Thursday, January 20, 2011


Today took us to Odumase, about 3 hours outside of Accra. When we pulled into the parking lot of what looked like a health center area, we noticed the patients waiting for us outside. The visual acuity portion of the clinic was set up outside, while the dispensing and eye exam was set up inside a building. Eli, another volunteer, and I were assigned to the visual acuity portion of the clinic. I was amazed how many blind people and people who had lost their eye were at this outreach. Even if they are blind they still go thru the visual acuity portion, we need to record if they see any hand movement or light perception. We finished with the 130 patients in about 2 ½ hours, then went to the dispensing station to help out. All in all we were about there for 6 hours. Before we headed out one of the main volunteers in Odumase, Liticia, talked to me about the villages in the mountains. It was another 2-3 hours drive and their were more villages up there that needed desperate eye care. The villagers have no means of transportation to visit a eye doctor. She wanted to try to arrange something with Unite for Sight and urge outreaches in this area. I am hoping these outreaches will somehow evolve with the program. After talking to Liticia, we packed up and I headed back to Accra. On the way, we stopped in a small village and some got food while the two of us looked for this spice we had with some kebabs and we thought was amazing. We asked one of the vendors where we can buy this spice, pepe, and he led us behind a side street and we entered an open area filled with women making everything from fish to spices. We bought some from a lady sitting next to a big vat of this spice, she measured the spice with a tin can and put it in plastic baggies and we then returned to the car. Love that stuff. I believe it has cayenne, salt and some other spice I can’t seem to figure out. It is pretty flavorful. After that we headed home. My last outreach here in Ghana, for now that is. It has been quite an experience. I have appreciated every minute of it and would definitely return, the people are so worth it. My flight leaves tomorrow late in the evening, so I will be exploring Osu District and the Cultural Market tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp

Today our outreach took us to Buduburam Refugee Camp,about an hour outside of Accra. The camp was constructed over 15 years ago, by the UNHCR for refugees fleeing from Liberia during the civil wars, however it has become a permanent resident with about 40,000 people, still receiving refugees from Liberia. The camp consists of narrow roads filled with mud huts on either side, between the huts vendors have their stores set up with about any item needed. Our driver maneuvered around the tight roads, wide enough for our van to barely squeeze through. When we got to the church we unloaded all our gear and met the Buduburam volunteers. Crystal Eye Clinic has trained some of the refugee camp residents to do the registration and visual acuity test, so when we arrived the patients were waiting for an exam and the dispensing of the medicine or glasses. We met George from the camp, who I believe was the main volunteer there. He helped translating when necessary. Our first patient was a five year old girl our doctor examined her and had an upset look when he finished. He said she had cancer and needed to see Dr. Clarke at Crystal Clinic tomorrow. He would then assess the stage the cancer was at and make a recommendation. I gave her some stickers and bubbles and then she sat on my lap, while she waited from her mother to get an eye exam. The whole time I was thinking she was my daughter’s age and I felt so helpless at this point. It is so heartbreaking to see kids affected with any disease at such a young age. Hoping all the best for her.
We worked only for about 3 hours at the clinic, saw about 80 patients, a lot less than yesterday. I couldn’t help but wonder every time I saw a scar on a patient if it was due to the civil war in Liberia. Just can’t imagine what these people have been through. They had such a great spirit to them. We saw the last patient and it was still light out! As we drove thru the village, little children were waving at us, very cute. We got stuck in traffic on the way back home, but it was nothing like yesterday. Tomorrow will be my last outreach clinic before I head home. I leave close to midnight on Thursday, so will have the day to explore the area a little bit.

Monday, January 17, 2011


Today was the longest day of work so far and the farthest we had to travel. I am beyond exhaustion. We drove a total of 7 ½ hours, 3 hours there and with traffic it took us longer to get back. Our drive out there consisted mainly of dirt roads, hence the length of driving time. When we arrived in Akoase, we were amazed at our sight. The church was overfilled with patients, between 150-200 were waiting. The patients do not have appointments; they merely wait until we arrive. Everyone looked so happy when we finally got there. The introduction was made by Dennis and we all introduced ourselves, there were a total of 11 of us this time, the most so far. After the introduction, everyone in the church clapped and I felt as if the clapping should be for the staff that continually worked these outreaches throughout the year, not for us volunteers who were working on a short term basis. I have such respect and admiration for the staff at the clinics, they have these schedules all year round, and my schedule was for 10 days. I wish all the donors could see how hard they work and the results that one sees in these outreach clinics. All the staff are so humble. During lunch time, one of the villagers brought us all meat pies and a malt drink. I am always amazed when they feed us too. We were at the church, where the outreach clinic was set up, for about 5 hours. It was great seeing patients able to put their glasses on and read right away, they had a grin from ear to ear. I loved that part. After all the patients were seen, we headed to the pastor of the villages home to introduce ourselves. He was on the porch of his house putting his shirt on as we approached. After the introductions, pictures, we headed back to Accra. The drive was nerve wrecking. All the dirt roads were filled with semi trucks, no lanes and dust in the air everywhere. All I saw looking out the front window was dust and lights. Then we would pass trucks overloaded to the brim with wares. I have seen 3 trucks overturned so far, and can understand why now. All the trucks are so overloaded, and then they drive these dirt roads with potholes everywhere. Cars/semis were driving slalom style to avoid the potholes, so you have all these cars driving slalom style in different directions on a dusty dark road. I was so nervous, every time we passed a truck I sighed. With all the dust, I could barely see cars or trucks in front of us. We were within inches of a truck and I always prayed the truck wouldn’t lose all wares from the bed. Ugh. We made it out alive. My husband would be proud how together I was during this drive; I am usually a nervous wreck during traffic like this. I actually could not believe how many semis were driving on these pothole filled dirt roads, crazy. So we got home really late and will be driving to another outreach tomorrow. I have only been gone a week, but I have to say I really miss my family at this point.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Cape Coast

Today we headed to Cape Coast; first to the Kakum National Park (rainforest) and then to the Cape Coast Castle. Kakum National Park lies about 45 minutes NE of Cape Coast. While we didn’t see any animals, it does contain Pygmy elephants, leopards, over 500 species of butterflies and many more. The tour starts at the base and we hiked about 30 minutes up. The canopy walk is at the top of the hike and consists of 7 suspended ropes bridges secured to massive trees. While walking across the bridge, you are suspended about 30 meters above the forest floor. It probably is not a good idea to walk it if you are scared of heights, like one of the hikers was on the bridge. She literally screamed over all seven bridges. There are resting platforms between all the bridges, which are all secured on the trees. The views were truly amazing from that height. After the hike down, we were heading to Elmina.
Elmina lies right on the Atlantic Ocean, so the view was amazing with a lot of fishing canoes are all over the beach. We took a tour of the castle which was a slave trading post starting in the 1500s. One could still view the jail cells in the castle where the slaves were housed. The castle had stunning views of all the fishing fleet below and one could see some being carved or ready to be painted. There were hundreds of colorful canoes, having a look of a gondola and canoe combined, and men were unloading fishing nets with fish they had just caught. It was quite a sight to see. After viewing the castle, we were heading back to the hotel, about a 2 hour drive. Tomorrow we will be working at an outreach clinic in Ashanti.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Lambadi Beach

Today I had the day off. We ended up heading to Lambadi Beach and staying most of the day. The beach is filled with vendors and acrobats. The acrobats do these amazing tricks and contortions with their bodies; it is like watching a cirque de soloeil show on the beach. I did see some surfing here, but not much. In addition, two of us were interviewed and filmed on the beach by some German company trying to promote their energy drink. I was interviewed in German and the other guy in English. It was a strange sight to see them handing out the energy drinks, they would give the Ghanaians sampler cups, while the white people got the full can. Don’t quite understand it why the Ghanaian distributors did that. After the beach, we headed to Osu district and then home. As we got to the hotel, all our power went off, so we waited for over an hour to get it back up. In addition, there has been a daily struggle with the shower, some days the water runs, some days it doesn’t. They had warned us of this ahead of time so we were prepared. When the water does run, the showers are simply a dribble of cold water. A couple of buckets are placed in the shower, these are both to fill and wash yourself with. I can’t wait to take a warm shower at home. Tomorrow will be heading to the Cape Coast for the day. We’ll be visiting the Cape Coast Castle, which was the slave trading fort during the British Colonial days.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Ok, it is my 4th day at a clinic/outreach and I am exhausted, I really have sooooo much respect for the staff at these clinics. I just want to point out to all the donors who donated over $2000 to my fundraising efforts; your money is totally well spent. I worked with Northwestern Clinic today on an outreach clinic. The doctors and nurse really work such long hours to help the villages in these outreach programs. All the individuals have families and usually start work at 7 am and end at 8 in the evening. They always seem to have a smile on their face. It truly is inspiring to work with people like this. Today we were picked up at 8am and four of us heading with the NW clinic to a small village northwest of Accra, Mankrong. Our drive was about 1 ½ hours there and 3 hours back, Accra traffic is horrible in the evenings. The drivers here are amazing; they have to maneuver within inches of the next car. I am not exaggerating. You have to be an aggressive driver if you are “willing” to drive here; there is also“create your own lane” tact involved. So after we headed out of the city, we were on a lot of dirt roads driving thru tiny villages. The scenery was amazing, lots of plantain and mango trees everywhere. The skies have been overcast since we have been here, no blue sky, but from what I heard that is normal for this time of year. We passed by many interesting sights, I always amazed by the children here. Today I saw a boy, who looked like he was 8, with a machete hacking off skin from a fruit, it looked like a papaya. I was imagining giving my 8 year old a machete, no way. The children just seem so respectful and mature for their age here. Hard to describe, but even when we have our outreach clinics in the local churches, kids will congregate at the church door, but they will not step a foot in. They just stare at you from the outside. I have found they, the children, yell out “obruni" which means white foreigner. It is not a bad term from what I have learned from some staff at Northwestern clinic. So sorry for the diversion, we are still driving out to Mankrong. When we finally arrive there, the clinic is set up in the church; we unpack all the medicine, glasses, etc. The Dr. set up his station on the front of the church. I was assigned to the dispensing (medicine, eyeglasses) station today. The church was filled with about 50 patients today, which was a low number. As with every outreach, the Dr. or nurse give an orientation to the villagers and explain the program. After that we introduce ourselves and then we start the exam process. I enjoyed the dispensing table because I worked closely with the patients. I had more one on one contact with them than at the visual acuity station. It was a difficult sight to see when the patients were struggling if they could afford the 5 cedis (about $3.25) for the medicine. They would sit in the chair and look left and right and be silent and either they would walk off saying they couldn’t afford the medicine or they would finally pull out their money. I thought how easily we spend that money on a latte each morning. Ugh. Anyways, it was nice to also see the patients who could finally see when they received their glasses. They one thing I noticed which is different from the states. When the patients were prescribed a pair of glasses, the NW staff would simply pull out a pair of glasses from the Ziploc bag. There was no mirror around for the patient; they simply put them on to be able to see. I told Seth, NW staff, in the states patients would spend an hour on selecting a pair of glasses to see if they looked good on them, here it was a simple selection process if they helped them to see. I also found it interesting how the women stored their money in their dresses. They usually wrap about beautifully printed pieces of fabric, they wrap their money in a piece of cloth and knot it up in their fabric (dress). So when they look for their money, they have to untie their dress, then the knots and then the piece of cloth that their money is in. The villagers were so nice there, you could walk out of the church and everyone wanted to say hi. One interesting thing that I failed to mention in my posts is the washrooms (bathrooms) in the villages and Ghana generally. Our hotel has a standard bathroom, but I have come across many washrooms that are simply a wall surrounding a hole in the floor. Today, a villager took me to his house to use the bathroom; I stepped over a couple of goats and chickens and then headed around the corner to find a nice open air ½ walled bathroom. It was simple dirt with a drainage system thru the wall, which led right next to the church. As I was in there, the goats decided to visit me. Nice and memorable. So we headed back around 5 and got to the hotel at 8. Had dinner at Victoria’s house again. It is 1 am now, time for sleep. More tomorrow.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Crystal Eye Clinic

Today two of us went to Crystal Eye Clinic where eye surgeries are performed. The surgeries included patients from villages the outreach program previously had visited. If a patient is referred to the clinic, they need to pay for transport to Accra, however their surgery and accommodation is free. The surgeries started at noon, so we had to wait while the nurses and Dr. prepped the surgery room, “theatre” as they call it. Since we were volunteers for Unite for Sight (UFS), we were required to sign off after each surgery is performed. This way the clinic gets reimbursed $50 per surgery through UFS. I felt a little apprehensive asking to videotape and photograph during the surgery, but the Dr. and nurse were insistent I photograph as much as I want to. The patients face is covered, with only an opening for the surgery, so they cannot see me photographing. I don’t think I could have done it otherwise, it would have felt real invasive otherwise. Our first patient was a 1 ½ year old boy and they did sedate him for the surgery. It broke my heart to see such a tiny person getting this surgery. During this surgery I became really sweaty and lightheaded and seriously thought I was going to faint. I had some water and was fine after that. I didn’t think I would react that way, but seeing needles and knifes enter eyes, especially a little one, is a pretty traumatic sight. After the water, I was ok, and was able to videotapes so many surgeries. After the little boys surgery, they ended up carrying him out to be with his mother, he was still asleep.
Dr. James Clarke explained exactly what he was doing along the way and answered any questions we had. Ends up he went to study in Germany for 3 years, so it was easier for me to speak and understand his German than his English. He spoke German fluently. He is an amazing person. Two tables are set up in the “theatre” and as soon as he completes one surgery, he heads to the other table with no breaks in between. It was a slow day, he did surgeries for 6 straight hours. I was exhausted and couldn’t imagine how he was feeling. I got some amazing footage/photos of the surgeries, which included incisions, removal of the cataract and insertion of a new lens. At any one time, there were 4 patients in the room, 2 waiting and 2 on the tables. So our youngest patient was 1 ½ years and the oldest was 90. It was a long day, and I am not quite caught up on my sleep. I am averaging 4-5 hours a night, which kicks in around 3 -4 pm. As for dinner, we went to this place which usually stops serving at 8pm, however we talked to the owner yesterday and she was going to prepare dinner for us and serve us in her courtyard, in front of her house. She made a wonderful meal of guess what: jollof, chicken, coleslaw, red-red beans, spicy sauce and plantains. I headed to the room early tonight, wish I could post pics from here, but the internet service is pretty slow here. Tomorrow we are going to another outreach. More later.