Reciprocal Relationships

by Lauren Statuto Bevan

When asked to accompany our recent clinics to Ghana, there was a mix of being excited about seeing clinics implemented, gratefulness to have the opportunity to go but also a sense of nervousness.  My nerves were on edge because I was worried about how the group of volunteers, that I had yet to meet, would perceive Ghana and the work we were doing there.   Our group of volunteers was the biggest and most diverse group of clinic participants to date. Truth be told, I was a little worried that our volunteers would see this experience as solely a form of charity—perhaps unintentionally bringing with them a western perspective, and missing what can be gained from traveling to a developing country.  

At first glance, clinics are a give-take scenario; our group of skilled volunteers give medical attention and education, and conversely the people of the country accept. 

When we first arrived in Ghana, we held a short meeting about why people decided to sign up for the trip.  The most common reason was they were not feeling fulfilled in their jobs at home, and wanted a reminder of why they initially pursued a career in healthcare.  After our meeting we headed off to the mining compound where we would be sleeping.

Clinic days were long and intense.  We went to four different villages working mostly outside in hot, humid conditions.  Some villages were more desperate for care than others. Crowds would form, tensions would rise but our team would keep working hard at a steady pace.  Each person that came through our clinics was treated with compassion and respect.  Even when we were finished with our clinic days, our team came back and insisted on offering free care to the workers who had been cooking for us where we had been staying.  After the four days of clinics, we were able to see 1,701 patients.

As we sat down to dinner on the last day of clinics, the team spoke of their overall experience.  I listened to each person talk about what they were taking away from the experience and what they had personally gained.  Each person was touched by the experience.  More than that, the greatest take away was what they had received from the Ghanaian people; gratitude, smiles, warm welcomes, friendship and a sense of purpose.

My purpose of going on the trip was to make sure everything from a logistical standpoint went well and to learn more about clinics.  My hope was to see a reciprocal relationship between the people of Ghana and our team.

This clinic trip was not extraordinary because of the volume of patients that were seen but rather because of how much care and compassion was given to each patient that came through our clinic.  It was also remarkable because it was what charity work should be; reciprocal. Ethnocentric views were not apparent in the clinics.  The volunteers gave of themselves and received much more from the people of Ghana.

And I too came back to work with a new sense of purpose.