First-of-its-kind Course Pairs Drexel with Ghana and Mental Health with Community

Furthering an international partnership started on campus, Drexel's “Mental Health in Ghana” class involves a weeklong travel component throughout Ghana, where students participate in an immersive educational experience filled with community engagement and innovative wellness practices.
A group of people stand outside in front of a sign reading "Apinto Government Hospital." Photo courtesy Ebony White.
The ICA cohort and staff from the Apinto Government Hospital in Tarkwa, Ghana. Photo courtesy Ebony White.

First thing after arriving in Ghana as part of their “Mental Health in Ghana” Intensive Course Abroad (ICA) class, Drexel University students attended a welcome event and barbecue at their host's house to connect with some of the people they'd be working with for a week.

After that, it was a mix of visits, discussions and engagements at one psychiatric hospital, two hospitals with a psychiatric unit, two schools, two radio stations, several homes for individual home-visits and one prayer camp, or a common and local spiritual method for mental health treatment.

In addition, the students immersed themselves in local culture and history through experiences at Cape Coast Castle, where enslaved Africans were held in the Atlantic slave trade, and through meals, tours and time spent meeting and talking with community members. To fit all of that in during the spring break week between terms, students traveled through Ghana with stays in the capital, Accra, as well as Tarkwa, which is the capital of the Tarkwa-Nsuaem Municipal district located in the southwestern part of the country.

People seated at desks and chairs in a room with windows.
The ICA cohort met with teachers and parents about obstacles for education in their village. Photo courtesy Ebony White.

A lot fit into that one week’s worth of classes. Before the trip, students read four articles and wrote a paper, in addition to participating in orientation to prepare for the experience. During the experience, students completed a project in Ghana. Once they were back on campus, Dragons submitted a final paper. 

“This experience was very, very full. This was truly an immersive and — I know the students were saying it as well — intensive experience because we had very long days and in between all of that, they still had assignments to give as well,” said Ebony White, PhD, assistant clinical professor in the Counseling & Family Therapy Department in the College of Nursing and Health Professions, at a virtual panel event last month related to the course. 

White taught the course at Drexel last winter and is preparing to teach it again in the 2023-2024 winter term. Graduate, junior, pre-junior, senior and sophomore students are eligible to take next year's course; the only prerequisite is that students must have previously completed a Drexel course addressing multicultural factors.

Four women sit in a sofa as a man raises his hand to the left of them and a man in a white coat sits and watches.
Drexel students met with the head of the Apinto Government Hospital as Dr. Darko was making introductions. Photo courtesy Ebony White.

ICAs are normally led by a Drexel faculty director — White, in this case — in conjunction with external partners. Each ICA also has some sort of international trip included, usually between seven to 10 days long. White developed the course in partnership with Sylvester Akpah, PhD, a lecturer at Ghana's University of Mines and Technology and director of operations at Firm Health Ghana Foundation, and Joseph Darko, PhD, medical superintendent of the Bogoso Government Hospital. 

White and Akpah did not meet when Akpah spent six weeks at Drexel in 2018 as a recipient of the Mandela Washington Fellowship, the flagship program of the U.S. State Department's Young African Leaders Initiative. Instead, they were later connected in 2021 due to their similar professional interests in mental health care of people in the African diaspora. Afterwards, they worked together to plan the ICA, which was partly informed by a summer program Akpah had previously developed for another university.

This course is the first of any kind to be taught at Drexel with a Drexel faculty member and a Mandela Fellow alumnus. It marks a new step in the continued partnership between Drexel and the Mandela Washington Fellowship. The University has hosted Mandela Fellows on campus, or virtually, for a six-week Leadership Institute every year since 2016, except for when the program was halted in 2020 and made virtual in 2021.

Six people seated in a room with their heads down.
Students and partners speaking on the radio about mental health. Photo courtesy Ebony White.

During the trip, Akpah “supported the experience and managed the logistics as well as answered questions,” White said. 

Darko, the third partner and medical superintendent of the Bogoso Government Hospital, served as an in-country instructor. “He really guided the educational pieces of the experience and ensured students understood culture, medical terminology and other context,” White said.

Five of the undergraduate and graduate students who took the “Mental Health in Ghana” course in its first iteration spoke about their class experiences at a virtual panel event in May hosted as part of the College of Nursing and Health Professions’ “Tuesday Topics” series. They talked about taking the course to expand their world views, observe mental health care and education in a global context, and develop a better understanding of their personal research, identity and place in the world. Their comments, and the event itself, are available in the recording below:

Mental Health in Ghana: A Transformative Intensive Course Abroad Experience
A recording of the May 23 "Tuesday Topics" event.

Rebecca Burke, a student in Drexel's BS Behavioral Health Counseling program who spoke at that event, recently spoke more in length about her experience in the class and on the trip in a College of Nursing and Health Professions story.

Students can learn more about next winter term's “Mental Health in Ghana” class by reading through the Drexel Study Abroad online brochure for the program.