After having worked as a care assistant at Footherly Hall in Shenstone from the ages of around 17-21, I had been introduced a few times to the idea of volunteering abroad at one of Sister Hospitallers centres. After completing my Master of Nursing Science degree in 2016 and working clinically as an A&E nurse in Nottingham for 18 months, I felt more prepared to be able to help by volunteering internationally.
To visit a more rural part of Ghana not populated by tourists was such a special experience and one neither of us will ever forget
Myself and my friend Sarah; a stroke nurse from Coventry Hospital, were given the opportunity by Sr Josephine to volunteer at St Francis Xavier Hospital in Foso for one month.
Africa is somewhere I have always longed to visit and to be able to visit a more rural part of Ghana not populated by tourists was such a special experience and one neither of us will ever forget.
As part of volunteering for the sisters, we stayed in the sisters’ house in Ghana and were given all our meals which were beautifully prepared by Mary the cook. The house was beautiful with lovely gardens as we were used to at Footherly, just a slight difference in the heat with it being around 30 degrees most days!
We then worked Monday to Friday, myself in the A&E Department and my friend in the Medical ward and lived otherwise with the sisters, attending church with them including the big celebrations for Easter.
They were majorly lacking in supplies and basic equipment needed to be able to nurse as we would at home
I think myself and my friend Sarah were probably not prepared for how different healthcare in Ghana would be. Whilst at the back of our minds in the UK I think people are minutely aware that we are lucky to have an NHS and how much of a positive impact it has on our society, until you have been to somewhere when most residents are very poor and unable to pay for treatment or investigations neither of us had been fully grateful.
Both the medical ward and Emergency department had friendly staff that wanted to do well but in comparison to England, they were majorly lacking in supplies and basic equipment needed to be able to nurse as we would at home. We both found this difficult at times as it felt frustrating knowing we could do so much more for our patients if they were in the UK but in Ghana with limited resources the care we could provide was very different.
There were numerous highlights to the trip: we met some amazing people, sisters, hospital workers and patients who all made us feel so welcome during our stay. We were able to work well alongside the nurses in the hospital and learn from them, as well as impart some of the own knowledge and make positive changes to the way the hospital worked which hopefully will continue to be sustainable after our departure.
Whilst there were sad patient stories we did see positive too. In England, in my hospital, as an adult nurse I never usually look after paediatric patients whereas in Ghana the Emergency Department saw both adults and children.
One three-year-old little boy I helped look after, called Abraham, was sick with malaria – a disease I have never seen in the UK and I was worried he would not survive. Despite looking so poorly, needing oxygen and numerous medications the nurses reassured me he would make a good recovery. Admittedly I was sceptical but Abraham became well enough to be moved from the Emergency Department to the Children’s ward on treatment and I visited him between shifts whenever I could.
Thankfully, I heard the news that this little boy had recovered fully and was currently waiting with his mother for a bus to go back to his local village. I went again to see him with one of the nurses and to see him stood up, eating and so much recovered was such a blessing and such a positive experience to come out of my time in Ghana.
We were also lucky to be able to explore some beautiful areas of Ghana on our days off such as Kakum National Park, Cape Coast, Elmina Castle and Brenu Beach.
We are grateful to the sisters for gifting us with this amazing experience and we will always be thankful for the warmth we received
For both myself and Sarah, as well as gaining medical knowledge and experience, we have gained a lot of life experience too. The way I view things in the UK after having visited Ghana are certainly very different. We are very lucky in England to have what we have and I think both of us are very aware of that now and would love to be able to do more to help. Ghana is somewhere I would definitely be interested in attending again, we have remained in touch with some of the workers and sisters and it would be fantastic to one day be able to visit again.
Both myself and my friend Sarah are so grateful to the sisters for gifting us with this amazing experience and we will always be thankful for the warmth we received. Thank-you to Sr Lourdes for hosting us in Ghana and Sr Josephine for organising the entire experience -it would not have been possible without you; thank you!
Finally, our thoughts are with Sister Julia and her family, who passed away shortly after our trip to Ghana. She was such a kind-hearted and thoughtful person whom me and Sarah both got to know and love during our trip to Foso and we heard the news of her passing with a lot of sadness. Our thoughts are with you, Julia.