Students Return from Ghana with Wealth of Community Health Knowledge

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Thirteen Michigan students spent two weeks working in clinics, meeting with health officials, and discovering the culture.

Nursing Students in Ghana

After spending two weeks immersed in community health in Ghana, Professor Norma Sarkar and the thirteen Michigan students she accompanied on the trip have returned safely and with a new perspective.

Throughout the trip, the students had the opportunity to visit clinics, nursing and midwifery training schools, the Tamale teaching hospital, and an elementary school. They also met with representatives of global health organizations including UNICEF and the United Nations Population Fund: Ghana, as well as the Northern region director for the Ghana health service. Finally, they got to do some sightseeing at Mole and Kakum national parks.

“We really covered quite a bit of territory,” said Norma Sarkar.

When they weren’t out in the field, they stayed in homestays with welcoming families. “The homestays were a really nice experience,” Sarkar said. “The students got to interact with families and I think they learned a lot about culture and beliefs just from their staying with the families.”

Every aspect of the trip was an opportunity to learn, from time at home to talking with health authorities to seeing patient care. “It was a great way to learn about community health,” Sarkar said. “Ghana is a fairly stable country and they’re doing a lot to try to reduce maternal mortality through their clinic work. … It was really nice to go in and work in the clinics and speak with the people and look at how they were trying to decrease maternal mortality, and they are actually having some success.”

She added, “They really got to see a community health problem and how a government goes about trying to reduce the problem and what some of the issues tend to be. “

Women at the Ghana Health Clinic

In addition to these kinds of experiences that were common to the whole group, each student got a unique experience based on their homestay or whether they happened to just be in the right place at the right time: “Some of the students got to go out with community health nurses on motorscooters to the villages. Some were at the clinic when a woman came to deliver a baby. … One student got to attend a wedding, another student got to go to a drum circle, another got to go to a naming ceremony."

At the end of each day, the students were able to share their experiences with one another, so that they all took away as much as possible from the trip. Norma Sarkar expressed that these sessions were very helpful.

The sharing of ideas was not restricted to the student group. One of the biggest contributions the students made was the sharing of ideas with those who were not necessarily familiar with American culture and values. “The contribution was sharing our culture and the American way,” Sarkar said.

And some students were struck by the culture of Ghana as well. “For some students there were revelations about how not everyone has hot running water,” Sarkar said, adding that it was “just a more simple life.” The students spent most of their time in Northern Ghana, which is less developed then the south, where there are skyscrapers and more modern development. “The northern area was a good place to be in terms of getting to know the culture and the people,” Sarkar said.

But it was not all about noticing how different the cultures were. One student remarked, “I realized how similar all people really are. I was struck more by the similarities than the differences.”

In addition to contributing through discussion, the students also made more tangible contributions in the forms of school supplies to an elementary school that had no running water or electricity and not enough desks. At the end of the trip, the students all donated their scrubs to clinics in need as well.

Overall, the trip appears to have been a great success. “I think the students came back with a real understanding of how an organized program can make an impact on a health problem,” Sarkar said. “An understanding of how to tackle public health problems that when you teach it can be really dry but when you see it, it comes alive.”

As another student remarked about the experience, “I learned more about community health than I ever thought possible as I was right in the midst of it.“

Men at the Ghana Health Clinic

All the pictures from the trip can be seen via this Flickr gallery.