Monday, February 16, 2009

Planting Seeds

We had our third meeting last Wednesday (I missed the second meeting because my skills at reading a calendar are apparently impaired) and as always had a very stimulating conversation about our upcoming trip, current events in Ghana, and what sorts of things we would be doing while in country. Specifically, we discussed how we (5 OT students and 1 OT coming from the U.S.) could make a difference in the 2 weeks we have. Brace yourselves, this might be a long one...

The second meeting's readings and discussion were aimed at pinpointing and taking a preemptive strike at the "hero mentality" that so many people can have (and that we can easily develop) when taking this kind of trip. While it's great to go into a situation such as this with ideas of all the wonderful things you want to accomplish and all the people you want to help, it's even more important to go in with a mindset and attitude that says the difference you want to make is through the empowerment of the people you're helping, not in all the great things you're going to build and establish. It's easy to swoop into a rehabilitation center and make a splint for a child out of state of the art materials, but wouldn't it be more helpful to make a splint out of materials that are handy to the center at all times and to teach others how to duplicate that splint? Won't more of a lasting impression be left if we can empower others to teach and do for themselves?

Stacey gave us an awesome book to help us to start thinking outside the box when it comes to the practical things we can teach and demonstrate to others while we're in Ghana called Disabled Village Children by David Werner. The book is extremely interesting and has a whole bunch of ideas for making adaptive equipment, taking and teaching safety precautions for easily avoidable ailments such as decubitus ulcers, and so much more! No, this isn't a sales pitch for the book.

Our third meeting focused on what we were going to do in the 2 weeks we have to make a lasting impression with the people and in the centers in which we work. Again, we discussed not re-inventing the wheel when we get to the centers but working with what they already have in terms of resources and programs and building from there. We also discussed Ghana's Persons with Disability Bill, which is similar to the Americans with Disabilities Act (though very watered down and lacking structure and tangible goals). It was established in 2006 with a goal for full implementation by 2016...thus far, little has been seen it terms of action to meeting this goal. This is an interesting look at what sorts of attitudes towards disability we are going to encounter while we're in country. We also discussed the state of Ghanaian medicine and health care. Access to health care is extremely limited and holding on to what precious few doctors are in the country is very difficult (what I learned is called "brain drain" - who knew?!). I couldn't help but think of the similarities to health care access in rural areas in the U.S.

As an undergraduate student in the Health Information Management program at ECU, I took a class in rural health care systems. As a project, we were assigned a rural county in North Carolina and were given the general statistics of residents and their overall health statistics. Using this information, we were to develop 3 programs to target giving county residents greater access to health care specific to the health concerns facing those residents. Obviously, these were not programs that we were going to implement, but we did have to do the actual research and make contacts to determine the cost of each of our programs. Surprisingly, each program was very affordable and "do-able". It's amazing how much a little bit will go a long way in such situations. This is also an important idea for me/us remember while in Ghana, and I intend to do so!