During this past March, a group from Auburn University’s Outreach Global and School of Nursing students and faculty had the opportunity to travel to Sekondi, in the western region of Ghana.
They not only provided free health care services to the people of Sekondi, but they also adopted the pediatric unit of the Effia-Nkwanta Regional Hospital.
“I started this initially as one of our strategic goals and plans of Outreach Global about 10 years ago,” said Royrickers Cook, vice president of Outreach Global and associate provost.
In addition to assisting in the health care system, the students and faculty also donated medical supplies, stuffed animals and books for the children of Sekondi in their second trip to the region.
“We have a special partnership with the University of Cape Coast in Ghana, where we have been working with the president and vice chancellor very closely,” Cook said. “In this office [Outreach Global], we have intentionally focused on the continent of Africa, whether East or West Africa.”
With the help of Cook, Elizabeth Essamuah-Quansah, director of Outreach Global and Ghana native, had the idea to start helping the people of Ghana by establishing an annual free health care program.
“I had this idea, and I passed it by Dr. Cook who supported it,” Essamuah-Quansah said. “We then involved the dean of nursing. He also embraced the idea.”
The dean took an exploratory visit to the region with Essamuah-Quansah, and after meeting with government officials, the plan was a go.
In 2017, Auburn donated medical supplies to the emergency unit of the hospital in Sekondi.
After traveling multiple times to the hospital, Essamuah-Quansah led a needs assessment in order to best decide which part of the hospital was in demand of the most help.
“We wanted to be strategic,” she said. “After several visitations to the hospital during the 2017 program, it became clear the pediatric unit was a ward to adopt. The condition there was poor, and the decision was made to focus most of the resources to the pediatric unit.”
During their time in Ghana, not only were the students and staff from Auburn University grateful for the opportunity to be working closely in different communities of Sekondi, the people of Ghana were also overjoyed.
“You should have seen their faces just handing them registration numbers for examinations and offering them the opportunity to be screened by our student nurses and local doctors,” Essamuah-Quansah said.
Valarie Thomas, associate clinical professor, said everyone she interacted with was receptive and kind.
“Their smiles were infectious,” Thomas said. “The hugs, laughs and warm reception will be with me for a long time. It makes you wonder how so many people with so little can be so grateful. I think we forget the small things in life are the most treasured.”
Ghana is a prominent developing country in West Africa with growing economic development, a rich heritage, history and culture, Cook said.
However, some Ghanaian communities do not have sufficient health care service or medical resources.
In addition to providing aid, students were able to learn more about Ghana’s health care system.
“An important part of the learning process is the outreach piece and the practice piece,” Cook said. “For these students to have the opportunity to work for populations that are underserved and to learn how to operate and assist in that environment is important.”
The trips put on through the partnership with the Effia-Nkwanta Regional Hospital will continue to happen annually and are open to all students at Auburn University.
Cara Borowski, senior in nursing, said she has never been a huge fan of spring break.
She said she used to think it was wasted time and didn’t serve a purpose.
“Ghana changed that,” Borowski said. “In the 10 days we were there, I saw beauty I couldn’t imagine in both the scenery and the people, was given the opportunity to help those who couldn’t help themselves and discovered a new meaning to the profession of nursing.”
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