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Public Health in Ghana by Emily Sliazas

Emily Sliazas – Public Health Alternative Spring Break Trip in Ghana

Emily assisting with a medical test in Ghana

My name is Emily and I’m a sophomore at the University of Illinois. I knew at the beginning of my sophomore year that I wanted to spend my spring break helping others. I had attended a mission trip before to the Appalachian Mountains and I wanted to go a step farther - or more like an ocean farther. After some research I found Projects Abroad and after seeing all they had to offer, I decided to attend the trip to Ghana. I knew this trip was right for me because of the type of work we’d be doing. My major in school is community health with pre-Physician Assistant studies. The Alternative Spring Break Trip to Dodowa, Ghana involved a community health outreach where we would work at schools and orphanages.

I began my trip months before with a fundraiser I planned. I held the fundraiser in January, two months before spring break. I picked a time and date, booked a venue, started a Facebook page, and invited over 1,000 people. Throughout the months leading up to the fundraiser, I went to about a dozen different businesses and wrote letters to larger corporations for donations. Using the donations from the business, I made baskets to raffle off at the event. I organized raffle tickets to sell, Super Bowl squares, and split-the-pot tickets. My dad is in a band, so his band and another family friend’s band volunteered to play for free. I had family members sell the raffle tickets and squares, as well as pre-sell tickets to the actual event. The night of the event, my family and friends helped everything run smoothly and I surpassed my goal to afford the trip.

Arrival in Ghana

Volunteers posing for a photograph with some Ghanaian locals

The day to leave for Ghana came before I knew it and I was very anxious. After arriving in Ghana, I was immediately met by a Projects Abroad staff member and a fellow volunteer. My first thought was, “wow it’s hot here”… but Projects Abroad had a water bottle ready and welcomed me to the country while putting my anxieties at ease. We spent the first night in a comfortable hotel. The next morning, Monica (the other volunteer) and I began our adventure.

A few things surprised me in Ghana. Number one was that Ghana was so safe; it felt like home. In America it was easy to think countries in Africa were unsafe, but Ghana was as safe as could be. The other was that the vanilla ice cream was the best I’d ever tasted. I was also surprised at how few mosquitos there were, as so many doctors had made such a big deal about mosquitos in Ghana. The last thing was that nothing was more refreshing than a bucket shower after a day in the African heat, along with a bag of cold water (the drinking water there comes in bags). The heat was intense but the experience was so amazing it was worth the sweat.

My host family

We arrived at our host family’s house the morning after we got to Ghana. There we met three other volunteers and our project coordinator. He told us how the week would go down and what we could expect. He answered all our questions and our night ended with a delicious Ghanaian meal from our host aunt. Our host aunt cooked for us the whole time and the food was phenomenal. My favorite meal was the plantains and refried beans and our host mom made them for us multiple times since we all liked it so much.

My Public Health placement

Volunteers preparing medical supplies in Ghana

The best part of my trip was the people I met. The other volunteers were amazing people: Millie from Australia, Emilee from Holland, Caroline and Sophie from Denmark, Monica from Washington, Alejandra from California, and Leah from Kentucky. We worked with Projects Abroad staff. The children and communities we worked with were so friendly. The kids loved to play and were so uplifting. My only regret was not staying longer.

My other favorite part about my time abroad was working. We went to two different orphanages, several different schools, and a few communities during my week in Ghana. At the orphanages we tested the kids for Malaria and the adults for Hepatitis B. Most of the children had Malaria and I was able to pay for medication for every child with money from my fundraiser as well as donations from other volunteers. I also sent money and supplies to a poor family in the mountains of Ghana. I had some supplies that were donated at my fundraiser and I was able to deliver those to various schools, orphanages, and the Dodowa hospital. In the communities we tested for Hepatitis B and took blood pressures. In the schools we cleaned and bandaged wounds, many of which were infected and untreated, on the kids and tested the adults for Hepatitis B and a healthy blood pressure. The people were so thankful and so great to work with.

One of the coolest parts of the trip was when we were driving to a community and there was a ritual taking place. Most of Ghana is Christian but there are still some tribal religions in practice. We needed to get to the community behind this tribe but they were in a sacred ritual. It turned out that the Chief had been assassinated a year ago that day and his daughter was trying to call his spirit. We tried to be respectful and not stare but what we did see was very interesting as the Chief’s daughter danced around and her people watched. Eventually, after making a small offering, we were able to pass through and get to the community on the other side.

My overall experience

By the end of the week, we were done working and we had time to hike a nature preserve and visit an art market. I felt immersed in the culture. I was wishing more than anything I could stay. Nonetheless, the other volunteers and I exchanged numbers and we went our separate ways when the week officially ended. At this point, I wasn’t nervous about flying alone anymore. I made it home safe and sound with so many stories and pictures. The experience will forever hold a special place in my heart.

Emily Sliazas

Esta es la experiencia personal de un voluntario en el proyecto y es el panorama de un momento específico. Tu experiencia puede variar, pues nuestros proyectos se adaptan constantemente a las necesidades locales y a los logros obtenidos. Los cambios climáticos estacionales también pueden tener un gran impacto. Contáctanos para obtener más información sobre lo que puedes esperar de este proyecto.

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