finding out where we were staying offered us to stay at free Guest House in the doctors bungalows. We were driven out to our new house to make sure it was ‘acceptable’ which we assured the director it would be. John, the caretaker, and his daughter, Doris, who live in a room beside the Guest House, greeted us warmly. The house it self was luxury compared to what we were staying at, three bedrooms, a kitchen living room and two toilets! The only draw back is that it is a distance outside of town so to rectify that situation; on Monday afternoon we bought bikes! Josbert accompanied me when buying the bikes and assured me that I can donate them to the bike project that is associated with Project GROW after we are gone. Both very excited about our new found opportunity to cook our own food in our kitchen, we went shopping! Like the rest of Ghana, most of the food is bought at the local markets and so Megan and I bought some vegetables and fruits that we recognized (and some that we didn’t).The Regional Director invited us over to his house for dinner the following night as he was having some visiting nurses and doctors from Accra over. It was a lovely dinner and very interesting to hear about the health promotion projects going on around Ghana.

On Tuesday and Thursday we went to a health clinic in a neighboring village called Nangodi.  There we were able to witness the workings of a rural clinic. Because it is not the wet season the clinic was not very busy, with around 10-15 patients a day. Even so we got to participate in many of the health promotion and interventions that the clinic does. I was able to go on an outreach trip to a smaller village to weigh babies and immunize them. Unfortunately, the nurse I was with forgot the scale so we just verified that the babies that came to the out reach had up to date immunizations (which they all did, so that was great to see!). Not so great to see was that a lot of the babies growth charts are not on the normal curve and there was little the outreach health workers could do except recommend that the mothers feed their children more… We also got so see the maternal check up day. Every Thursday pregnant women come to the clinic to get their b/p, fetal heart rate and weight checked. They are also all given free multi vitamins, folic acid and iron, which was great to see. Another part of the clinic we got to see was the out patient department, where walk in patients with any sort of health concern can come.  It was interesting to see the different approach to health in rural settings vs the urban we were used to in Tamale.
Nangodi Health Clinic
The rest of our week we spent at home and at internet cafes preparing for our presentations that we have next week. We are presenting sex education material at four jr high and elementary schools in the beginning of the week and then doing a presentation on the nurse patient relationship at the local nurses collage (where Florence teaches) on Wednesday. It was a bit of a shock to the system to be reading journal articles again in preparation for our presentation at the nurses collage!
Both a little worried...but it didn't bite!
Today (Sunday) we made it out to Paga – a village about a 45min drive away on the border with Burkina Faso.   It is famous for its crocodile pond. To enter the pond you buy your entrance and a chicken (a live one!) and then your tour guide calls the crocodiles by shaking the chicken up and down to make it squawk (we feel like this type of operation would not be allowed in Canada…) Sure enough crocodiles slowly emerge from the lake to come see the chicken. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately, we can’t decide) the crocodiles weren’t that hungry so they didn’t eat our chicken and we were able to go and touch them without being worried about being eaten (ok we were still a bit worried, as we saw, they can move fast!). We then visited and leaned how an old slave camp functioned, which, as always, is a humbling and haunting experience.  There are no words to describe how you feel standing beside mass burial sites or beside a punishment rock that countless people had taken their last breath on. It makes us even more thankful that we don’t live in an age where slavery is acceptable.
We are both a bit apprehensive about our presentation this week but excited to try our hand at being teachers.  
Until next time!
- Tori and Megan

Welcome to Enchi!

April 7,8, 9th 2013 - Enchi

After a memorable last day in Tamale, our smaller group (Robyn, Rose, Kirsten and Marisa) headed south on the next part of our African adventure to a smaller town called Enchi, which is in the south west.

Our trip involved a nice luxury bus ride back to Kumasi, where we were warmly welcomed back to our previous guest house and went for a delicious dinner at our 'favourite' local restaurant. We also did some shopping and improved our bartering skills while adding to our growing collection of souvenirs. A big challenge was once again switching languages- just when we were getting used to Dagbani, now it is back to Twi! Luckily Kirsten was very faithful about keeping a notebook with common phrases for us to use.

The next morning we woke up at 4 am and hopped on a tro- tro for the five hour ride to Enchi! When we arrived, we were in awe of the scenery that surrounded us- gone were the busy streets, buildings and noise of the city, and instead there was dense rainforest and rolling hills all around us. We immediately felt at home! Philomena, the director of the Presbyterian Health Centre we will be working at, came to pick us up and quickly adopted us as her 'four new daughters.' And we sure felt like it as we were taken to our cozy guest house (complete with air conditioning and a fridge!!!!!!!) which she had already stocked with snacks and water! She took us for a lunch, where we were introduced to some of the friendly medical staff we will be working with over the next two weeks. Feeling sleepy but very much at home, we settled in for our first night. We unfortunately got a bit too excited about our air conditioning (which we hadn't had since our first night in Ghana) and spent the night shivering under as many blankets as we could find.

Our first day at the clinic was a thorough orientation where we were introduced to all the staff (and patients!). We were given a very warm welcome! For our first taste of the clinic, we decided to sit in on some consultations to familiarize ourselves with the process and common conditions seen in this area. Many of the common complaints included symptoms of malaria, irritation from pollutens, gastrointestinal illness, and antenatal issues. Even though it was our first day, we were involved in the assessments and even got to lead some of the consults!

Now, after our second day we have each began to rotate through the lab, antenatal clinic, medication dispensary, and minor treatment departments. The health centre is refreshingly different from the hospital we were in, as each day they begin by bringing the staff and patients together fora time of worship and prayer where they pray for all the patients, pregnant women, and clinic staff. We can already feel the atmosphere of community and caring in this place and are so excited to be a part of it for a short time!

While we see what positive things this clinic offers to the community, we were saddened to hear of some of the challenges they are facing when we sat in on a staff meeting this morning. These included a struggle with water shortage, lack of available insured medications, and financial challenges. Again, we were made aware of how lucky we are to be able to take these things for granted as nurses in Canada. However, despite these challenges, the staff are positive and dedicated to keeping the clinic running at its best! The meeting ended with laughter as a recent wedding was discussed and the 'wedding torch' was passed to the next most eligible staff members.

Every patient who comes in for care will see a professional, even if it means some skipped lunch breaks and longer days! In the words of one of the staff, 'you will feel your conscience before your empty stomach.' No skipped meals for us though, as in Canada our stomachs have become far too accustomed to our generous and predictable breaks:).

We are all very excited to be in a smaller clinic setting with the strong sense of genuine concern for one another. We're also looking forward to our outreach days where we will accompany nurses to provide health care and immunizations to people in smaller villages in the area.

And because we can't have all work with no play, we will also be going to visit a cocoa farm (one of the main crops in southwest Ghana) as well as a local market to satisfy our shopping cravings.

We are looking forward to getting to know the clinic community better and seeing what the next two weeks will bring! We miss the rest of our Ghana girls but are also enjoying the quiet and serenity of this chapter of our journey.

Football, Feasting, and a Deworming Frenzy!

April 4, 2013 - Tamale

On our second last day in Tamale, the Chanshegu village and a neighbouring village played a lively and entertaining football match in our honour. This match was arranged to represent the growing peace and unity between these two villages, as the health clinic that we have fundraised for and that Wade is helping to construct will be used by both villages. We truly appreciated their sweet gesture, especially since some of the players had just finished a long and hot day of building bricks for this very clinic.

Before the game, we took the challenge of deworming the approximate 150 Chanshegu village children, as it was difficult to communicate to them that the medication was not candy and that everyone was to receive one tablet only. Thinking of the big picture, Robyn also brought deworming medication for the dogs that roam the main compounds where the villagers eat and sleep.

After speeches were made and handshakes were exchanged, we waved good-bye to all the children running after our vehicles before grabbing some tasty Ghanaian street food in town for a potluck dinner at the guesthouse. Another fun filled day!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Another Ghanaian Birthday

April 5th - Tamale

Well we had another birthday in Tamale. Crystal joined Megan in her 30's! Her birthday was actually on Thursday but we had a full day so we decided to celebrate on Friday.

We had our last day at TTH in the morning and had fun giving donations and treats to the units. Afterwards we did some last minute running around in Tamale before heading over to a pool with a few of our local friends. Crystal had her favourite birthday cake to date - a bunch of dough balls (like donuts) covered in Nutella and pineapple, all served on a plastic bag! We had so much fun splashing around and trying to teach our friends to swim.

Afterwards Wade took us all out for dinner as it was our last night all together. Most of us have had dresses made for us so we took a bunch of group photos which we can hopefully post later on.

One last night of dancing at the rooftop club and then it was off to home to do some last minute packing and say some goodbyes. We're all excited to head out to some smaller sites but we'll all miss each other until we meet again in Bolga in two weeks.

The adventure continues!

A Big Hello From Kaleo/Wa

April - Kaleo/Wa

Well we have separated into our smaller clinical groups so this message is from Lisa, Jessica, Kristen, and Crystal. We are currently sitting with our friends in Wa after finishing another day at the Immaculate Conception Health Centre in Kaleo. On Saturday morning (at 330 a.m.!) we went to the bus station to start our journey to the Upper West region of Ghana. Goodbye luxury buses, hello 7.5 hours on a bumpy road. We all looked much worse for wear when we arrived in Wa, but we were so happy to see our friend Hassan and meet another new friend Kamal. Hassan showed us around Wa and we were thrilled to buy some groceries for ourselves and explore the local market. After a short ride we were at our new home for the next two weeks. We met Sister Edith who showed us our new digs. We have a fridge!!!!! And a propane cook stove!!!! This is so exciting for us as it gives us some freedom to cook for ourselves.

The next morning we headed off to the local Catholic Church for morning mass. We love the colourful culture here, the clothes, the music, the buildings - it's all beautiful.

It is now Thursday and we've had a full week. We're making friends with the staff at the clinic. They love our afternoon popcorn breaks (we pop a pot before heading back from lunch break). We've also been lucky enough to see some babies being born- the count is at 2 so far . Sister Edith is liberal with her praise and says we are excellent assistants :)

We are hoping to head off to a hippo reserve this weekend and are looking forward to a visit from Muriel on Sunday. We'll keep in touch, bye for now!!

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mole National Park - Safari adventures

March 30-3, Mole National Park

After four hours travelling 15 km/hr on a washboard road in a van ( that may have had some holes in the floor), we arrived in mole looking five shades darker due to the thick layers of dirt that coated us from the ride. Especially Rose, who looked a little like a spray-tanned Malibu Barbie.

We then hopped on the roof of a safari jeep for a personal tour through the large national reserve park. Many of our childhood dreams came true as we spotted warthogs, baboons, and a handful of other exotic animals that we had only seen in our favourite Disney movies. We were just thinking it couldn't get any more exciting when we walked out of the forest just in time to see five large elephants coming towards us for a mud bath! We stood in awe watching these animals so enjoying covering themselves in mud. Made us wonder why we were stressing about how dirty we were- maybe these elephants have the right idea! Many of us were also surprised to know that the elephants are actually deep black in colour before getting their mud-baths. Another fun fact we learnt about the savanna elephant is that they are the second fastest land mammal only after the cheetah!

We then went to enjoy an afternoon frolicking in the pool - much needed after our week of hospital work! We spent the night in a quaint little guest house down the street and despite the lack of air conditioning and the swarms of bugs, we were soothed to sleep listening to Stuart McLean's stories (courtesy of Crystal's podcast downloads!) and awoke the next morning for day two of our safari adventure. This time, we took a nature hike through the woods, enjoying the peace and serenity of the forest and glimpsing more exotic animals. We would probably have seen more if not for the high pitch sqeals that we let out in spite of ourselves each time we saw something new. We lost count of all the Lion King references that were made over the weekend! Led by our handy tour guide (who carried an alarmingly long rifle), we tracked elephants to their water hole where we were again surprised to find seven more elephants having their baths! We could have watched them all day and would have joined them in a heartbeat if not for the abundance of crocodiles and an assurance that we would be in "bad business" if we did.

Another few hours frolicking in the pool and then we braced ourselves for the trek back to Tamale. Still just as bumpy but we are learning to enjoy these unconventional rides, playing 20 questions over the noise of the rattling trotro includes a lot of shouting, repeating and bonus questions! Some of us have even longer rides ahead of us to get to our smaller towns so we will consider this a warm up!

We all had such fun and many our African dreams were fulfilled. The beauty of the endless view of forest and nature are such a stark contrast to the busy bustle of the city that it is hard to believe we were in the same country. When we close our eyes and think of Africa, I think many of us will see Mole park and the magical things we saw this weekend. We are all heading into the next week looking a bit dirty and sunburned but ready to face any new adventures that the week may hold.

Chanshegu Village Pioneers Adventures (Robyn, Marisa, Rose)

March 27- Chanshegu Village

We 3 girls were the first to embark on the overnight village adventure. Due to Muriel's king status in the village, we were warmly welcomed to spend a day living as they do. This included spending the night in a traditional thatched grass roof hut, eating homemade FuFu and groundnut (peanut) soup with only our hands, and spending lots of time getting to know the people, especially the children!

Upon arrival, we were delighted to discover that the chief's wives had cleared a hut especially for us, as they are normally not accustomed to having foreigners stay the night. Having limited Dagbani vocabulary, we were very grateful to have the chief''s son and one of the other villagers there with us to help settle us in and facilitate communication with the other villagers. These 2 young men were able to describe the process of making FuFu and the significance behind such an offering. The fufu is a traditional Ghanaian dish made from pounding cooked yams until it forms a glutenous dough, which is then used to scoop up the groundnut soup. As we overcame the challenge of eating our delicious meal with our right hand (especially for Rose, who is left handed!), we got to embrace the sense of community as we all sat together under the stars. For the astronomy enthusiast (Robyn, or Robyn's dad), we found it interesting to pick out all the upside down constellations . With a bright full moon to light the way, our new friends took us on a tour of the village. It was a very peaceful experience, although comical to come across a generator on the outskirts of the village attached to a power bar with several cell phones plugged in charging!

We were astonished by the endless energy of the 50+ children laughing and playing until well past 11:00 pm!

We woke several times through the night with the sound of pounding rain and thunder on the grass roof. Those Ghanaians sure know how to build a solid hut, as we did not feel a drop! We were particularly amused when we heard that the guesthouse roof had leaked on the girls staying back in Tamale! :)

As the next day was Holy Thursday, a day off of school for the children, we awoke to cheerful sounds of the lively village around us. By being personally greeted by each of the village elders, we spent a memorable day playing with the many village children!

Being the first group to spend the night, we were able to share with our fellow students how comfortable we felt, how warmly we were welcomed, and how peaceful the simplicities of community living is. Despite our cultural differences and linguistic barriers, we still felt able to learn from and connect with such friendly and generous hosts!

Dr. Abduli's Health Clinic

April 2, Tamale

This week Muriel gave us a treat. We had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Abdullai, a local Ghanaian doctor who runs two clinics here in Tamale (you can find his website at He did some of his training in England but returned to Ghana to serve his people. We had heard so much about him but, as Rose so fittingly said, you just know he's someone special when you're in his presence.

We were all invited into the operating theatre and got to watch him perform numerous hernia repairs. He starts and finishes each surgery with a private prayer for the patient. Not being one to draw attention to himself, he quietly signs the cross over the surgical site. He explained to us that all the people who work at his clinics believe in the divine.

We haven't mentioned yet that all the clinic staff work for free. They rely entirely on donations and have learned to live with the assurance that what they need will be provided. We were privileged enough to be a part of this provision. Some of the staff were smiling as they unpacked the donations we brought. They had needed a specific item for that day but did not have it in stock. One of the nurses wanted to go and buy it but the other one said that it would come. Sure enough, not a day too early or late, the item came.

They run multiple programs through their clinics and provide everything completely for free. There are huts on the clinic grounds for surgical patients to recover in. They also focus on caring for people with mental illnesses as they are neglected by the health care system here. We could go on and on about all the wonderful things but to sum it up, we really saw love in action this week. It is an experience we will never forget ( especially because we got to wear scrub shorts and flip flops in the OR!)

Christmas in March

March 23, Chanshegu Village

Saturday we travelled back to Chanshegu to deliver small gift bags to each of the orphans (37in all) each bag was hand made with bright fabric by (Jess's mom) and consisted of a book, toothbrush, tooth paste, underwear, candy (which they have never heard of) and skipping rope for girls and a dinosaur for the boys. Sinbad organized the boys and girls so we could easily pass out the bags. In the beginning they were just so excited to receive the bag that we had to demonstrate exploring the bag and that there were more fun things inside. Once the kids caught on the excitement elevated ; looking at animal picture books and reading out the animal names, bouncy ball dribbling, and skipping rope tricks. It was so much fun spending the afternoon with the children and watching them enjoy their goodies.

The chief of the village has asked for these orphans to specifically receive these gifts, helping them to feel special and valued as they are taken in by other families and often don't receive these things of their own. It is inspiring to see this sense of unity in the community and we were happy to play a small part!

Water falls and Kirsten falls!

March 24- Kintempo

On Sunday we headed off to Kintempo Falls which is about three hours away. It's always a balancing act when we go on trips as its so hot and we need to drink water, but also having to pee on bumpy roads is no fun :).

We arrived at the falls which looked like chocolate milk from all the rain the day before. It was a blast for the first five minutes but then we lost Kirsten to the slippery rocks. Initially we thought she meant to go sliding down and were all cheering, but then she took out Marisa and came up holding her chin. She got a nasty gash on it but what better company to be in. We put our nursing skills to practice and patched her up in no time. We had a picnic there and got to meet some of the other Ghanaians that were there. It was fun to meet some people who had heard about the falls all their lives but were just now getting a chance to visit.

Shortly before we left we had yet another chance to fix somebody up. A man cut his thumb on a can so we nursed him up and made him keep his arm elevated. It was cute to see him with his hand in the air while playing around in the water.

We had an overall relaxing day but were happy to see our "home" and hit the hay after our long day traveling and in the sun.

Night out in Tamale!!

March 22, Tamale

On Friday night we headed downtown to a rooftop patio for some dancing. We were joined again by the traditional dancers and a few other friends. The cool breeze and city views were so refreshing. We didn't know any of the songs and definitely didn't know the moves, but had a blast all the same. We got our own dance lessons and a few of us really picked it up, haha but not all of us... We also got to see how the locals dance. In a word - close. We were laughing as we were often pulled in multiple directions or moved around like puppets as they were trying to teach us some dances.

Our First Day at the Tamale Teaching Hospital

March 21, Tamale

We are all feeling a bit shell shocked after our first few days of clinical in the hospital. Definitely an eye opening experience which leaves a lot of room for reflection. We want to be sensitive in our descriptors of the hospital as we are truly privileged to be welcomed in, but we were all shook up after our first shift. To sum it up, pain medications are all but absent, supplies are meager, and privacy is extremely limited. We found ourselves in low spirits so we decided to have some simple fun together that evening. We all crowded around Megan's laptop and watched Wedding Crashers. It feels a bit trite to feel sorry for ourselves over what were seeing and not even having to experience but Muriel encouraged us in saying that this is normal for us as we've all tried to develop empathy during this degree. We realized that we would be helping no one by wallowing in sadness, although we also don't want to turn a blind eye. To that end we went back for our second day feeling more prepared and ready to help in the little ways we could. It's hard to not want to overhaul entire units, but we chose to focus on advocacy and attempted to humbly show by example. At post-conference the mood was noticeably lighter. We all looked for the positives and strengths that day and were surprised by what we found. We are starting to settle in and find our voices as nurses here.

Welcome to Tamale

March 18-20, Tamale

Well here we find ourselves in Tamale, our destination for the next 3 weeks. We spent the first day settling in to our new surroundings - again we feel really lucky with our guest house. We're feeling especially spoiled as we have bathrooms in our rooms, luxury!!

The next day we were the guests of honor in Chanshegu Village - where Sinbad and his family are originally from (they live in Tamale now). We were picked up from our guest house in a giant van complete with traveling rooftop entertainment. The whole ride out we had drummers on the roof treating us to traditional Ghanaian drumming. We were enthusiastically welcomed by around 150 beautiful children. They ran after our van and we were quickly claimed by at least three children each. We stood around for a while before deciding to teach the kids some Canadian songs - the chicken dance was a big hit!

We eventually sat in a circle with most of the villagers and awaited the big event - the cultural dancing and drumming. It was phenomenal and we couldn't believe the intricacy and length of the dances. They went for about an hour and a half in easily plus 40 weather. At the end we each got a turn to show off our moves, or lack thereof :). The chief then formally welcomed us into his village. Muriel introduced Lisa, Kristen, and Jessica who raised $3,000 to help build the health clinic that Wade and Sinbad are working on. The chief asked us to come back the next day so we could be introduced to the elders.

We all piled back into the van (with our travelling drummers of course) and headed back into Tamale for dinner at Sinbad's mother's house. We got to watch the women prepare the traditional meal of Fufu with ground nut soup and chicken. It is such an involved process as Fufu is made of yams that are boiled and then beat until they are smooth and stretchy like dough. Some of the dancers joined us for dinner and taught us some of the local language Dagboni. After we were done eating as much as we could ( the food was amazingly delicious), there was a second sitting for dinner. The neighborhood children took over our spots and dug into the leftovers. It was adorable.

On our 3rd day here we went to the hospital for orientation. Even Muriel wasn't sure what expect as they had built a new tower during the last year. There was quite the range of wards and equipment as the older parts of the hospital are still in use. After our tour we all picked the areas we wanted to work in which ranged from Surgical to NICU to Pediatrics to Labour and Delivery to name a few. We were all excited if not a bit apprehensive.

We headed back out to Chanshegu to meet with the villagers again. We were all so touched as we listened to person after person profusely thank us for building them this clinic. They spoke repeatedly about the peace and unity this will bring to the area as surrounding villages will also have access to clinic. One of the chief's wives told us that they have been crying for this clinic and we are wiping their tears. It was a humbling experience and yet another reminder of how privileged we are. We got to see the land that was gifted to Muriel by the chief and will house the clinic. We capped off the day with pizza and ice cream in celebration of Megan's birthday.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Inland to Kumasi

March 16-17, 2013 - Kumasi

We're sitting in a restaurant waiting for our food and have decided that this will become one of our blog times as we're all together with plenty of time. Meal times tend to be an extended affair. After finally selecting from a 19 page menu (which is the norm) all the food is freshly prepared and therefore comes when it's ready, making for staggered eating! Yesterday we arrived in Kumasi after a 4 hr bus trip on which we tried to catch up on sleep. This proved interesting as we got our first experience with Ghanaian tv at full blast :) as well as experiencing the driver dodging both potholes and oncoming traffic- we were happy to reach the bus station! We hiked up to our guest house which is beautiful - we love the green grass and shady trees. After settling in, it was off to the Chief's palace to learn about the traditional Ashanti tribe people and try to catch a peak at the current king. Our guide invited to introduce Kirsten to the king in hopes of becoming one of his wives, she politely declined :). This morning we went to the local Presbyterian church. It would have been handy to know that the first service was in English, but we got treated to the Twi service instead which was so fun and the congregation really welcomed us in. They brought us to the front, Muriel introduced us, and then they prayed for us (mostly that we'd survive the heat). After lunch we're heading off to the local market and cultural centre for our last day of tourism before heading to Tamale and settling in.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Jungle Fun - Kakum National Park

March 15, Cape Coast/ Kakum National Park

Today was a new day and we enjoyed some lighthearted fun. We went for a jungle hike - both on ground and in the air. We walked through the lush forest and our tour guide expertly pointed out the various trees and their traditional uses. The ingenuity on the traditional forest people is incredible. The fact that one tree can cloth you, heal you, and shelter you is so cool. Other uses were primitive telephones (hitting on hollow bark with rocks), tooth brushes, mosquito repellant, fashion canoes, shoe glue, and make your stomach "flat" after pregnancy!! There were hundreds of students at the park and we were celebrities for the afternoon. One group was guessing our ages as we walked by, most of us were 14 except for Rose who was 15 (for those who don't know, Rose is 6 feet talk). We got tons of high fives, photos, and a few marriage proposals - Robyn was quite the hit with the Ghanaian teachers. We made it safely over the canopy rope bridges. They ranged from 18-40 metres above the ground although the forest is so dense we could never see the ground. All the views were impressive but one in particular stands out as we saw an endless expanse of tree tops. We were sad to learn though that this conservation area is one of the few remaining "old forests" with much of the forests in Ghana having been logged or clear cut for agriculture use or poaching. The weather was cooler than the previous day and we were treated to an African rain storm on the drive home (accompanied by some Toto). We are missing rainy season here but caught a brief glimpse as red rivers formed on either side of the road.

Back at our hotel we took advantage of the main attraction - the crocodiles!! We took turns getting our pictures with one and thankfully all walked away fully limbed and full of giggles and adrenaline. A few of us took a dip in the pool but got mobbed by various school groups coming to see the crocs.

As we write this we are out to dinner at a beautiful beachside restaurant. We are enjoying the ocean breeze and the waves one last time before we head inland (most of us have wet bums from playing in the surf). At the end of dinner we got to enjoy an amazing performance by a young man and a little boy. They did a mix of cultural dancing, acrobatics, and fire tricks. The show had cameos by a few beautiful girls in our group - Tori got to help with some of the fire show, Lisa showed off her jump roping skills, and Megan got called up for some pictures at the end. We're heading home soon to pack and have a quick rest before getting up at 330 to catch our next bus to Kumasi. Bye for now!

West to Cape Coast

March 14 - Cape Coast

After a quick bus ride (in air Conditioned luxury!) we arrived at Cape Coast which is 2-3 hours along the coast from Accra. We met our trusty taxi drivers for the next few days and one of them promptly fell in love with Muriel. We went to our hotel and settled into our big dorm room, yay for giant sleepovers! Just steps from our room is a lake full of crocodiles (dont worry parents, there's a fence) and there is a pool right outside of our door. Perfection with the exception of some precarious rickety fans spinning over our heads. Did we mention yet the heat wave that hit us the minute we stepped off the bus, goodbye air conditioning...

After settling in we headed back into town to visit the beach and the Cape Coast slave castle. We were all so excited to see the ocean and play around in the waves, but it was weird to be in the shadow of the castle.

After lunch we headed into the castle.
There are no words to describe the emotions and sights we saw and the terrible things that happened there. You can read about it, but standing on the same ground is totally different. Even though the slave trade ended in the 1800s, there was still a presence in the castle. It's impossible to imagine yourself in the situation, even when standing in the same room. We were dripping with sweat while in the "condemned room" where up to 50 strong willed slaves would be locked behind 3 doors without windows and left to die of suffocation or starvation. To try to make sense of the system and atrocities that happened there is not possible. The closing message was on a plaque outside of the entrance into the male dungeon - "... May humanity never again perpetrate such injustice against humanity. We the living, vow to uphold this."

Monday, March 18, 2013

Accra Adventure

March 13, 2013   - Accra

Our day started off in true Ghanaian style, with us leaving 45 minutes after planned. Sinbad had graciously agreed to act as our tour guide in Accra.

Because buying bus tickets here has to be done in person, the day before, and as Muriel and Sinbad are both better at navigating the system, they went off to buy our bus tickets. The first item on our agenda was to go see the cultural market. In the daylight, the hustle and bustle of the city was even more pronounced. Cabs and tro-tros are 12 passenger vans that are used for cheaper transportation than taxis - although we soon learned that the 12 passenger part is more of a guideline :). It seems that the general theory behind driving is to drive as fast as you can (which is never very fast as there are so many cars) and then brake quickly, swerve from side to side to avoid potholes, and yell or honk for many reasons. Once arriving at the cultural market, we were greeted enthusiastically by the many local vendors. Lets just say it is a lot different than shopping in Canada, as prices are not absolute and people were very excited about the possibility of us buying their treasures. A group of girls got the opportunity to have a drumming session which was fun and refreshing. The Ghanaian people are very gracious and helpful. We ate fried chicken at a restaurant in the market and then we walked through a small neighbourhood towards the ocean. Seeing the ocean was almost teasing as it is very hot here and the water was not safe to swim in. Nevertheless, it was beautiful and offered  nice breeze.

Afterwards, Sinbad lead us throughout the vibrant and busy streets of Accra! Our walk was filled with us counting our group multiple times to make sure we didn't lose anybody. We eventually made our way to one of the poorest areas of Accra where many people have traveled far from the north to find opportunity for themselves or their family. Many of them are alone with no one to care for them during times of illness. Children were seen playing in less than sanitary conditions and very little ones were walking far from their homes to stay with us.  It was fun to take pictures of the kids and show them their photo, hold hands with them and say hello. The houses were mainly constructed of scrap wood and metal, with cooking happening in the front of the house, and open sewers running throughout. Despite the condition of these people's homes, they were very excited to see us with many hellos and waves from them; never once did we feel anything but welcome.  It is encouraging to see how strong the human spirit can be and we saw so much beauty there.  This was inspiring and reminded us to appreciate all the luxuries we take for granted back home and even here as we enjoy many privileges as travelers.  One image that has stuck in all of our minds is the view of a large river or garbage and waste flowing through the city in which there were two small children happily playing. Who needs x-boxes?  We all felt small and humbled after this experience, but it was priceless to witness these places first hand.  So thankful we had Sinbad to guide us through that days adventures!  Safe to say all of us have had our world views expanded.

- Ghana Gals
(Lisa, Tori, Robyn, Marisa, Rose, Megan, Kirsten, Kristen, Crystal, and Jess)

Friday, March 15, 2013

Akwaaba (Welcome!)

March 12, 2013 - Accra

         We don't know if it was our imaginations or not, but our flight from London to Accra seemed warmer than normal. Maybe it was a subtle way to prepare us for the wall of heat that greeted us the moment we walked off the plane. We then went through customs, where we all got our fingerprints scanned and luckily there were no problems :) We were greeted at the airport by Muriel's sponsored Ghanaian son, Sinbad, who traveled down from a northern city to meet us. We were extremely grateful for this, as our first real Ghanaian
 experience  was organizing cabs to get us and all of our bags(2 or 3 a person!)  to our hotel. Let's just say it was pretty overwhelming to have more people loading bags than there were of us! Everyone was super friendly, wanting to know our names and welcoming us to Ghana Akwaaba! ('welcome' in the local language) To add to the confusion, as Canadians, we are unaccustomed to the prices of everything being up for debate! Luckily Sinbad was a pro and got everything organized:) Once we were all packed (literally) into our 4 van cabs, we were off to our first hotel. Our first experience with Ghanaian traffic involved a lot more honking, dodging, and swerving than were used to!  Once safely arrived we were glad to find our first hotel had air conditioning which was a nice way to ease us unaccustomed folk into the heat. The AC brought the air temperature down to a cool 27 for sleeping!

Internet is spotty here, but we have been writing blog drafts together and will update soon on the rest of our Ghana adventures! Everyone is safe, sound, and sweaty!

- Ghana Gals 

Tori, Robyn, Kirsten, Jess, Rose 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A hop over the Atlantic

 Vancouver International, about to embark on our journey! (minus Tori and Lisa!)
Top of the Morning!
We have made it safely to London, where we stayed for the night in between flights! Last night a 4 of us explored downtown London, while 8 of us enjoyed a quaint British pub experience just outside our hotel. Walking in the -2 weather with bone chilling winds, I am sure we will be wishing for some of that cool air this evening when we land in Accra. Hopefully the 33 degrees will be welcoming after freezing in thin coats here in England!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Pre-departure Prep - Ghana 2013!

 In order to prepare us for everything we may be faced with while abroad, we have spent this past week in seminars learning about tropical disease and culture shock, discussing ethics surrounding international nursing,  and participating in emergency birth simulations. In a very short time I am sure we will all be in situations that will challenge us to remember not only the teachings from our prep seminars, but also the skills and knowledge we have acquired over these past 4 years.

With our medical supply bags packed and ready, we now only have to worry about fitting all our own personal belongings into our travel packs! T-2 days until departure.

We would love for you to follow us through our adventures and practice experiences via this blog spot. All group members will be contributing throughout the trip and would love to hear your feed back and questions through the comments you can leave below!

:) UBCO Ghana Gals