I got a reminder the other day from an avid reader that I haven’t updated my blog recently. Sorry about that. About a week after my last post was All Vol, our annual all volunteer conference. If you saw pictures on facebook, it probably looked like one giant party, and in the evenings it was, but we also had sessions during the day with lots of new and valuable information. The general peace corps motto here seems to be “work hard, play hard.”
After All Vol I got back to site and heard that my grant for a new community center was approved. I was very excited to hear that. We are going to build a simple structure with a large meeting room (30 ft x 30 ft) with an attached office where we can hold our meetings with the women’s group. We were meeting outside for a little while, but pretty soon I think we will need to start meeting in a church or some other place until our building is complete because rainy season is now upon us. I really hoped to avoid that, and this is one of the reasons I wanted to build the community center; if you hold meetings in say the Pentecost church, undboutably some will not come because they are not Pentecosts and do not feel comfortable going into that church. Unfortunately, there really aren’t any places in town that can be indoor meeting places that are unaffliated. I really wanted to build a community center so that I could have a designated place to work with my women, and hold other health lessons as well, that has no religious or political affiliation and that everyone feels welcome in. The closest thing we have right now is our two clinics, but you cant really hold meetings in the waiting room of the clinic while patients are waiting to be seen and nurses are trying to do their job.
So I got back from All Vol and went to the District Assembly to let them know the grant has been approved and to make sure they are going to uphold their end of the bargain. As with all Peace Corps grants, 25% needs to be contributed from the community, so part of the contribution is coming from the local government and the rest is coming from the chief and elders. I told them the money isn’t in yet, but it will be soon, and they were surprisingly proactive about getting their part going. I asked them to provide the sand and gravel to mix with the cement, but they went above and beyond and found a bulldozer to clear the land. Still waiting on the sand and the money, so I’ll blog more about the project when I have something interesting to report. I’ll also post pictures of the process as it happens!
Two weeks after getting home from All Vol I received a call from a Peace Corps staff member who unfortunately had to inform me that one of our own, a PCV named Danielle Dunlap, had passed away earlier that morning. I was shocked, and felt numb. Danni was honestly probably the most well known, well liked and well respected volunteer in Ghana. She knew literally everyone, made friends with everyone, and was known by all to be a highly motivated and all around great volunteer. She helped out with lots of trainings, including two I attended, and was recently one of the official trainers for the new batch of health volunteers that came in February. She was supposed to close her service this month and go home.
Details still haven’t been confirmed, and all Peace Corps can tell us was that she had a brief illness. I heard from her friends she started feeling ill on a Tuesday, called a neighbor to come help her on Friday or Saturday, and when the friend arrived she saw that Danni was in worse shape than she had let on on the phone and the friend immediately called the Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) who sent a car to Danni’s site to bring her to Accra. Danni lost consciousness before arriving in Accra and never regained it, and died in the early hours of Monday morning.
I arrived in Accra Tuesday evening, and many volunteers were trickling into Accra for the memorial service. Embassy workers graciously offered their homes for all of us to stay in for the week, which was such a comfort and blessing for us all. I went back to the office Wednesday morning and wanted to do something to help, so I joined a few friends on the decorations committee. I missed a meeting Tuesday, but all the PCVs that had arrived by then got together and formed different committees to take care of all the various details of the service, which took place on Friday. We all worked in teams on our designated tasks and by Friday we had put together a very nice service for Danni. Danni’s body was at a funeral home throughout the week, until her mother could take it back to Atlanta on Saturday. Her mother asked that Danni never be left alone, so PCVS signed up in 6 hour shifts to go to the funeral home and be near her. The Peace Corps drivers graciously worked around the clock driving volunteers back and forth to make this possible. Since the funeral service was Friday afternoon, there was unfortunately a shift during the service that someone had to volunteer for. I hadn’t been on “vigil duty” yet and felt that I had already contributed to the service by helping with the decorations, so I offered to take the shift with two close friends. When I signed up, I felt like it was the right decision. I felt like private reflection time at the funeral home would be as much closure for me as going to the service would have been. But on the day of, I was much more emotional about it than I expected, and was ultimately pretty sad that I missed the service. Hearing friends say “You missed a BEAUTIFUL service” afterwards really didn’t help either. Most people stayed the weekend in Accra, but there were just too many negative emotions for me there so I left Saturday morning.
I got home Sunday and have been feeling much better about everything. Danni wasn’t a close friend, but she was a friend of mine, and she was there for me during some of the hardest times of my service. She was always open, welcoming, and fun to be around. She will definitely be missed. I think the hardest part of the whole thing for me is the fact that it could have been prevented. Though its not official, it sounds likely that she had malaria. I want to blame the PCMO for not treating her, but ultimately I really can’t, because she didn’t call them early and as soon as they heard they sent a car for her and did all they could. I also can’t blame Danni for not calling, because every time I get sick, or anyone I know gets sick, we don’t call the PCMO either because we know they are going to tell us to rest, push fluids and take ibuprofen. It’s like the PCMO motto. I think (and hope) this unnecessary death will change PCMO policy and how PCVs interact with our two doctors.
Really, all there is to do now is move on and do the best work I possibly can, for Danni, and because of Danni. About a year ago now, when I was very ill and in a dark place, a very wise woman told me, “Remember, you live in love and light.” I try to remind myself that as much as possible, especially during the hard times. It’s a little thing, but that positive mantra really does make a difference for me, and reminds me that this too shall pass and good things will come again.
That’s about all I got (I say as I am halfway down my third page). I’ll end this post with a reminder to tell those you love that you love them, forgive those that you need to forgive, and to tell yourself that you, too, live in love and light when you are feeling in the dark.
if you want to read more about Danni, you can at http://www.peacecorps.gov/resources/media/press/2231/