King's College London 2012
The run up to my flight from Heathrow to Ghana was full of administration. Packing this, paying that, checking this, organising that. I was filled with both a sense of excitement and apprehension. I needn’t have worried though as my memories of Ghana are some of the fondest I have.
From the time I met Ezekiel at the airport, I felt right at home. The house is looked after by Alhassan (also the resident groover) and has a 24hr security guard to keep an eye on things throughout the day. Ophelia manned the kitchen with local and international dishes (I can fully recommend the breakfast pancakes) and was amazing at adapting Ghanaian delicacies to everyone’s specific dietary requirements. She was also responsible for the highlight of our weeks: the WTW BBQ!
During my time in Takoradi, I completed an O&G placement at the Regional Hospital which is located 10km from Takoradi. It serves as the main referral centre for all conditions which require specialist attention in the western region of Ghana. However, the maternity ward is far from fully equipped with a distinct lack of beds and only two operational incubators. Here, I attended handover and ward rounds in the morning. Doctors are free to leave after their ward round (usually at about midday) unless they are on-call or in clinics. I was also granted the opportunity to gain some experience of gynaecological pathologies, child health vaccination programmes and family planning schemes. The latter of these was surprisingly accessible within the hospital although uptake was low due to the strong Christian and Muslim beliefs held by the majority of the population. I also witnessed advanced pathologies on a scale I had never encountered before. For example, multiparous women with extensive uterine prolapse following anywhere between six to nine vaginal deliveries, extensive facial oedema in a woman with pre-eclampsia, severe malnutrition with resultant cephalo-pelvic disproportion causing neonatal moulding and a woman at 46+5 weeks gestation who self-discharged against medical advice as she had no one to look after her other three children. The distinction between medicine in the developing and developed world was vast and, although expected, I was still not prepared for what I saw.
There was also a lot of flexibility with our placements as I was able to do night shifts to get more experience and also attend A&E whenever there were fewer students – doctors and nurses alike were happy to have you! It was during this time that I actually managed to deliver my first baby (the mother insisted that she name him after my father!) .
Outside the hospital people were filled with a warmth and joy for life I had never come across before. What’s more is, most of the people I met had never come across a person of Asian origin before. Consequently this rather amusing guessing game followed me wherever I went, with the children who lived in our neighbourhood finally concluding that I must be African-American and asking whether I knew Barack Obama. Indeed, most of our evenings were spent playing with the children or in Fante lessons where we learnt some basic phrases of the Ghanaian dialect to be able to communicate with patients or, more accurately, entertain them with our shocking accents. Weekends were spent travelling to nearby regions such as Axim, Volta and Cape Coast which, as well as being breath-taking, were steeped in colonial history.
In my fourth week, I spontaneously decided to try the village experience. I hadn’t planned to and I'm rarely the sort of person who ‘roughs it’ liking, as I do, flushing toilets and electricity but I got so caught up in my stay that I found myself agreeing to accompany a friend. It turned out to be the most valuable part of my trip. I went to a small farming village about half an hour drive from the WTW house. There was no electricity or running water but what the people lack in amenities they definitely make up for in enthusiasm! I’ve never felt so welcome! The clinic itself was a huge learning curve as the patient load was heavier than that of the hospital as most people can’t afford to travel to Takoradi. The nurses thus greeted us with open arms and let us get stuck in. They pretty much let us do everything and stepped in only when we asked. I would definitely recommend knowing a thing or two about malaria for this bit though! We also had the afternoons to travel and get involved in activities – our guide showed us beaches, markets, local produce e.g. palm oil, palm wine etc. One thing I would warn you of though is the squat toilet they have – make sure you take plenty of toilet paper. Having said that, this is your opportunity to really experience Africa and I would have forever been kicking myself had I not done it!
So why choose Work the World? Well, I decided to travel after reading the accounts of people in the year above at Kings. They all raved about how WTW offered the best compromise between experiencing Ghanaian life and staying safe as a foreigner. They also talked about how independently arranged hospital placements were not always reliable whilst WTW ensured you were working with people who:
- are expecting you, and
- are willing to teach you
Furthermore, WTW helped orientate us when we first arrived, helped organise trips outside Takoradi, arranged Fante lessons and, generally, became our family whilst we were out there. Ezekiel, in particular, is the man to see if you want to do any travelling whilst you’re there as he is a wealth of tourist knowledge! I would definitely recommend bringing some books/games/films so that you’re entertained though as some of the drives are pretty long!
All in all, if I were to do the trip again, I would not change a single thing. The people I met, the things I saw the experience I gained would have not been possible without Work the World and I whole-heartedly recommend them!