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After nearly 24 hours of busy airports and long layovers, our Fort Hill Medical Mission team finally reached Accra, the capital of Ghana. After (thank God) finding our 22 checked Army duffels filled with precious medical supplies and equipment, we rushed out of the airport escorted by several smiling friends of the Browns. Finally, tired and overwhelmed, we all boarded a large yellow van and after one last stop at the Accra Presbyterian headquarters, we began the trek to Abetifi. Through my window, I watched the city of Accra pass by. Through the darkness, I could make out hundreds of plywood shacks used as market stalls, stores, and even as homes. I remember the shock I felt when I actually realized that I was in Africa. Driving past the small villages and the silhouettes of giant trees at night filled me with humility and awe. Here I was, at only 17, traveling through Ghana, Africa!
Around two o’clock in the morning, the team arrived in the mountain town of Abetifi. It was surprisingly cool as I stepped out of the van. There we were greeted by many smiling faces, faces which were unfamiliar to me, yet soon to be some of my dearest and most respected friends. We were also relieved to see incredibly welcoming beds. In the morning, I woke up to a beautiful sunrise and my first sight of Ghana by day. It was amazing. Since we were in the mountains, I could see hills in the distance, covered in lush trees, and dotted with homes. It was breathtaking! For breakfast, we were served freshly baked bread, pineapples, mango, papaya, eggs, coffee (halleluiah), and tea. After breakfast we attended a local Presbyterian church located on the highest habitable point in all Ghana. The service was full of singing, clapping, and dancing. I was beginning to get a sense of the Ghanain way of life. It was full of kindness, hospitality, happiness, and most importantly, God’s love.
After church, we began the drive to Donkorkrom, our final destination. We rode a ferry across a small arm of Lake Volta, the largest manmade lake in the world. We traveled through many small villages with thatched roofs and waving children. Finally, I saw the huge phone tower which proudly sits in the middle of Donkorkrom. The town was very small and rural, and I loved it! We had to stop the van many times to let goats pass on the road, giving us plenty of time to wave at the small children pointing and shouting “Obronni,” or “White man!” in their native language of Twi. There are over 70 tribal dialects in Ghana, Twi being the most commonly spoken. I quickly learned to say “thank you” in Twi, or “madasi.” When one is very thankful they would say “madasi pa,” or “thank you very much.”
As we drove up to our home for the next two weeks, we were greeted by the hospital manager, Fred, as well as the staff that would be cooking and cleaning for us. Fred was nothing but smiles as he showed us our rooms. The rooms were amazing, and definitely Ghanain 5-star. I shared my room with Judith Simon, a Hungarian ophthalmologist residing in New Jersey. In my wing of the guest house, four women were sharing one bathroom, which was perfect! I couldn’t believe we had such a wonderful place to stay in! We set up our rooms and then walked to the hospital to set up the clinic and operating room. We unpacked all of the instruments and medicines, and thankfully found that none of them had been tampered with by customs or damaged during the flight. We decided to go to sleep early after dinner to prepare for the busy day ahead of us. Just as Judith and I turned out the lights and said goodnight, our 5-star accommodations changed. Something scurried across my bed about the size of a mouse. I turned on the light and searched the room, yet found nothing. The next morning, I saw it…a giant cockroach the size of a mouse! I told my self that if I wanted to travel, I would have to get used to these things. Judith just laughed at me, and we went on to breakfast.
The first day at clinic was a blur. We were busy from seven to seven (maybe later) and screened tons of patients. Our interpreters were all in their early twenties and were school teachers at the local school. They made our jobs much easier and I can’t thank them enough for their helpfulness and energy. By the end of the day we had lined up surgeries for the next three days and had given out many reading glasses. All in all we say 260 patients on that first day. The dental team from Pickens (the Giddings family) saw just as many. At dinner everyone looked extremely tired, except for Browns, whose perpetual energy and happiness kept us feeling optimistic and happy throughout the trip.
I wish I could describe all that we did over the next two weeks in detail, as well as all of the wonderful people we met, but that would take pages and pages. I can tell you all, however, about a few of the most memorable experiences and people I met on this amazing adventure. My duties during the two weeks ranged from screening patients to being a scrub nurse. I was able to assist with the surgeries, which was amazing, and I was able to interact with many of the patients during the screening, which was equally amazing. Out of the 1573 people we saw and the 76 surgeries we did, the most memorable patient for me was a young boy named Simon. Simon was around my age. He had been troubled by terrible vision since he was a child. He had congenital cataracts in both eyes. He was incredibly quiet and stoic. On the day after the surgery, when we removed the eye patch, I saw him smile for the first time as he viewed the world around him. That one smile made the entire trip worthwhile for me. I sat and watched him look around feeling absolutely amazed. In past years at church, hearing about the Browns work always amazed me, but I never fully grasped the enormity of what they were doing until I saw it myself. Sight is such a precious thing, and to restore it to someone like Simon is absolutely amazing. Old men and women would have their eye patches removed and in awe say “madasi pa pa pa pa” or thank you very very much. The interpreters would smile and laugh. After the patient’s vision was restored, he or she would laugh and point at me and the rest of the team. I imagine I was rather funny looking to these people with my white skin and flaming red hair.
My experience in Ghana has been life changing. I was already aware of the want and need in the third world, but this trip made it become a part of me. Upon my arrival back in the U.S. my biggest question, and probably yours as well is “what can I, an American miles and miles away do?” Fort Hill has already done so much through mission and monetary help. We must continue to support our brothers and sisters in Ghana and across the world. The more people I meet, the more I realize that we are all truly one global family. Everyone feels pain, happiness, want, and loss. The people in Ghana have taught me to slow down and savor every drop of life I am given. We are all so blessed at Fort Hill. We are blessed to have our families, our jobs, and our church. We must use these blessings to help others. The people of the Kwahu Presbytery in Ghana care for us so very much. On behalf of the entire mission team, the members of the hospital staff, and the patients we helped, I want to say thank you for all your support, prayers, and love. We couldn’t have been successful on this trip without your support. God bless you all, and madasi pa pa pa pa pa!