My mother actually found this link to a woman who has done some amazing photo essays, Lisa Kristine. One of her photo essays is titled Modern Day Slaveryand captures images of adults and children in Ghana, India, and Nepal who are currently indentured slaves or trapped in debt bondage. While this topic is not directly related to our trip, I feel it is a link worth sharing for the purpose of bringing awareness to the issue. Many of her pictures are of very young children forced to work in fishing boats on Lake Volta. They are deprived of basic necessities such as health care, proper nutrition, and education not to mention the psychological and emotional consequences this children may face. The Ghanaian government prohibits all forms of trafficking through its 2005 Human Trafficking Act however in 2012, the UN said that Ghana is not yet compliant with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Enforcement occurs through the Anti-Human Trafficking Unit. Additionally, there are a few NGOs such as Challenging Heights and PACODEP that work to protect the rights of these children by withdrawing them from compromised living situations, educating local fishermen, and helping to support rescued children in developing healthy futures.
This issue of slavery can be related back to occupational therapy through the concept of occupational justice, a type of social justice. This is the idea that all individuals should have the right of equal access to occupational opportunities. Occupations are defined as personally meaningful activities. This is a concept that we will be promoting on our trip by working to adapt tasks, modify tools, and teach children strategies to access and participate more independently in their occupations.
With 40 days till we take off, this trip is starting to feel a lot more real than it was just a few weeks ago. I’ve traveled to a few different places around the US and internationally before but I expect that the cultural differences we will be experiencing on this trip are probably going to have a higher contrast to life in North America than those I’ve experienced in the past.
Our trip group has been meeting every other week for the past 3 months to discuss a variety of literature and information that will help us be prepared to be effective and informed on this trip. In our first meeting, we learned a bit about the two different locations our group will be in, Accra and Volta, and the different settings we will be visiting. Accra is the capital and largest city in Ghana and the students going there will be working with the Grace International School, Eban Foster Home (in Teshie), the New Horizon’s School and the Feeding Program for Street Children. The Volta Region is the most eastern region in Ghana right along the border with Togo. The students going there will be working with the Eugemot Orphanage, Volta School for the Deaf, and the Gbi Special School.
In the following meetings we’ve covered a gamut of topics from cultural standards (don’t cross your legs!) to disability law to common illnesses and a whole lot more. From the beginning of the application process for this trip, my biggest worry is that as a first year occupational therapy student, I won’t yet have the skills, knowledge, or experience to be able to really help during this trip. Some of these fears have been calmed as I’ve gone through my first fieldwork practice in a clinical inpatient setting. I’ve been able to put the concepts and strategies we’ve learned in class into practice and proven to myself that I can think creatively on my feet to create effective treatment plans with patients. Working with the educators and children in Ghana will be a great opportunity for me to use that skill set in a whole new context.
In our last few sessions before we depart, we will be shifting from the conceptual bigger picture of visiting Ghana to focusing on the practical skills we will be using such as positioning, environmental adaptations, and practicing the developmental assessments we will use. In addition to reading up on and practicing these skills, I will be putting together health education programming for children and youth of all ages for us to use in Accra and Volta. I’ll post more about this as it comes together but to give you an idea, we will cover things like basic hygiene and ideas of personal space with younger kids and safe sex practices and safety awareness with the older kids. I have also just completed research ethics training and will be assisting Kate, the Doctoral candidate in our group, with completing interviews for her research project. These next few weeks should be a lot of fun!
Reality has set in—I just received a confirmation email that my ticket has been purchased! I am feeling a mix of emotions about leaving the country, but mostly excitement about seeing a new part of the world and making a difference in Ghanaian children’s lives. I have always had the desire to study abroad and never followed through with the process, but I knew the time was right. To me, this is my last opportunity and I refused to pass it up. I am nervous that I will not be prepared for the different lifestyle that we will experience, but I am ready to be flexible and learn so much from Ghanaian culture. My family is nervous for me to take this trip, mainly because nobody in my family has ever done anything like this before and they are worried about my safety. But it makes me feel better that my professors are bringing their children along too—they would never take their own children if they felt it was unsafe!
Reading about Ghanaian culture makes me appreciate all that we have available to us, and I am realizing that we take a lot for granted. For example, many children in the US complain about going to school, but in Ghana it is a privilege to receive an education, and they will walk miles each day to get to school. I was surprised to find out that students in Ghana are required to wear uniforms, but they have to purchase them on their own, along with books and other needed supplies. I am so excited to help these amazing children that are so appreciative and hard working!
During our talk with Randi Buerlein, I found it interesting learning about some of Ghanaian culture “do’s and don’ts”. Things that we do subconsciously in the US, such as crossing your legs and using the left hand, are offensive in Ghana. These are things that I need to train myself to consciously think about to avoid offending the Ghanaians.
The projects I will co-lead while at the Eugemot orphanage in the Volta region include handwriting programs and after school games. I am planning to meet with my co-leaders within the next couple weeks to start planning, and will be sure to keep you up to date on our progress!
The date of departure will arrive before I know it, but there is still so much to learn and prepare beforehand. However, I am very grateful for this opportunity and will continue to soak in as much as I can during our discussions each week to prepare the best I can for this amazing adventure!