Thursday, September 8, 2011

Susan Goodwin: Ghana advances to the All Africa Games and I teach 1000 high schoolers about sex

It's only been a little over a week but it feels like it could be a month with everything that we've done and seen. Since last writing home, I spent another day at the hospital, shadowing a very inspiring doctor on the pediatric sickle cell ward, taught about 1000 high schools students about teenage pregnancy (did I mention I hate public speaking and am horrible at it?), met the district chiefs and elders to explain our project, and then later gave my group's presentation to a small group (here that means about 60 people) in a village. We also went to the Ghana v. Nigeria under-23 football game that was to decide who went on to the All Africa Games. Ghana won, thankfully!

The hospital experience is worth writing about because Dr. Dominic was such an amazing human being let alone doctor. He is finishing his last few months of his house rotation, which I think is the equivalent to our doctors' residency. He works on the sickle cell ward, but has a variety of patients because of the overcrowding issue. He cared for patients with leukemia, G6PD deficiency, ortho/trauma injuries, severe malaria and sickle cell crises. There were between 2-3 patients per bed, which even though they know poses serious cross-infection risk, they do anyway because they don't turn away any patients. Where else would they go? KATH is the one of the only hospitals in the entire region, so turning away patients is not an option unlike in the US.

At one point Dominic was interviewing the mother of a very sick little girl through a translator because she was from the Cote d'Ivoire. He found out that she was fleeing the violence in her home country after her husband had been killed. While waiting at a bus station in Kumasi (the city we are staying in) her baby fell very sick with severe malaria. Thankfully she somehow met a man who spoke both the native Ivorian and Ghanaian languages who took her to the hospital. The little girl was admitted and started on IV antibiotics, which saved her life. She was doing much better, though still quite sick, when we met her. Dominic had originally intended to discharge her home that day and have her come in a few days later for a follow-up appointment, but upon hearing that they were refugees with nowhere to go; he was going to keep them at the hospital. After a phone call to his chief resident (who wanted them discharged because of space considerations) and a conversation with the translator, they worked out a solution. The translator agreed to take the woman and her baby home with him for the weekend so they could recover further and he would bring them back next week for the appointment.

The depth of kindness displayed by both Dominic and the translator was deeply moving, in large part because we don't often see that in our culture between strangers. Here, it's part of the everyday life. I think part of why I love coming here and learning about different African cultures is that there is so much good, so much kindness and generosity to be learned from. It is refreshing compared to the negative images of Africa portrayed by the media.

Sunday morning was spent attending a boarding school church service followed by a sex education talk. My portion was about teenage pregnancy. I was sort of thrown into it at the last minute and thankfully my friend and trip member Adrienne was also giving a talk on STIs, so we tag-teamed the talk. We obviously had a translator who really did most of the speaking, but our presence lent both authority and the opportunity to talk in-depth about these topics in a way that the Ghanaian sex educators often can't because sex is uncomfortable to discuss. Sounds kinda like the US, eh?

I wasn't sure what Daniel, our translator and good friend, was saying given that I would say maybe two sentences and he would talk for about 2 minute after, but I figured he was elaborating and filling in my gaps. I decided to tell the students about a girl in my high school who got pregnant freshman year and dropped out. I talked about how difficult it had been for her, how she had to put off school and wasn't able to get a good job. Daniel took that story and ran with it, telling the students that it's a problem everywhere and that when it happens it's a challenge. Apparently the students were shocked (and a little happy) to learn that white people face the same problem in the US. I ended the talk by saying we all face the same problems of teenage pregnancy and STIs, but that if we used the ABCs (sex ed here focuses on Abstinence, Being faithful, wearing Condoms) and respected each other, we could lessen these problems.

The second talk was given by some other team members and they discussed the finer points of putting on a condom by demonstrating with a banana...I was proud of myself for not losing it and laughing out loud and was shocked the students didn't either. Apparently Daniel had told them though that we would get up and leave if they laughed! A little fear never hurt anyone I suppose...Overall it went really really well and the school administrator asked us to come back next year and give the talk again. I think having strangers come in to talk about it both lends credibility and allows for a more frank discussion.

This post is getting a big long, so I'll save the other stuff for later this week. Nothing really to report on the football match other than it was good fun and Ghana won! I love coming to matches here because they're so much livelier and entertaining, even when it's just the under-23 team and not the national team.

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