By bus or by plane, it’s Ghana or bust!

August 11th, 2009 by njandreau

We all arrived early to Logan Airport with excitement, nerves, and fears.  Focused on reaching Ghana, I didn’t realize how draining the trip from Boston would actually be.  We flew safely from Logan to Kennedy in 50 minutes leaving a full five hour lay-over that we had scheduled for fear of being delayed from Boston as the group was last year.  Boarding the plane to Accra, Ghana there was much discussion about how long our flight was considering we were to leave at 5:15 and arrive at 8:20 the next morning with a four hour time difference.  We ended up in the air for eleven hours, but it felt painfully longer.

Arriving in Accra, we promptly moved through customs and on to baggage claim.  The air thickened as load after load of suitcases were unloaded, ours not among them.   Finally, the brightly colored LL Bean bag stuffed with crocs was sighted and we all breathed a big sigh of relief; especially me as I have lost luggage before and never got it back.  Interestingly enough, we weren’t ready to leave the airport yet.  We had to get in another line for the airport staff to check our baggage number on our boarding pass to that on our suitcase.  I guess my new bag tag, “Oops: expression of surprise (as in: oops this is not my bag), compliments of my uncle and aunt, wasn’t needed in this airport.

Awaiting us outside was a community worker well known to those returning to Ghana.  Hugs were exchanged all around as we rounded everyone up to board the bus for the five hour ride from Accra to Sekondi where we are staying.  Most of those five hours were spent in traffic getting out of Accra and I’m told that it would have been much worse had today been a week day.  Also slowing us at times were the swarms of people approaching the bus to sell us food, water, hand towels and a variety of other things.  Women skillfully balancing huge platters of chopped fruit or freshly baked break on top of their heads smiled and waved before pursuing other potential customers.  Traffic moved so very slowly that crosswalks were not needed, pedestrians simply slipped between cars to cross the street.

My initial impression was that the city was rather run-down.  There seemed to be garbage everywhere in addition to the countless chickens and goats wandering the side of the road.  Buildings stood one or two stories, many cement and all looking weathered and dirty.  The side of the road was also packed with shanties selling everything from hub caps to couches and living room sets.  The more I thought about this, the more the differences could be explained by culture.  In our society, much value is placed on appearances such as well manicured lawns and painted houses with shutters that really serve no functional purpose.  Here, I have not discovered the emphasis, but if I had to guess I would say that the society here is more defined by functionality, having a closely knit community and by their relationships, with little evidence on appearances of inanimate objects.

Although the city seemed dilapidated, the people more than made up for it with their vibrancy.  Brightly colored traditional dress mixed with westernized clothing, but no matter whose face you looked at, they would meet your gaze and smile.  This was very refreshing for me, especially coming out of JFK International Airport where most everyone averts their eyes to keep from having to slow down and interact.

Driving out of the city we entered a beautiful, lush savannah; rolling hills of shrubs, grasses and low plants accented by strikingly tall and sturdy looking trees.  The view offered more than pictures or words could ever describe, it is simply an experience one must have themselves.  I felt small looking at that rolling wilderness, but even smaller when we drove particularly close to one of those towering African trees.  Two pit stops and four hours later, I saw the western coast of the Atlantic Ocean for the first time.  Large dark waves crashed to shore leaving spray and bubbles in their wake.  Long wooden boats lined the shore awaiting high tide to bring them out to sea.  Tall trees that looked surprisingly like palm trees shaded the men who sat in groups on the beach.  As we passed by, I couldn’t help but be scared for their lives as they prepared to set forth into those choppy waters.

Arriving in Sekondi, the road became increasingly rough or maybe it just seemed that way since so many of us had full bladders again!  We pulled into the mission, greeted by several people who ushered us into the front room where all twelve of us female student participants are staying.  The female instructors are in an adjoining room and I honestly don’t even know where our three men are staying.

So, we have arrived.  We are safe and sound with all of our luggage and supplies.  We are all very tired as sleeping on the plane was not as easy as expected.  For now, it is about 5:00PM and we are trying to stay awake long enough to help our bodies regulate to the time change.  We were given a walking tour of part of Sekondi and feed a delicious dinner of chicken, white rice, veggie fried rice, and several kinds of lightly flavored vegetable dishes similar to coleslaw made without mayonnaise.  We will be fed again closer to 7:00 and probably fall into bed shortly thereafter.

Tomorrow is a big day or organization and preparation for the week ahead.  Tonight, we will sleep very soundly and awake to the music of the church service held in the next building.  I can hear the choir practicing now with beautiful strong voices in harmony accompanied by drums.  I am certain the next few days will bring much to write about but for now, goodnight.

More introductions

August 11th, 2009 by njandreau

Since we first introduced our UNE participants, we have welcomed several people from other groups to join us.

Ethan Morton: Ethan is a second year math major at Roger Williams University.  He will be spending most of his time providing much needed help in our pharmacy and enjoying Ghana.

Maureen Nalle, PhD RN: Maureen is an Assistant Professor from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  This is her sixth trip to Sekondi with Ghana Health Mission.

Karen Lasater DNP, FNP: Karen is also an Assistant Professor from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  She has participated in several immersion trips in Latin America and is currently planning a trip to Peru next year.

Stan Rosenberg: Stan is a state senator (D) from Massachusetts who is traveling with the group.  He is meeting with community leaders in an effort to foster economic development.

Preparation

August 7th, 2009 by njandreau

Preparing for a medical mission brings to light the “little-known” deep complexities of the experience. There are so many things to think about. Our supplies are gathered by efforts of participants and their families, immunizations addressed, visas must be requested, and transportation organized.

Coordination and communication amongst the group are “musts” when confronted with airline luggage restrictions including weight, size, and number of check or carried on bags. As many Ghanaians go barefoot and subsequently battle parasites and/or infection, light weight footwear donations such as crocs and sandals collected by Dara Lamson, Brenda Beckett, and Lindsay McKenny will be distributed through the clinic. Light and squishable, this footwear packs easily but other heavier objects such as vitamins and medications must also be packed. Other items must be packed with care, such as the reading glasses collected by Stephanie Bliss. Ensuring safe and easy passage through the airport with our full bags meant we needed another group meeting.

Suitcase

To facilitate the distribution of weight amongst our baggage we held a packing party! Each participant saved at least a third of the space in their one checked bag to pack the items collected. In addition to our supplies, we also are bringing 300 water bottles for participants in a study on clean water being conducted by Professor Jen Morton.

Jen with a Water BottleTo apply for a visa from Ghana, we all had to receive the required Yellow Fever vaccination. Most of us also received several other recommended immunizations including Hepatitis A, Typhoid Fever, a Polio Booster, and Meningitis. Although I had the option of returning to spread out the pain over time, I opted to receive the four injections I needed at one visit. Ouch! To add insult to injury, the Yellow Fever injection is a live attenuated virus…meaning you can get sick after receiving it. No one enjoys being sick, but I think knowing you will become sick may be worse than simply catching a virus. I came home from my visit and waited; within four hours I had a fever that lasted two days. But this trip will be worth it.

After attaining the required immunity to Yellow Fever, we could then apply for a visa to enter Ghana. This was complicated as well. The visa is only good for three months and there was a possible six week processing period. So, we had to apply no less than six weeks from the date we planned to arrive in order to assure receiving our passport back in time, but no more than two months in advance because we could then possibly miss our window of entry. We all successfully completed this process with visas valid for our date of entry. In addition to our vaccines, we also acquired prescriptions for an anti-malarial and antibiotics with the option of requesting a light sleep aid.

Our clothing will be washed for us every day so we only needed to pack about 3 sets of clothing each. Other items on our personal packing lists included toiletries, a towel and washcloth (I’ve been told we will get a cold shower about every other day), camera, comfy footwear, a water bottle, and snack foods.

We will be flying from Logan Airport to JFK to Accra, Ghana. We leave JFK at 5:15PM and arrive at 8:20AM the next morning; I think we’re all hoping to get some sleep on the flight. From Accra, we will take a bus down the coast to the twin cities of Sekondi and Takoradi where we will be setting up our clinic at the International Mission housed in a local Pentecostal church.

I cannot believe that we leave tomorrow. I hope to send a quick update from the airport. Keep all your fingers crossed that our travel goes smoothly and we will update soon!

Nice to Meet You

July 30th, 2009 by njandreau

Welcome!  Our first meeting of the Ghana Health Mission participants from the University of New England occurred on an early June afternoon.  I looked around knowing only the faces of Jennifer Morton, and two fellow nursing students. Others I had never seen before, which one might think strange on a campus as small as UNE, Westbrook.  My rationale for this is that health profession programs are very focused, with specific classes and time consuming clinical experiences.  We become close with those in our program and few others unless actively involved outside our major.  So, to break the ice, I’d like to introduce our participants to you just as we did at our first meeting.

Students:

Grace Perry: Well, I guess I will start with myself.  I just graduated with my Associate Degree in Nursing and will be completing my Bachelor of Science in nursing next spring.  I am very excited as this is my first step into international health care which has been a goal of mine for some time.  Having the privilege of writing this blog makes the experience even more special as I also endeavor to raise awareness about important global issues that are so well illustrated in the developing world.

Dara Lamson: Nursing, also ’09 graduate now in BSN program.  Dara is beyond excited for everything this trip has to offer, except, of course the spiders, bugs, and other creepy crawlies.

Laura Beal: ’09 nursing graduate.  Laura is hoping to learn a lot from this trip and to be as useful as possible.  Laura has some international traveling experience as well as a sociology/anthropology background which will definitely be useful and very interesting to discuss in the future.

Laura Lombardi: Physical Therapy.  For Laura, Africa will be an experience- and she can’t wait!

Lindsay McKenney Physical Therapy.  Lindsay thinks it is important to contribute to local and international causes and is excited to contribute to this cause while seeing this part of Africa.

Emilee Schroeder: Physicians Assistant. Emilee has experience traveling and in service organizations but she is excited for this to be her first mission in health care.

Elisa Vocca: Physician Assistant.  Elisa is extremely busy with long clinical hours (yes, even through the summer) but is very excited to take these two weeks to learn and experience Africa.

Matt Gravett: Physician Assistant.  Matt has international experience through the military but he is very interested in working globally and hopes this experience will give him a better understanding of challenges of global health.

Steph Bliss: Occupational Therapist, 09 Graduate!!!  Steph is interested in all aspects of health care and we are very lucky to have her along with us as our only OT this year.

Jen Bayron:  Medical Biology and Biochemistry. Jen wants to learn a lot from this trip, including valuable skills that will help her down the road.  She is in the process of applying to medical schools.

Ginny Lee: Medical Biology.  Ginny is excited to see how this trip will change her perspective on both life and health care.

Megan Hawkes: Medical Biology and Political Science.  Although her double major keeps her busy, this will be Megan’s second medical mission.  Comparing this trip with her previous experiences will be very interesting.  Megan is also interested in medical school.

Faculty:

Jennifer Morton: Nursing Professor at the University of New England.  This is Jen’s sixth trip to this area with Ghana Health Mission and the second year she has organized student and fellow faculty participation at the University of New England.  While in Ghana, she will also be finishing research on a clean water education program for her doctoral degree. (Go, Jen!)

Nancy Simpson:  Nursing Faculty, University of New England.  Nancy’s interested in enriching her world view and experiencing another culture though health care.

Jim Cavanaugh: Physical Therapy Faculty, University of New England. Jim is interested in PT practices and outcomes in the developing world. Jim is very excited for this trip.

Brenda Beckett: Physician Assistant Faculty, University of New England.  Brenda hopes to treat as many people as she can while we are in Africa, learn from the experience and use it to help her become a better clinician.

Presently, many of us are strangers.  Before long we will travel part way around the world united by the common goal of helping the people of Ghana, West Africa.  Journey with us as we learn about each other, ourselves, the people we encounter, and the world.

Please visit our “About the Trip” page for more information on Ghana and our group.

2009 Trip

July 6th, 2009 by njandreau

On  August 7, 2009, 12 WCHP students and faculty and 3 CAS students will travel to the twin cities of Sekondi and Takoradi in Ghana, West Africa to participate in a primary health care clinic originally established by Leda McKenry, RN, PhD, FAAN of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and Reverend Robert Andoh of the International Mission.  This unlikely partnership evolved into Ghana Health mission 14 years ago.

Jennifer Morton, MS, MPH, RN will be joined by Jim Cavanaugh PT, PhD, Brenda Becket, MS, PA-C and Nancy Simpson, MSN, RN from UNE.  In addition, 12 students in various health professions programs that include nursing, physical therapy, occupational therapy, physician assistant and medical biology will comprise the healthcare team.  They will work with clients of all ages from the community.

Little Girl in Ghana

This experience will introduce the students to health care as it is delivered in a developing country while they provide valuable healthcare services and community health education to the people of Sekondi and Takoradi. This type of experience assists students in recognizing and heightening their skills as culturally sensitive health professionals through self reflection prior to, during and after the immersion experience.

Students will participate in activities that include:

  • Participation in the delivery of direct patient care
  • Community health education as a partnership with community health workers
  • Becoming versed in the use of interpreters

There are several other initiatives that will be implemented during the two weeks in Sekondi.  Stephanie Bliss (OT ‘09) will run a reading glasses clinic.  Past trips have suggested that middle aged Ghanaians in the community have a disrupted ability to accomplish work requiring astute reading vision.  As a result Stephanie, through fundraising efforts has collected over 200 pairs of reading glasses for the clinic.  She plans to screen participants and suggest an appropriate strength “reader” in an effort foster ease of daily living.

Matt Gravett (PA ’10) has been collecting new and/or gently used children’s books.  Although Fante is the spoken language of the community, English is the official language of Ghana and taught to all children who attend school.

Jennifer Morton (Assistant Professor, Department of Nursing) will be implementing a research study. Nsu! A Clean Water Campaign for the People of Sekondi will be implemented in an effort to evaluate a community health education curriculum on the knowledge, attitudes and practices surrounding hygiene practices. Laura Beal (Nursing ’09) will serve as Professor Morton’s research assistant for the study.

Grace Perry (Nursing ’09) will facilitate the student blog while in Ghana.  She has already been working to introduce readers to the planning of this trip and the participant makeup.  We are glad Grace is up for the challenge.

All of the students and faculty have been working hard to collect needed medical supplies for the trip.