Life got busy fast. Last time I posted I said I’d post again soon talking about some of the things I’ve been working on. I had a couple small projects at the end of July in my area and I was going to write about them, but a whole bunch of other things popped up and I never got a chance to write about any of it until now!
At the end of last month my closest neighbor, Tristan, and I decided we wanted to hold a malaria education event at the market of our district capital. Each region has what is called a SWAT Bucket (SWAT stands for Standing With Africa . . . something about eradicating malaria). Anyway, the bucket contains lots of good resources for malaria education. To prepare for our event we met with the District Chief Executive, who was very supportive and lent us a speaker system/DJ for the event. We also went to the local radio station to promote our event on the air. We hoped to talk about malaria little bit on the radio as well, but the day we picked turned out to be the day after the President died, so we got very little air time. The event itself went really well. My friend Chau came to visit for a few days (she is currently unable to be at her site due to an incident I’m not supposed to talk about on my blog) and she was able to help us with the event. We set up in the taxi station next to the market on market day, and we demonstrated how to hang a bed net if you are sleeping outside or can’t hang it to your walls, made neem cream and handed out samples (neem is a local tree that is a natural mosquito repellant), and had a discussion on high risk and low risk behaviors that could lead to malaria. We had a crowd of about 70 people throughout the 2 hour event, which was great.
The next day Tristan, Chau and I went to Kumasi so Tristan and I could attend our first VAC meeting. VAC is volunteer advisory committee, and it’s basically just an opportunity for all the volunteers in one region to get together, talk about issues, projects, etc. Our meeting went well, and it was great to see everyone. The day I was supposed to go home two of my friends were heading to Accra to help out with Operation Smile, and they convinced me to come with them instead of go home. One quick phone call to my boss and I was on a bus heading the opposite direction than originally planned.
Operation Smile is a nonprofit based in Virginia that sends doctors, nurses and support staff from all over the world to different countries for week-long missions to give free surgeries to children with cleft lips and cleft palates. This was the second mission in Ghana, and 125 patients were selected for surgeries over 5 days. We arrived Sunday night, and surgeries started Monday morning. Most PCVs helping out with Op Smile would go to the hospital for few hours a day, hang out with the kids pre-op and maybe run a few errands, then head back to the main Peace Corps office in Accra for the rest of the day/evening. The beds in the Accra office were full due to the number of Op Smile volunteers and the event I really can’t talk about, so Gayle, Taylor and I were sent to the shelter to sleep with the patients. Theoretically, I guess there was supposed to be some kind of rotation system of PCVs between the office and the shelter, but that never happened. The three of us, and one other volunteer who had to leave half way through the week, pretty much ran the shelter 24/7. It felt like being a camp counselor, an RA, and an on-call nurse all rolled into one. Each of the 125 patients had several family members come with them, and we arrived Sunday night there were still many people who came to Accra hoping for surgery but were ultimately turned down at the last minute. So we basically had to attend to the needs of 200-300 people, depending on the day, at all times. It was usually chaos. We had a good time and tried to keep in good spirits, but there was a huge lack of communication between the hospital and the shelter, and between op smile and peace corps, so that was very hard to deal with at times. Thursday we were able to get out and go to the hospital, which was really cool, especially because we were able to stand in on some of the surgeries! At that point we knew most of the patients pretty well, so I had to be careful when choosing which surgery to watch because I didn’t want to see a patient I was particularly attached to. But I got to watch a cleft lip surgery from start to finish and it was absolutely amazing. Truly, one of the coolest things I’ve done since coming to Ghana.
Here are some pictures I stole from Gayle. . .
We had to leave the shelter Sunday (the 5th) to go back to Kumasi for our week-long Reconnect IST. Leaving all those people was really hard for us, we got so attached to all of them and we left at a really inopportune time due to that lack of communication I mentioned earlier. We felt like mothers abandoning our children, it was terrible. We had to leave because of this IST, which is In Service Training held for our training group after completing our first three months at site. It was really great to see everyone from our training group again, and throughout the week we got lots of good information and resources so we can finally start working on big projects!
IST ended Friday and we all left Saturday morning and I again tried to go home, but I had really bad luck in Kumasi with the bank and cars to my village, so I was delayed again until Monday. Back in July, I planned on leaving for two days for my VAC meeting. When I got home Monday, it had been 17 days since I had last been in the village. As soon as I unpacked I went out and made the rounds to say hello to the elders and other friends in the village. People asked me if I went to America, I was gone so long. It was a pretty surreal feeling to be back here, but I had a great welcoming from everyone.
So what to look forward to: the Environmental Health Officer for my town and I are going to work together, along with Ghana WASH, to try to get a latrine for every household in the community. Another major goal of mine is to start a pregnancy school in my town, with the help of my NGO and BCS, to provide education and resources to pregnant women and new mothers. I’m also going to start a girls club with the local jr high school, and Alice (the midwife) and I have been talking about the idea of starting an “Adolescents’ Corner,” where teens can come learn about sex, STI’s, healthy relationships, etc, and can buy condoms. Oh, and I’m working on getting a puppy 🙂 Wish me luck!