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Health

Students Spend Winter Break in Ghana, Giving Medical Care, Learning a Language and Dancing

January 31, 2014

Student in scrubs with children

The 15 Drexel students who volunteered at a public health clinic in Ghana over winter break were put to work almost as soon as they arrived in the village of Adansemaim—but not in any way they had anticipated.

As the first newcomer off of the bus, Jenn Everett, a senior international area studies major, was hugged almost immediately by a group of kids and was encouraged to dance, rather than walk, as she made her way into the village. Then, after the village chief and the Drexel group greeted each other, the village held a dance competition where the students had to vote for the best dancer before everyone came together for a giant dance party.

“We danced into the community,” Everett said. “That was their way of welcoming us.”

From Dec. 27 to Jan. 4, the members of the Drexel University Global Medical Brigades team were also kept on their feet while they administered a community health clinic and conducted health workshops in the Ekumfi District in the Central Region of Ghana. During four days of working in the clinic, the students saw more than 500 patients.

“At the clinic, I rotated between multiple stations, taking vital signs and gathering symptoms in triage, evaluating symptoms and diagnosing patients in doctor consultation, filling and preparing medications in pharmacy and educating on healthy living and reproductive health in public health,” said Gregory Kunkel, a third-year international area studies major concentrating in global sustainability and health.

Regardless of their major or medical experience, the Drexel students stood in during doctor and dentist consultations and worked with patients.

“I’m not a medical student and I don’t want to go to medical school, but I loved sitting with the doctors and seeing what that’s about,” Everett said.

The students also worked with a translator to empathetically relate to the patients, asking questions about their lives and also what they wanted out of their health-care experience. This came in handy when they discussed sexual health and well-being, how to obtain a government insurance card and other important topics during workshops.

“The most memorable part of the trip for me was doing home visits where we got to sit in homes and speak one-on-one with members of the community. There I really learned how the people of Adansemaim live their lives and how different our lifestyles are,” Kunkel said.

The students also got to experience more of the community outside of the clinic. On the first day, they visited an alligator farm and a passion fruit farm, and their last day was spent on a private beach where students could order coconut water from a coconut picked off the tree right before their eyes. A history lesson was also conducted through a visit to Cape Coast Castle, a slave dungeon used in the 17th century to hold slaves before they were loaded onto ships during the trans-Atlantic slave trade.

By the end of the visit, some of the students learned basic phrases in Fante, the major local dialect spoken in the central and western regions of Ghana, and cultural customs prevalent in their temporary community. Everett learned to introduce herself using her Fante name, which includes the weekday she was born on.

The trip to Ghana took more than just a multi-destination international flight. Students raised more than $2,800 dollars each, but some donors gave more than just money. Everett’s father, a dentist who runs his own practice in the Pocono Mountains, donated toothbrushes and toothpaste that were distributed in the village.

The Drexel University Global Medical Brigades group, a chapter of the Global Brigades student-led global health and sustainable development organization, organized the 10-day trip. For more information on the group and its upcoming trips, visit its Facebook page at facebook.com/groups/drexelbrigades/.

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