Entries tagged with “Accra” from Nursing Students Without Borders

Today is our last day of sightseeing in Accra which is a good thing because I think we are all getting a bit anxious to start our work here in Ghana. We have never had this much time before our work started and although it is nice to see all the wonderful sights of Accra the students are anxious to get started.

We are due to see our American Embassy today and a few more sights in Accra. We leave the hotel around 11 but hit an enormous amount of traffic on the way into the city.  The traffic here is like nothing you have ever seen. 

Although the roads are paved and it appears that is should be a two lane highway into the city it often resembles a large parking lot.  I believe it is worse than even getting out of Fenway or Gillette after a game.  The roads are not lined and it can be like a giant game of chicken. There are many lanes of cars all trying to squeeze into a narrow road. 

We are traveling in a larger bus but even the smallest of cars try to edge us out of our lane.  There is lots of honking of horns and to complicate matters there are street vendors by the hundreds who are hawking their wares by the side of the vehicle.  I cannot make eye contact with any of them or they will come over to the bus and tap on the window and offer their items. It seems cruel to avoid their gaze but it becomes necessary.

These people stand in the hot sun all day long trying to make a living.  This type of occupation seems to be the largest employer in Ghana.  There is an amazing abundance of  hardworking people looking for employment and I am surprised that some of our US businesses who have outsourced their manufacturing to China or India have not considered Ghana.

Eventually we find out selves in at the Parliament House where their legislators (Members of Parliament) are not in session.  We are not permitted in the building but it is impressive.  We are then taken to the Conference Center which is a huge building that is the home of large political and social gatherings.  When President Obama came here to Ghana in 2009 he spoke from this building.  We are given access to the VIP lounge where he awaited his time to speak. It is a large impressive room with many sitting areas .  There is a large private office also where the Ghanaian president or other dignitaries can do some work.  We are told that not many visitors get to see this area and we feel special.

Our appointed time is approaching and we must go to the US Embassy for our scheduled visit. It is quite the procedure to get into the building.  All of our electronics (cameras, thumb drives, iPods, phones) needs to left at the counter as well as any liquids.  We painstakingly go through the metal detector and bag scan.  Only small groups at a time can enter into the Embassy and only with an official guide.  We are joined by five to six members of AFRICED so our entourage is large.  As usual we are attracting lots of attention because it is not very often in Ghana that you seen a group of young white people  like ours.  The glances from the people of Ghana are never rude but rather inquisitive.

Upon entering the embassy we are directed to a large conference room.  While we await the start of our program a young good looking US Marine comes into the room and starts to chat with us.  He is a very personable young man who is excited to see a group of Americans and is anxious to invited us to a comedy night held at the embassy on Friday night.  His name is Marcus and I wish we could spend more time with him because he is very humorous and gives us good insight into his life as an American in Ghana.  

Our program begins with a welcome by Mary Drake Scholl who is the Public Affairs office.  She gives us a wonderful description of what the US Embassy does in Ghana.  I am amazed at the scope of their activities because I had always assumed there were in foreign countries just for American interests (security, passport problems, etc). 

The US Embassy and their partners are involved with many initiatives like local and national health care, education and other activities that benefit the Ghanaians and American expatriates in Ghana.  We then get a chance to talk to Susan Wright who is the deputy office chief of USAID/Ghana.  

Susan is involved with many projects that are done to improve the health and welfare of the people of Ghana. She gives a great presentation on the prevalent health issues in Ghana (malaria being one of the biggest problems in this country) in addition to other social issues that are affected by the health of the people of Ghana.  Her presentation dovetails wonderfully with the work the UML students have done in preparation for their community health implementation projects. 

The students will be doing two projects, one is for malaria education and awareness for mothers of young children and the other is a nutrition education program for school aged children.  They will be implementing their programs in a few days so all the information that Susan gives them validates their hard work and project purpose.

We then get to meet the heath care workers (a nurse and physician assistant) who are not government employees but rather are called “local hires.”  They work at the Embassy to provide health care to the embassy workers and their families and also have some responsibility for the other embassy posts in neighboring countries.  It is interesting to hear their career stories. It seems that many people who end up in foreign jobs often begin their career with the Peace Corp.  The working conditions that the PA endured in her previous job is incredible but it seems like her current job at the embassy is challenging but rewarding. 

At the end of our program we are treated to a lively lecture by Dr. Fazle Khan who works with  the CDC Director in Ghana at the Embassy.  He has an interesting career story but it is his recall and insight into the health problems like AIDS and malaria that enthralls us.  He is inspiring and has the utmost respect for nurses which is music to our ears. He gives some good career advice should any of the UML students desire to work in a foreign country like Ghana.

We are thankful for this interesting visit to our US Embassy which is a vast change from last year when our bus was bombarded by armed Ghanaian guards because some of the students took out cameras to take a picture.

We adjourn to a nearby restaurant for some cold drinks where we are met by a group of 10-12 people from AFRICED.  We are presented with a souvenir t-shirt that says  “University of  Massachusetts Educational Tour – Ghana 2011.” The goal of our meeting is to spend some time with these hard working volunteers from AFRICED and to discuss their experience and concerns in addressing health issues in Ghana. 

This exchange of ideas is strongly advocated by our coordinator Kwadwo.  We need to learn from them and they need to learn from us.  It is interesting to learn about the Ghanaian national insurance plan (costs a little more than $15 per person per year).  It is financed by a tax.  We have seen this tax on any item that we buy.  Health care is available but there continues to be access issues such as proximity to a clinic or ability to afford even the $15 per year for health insurance (which is significantly less for children age 3 months -16 years).  Pregnant woman and newborns are covered for free. This is to ensure improved health and maternal and neonatal outcomes which is a health care problem that is slowly improving but still a huge problem in a developing country like Ghana. 

Maura and I share a lively conversation with Sherry (who also works on land disputes issues during the day and is going to school for her degree in business administration), Simon (who is a laboratory technician at the large Korlebu Hospital here in Accra) and Mustapha (who works in hospital accounts at Korlebu). These three people maintain their full time jobs but also devote time to the social problems in Ghana such as child slavery/orphans and  financially assisting families with many children to keep the families intact and functioning and not to sell their children into slavery to help the family finances.  There are many other projects that AFRICED is  involved with and they will be joining us intermittently this week to help us with our clinics and distribution of supplies.

After our debriefing on the bus (where the students are asked about the observations of the day), we then sit in traffic for nearly 3 hours to get back to our hotel.  This is torture for us and I long for the rural roads of the Volta region where we have to dodge goats and not cars.  Upon our return to the hotel we have a birthday celebration for one of the students (Kim),  with Little Debbie brownies that have stashed in a suitcase.  Chocolate is like gold to us now. 

We spend about an hour organizing our supplies for the next day and counting pills.  I have purchased some medications and the Nursing Students Without Borders club also purchased some OTC meds like Tylenol and multivitamins.  My goal this year is to try not to make our trip about handing out pills but rather addressing some health education needs of the people of Ghana.  If we teach someone about how to manage their hypertension that is much more sustainable than giving them 10 pills. 

The students are anxious for our first clinic tomorrow.  After  a long day I retire to my room to discover that there is no water left to bathe.  Some of the students have already showered and used up all the water. I think we need to start a shower rotation schedule because I will be pretty smelly if I don’t shower for a few days. After a quick wet wipe cleanup we are in bed for some rest before tomorrow.   

As I prepare for bed at 1 a.m. the rooster starts to crow again… Does anyone have a muzzle?

Today was a good day.  I started with a cold shower but the toilet flushes and the AC worked all night.  Some of the students lost their AC in the night and woke up to a hot room.  The heat did not keep the lizards and bugs away but I am pleased to tell you that my most bug-phobic student is making great strides in conquering her fear.  I told her it was well worth spending all this money to cure her bug fears!!

We had a day of touring the capital city of Accra.  It is a very busy city with much traffic and congestion.  It can be an interesting range of sites.  We can be passing a shanty type community and 1/2 mile up the road pass by affluent gated compounds. The disparities in wealth are incredibly sad. 

The UML students are amazed at the number of street vendors who sell anything by the side of the road.  We see little children with large bowls of water bags on their heads who have likely been selling at the busy intersections since early in the day.  No school for them. They are probably being used to sell items to help the family finances.  The UML students pay five times what they need to pay for a small bag of water.  The little girl does not know what to do with the extra money even when urged to keep the extra money to herself.   It is sad to see how children are exploited in some situations and this child may never finish grade school because she is more valuable as a street hawker. 

There are all kinds of merchandise on sale. Cheap toys, candy, fried chips, water, maps, jewelry.   They are there just trying to make enough money to live another day. I worry about the small children by the side of the road and realize how easily a predator could scoop them up and drive off.  The UML students seem subdued when they see these sights.

We were supposed to meet with the Minister of Education today but after waiting for him for about an hour we were told his schedule did not permit a meeting.  We then proceeded to do some touring of the city and we ended up at Frankies which is a local restaurant that features American food.  This is a treat I usually save until the end of the trip.  We haven’t experienced any real hunger yet and here we were today at this restaurant eating American sandwiches and French fries.   It is a welcome respite for the students because we are now approaching our busy time.  

We hope to meet the Minister tomorrow and I will have to come up with some greetings on behalf of UML and the nursing students.  I was asked if I had a “gift” for the minister.  As is customary, people often bring gifts when they meet the minister and last year I gave him some bottles of OTC medicine because that is all I had to give.  That bothered me tremendously because those medications can be easily purchased by any person working in these government jobs and I felt it was depriving a needy patient of much needed medications. 

This year  we did not bring as many bottles of medication due to shipping costs so I had nothing to share.  I told our coordinators that the Minister of Education was going to have to settle for the “present “ our of “presence”  in his country.  That was kind of a snarky response but I have a real issue with inequities in health resources (in any country) and I am not going to promote those inequities because of the “custom” of giving gifts.  At some point in time a person has to stand up for their beliefs and this was in important issue for me.   I know that I risk offending  a very important politician but I think it is better to stay true to one’s own beliefs. 

Tonight we returned home to our hotel and had our first debriefing session.  This is such an important part of the day where everyone gets a chance to voice their observations, concerns or questions.  I am proud to hear the comments from the UML nurses.  They are absorbing so much and I can already see that this experience has begun to change their perception of social and health problems in a developing nation.   UMass Lowell has taught them well.

Maura and I have a few glasses of wine and some peanut butter crackers and cookies for supper (we need to have some food to take our malaria medicine with). The wine is relaxing and I play a few rounds of a fun and crazy card game with some of the students while the other group is busy in their hotel room revising one of their assignments that is due for Community Project.  Everyone is getting along well. 

The marriage proposal count is at one. I told the students I will keep track of their marriage proposals and one of the students was proposed to today by a Ghanaian military guard.  I predict our marriage proposal count will go much higher when we get to Kpando.  I will give  updates on the proposals.

It is about 12:30 and time to go to bed.  The rooster just crowed outside my window.  He needs to have his circadian clock fixed.  He woke me up at 3:30 this morning also.  Tomorrow will be an interesting day as we have been invited to our American Embassy in Ghana to meet our Ambassador. Last year we almost got arrested for taking pictures and this year we are invited guests.  Funny, how a year can make all the difference in the world.  

Good night to all and come back to read  some student blogging.  I have been keeping them busy but hope they will start blogging soon.

Our journey began at Logan airport with a fairly painless check in procedure at United Airlines.  I was busy herding students to the desk with their passports and helping to tape up our 14 boxes for shipping.

Maura and I decided to upgrade for extra five inches of legroom. We wanted to see if it made a difference in our ability to sleep during the 10 hour flight from DC to Accra.  At Logan, all the parents were hugging their children and there were a few tears.  What a leap of faith these students and families take when they agree to go to Africa.  I know what to expect but it will be interesting for me to see their shock and reaction to this new experience.

Once on board our long flight we tried to con the very nice flight attendant, Jeannette, to upgrade us to First Class.  She could not do that but she was very respectful of our challenges and proceeded to give us some goodies usually reserved for first class.  We had some mimosas, wine, special dessert, vanity pack and large bottled water for our journeys. With our extra leg room and special treatment it felt a bit special and a some pampering before our upcoming  journey over dirt roads and hot temperatures.  We had a nice United Airlines angel watching over us.

We stopped at a mall in Accra to purchase cell phones and some last minute bottles of wine and water (hmmmm  I wonder which one we will like better after a long day!). One of the students said to me “Wow ... this is not as bad as I thought it was going to be.” I chuckled because I know there will be so many more shocks and adjustments yet to come.  The students are all happy and excited so I am hopeful it will be a great trip for them. 

We checked into a small hotel on the outskirts of Accra and I was pleasantly surprised to  have clean rooms with air conditioning and wireless internet.  As we were winding down for the night we heard some screaming and found out that we have other guests in the rooms (a few small lizards).  What can we do?  We are here and the lizards won’t kill them.  I am looking forward to going to bed in a few minutes and catch up on some missed sleep.
Tomorrow will be a busy day. 

Come back to hear more stories and check out the student blog that will have some entries soon.

After our meeting with the minister’s chief director we board our bus again and we began driving to our next destination of the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum.  The traffic is stopped ahead and our driver who is following the lead of our truck in front of us, decides to go over the curb into the oncoming 2 lanes of opposing traffic.  The passenger in the truck is frantically waving to the oncoming cars to get out of “our way” so we can drive ahead to our destination.  I was too busy watching my life pass in front of my eyes to take out my camera and get a video of this adventure.  

Well, I am writing to you now so you must know that we arrived safe and sound at our next destination.  We toured the Mausoleum which is a lovely tribute to the first President of Ghana when the country became a republic in 1961.  Our tour guide tells us that he was removed from office around 1966 in a coup d’etat that was secretly supported by our own USA CIA.  I don’t know if that is true but the fact that I see only one photo of President Nkrumah with JFK and multiple pictures of him with Fidel Castro then I suspect there could be some truth in this fact.  

It is an impressive site that also contains the headless and handless statue of this president that was partially destroyed during the coup d’etat.  It has some eerie resemblance in my mind of the statue of Saddam Hussein that was destroyed by soldiers during the invasion of Iraq. This Ghanaian president was obviously loved and respected and when he died his remains where brought to this park (that used to be a British polo field where no Blacks were ever allowed to walk on).  We also saw his car, a bulletproof American Cadillac that sits out in the hot African sun.  The display in the museum and the car are interesting but seem to be in dire need of some good museum conservation to keep the exhibit viable.  There are signs of aging of the photos and not much appears to be done in terms of archival preservation.  We also do a drive by of the Parliament and the massive conference center and parade grounds.  

Kwadwo has rejoined our group and he has taken our personal funds and exchanged them for Ghanaian cedis.  The exchange rate is not bad 1 USD to1.4 cedis.  We finally have some money to buy some water and food.  My task was to divide the over $3000 in Ghanaian money (mostly 1’s and 5’s) into even piles of $280 each.  The one mistake I did was to count this money in the rear seat of a moving bus.  For those who know me you know I am extremely sensitive to motion sickness, especially in the back of vehicles.

We arrived at our restaurant which was a bountiful buffet of all the Ghanaian foods that the students wanted to try.  Some of the students love the food others are less than enthused but it is an opportunity to experience some of the culture.   After a quick trip (thru the endless traffic of Accra) we go to the Mall to purchase a cell phone so the students can call home and some water for our day tomorrow.  We will be journeying to Kpando and the students will leave the bustling city of Accra and see the rural area of the Volta Region.  We are scheduled to work at 2 different blood pressure clinics tomorrow.

Everyone is weary so we head back to our hotel for a nice cold drink and a suitcase supper.  A suitcase supper is made up of snacks that were brought by us to Ghana.  Our land package does not include meals so we are trying to economize and eat some of our snacks as meals.  Many of us are still full from the food we had earlier today.   Back at the hotel we experience a blackout for an hour or so and we are told that this is a regular occurrence.  All the students are prepared with flashlights.  We now have running water and the air conditioner is working so life is pretty good here tonight.  Jet lag has really caught up to us so we are going to bed a bit earlier today.  Tomorrow will be a busy day!

We drive a bit through Accra but the hour is getting late and we are hungry, hot and tired.  We are taken to Frankie’s which was the local restaurant I went to last year on my last day in Accra.  It has wonderful American type food and I am thrilled because I know this will probably be my last Diet Coke for a while. 

We are brought to a newly renovated hotel in Accra. We drive down a rutted dirt road and I am questioning the locale as safe destination but soon we drive into a courtyard with brick pavers and a hotel that has obviously undergone some recent renovations.  We are surprised to be treated by private rooms for each student.  The rooms are clean and new sheets, bathrooms and best of all, air conditioning.   After carrying in our 44+ boxes and suitcases we retire to our rooms for a long awaited shower and rest.   I guess the water fairy is not on my side again this year because I have a lovely bathroom with new tile and sink but no running water.  I sneak down to a student room and after trying 3 different rooms I finally find one room with a trickle of cold water.  At this point it feels like a luxury and I quickly shower.  I hope this is a minor plumbing glitch that can be resolved in the morning.   

Prior to my shower I start to give out some of my gifts to Kwadwo and his wife (who has joined us tonight).  I have given him a used laptop for which he is very grateful for.  It will help him with his work with AFRICED.  I am feeling bad because it is a few years old and not too fast.  If anyone has the inclination to donate a newer or new laptop to AFRICED I would be happy to arrange for shipment to Kwadwo.  I will tell you more about AFRICED in another entry.  

I reflect upon the day’s events that we have experienced.  Some of the sights, sounds and smells are the same. A few of the roads appear better but then very quickly they deteriorate into a rutted dirt road.  Ghana is making progress but it is sporadic in some areas.  We are stopped by the local police at least 5 times as we travel to our hotel.  It is a bit unnerving to be stopped at a roadblock with police in combat fatigues and large rifles on their shoulders.   It is the Ghanaian form of police oversight but it feels a bit weird to be stopped and have the flashlights shinned into the vehicle. 

I have had a conversation tonight with our new friend, Nicholas, from the Education Ministry( I think he is some sort of protocol officer).  He is trying to educate me about the relative safety of Ghana but also some of the traps that are present for the obviously white tourists.  I am encouraged again by the attention that NSWB has garnered from upper levels of government here in Ghana.  There will be more to report on that later. 

We also met a Ghanaian woman in the airport in London who is a nurse at Johns Hopkins hospital.  She is home for a holiday and has invited us to come to her home.  I am reminded of the friendliness of the Ghanaian people.  This woman, who is a stranger to us has just invited 11 of us to her home.   I also am reminded of the poverty as the people swarm our bus as we disembark and try to ask us to purchase little trinkets or just to give them some money.  It is a bit of a shock for the students to have this so visible on their first few hours in Ghana.  The students will have many more eye opening experiences and I can see them trying to acclimate to this type of human suffering that is not so apparent in their comfortable suburban life.

The halls are quiet. It is about 3 am and I need to wake up by 7 am for a 8 am departure.  I am sure my body will crash sometime tomorrow.  All the students are in bed and I am now going to sleep myself.  Tomorrow will be a busy day and I will have a second entry later on tomorrow as long as I can stay awake to write it later tonight.

Technically it is 12/29/09 but just barely.  It is about 2 am but my body thinks it is about 8 pm.  I am sitting in my hotel room at Accra.  We landed a few hours ago after a fairly uneventful flight where I really did not get much sleep but managed to watch a few movies.  The back of the plane (the economy seats) was packed with mostly Ghanaians returning home and a smattering of UML students and ironically a UML faculty on her way to spend her sabbatical teaching Biology at the University of Ghana.  There were plenty of open first class seats and I tried to negotiate my services as “the on flight nurse” in exchange for one of those nice seats but unfortunately the cabin crew could not grant my wish.

The heat of Ghana is overwhelming as we descend down the stairs of the giant British Airways plane.  The sights and sounds are rushing back to me.   As I enter into the customs area I see my friend Kwadwo waving at me from beyond the check in kiosk.  And to my great relief there was an American Lieutenant Colonial from the US Army assigned to the US Embassy who is assisting us through customs and immigration.  He obviously has some pull and we were whisked thru immigration and one of the students who was without her visa was easily able to acquire one onsite at the airport.  Gathering of our 22 boxes, 11 large suitcases and at least 22 carry-on items is a huge but somewhat painless process.  The hardest part was navigating our carts through the line of Ghanaians who were also toting large carts with suitcases. 

Instead of leaving out the customary door to the chaos of the parking lot we were whisked to an alternate door leading to a private lot with a large air conditioned bus awaiting our arrival.  I am amazed at the ease of this process as my recall of last year was one of chaos and frustration and essentially being on our own.  It has helped tremendously to work with Kwadwo and AFRICED volunteers who are our escorts and coordinators for this trip.

We have caught the attention of the Minister of Education whom we will meet with tomorrow and later on in the trip we will meet with the Minister of Health.  They are appreciative of our efforts and have helped us overcome some of the barriers from last year.  Of course it is with the intent of creating a lasting relationship with UML and future benevolent trips to Ghana.  I am VERY grateful for any help that can be provided to us at this stage.

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