As soon as I had an opportunity to undertake an elective placement I knew straight away I wanted to go to West Africa. My friend Robyn and I planned to go together and began looking for a way to organise this. We were both 2nd year student nurses with a lot of work on so we knew that planning a trip like this would be a long process. However, we found Work the World who organised our placement, accommodation and gave us a lot of much needed support leading up to and throughout the trip.
We stepped off the plane in Accra, Ghana on a Saturday evening. We were greeted by Prince and Alhassan outside the airport, they were very welcoming and I immediately felt relaxed in their presence. The atmosphere of Accra was mind blowing, like nothing I have ever seen before! We stayed at a hotel in the city that night and woke up early Sunday morning for our coach to Takoradi.
4 hours later we arrived at the Work the World house; it was different to what I imagined it to be - but certainly not a disappointment. We were greeted by Ophelia (our house cook) and Joe who gave us a tour of the house - we immediately felt at home. The next day we met the other students, who I couldn't have done without! I shared my worries and experiences with them and we all hung out after work. We had an orientation of the local area, Prince showed us where to change our money, where to buy SIM cards for our phone and basically covered any questions or concerns we had.
I spent 2 weeks on a male surgical ward; I had an opportunity to meet the staff before I started working there. I had a very lovely welcome from the sister of the ward who greeted me saying 'Akwabaa, I am your mother for the time you are here'. I had an incredible experience; I saw a lot of illness and disease that we do not see in England. The health care system as a whole is completely different and something I will never forget. The doctors love to teach students and get you involved. One of the consultants even treated another student and I to lunch after work! I found that if you ask questions and show interest, you can get a lot more from the placement as the staff are more inclined to support your involvement. Remember that the hospital is completely different to ours and there are certain occurrences that can make you feel upset or angry - but this is the Ghanaian culture - embrace it!
I was also lucky enough to spend the odd day in different areas; one experience I will never forget is my day on NICU (neonatal intensive care unit) where I looked after some very poorly babies. I also spent time in maternity where I was able to assist with a delivery. One day, 3 other work the world students and I helped in theatre, this was a definite eye opener! The theatre was very unclean and the patients were literally tied to the table. The surgeon did let us get involved in the procedure which was an amazing experience - one I would not have had in England.
Things to do after work
Firstly, I will say it is a good idea to have a Ghana guide book: that really helps you to get the most out of your time in Ghana. But luckily for me there was a book in the house put together by other students with recommendations of good places to visit.
Wednesday afternoons all the students and WTW staff get together and have a BBQ and learn some African dance moves! This was SO much fun! And the food is lovely! It was the first time I ever tried goat! Also, if you fancy a few alcoholic beverages there is a bar at the end of the road where you can have 'drink-in' or 'take-away' drinks.
Quite often after work we would all go straight to Africa Beach hotel to relax by the pool or go for a swim in the sea. It is just a short taxi ride away from home! Or if you fancy getting into the Ghanaian culture a bit more - visit market circle. It is a vigorous environment with very friendly people, you feel like a celebrity walking through as you are literally stopped by everyone wanting to talk to you.
Some evenings we would spend in the internet cafe talking to friends and family, uploading pictures or researching for placement.
One day a week we had Fanti lessons (the main language of Ghana) which really helped when we were out and about on our own. A lot of the Ghanaian people were very excited when you tried communicating with them in Fanti.
You can also arrange to visit the orphanages; I brought a suitcase full of toys to give to the children and spent an afternoon with them. This was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.
At weekends, you have the opportunity to explore Ghana! We spent a weekend relaxing on a beautiful palm tree beach with golden sands and scorching hot weather. Another weekend we spent visiting Cape Coast Castle and learnt about the history of Ghana. We also visited Kakum National Park and slept on a piece of wood in the middle of the rainforest surrounded by African creatures, followed by an early morning canopy walk high up in the treetops, we were lucky enough to see Mona monkeys. We also got to stroke crocodiles!
I would really recommend spending a week in a village, this week made my trip! Robyn and I stayed in Daboase village and lived with a family. We were able to try the foods of Ghana including the Ghanaian favourite "Fufu". We spent 5 days in the local health centre which was a fantastic experience! I spent one day giving vaccinations to babies and toddlers and helped out in the antenatal clinic. The staff at Daboase health centre were extremely welcoming and let us get involved straight away. The lack of facilities along with the illnesses we were presented with really made you think on your feet and that alone has enabled me to develop my nursing skills.
Living in a Ghanaian village lets you experience the culture first hand; you are surrounded by the friendliest of people. After work, our village guide introduced us to different people and we were able to get involved with village life. One day we helped some locals make bread; they were extremely appreciative of our help and asked if we would come back again. Another day we worked with a seamstress who taught us how to make dresses. When we walked through the village we were approached all the time - mainly by children who stroked your arm, gave you a cuddle or tried to speak English: they mainly sang "Obruni, how are you, i'm fine, thankyou!" as that is all they knew how to say in our language.
My elective in Ghana was an experience of a lifetime and one that will stay with me forever, I will no doubt return in the future!