Saturday, July 30, 2011

UCLA Volunteers Measure, Weigh, Survey, and Master Taxi-Travel In Ghana

Emily and Sarah at work in Ampenkrom

 The taxi driver was more surly than average, but he recognized I was on a mission.  “Obruni, you are going to Ampenkrom?” Clearly he had seen a number of volunteers travelling to Ampenkrom recently.
“Yes, that’s right.  I’m going there to see baby weighing,” I said, thinking that if I brought infants into the conversation, I would get quicker transport results.  Instead, I got a shrug. Finally, with no sense of urgency, the driver got in his decrepit vehicle and I set off to Ampenkrom to see some babies get weighed. 

It was the work of the UCLA volunteer group collaborating with GHEI that I was really there to see.  Sarah Gustafson and Emily Huang were set up in a church with all sort of weights and measurements, and thick stacks of forms and surveys.  It seemed daunting to me, but Community Health Workers were there welcoming mothers and their children in soothing tones of Sefwi.  CHW’s Frieda Appiah, Dickson Ackah-Mensah, and GHEI staff Mensah Gyapong and Aggie Obeng performed the surveys, while Emily and Sarah weighed and measured the infants, and collected results.  After measuring  the child’s height, they delicately slung the baby in the scale.  No tears, no fuss, and the child seemed to understand that Sarah and Emily were having a great time.  By the time I arrived on the scene, a week into their work, they had seen over 80 babies, and apparently, all of them adorable.

The UCLA Global Health Elective is an opportunity for first year med school students to explore their interests in global health and volunteer abroad in the time between first and second year.   Placements were around the world, but Ghana was a popular choice, and the interview process was quite competitive.  The connection to GHEI was firmly established by GHEI executive director Diana Rickard, herself a UCLA residency and fellowship grad, and significant force in this volunteer program.  They were based in Ampenkrom, about 12 Kilometers (two rambunctious taxi rides) outside of Humjibre.  They were being hosted by the ever-likeable district assemblyman in Ampenkrom and CHW, Dickson Ackah-Mensah.  When the group gets back to the States, they will produce a report on their study findings to be shared with GHEI and conduct a poster presentation.


A few days later, I was in a packed taxi with the rest of the UCLA volunteer crew.  While Emily and Sarah worked in Ampenkrom each day, this group was mobile, and were visiting all the clinics and hospitals in the district.  Nikki Ross was gathering information at all the facilities regarding their ability to detect and refer congenital heart defects, as well as creating and  formalizing a referral process for GHEI to facilitate children in need to benefit from free surgery from the annual visit of The Boston Children’s Group  to Kom Fonokye in Kumasi.  Christina Siliciano was speaking with any doctors, nurses, or midwives who perform or assist in childbirth about their training in neo-natal resuscitation, as well as what equipment is available at each health facility for this important procedure.  Shelly Han was surveying all the health services in the district, finding out what supplies they have available, how many patients they treat, common medical cases seen, and essentially mapping out the health services in the district.

Nikki, Christina, Shelley, and the staff of the Chirano clinic

We were hurdling down the road with some pretty sweet reggae blasting, towards the clinic in Chirano.  I was given shotgun, because it was clear to all of us that they were more seasoned in ramshackle taxi travel in the last week and a half than I was in my three months in Ghana.  The road to Chirano was a dusty, bumpy monster, and I remarked out loud about this.  They all began speaking at once, this was nothing compared to the road to Merawa last week!  We emerged in Chirano, and the women set off with gusto to the clinic while I trailed behind, impressed and nursing my bruised Africanist-Traveller ego.

It was clear the women had been to many clinics before, and as they sat with the staff, the questions rattled off.  How many births take place here?  How many people assist in those births?  How many in-patients? What are the most common conditions that you refer out?  Would you be interested in Neo-Natal Resuscitation training?  Actually, the midwife at this clinic had some training with Beatrice Teatteh back in March, but would be interested in more.  

On the way back, Shelley, Nikki, and Christina got into a discussion.  Do we call it a day or do we continue on to Merawa?  They had only made it halfway there last week and were forced to turn back because the road was too bad and the rain too heavy.  Merawa was clearly the most remote clinic that they had on the list.  It looked sunny enough, but I excused myself to humbly head back to Humjibre, while they took off into the wild, where there was still a clinic to visit, a dusty road to conquer, and another surly taxi driver to contend with.  

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Lincoln School in Accra donates even more books to the Humjibre Community Library!

The Lincoln Community School in Accra has a long history of involvement in their community.  They do some good work and foster a culture of community involvement with their students, and now, their generosity has reached all the way across Ghana to the western region, specifically the Humjibre Community Library!

In March, 193 books were donated to The Humjibre Community Library by The Lincoln Community School.  And now while the education team was in the midst of a very busy Read-A-Thon, we received word from Lincoln School that even more books were on their way to Humjibre!  Just in time for the Read-A-Thon award ceremony, Education Program Manager Happy picked up an additional 115 books for the library. 

Everyone at GHEI, and the many readers in Humjibre, would like to thank the Lincoln School for their generous support of the Humjibre Community Library!

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Importance of Girl Child Education

Lydia: Don’t you know that women can also be leaders of the country in this modern Ghana?  I am going to send both my children to school. We don’t know what will happen in the future.
Monica: That is ridiculous. I don’t see why I should send my daughter to school because I need her in the house to help me with home chores.
Lydia: Monica, I think you are making a mistake.

Samuel: I will be going to Sefwi Bekwai Senior High School and I will study General Arts. I want to be a teacher like my Father.
Evelyn: Rita where are you going?
Rita: Me? I…I will…
Elvis: What are you saying? You are not going anywhere, you will be in the house with our mother. Mother has told me you will not go to school, she will not waste her money on you. 
Rita: I want to go to school but my parents think it’s more important for me to stay in the house.

Kwaku: Oh right, my wife was telling me you sent your daughter to school. We didn’t understand why you were doing such a thing.
Quasi: Well Evelyn is now a Doctor and is continuing her studies in the USA. She sends us money every month to help with the house and the family.
Kwaku: Oh wow! You mean your daughter? SHE is a doctor? And SHE is sending money to you?

Lydia: Samuel is a teacher and he also helps us but not as much as Evelyn. Every month she sends us what she can. You know, if I didn’t send her to school she would not be so successful now.
Monica: Lydia, I have seen the mistakes that I have made. I should have tried to send both my children to school especially my daughter Rita.
Lydia: I told you it was important to educate your girl child you never know what they will accomplish or how successful they will be.
Monica: I understand and now with my grandchildren, I will make sure they are all sent to school, even the girls.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Summer Serve and Learn 2011: Girls' Empowerment

At first, at best, people hardly notice a leader...
When the work is done, end gained, everyone will say:
We did it by ourselves, naturally.

GHEI’s Girls' Empowerment camp has now completed their first week with the volunteers from USA here to support: Krista Nickerson, Crystal Harmon, Astrid Prudent, Omalayo  Adebayo , and Naomi Riley.

In one of the sessions, the girls took part in a project to look objectively at aspects of leadership, and see how they were already demonstrating those aspects.  In their own lives, there were already leaders, even if they didn’t know it.  It was tough getting the girls to engage with the concept, but after some careful work by the volunteers, they got it. 

“I’m absolutely impressed with all the girls, because they are all absolutely brilliant! Working with them individually, though, when they are in their little groups, you can see how the quiet ones in the big groups become strong leaders in the small groups,” Astrid told me later.

Below are those aspects of a leader that the girls came up with:

Lead By Example:  I lead by example when I am a friend to everyone.  - Charlotte
Encourage Others: I am [an] encouragement, when I tell something good to my friends. -Rose
Be Organized:  I am organized when I am in school. I put all my books in my school bag so that it will not be destroyed! - Jennifer
Be Honest:  I’m honest at church when I am counting the money for my [youth group]. – Jennifer B
Be a Good Listener: I am good listener when my friend tells me something important. - Paulina
Have a Goal: My goal is to become a medical doctor.  And I want to become a doctor, because I want to heal people from their sickness in Ghana and even the whole world.  -Gloria
Be a Team Player: Being a team player is when you help someone and someone helps you. I help my mother to sweep the compound. -Ernestina
Be a Good Speaker: A good leader has to say the truth [to friends] so that it will not create any problems among themselves. -Faustina
Be Confident: I have to work hard, and when I am confident I can do so many things. – Evelyn

From my point of view, life in Humjibre is led by women.  If you go to a market, women are doing the brunt of the selling, buying and driving the economy.  If you go to a house, its women that are keeping the family secure. Women lead in so many ways here, and it’s a shame they aren’t recognized and commended for it.

Though maybe, as the Tao Te Ching says, women are such effective leaders in this community that they aren’t singled out and pointed to as such.  Perhaps, but then, where can these women be appreciated as the leaders they are? At GHEI’s Girls' Empowerment camp, several young women saw themselves as leaders, perhaps for the first time, and celebrated it. 

Monday, July 11, 2011

Voices: Lawrence Donkor

                As a student, I liked reading books the most.  I also liked sports but I didn’t know how to play football well.  I would read storybooks and especially the history of past Ghanaian leaders.  I used to like reading about the history of Kwame Nkrumah.  I got to know how he was from a poor family and I got to know  the work he did, and how he grew up to be a special person. 
At first, my father used to acknowledge my education and would encourage me.  He told me I should continue what I am doing because he is prepared to look after me through whatever school I would like to go to.  I don’t know if it was only his lack of literacy, or there was a financial problem or something like that, but as I got older I found out that there wasn’t much hope for me.
When I was in Junior High School, my plan was to become someone like a lawyer.  When I saw those people, I just had a great feeling, and I knew I wanted to be one.  But when I realized that my father didn’t have the money and was not going to send me to school, I tried to divert my plans.
After I got positive results on my BECE [the examination to determine entrance to secondary school], I learned that my father decided he was not going to send me to Senior High School.  So I went to Wa, in Upper West Region, to live with my sister to learn about automotive mechanics.  After going through the apprenticeship for two and a half years, I decided not to continue with it: I still wanted to continue my education.  So I came back to Humjibre and tried to talk to my father and explain that I was not interested in the automotive field anymore, I wanted to learn more. Somehow he realized what I was trying to explain was important, so he decided he would send me to a technical institution in Kumasi.
                It was difficult being a boy from Humjibre in Kumasi.  My parents supported me a little, but what they used to give was not enough, so I tried to manage however I could.  If I had to take 1 cedi [US $.75]  for breakfast, I would squeeze myself to get 50 peswas  for coco [porridge] in the morning, so I would have 50 peswas in the afternoon.  It came to a point in time that I even tried to sell cigarettes to make some extra money. 
                After technical school, I wrote applications to mining companies, but I was ignored.  I connected with some family members in Bekwai to do some marketing work for about one year, and then I also applied to the military.  But just at that time, GHEI was advertising for a librarian.  I applied right away, but I did not get it!  Then in early January 2009, they called me told me that the person they had initially hired was not fulfilling their promise, so I should come and work as the librarian. So that’s how I came up to be a GHEI member.

               From January to December, Sunday is the only day that I have free.  In the morning, I have to be at work by 10 A.M to make sure the place is prepared and the Daily Graphic is available for the library being open from 2-4 P.M.  And then, I have to make sure the place is ready for 6 P.M. when we open again, and clean up when we close at 9 P.M.  I don’t have a break!   It’s not difficult work, but you have to manage yourself and your time well.  For one person to run all these things is hard, but somehow I do it and I still like it!
                I think the library is changing Humjibre.  It’s difficult for kids to have a place to study because not all students have electricity in their homes, but the library is a comfortable place and has plenty of lights.  They are also learning with friends and discussing issues together.  We can also see those students who are coming to the library are getting good marks on their exams and performing well academically. 
                Personally, the library has affected me too.  My English is better, and I’m not afraid of approaching foreign people.  And I’m also not afraid of approaching computers anymore!  I enter things into the computer, send emails, all those things.  Also, from the library, I know more about kids and how they behave.  When I have kids, I now know how to treat them better and what they like. 


                Reading is more than the word “important”.  The parents have to take the responsibility to encourage their children to come to the library, or buy books for them.  If you don’t invest, you won’t get anything in return, and it’s the same as investing in the future. Even if the money is not there, it is the parent's duty to at least encourage their kids to read.  The more you encourage, the more they’ll learn.
                For now, I think the Read-A-Thon is going to keep on improving.  We are getting bigger, and more students are coming, but after this year, we need to find a way to manage it better.   The idea for me is to figure out how we can keep giving school supplies and items, but also get materials into the schools so they have more too.  
                So far as what I’m doing for the community, I have to do what I can. I appreciate those who come to volunteer and work with GHEI, because we are working together, as one people, for the good of this community.
                Many people don’t see what GHEI is doing, here in Humjibre or elsewhere, because right now GHEI is helping the future generations to come.  They are making an investment in the health and education of the future of Humjibre. Many people don’t see this now, but they will in time.