Ghana Health Team 2017 Update - The Road to Yaara

By Dr. Jennifer Wilson

The morning commute to Yaara is always interesting. After about 20 minutes on the main road we turn on to a dirt road that I fondly refer to as “Washboard Avenue.” After another turn, the road becomes more of a path lined by tall grass. Every once in a while we would pass a small village or a school. All the while the road seems to get narrower and narrower and the pot holes deeper and deeper. After crossing the amazing Makbraneth Bridge, we got momentarily stuck in a big mud puddle. Thankfully, our expert driver Simon got us out of it before we had to decide who would do the pushing.

Just under two hours later we arrived in beautiful village of Yaara, the place where David Mensah was sent as a young boy after his father died of a hernia. David explained it was a village that mistreated him so severely that he had to escape yet, many years later, it was one of the first villages that NEA brought its development work to. David speaks about this in detail in his book Kwabena.

After such a long and bumpy bus ride, many team members reluctantly headed to the latrines. Suddenly there were whoops of joy as we discovered brand new, never before used latrines built by NEA and the Makbraneth Foundation. These latrines had doors. These latrines had locks on the doors. These latrines had … wait for it … toilets, which quickly became known as thrones! Oh my, there was such a commotion as people started cheering from behind those doors and I believe it was nurse Joan who broke out into the Hallelujah chorus. The latrines were the topic of the day in the lunch room!

The school was quickly transformed into a a clinic due to the coordinated efforts by every member of the team and our Ghanaian volunteers. It is a logistical work of art (thanks Kim, Steve and Dave) as every canopy, hockey bag, table, chair and even garbage bag gets to the proper destination. While we were setting up, the beating of the drums began and soon the women started to sing and dance. The team made their way over to join the dancing, but Dr. Sue and some of our nurses had to miss the ceremony as they were attending to a critically ill teenager who needed stabilizing. David’s brother, Chief Joseph, and his elders were seated and had a great laugh watching us all trying to dance to a beat that we cannot quite find with sweat pouring down our faces in the already well over 30 degree heat. I have to say Dr. Anne and Dr. Charlie won the prize for most enthusiastic dancers!

When the drums stopped, greetings were exchanged and Ashley Gayton (one of our surgical team members who joined us today) presented the chief with a gift and Margaret from the eye team presented a gift to his wife. Dr. Rob and Elena brought a soccer ball for each village and Amelia presented that as wide-eyed little boys and girls looked on. The Assembly Man then spoke eloquently on behalf of the Chief and Elders and explained that our annual visit over ten years has become a strong motivating force to them. Our efforts and our presence year by year has motivated their community to do more and more to help themselves and improve their situation. For example, they have been advocating for many years for a health centre in their community and he announced that approval has been given. Soon a nurse and a midwife will be posted in the newly built Yaara health centre to provide year round care! We have all been praying and waiting for that day! He also commented that their health has improved not only because of the medicine and surgery, but because their community’s consistent interaction and socialization with us has added to their health enormously. The ceremony concluded with the presentation of a ram, more yams and large piles of fresh pineapple, papaya, watermelon and bananas that neighbouring villages contributed to the group gift. The chief then called my daughter forward and his wife Hagar handed her the gift of a live chicken. As Dr. Andy said at dinner, the look on Amelia’s face as she held that chicken was priceless! The chicken fell out of the pickup on the way home but survived his attempt at escape. Poor guy.

All sectors of our clinic ran so well today and one patient at a time was treated with compassionate, highly quality care. Team spirits were very high despite the blistering heat. Our pharmacy and dentistry station were surprised and thrilled to be working in a brand new three-room school with electricity and fans. Sherry’s happy dance unfortunately only lasted for about one hour when they lost that precious power and out came the reliable old generators once again! It was an “hour of power” our pharmacy team will never forget.

Some of you will remember stories of Joshua, David’s nephew who, seven years ago, almost died from severe pneumonia while we were in Yaara. This tall growing young man paid us his annual visit and it seems like yesterday to many of us that we almost lost him as a sweet little baby.

Our newcomers took a brief walking tour through the village and salty bus snacks (highlight of the day) were handed out thanks to our Hunstville friends of John, Jenn, Cheryl and family. With God’s help, we arrived safely back on the compound before dark.

Back at home base the laser clinic was busy restoring sight and putting another big dent in the epidemic of glaucoma here in Ghana. Our optometry team is already talking about the next step — which would be cataract surgeries. No pressure Dr Toylin!?I’d love to report on how our surgical team’s day went but they still were still in the operating theatres when we all left for bed at 8:00, completing the 40th case of the day. What a long day they had, but they will be happy to enjoy another amazing meal of Fufu from Lucy’s yams and guinea fowl tomato soup. Apparently Lucy’s guinea fowl gave the NEA staff a very hard time when they tried to catch them.

Today was a day where our team values of service, teamwork, sensitivity, professionalism and resilience continued to come to life in so many ways by so many individuals in Yaara and on the Carpenter compound. Our sixth unofficial team value is “to have fun along the way,” and we are all thoroughly enjoying every moment of our time with our dear friends at NEA and the people of Ghana.