Ghana was, to say the least, the adventure of my lifetime. I learned and saw more than I could have imagined. I spent one week doing my clinical rotations for nursing school and two weeks doing my research project. The one thing that was in stark contrast to rest of my experiences during all this time was the attitude of the Ghanaian people. They are a happy, friendly people despite their poverty and dire circumstances.
For my first two days in Ghana, I was placed in the hospital in Kumasi. From the outside, the old hospital looks like a run down apartment building. Picture the hospital in the TV show M.A.S.H. The old part of this hospital is worse than that one. This hospital mainly housed pediatric units, maternity units, and newborn/baby units. In some of the pediatric units, there were three children to a bed. As I was walking through the MBU (mother/baby unit) I saw three newborns on one tiny bed under the light. The rooms were literally stuffed with beds. There was hardly adequate walking space. Most children had their mothers with them but there weren’t enough chairs or stools for moms to sit down, so some were standing or sitting at the edge of the bed or sitting on the floor next to the bed. Partly as a result of the cramping and partly because of the weather, the rooms were hot and stuffy.
Fortunately, the newer hospital was much better equipped. This hospital mostly staffed adults and patients in intensive care. They had an emergency department as well. When I walked through this unit, patients were overflowing into the halls and waiting areas due to lack of space. In most rooms, there were two or three patients but at least each patient had their own bed. The ICU was one giant room with each patient in close proximity to allow the nurses rapid access to them. There was one section of the hospital called the “special floor” which was mostly empty. This area is for patients that have extra money and are willing to pay for their own room while they are ill.
During the next two days of clinical, I was placed at a community clinic called Barekese. This clinic was really nice compared to the old hospital in Kumasi. They had a maternity ward where mothers would get their checkups, give birth, and receive medical attention if they were sick. They had separate wards for men and women wards and each ward had four beds. If someone came to the clinic and was evaluated by the doctor and told they were too sick to return home, they were placed in this ward and given the medical attention that was needed. If a patient needed an IV placed and the needle/IV was somehow ruined in the process, the patient or the patients’ parents would be expected to pay for a new one. If this wasn’t possible, alternative methods for medication administration were decided.
The following two weeks in Ghana, I was part of a nutrition intervention project. Our job was to do focus groups with about ten women from different villages and determine the barriers to taking a daily multivitamin supplement. Walking around the villages was shocking to me, to say the least. I had heard about villages in the world where there is no electricity and mud houses, but this was the first time I had seen them. The houses were close together, some made out of mud, some made out of brick. The roofs were either tin or a bunch of sticks tied together (which was probably preferable since this allowed better ventilation). Some floors were cement, most were dirt. There were clothes lines everywhere – washers and dryers don’t exist in those villages. Fires are going underneath their roofs to boil water and children eat from small plastic sandwich bags. They just bite a hole in one of the corners and suck the food out. Most villages don’t even have electricity. They are limited to twelve hours each day to get their work done because their day is over when the sun sets at 7 pm.
Despite these lifestyles and lack of enough proper medical equipment, the majority of the people in Ghana are happy. They do the best job they can with the materials they have. Many haven’t had the opportunity to experience anything different though they are aware that better lifestyles exist. Walking in the villages changed my perspective on life. Seeing the people in their homes smiling, laughing, joking with each other was astonishing. One man even told us that life isn’t to focus on what you don’t have – it’s to make a life with what you do have and make the most of the time with your family and friends. People in the village are selfless; they know that their actions affect the entire village. If someone needs their help, they come running.
The biggest impact on me personally was that I realized I’m wasting time wishing for things I don’t have. We have so much here in the U.S. and yet we’re always so busy, going from one place to the next, trying to attain the next material item on our list. I believe that the Ghanaian’s have shown us that it’s time for us to slow down and make a life out of what we already have. Let’s enjoy time with friends and family –they are, after all, the most important things in life.