All my life I dreamed of going to Africa to try to help those less fortunate than I. In 2009, I finally got serious and started my search for an organization or group to help me make this dream a reality. I was done dreaming and ready to start doing. I had no idea where to start my search, so I bought several books on different organizations who take volunteers on humanitarian trips to Africa and other places. Many of these organizations were based in the US, but I found them to be quite expensive. Then somehow I came across the Elghana website and decided this was the way to go. They were affordable, flexible with dates, and best of all, based right in the country I wanted to visit. Who knows a country better than someone who lives and grew up there?
In March of 2010, my dream became a reality when Elghana arranged my trip to Nsuta, Ghana to work in a rural medical clinic. It ended up being an unforgettable and life changing experience. Though I was only there for 2 weeks, I was fortunate to be able to have so many different experiences. I am an RN and happened to be in Ghana during one of their 3 day mass polio vaccination campaigns. I was able to travel to many of the outlying villages, schools and markets to administer the polio vaccination to the children. It was the most amazing experience!
At the clinic, where people walked miles for healthcare, I weighed the babies and administered vaccines. I also witnessed the birth of a baby which is much different than births in the US. The woman walked miles to the clinic while in labor, gave birth and walked home with the baby hours later.
During this visit to Ghana I was also able to experience a funeral. Funerals in Ghana typically last three days. It was not a sad event, but a celebration of the person’s life, with a band and dancing. I also visited an orphanage in Mampong. When I left the orphanage, 2 of the children clung to me waved to the other children like they were going to leave with me. This broke my heart and at that time I made up my mind that my next visit to Ghana would be to work at an orphanage.
My work in Nsuta was very gratifying but perhaps the thing that made my trip so memorable was the Ghanaian People and especially the children. I was struck by the fact that so many people had so little but were still so happy. Elghana made sure that our host family took care of us and brought us our meals every day. Each night the host children and other children from the village came to our room and hung out on the rooftop with us. No TV, no video games, just talk and laughter and the beauty of connecting with other people who initially seemed so different from me, but in reality were very much the same. I went to Ghana hoping and expecting that I could improve the lives of others less fortunate, but left with the realization that it was I whose life was improved because I gained and learned so much from the experience. For that I am grateful to Elghana and all the wonderful people of Ghana.
In February of 2012, I returned to Kasoa, Ghana to work at an Orphanage. Another wonderful experience! My friend Esther who I met in on my previous trip to Nsuta even traveled 4 hours to meet at the airport along with Elghana staff. There are over 100 children in this orphanage, but everything ran like clockwork. All the older children had their specific chores and helped care for the younger children. Again, the children had very little, but were very happy and always smiling and laughing. I got up at 4am every day to go to the orphanage to help bathe, clothe and feed the toddlers before they went off to school. The middle of our day was free so I often went town or market or the beach with the other volunteers. At 4pm we went back to the orphanage to feed, and bathe the toddlers again and played with them until bedtime. The cook at the orphanage prepared our meals for us-usually a rice or noodle dish with red sauce and plantains. Breakfast was usually a light meal of tea and biscuits, but one day the cook surprised us with pancakes so we could try the New York Maple Syrup I had brought for them. They were the most delicious pancakes I have ever eaten!
I also had the privilege of again attending a funeral- this time the children of the orphanage marched and played their band instruments. I was was so impressed by their talent. I also attended an outside church service in which there was much singing, praying and dancing. My experiences at the orphanage were unforgettable and the children truly touched my heart. I wanted take them all home!
My advice to anyone desiring to go to Africa for any humanitarian project is to not think twice-just do it- you will be forever changed. Elghana is a great organization to go through- they arrange for your project, housing, transportation in country and meals. You always have someone with you or someone from the organization you can call at any time. There are a few key things to keep in mind before going: first, read as much about the country and the people as you can to prepare yourself, but don’t go with any pre-conceived ideas. Flexibility and keeping an open mind is key to your success. Remember that you are the visitor in someone else’s culture, and do not judge. Beyond that, just relax and enjoy the country, the people and the culture. Somehow, Africa gets into your blood an you have to go back. (At least that happened to me) My hope and goal is to return every year.
Thank you Gyamfi and the rest of the Elghana team for helping my dream become a reality!
Lauri Rupracht, RN
New York, USA