Two nurses from Altnagelvin have returned from a mercy mission to Ghana determined to maintain their links with the country.
Leann Allen and Emma-Louise Donnelly, who work on Ward 20, general medical, where they specialise in renal and cardiology nursing, set out for a remotely located medial centre in Takoradi, Ghana and left the city on March 28, to undertake voluntary work in their capacity as nurses.
Takoradi is an area of Ghana that has nothing bust the most basic of resources and facilities, and before they left the two women fund raised to buy a consignment of basic medical provisions, the transportation of which they also paid for themselves by fund raising.
With a budget of £4,000 the two women spent £3,000 on medical supplies at the medical centre and the remaining £1,000 on equipment for the orphanage where they stayed.
Leann and Emma-Louise made the journey under the umbrella of Agape Volunteers, a registered charity that provides humanitarian aid and support to Africa and India specifically through volunteering programmes and donations. The aim of organisation is to make sure volunteers have access to affordable programmes where their time, energy and funds are used to create real an sustainable development in underprivileged communities, and those who volunteer are valued as they help to make up for the lack of essential personnel in areas just like Takoradi.
Reflecting on their time away, Leann said that initially it had been “a real culture shock”.
“We thought we were mentally prepared until we went there and saw it with our own eyes. Definitely we were not as well prepared as we thought,” she said.
“The temperatures were in the 30s and the humidity was incredible. We were constantly dripping with sweat. It was very uncomfortable, even at night it was so humid and we were behind mosquito nets with no bed clothes over us to try and cope.
“We stayed in an orphanage with 20 children who were either orphans or abandoned by their parents. Despite their circumstances they are extremely happy children and are just one big, close family. You think before you go out to these places that they will be sad, but they are so happy. They don’t know any different.
“They are also hard workers. They get up at 5am and do their chores before they get ready for school. They would put a lot over here to shame,” said Leann.
Emma-Louise agreed: “It really was a culture shock for us. We really were inspired by the children and how motivated they were regarding their education. They just loved the books that we brought out, more so than the toys.
“I would love to go back again. I was just humbled by how much they gave us in terms of kindness and respect,” she said.
The women said no one ever had to tell the children to do their homework either. They were keen to learn and know that school and learning is the only way out of the situation in which they find themselves.
“They are very keen to learn,” said Leann.
The women were hosted at Jiko Orphanage by Samuel and Lordina Bangura, who have 20 children in their care, aged from two to 18. Samuel himself was adopted at the age of 17.
Leann and Emma-Louise worked at Benedict Hospital, three to four miles away from Jiko, and each day their forward and return journey had to be made under escort, as being white and female, they were not safe to make the journey themselves.
“The hospital was properly grim,” said Leann.
“There were no facilities. Doctors had to guess what was wrong with people. They had no scanners or x-ray equipment and the patients all lie side by side on beds in one room with no curtains between them. In another room women in labour lay in beds beside women who had lost babies. They all just lay in the one small room.
“No food is provided in the hospital. If the family cannot bring in food then the patients do not eat. It really makes you think about things back home so differently. Yet the people in Ghana are happy in themselves,” she said.
Asked what their accommodation was like, Leann said there was one show but it was not working, so she and Emma-Louise shared a bucket of cold water with two other volunteers. The water was collected by a journey on foot and, again, the women were accompanied there and back, with the children carrying the water in buckets on their heads as they returned to the orphanage.
An excursion to the market to buy Lordina a new cooker illustrated the dangers the women and other white travellers faced. Due to the abject poverty in the area, one of the volunteers was attacked in an attempt to take money and valuables.
“We were walking through the market to get the cooker. Samuel and another of the volunteers were ahead of us, and as we were walking along one of the men at the market reached for the volunteer and tried to pull her away. I called to Samuel and he came back and helped. There is a very high rate of attacks there. People are so poor they will try anything to get money,” she said.
Despite the conditions and the poverty, Leann and Emma-Louise are determined to maintain their links with Jiko and the hospital if they can. They are now sponsoring a young boy called Isaac to complete school and go on to further education.
“He is hoping to be a pilot and his fees are about £600. To sponsor a primary school age child is about £6 or £7 a term,” said Leann.
“A lot of children cannot afford to go to school, so we are looking at the possibility of fund raising to send the money to them.
“While we were at the hospital we presented them with a defibrillator, bedside lockers and curtains for each bed. We spent about £4,000 in total, £3,000 in hospital and £1,000 in the orphanage.”
The women also presented the hospital staff with a hamper of knitted bonnets for premature babies.
Helping the orphanage is also a key consideration. Leann and Emma-Louise frequently found themselves in darkness after a long working day, simply because Samuel and Lordina could not afford to turn the electricity generator on.
“The generator would run for 12 hours and would then be off for 24 hours. A lot of the time they could not afford to turn the generator on. The children walked around the orphanage in the dark, but this was normal to them,” said Leann.
“I would go back in a heartbeat. We are looking at fund raising now to help sponsor children’s education,” she said.