2649 Kilometers

9.7.2018                                                                                                           Ashanti Region, Ghana

2649 Kilometers or 1645 miles. That’s the distance I’ve traveled through Ghana in the last month. All of that travel is the reason that I’m a little delayed in posting for August. In the last month, I attended a conference on Malaria, helped with a summer camp for girls and boys in junior high school, participated in an in-service training about nutrition, and finally did a little personal traveling to the Upper East region of Ghana. I traveled west across Ghana, almost reaching Cote D’Ivoire and north to the town of Paga, which borders the country of Burkina Faso. I’m thoroughly exhausted now and happy to stay in one place, at least for the rest of September.

Now I have loved the adventures and experiences I have had this month, but I have also been dealing with a significant emotional challenge. On the first day of August while we were out running, Gyata was hit by a taxi. The cars fly down my road, and I’ve worried since I got her that this was going to happen at some point. I am just glad I was with her when it did, since the driver didn’t stop. She is going to be okay, something I wasn’t very certain of at first. She broke her front and back left leg, and was very scraped up. We are fortunate to have a veterinary doctor who makes house calls in the area, and while he is not always available, he’s been there when it’s counted. Watching her in so much pain was really difficult and her recovery has not been easy. Now more than a month later she’s back to her same happy self. Her legs didn’t heal exactly right, but that hasn’t seemed stop her from walking, running, and jumping around. I am so incredibly thankful that things weren’t worse. Part of what made this whole experience so tough is being in a place where people don’t value their animals the way we do in the United States. They don’t have pets like we do; they don’t consider them a part of the family. Even though they all adore her, they just couldn’t understand how distraught I was by the situation and didn’t know how to help me. Leaving her to go to training left me worried sick, but she has easily found a second home at the neighbor’s house who took wonderful care of her while I was gone. She is even delivering dinner for Gyata to my door now that I’ve returned because she knows Gyata likes Fufu. She comes up in just about every conversation now when I walk down the street and people are always asking about her. This situation was really tough to deal with, but I am glad to be on the other side, knowing there are people looking out for me and Gyata.

This past month I have had three different types of work related experiences. The first was the STOMP Malaria Conference. This is a conference that used to be held in Senegal, and Peace Corps volunteers from different countries would attend to learn about malaria and how to intervene. It is now being held in each respective country, and this was the first conference in Ghana. My counterpart, a health worker at the nearby health center, and I traveled to Tamale to attend. During the week, we learned about malaria and common interventions, the President’s Malaria Initiative which coordinates malaria efforts in Ghana, and developed action plans to take back to our communities. We visited an Insectory, a place where they collect and breed mosquitos for the purposes of researching insecticide resistance, and learned about the Indoor Residual Spraying that is going on in the Northern region of Ghana. This method involves spraying the walls of rooms because mosquitos rest on walls after feeding. Though extremely effective, it is very expensive and is only being done in select districts. We also learned about other cool interventions that are being piloted in Ghana, including ProACT. This involves going house to house in communities to test and treat people with fevers, instead waiting for them to come to the clinic. This is something I would love to bring to my community, since people often say the clinic is too far to walk to. The conference was awesome and so well done. The first thing we plan to do this month is to hold focus groups to try to better understand the barriers around malaria prevention and treatment in our community in preparation for the Ghana Health Service national bed net distribution that is happening in November.

After the conference, I headed to the Glow Bro (Girls Leading Our World, Boys Respecting Others) camp with one of the girls from my community. Peace Corps volunteers organize this camp in different regions of Ghana. It ended up being a very long day of travel to and from, but the camp was worth it. There were about 40 students from all over the Brong Ahafo and Ashanti regions. We spent three days hanging out and teaching the kids a variety of different things. They learned about leadership, gender roles, women empowerment, goal setting, and so much more. I helped lead the hand washing lesson, and taught them how to make Reusable Menstrual Pads. The kids had a ton of fun, made a ton of new friends in new places, and learned a lot that we will hope they will go back and share with their peers. My student will be a huge help with the Girls Club this year. In the evening we spent one night watching Black Panther, which the kids loved. Another night we talked about astronomy and watched the Magic School Bus (Total flashback). It was so cool seeing the kids exposed to new things and explore their interests. The last night we had a talent show, and man these kids had talent and they are not afraid to show it. We had dancers, singers, a poem, a couple skits, and even some jokes. I am looking forward to being a part of the camp again next year, and hopefully will be able to bring more students.

Finally, my last work related travel was for a in-service training on nutrition. We are allowed to apply and attend two of these trainings a year to gain more specific skills and knowledge. I took a women from my community who teaches at the primary school and has a two year old. We had a lot of fun during week, especially because there were lots of kids to provide entertainment. We talked about the new Ghana Health Service nutrition campaign, the Four Star Diet, as well as about the impact of poor nutrition and how to promote healthy diets. The Four Star Diet stresses the importance of four food areas in the hopes of addressing some specific nutrition concerns faced in Ghana. These categories are animal proteins, legumes, staples, and Vitamin A rich foods. Our main goal is to teach people how to adapt the meals they already making instead of completely changing everything. This includes introducing alternative sources of protein and highlighting the nutritional benefits of certain vegetables and fruits. One great plant is Moringa, which is a source of protein and vitamins and can be easily added to meals in the form of powder. I’m convinced Moringa will be the next big food craze in the US, so I encourage everyone to jump on it now. I just found a great recipe for popcorn which calls for olive oil, salt, and a little Moringa (So tasty!). To address the issues around availability we talked about different gardening methods, including sack gardens and composing (Both of these I plan to do with the Girls Club). We also spoke about exclusive breastfeeding and hygiene because they have critical roles in achieving good nutrition. My counterpart greatly enjoyed all of the cooking demos and told me we should have more of these trainings in the future. I am hoping to work with her to share these lessons with mothers at the monthly baby weighing clinic in my and the neighboring community.

Finally, I did some exploring this month. I took my personal days (We get four a month) and I traveled up north to see my friend Amina. One day we went to a Filipino cultural event that a few volunteers coordinated to share with the community. They had food and games, and taught about the history, geography, language, and other aspects of the culture. I enjoyed meeting new people and learned a lot myself. Then, we traveled to Bolga (They call this the Accra of the North) and stayed at a cute little guesthouse that a volunteer lives at. Our room was a round mud hut with a thatch roof. We got dinner in town and met some of the volunteers in the Upper East. While in Bolga, we took a day trip to Paga. There we went to the Paga Crocodile Pond. This pond is famous for their docile crocodiles, but there are many places in Ghana where crocodiles peacefully coexist with communities. These crocodiles are considered sacred, and killing one is a capital offense equivalent to homicide. When a crocodile dies, they believe someone in the community will die. They called one out of the water, and we got to touch it and take pictures with it before they fed it a fowl and sent it back into the water. It was quite the experience. While in Paga, we also visited Pikworo slave camp. It was a beautiful place with a heartbreaking history. The guide was very knowledgeable and showed us where all of the different parts of the camp were. He told us how the slave traders captured the people and kept them in this camp until they were sold and made to walk barefoot to the coast. We saw where they got their water and ate, and some of the locals showed us how they drummed using the rocks to keep themselves entertained. They were told that they were being given a better life and would be educated to one day return home, and so they performed dances and drumming to express gratitude. I am glad we went because it is such an important part of the history that I haven’t learned about before. Before leaving Bolga, we stopped by the cultural center where I got some beautiful woven baskets. Bolga is famous for these, and I was overwhelmed by the selection. I loved this little city and am sad that it is so far from me. I probably won’t be back, but I am happy I got to see it.

I am home now, and have plenty of things to work on now that school starts again next week. Many things have fallen to the side in the last month, and so I am going to be rededicating myself to running, reading, and meditation. That’s all for now!

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