Rebecca Wylie - HIV/AIDS in Ghana
I spent two months with Projects Abroad in Ghana between September and November 2012, and I can honestly say they were two of the best months of my life! My first month was spent doing the Human Rights placement in Accra, before going on to work in Korle Bu Teaching Hospital for the next month.
During the HIV/Aids placement, the volunteers spend 3 days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) in the hospital, in my case at Korle Bu, and the other 2 days on medical outreach projects. The great thing about this system is the variety of work you get to experience. During my four weeks in the fevers unit at Korle Bu I got to see and do so much, including checking patient blood pressure, observing counseling sessions, testing blood samples in the lab and shadowing a doctor on his ward rounds.
However, my favorite part of the week was always the days we spent on outreach in schools or orphanages. Although the wounds we were treating were only very small, it really felt like we were making a great contribution to the lives of these children, mostly due to the massive sea of smiles that greeted us every we time we arrived at a new school! We also had opportunities to give talks on HIV to the older students in some of the schools, which is a vital part of their education.
What can I say about Ghana? It is a fantastic country with fantastic people, a fantastic energy and fantastic culture! This being my first trip to Africa, I really had no idea what to expect and although arrival at Kotoka International was a slightly different experience to my past airport experiences, my overriding emotion at that time was excitement - and Ghana certainly did not disappoint!
Of course there were challenges (cold bucket showers being the one that initially springs to mind!), but one of the phrases I have probably said most, and believe most, since my return is “it’s amazing what you can get used to”, and it’s true! After a week or so, the thought of getting up to wash myself in cold water from a bucket didn’t bother me because I knew my day was going to be exciting! No day is ever the same in Ghana!
Volunteers get each weekend off which gives you the opportunity to travel and explore Ghana. While the traveling bit can sometimes be challenging, the exploring will no doubt make it worth your while. Ghana has some absolutely beautiful beaches (with warm water!) which suited me down to the ground - the beaches at Beyin (Western region) and Kokrobite (just west of Accra) were my favorites. However, if you prefer something a little more pulsating or cultural, there are mountains to climb, waterfalls to swim in, monkeys to play with (all Volta region) and colonial castles to visit (Cape Coast and Elmina - Central region).
And of course Accra itself, being the capital city, has plenty to offer. A trip to the markets is definitely an experience - whether you visit Makola market or the Arts Centre, you’re guaranteed to get a ‘guided tour’/pulled between each stall by the merchants. At night time, there is always somewhere to go where you are bound to meet other volunteers - Ryan’s Irish pub in Osu is a must on a Thursday night, with Happy Hour running from 7-9. And if you’re looking for some home comforts there are plenty of restaurants, especially in Osu, that serve some pretty good Western food.
My time in Ghana has given me a lifetime of amazing memories and every time I reflect on my trip, I can’t help but smile. One of my favorite moments was walking into a primary school in Old Fadama, the biggest slum in Accra, and the surge of children, all with massive smiles, rushing to shake our hands.
Aside from the amazing children I met, public transport also made a big contribution to my ‘funny-memory bank’. I have a new found appreciation for traffic lights, road lanes and a general highway code since coming home; there was also one trip where I had a cage of chickens pecking at my feet from under my seat on the Ghanaian equivalent of a bus, known as a ‘tro-tro’. Just to clarify, I hate birds. And of course the Ghanaian people, who are all (well almost all) very friendly and welcoming, have given me so many great moments to reflect on.
I could talk forever about my highlights, which in reality is the majority of my trip, but my final mention has to go to the other volunteers. The people I met and worked with in Ghana were some of the most amazing people I have ever met. I have so many new friends from across the world that I know I will be friends with for years to come (meaning more traveling!) and my trip would have been so different without them all!
I could not more highly recommend Ghana - it has so much to offer and so few people know about it, which in some ways makes it more special. Whatever project you decide to choose, you are guaranteed to have the experience of a lifetime! My time there has put Ghana, and the African continent as a whole, firmly in my heart and I cannot wait to go back and explore it more!