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Physiotherapy in Ghana by Ruth Malthouse

With my host mother

I decided to sign up to a Projects Abroad medicine placement, specialising in physiotherapy in Ghana. I was out in Ghana for 4 months and experienced many things, working and living in a developing country. I worked in the Central Regional Hospital, Cape Coast which was only 20-minute walk from my host family's house.

My host family were lovely. There were four other volunteers living in the house with me and I was sharing a room with Katrin from Germany. We were very lucky having the largest room out of all the volunteers and even a private bathroom! I was so happy that Katrin and I bonded straight away and I think you can make some wonderful friends and form lasting friendships as a result of these experiences. Mrs Mensah (our host) was very welcoming and made me feel at home straight away. She had a son, Fred who would take us around the town when we first arrived and take us to the local 'spot bar'. Her daughter Maggie was still at university so we didn't see her that much but she took me to have my hair braided (an interesting and painful experience!). Mrs Mensah's niece and cousin cooked all our meals and were always there when I got home from work to chat and talk about what I had been doing. There was also 5-year-old Victor who was Mrs Mensah's grandchild. His parents live in London, but they wanted him to have a traditional Ghanaian upbringing. Katrin and I would help him with his homework and read him stories in the evening.

Coconut tree

The work at the hospital was brilliant, I couldn't have asked for better work experience in physiotherapy. My placement supervisor, Albert had taken a postgraduate degree in Amsterdam and he explained that the treatment here would be different to treatment in developed countries. I had to show him that I could massage a patient and for the first week I was sent from one cubicle to another massaging patients with 'deep heat' (not so good in hot climates as it really stings the eyes of the masseuse!). In fact after just 3 weeks armed with my Biology 'A' level, a splendid white lab coat from Lavant Work Wear and a medical guidebook I was given "clinician status" - my own patient list! The team were really helpful - there were five people and 2 of them came from Cuba so didn't speak English which made it even harder on them. My average working day was 8am - 3 or 4pm. The department usually shut around 2pm but I then went on house calls with Albert. I met so many amazing people and it made me realise how lucky we are in this country. I met infants suffering from cerebral malaria and many stroke victims. Each patient I treated would try and teach me the local dialect of Fanti - which isn't that easy. So all together I was learning 3 languages, German, Spanish and Fanti.

I was met at the airport by Projects Abroad and looked after until I arrived at my house. Every week the regional coordinator would come round either to the house or hospital to check up and see if we had any problems. I was also lucky to have the country director living in our region. He and his girlfriend arranged quiz nights every Tuesday and a night out at a different 'spot bar' on Thursday. Whenever I had a problem I could go to the organisation and they would sort it out or give me advice.

Ghanaian drumming

I was lucky enough to get involved with a group called 'African Footprint International'. They perform original African dancing and drumming with the help of able and disabled people. The group help deaf people to dance to the rhythm of the drum and can express feelings in a way that I have never seen before. The people in the group don't have much and really make the effort to spread the word about 'bridging the gap between able and disabled people'. They have taken their work to Europe, performing in Italy and Denmark this year. I was so touched with their work that I brought three drums and I took some lessons I was amazed at how much your hands hurt after drumming for one hour.

Africa Art is something that I haven't really looked at before and this too was incredible. The vibrant colours and textures, along with the way the artist really captures the image before him/her was wonderful.

The physio departmentCape Coast castle

Within my 3 months on placement I had 2 weeks travelling as holiday and then I booked a further month for more travelling. Katrin and I decided that we wanted to see as much of Ghana as possible before she left so planned a route taking us to as many sights. However, nothing really goes by plan in Ghana, so each day we had to see whether it was possible to travel. The buses were very unreliable but the cheapest way to travel - they were old mini buses with very bad suspension and cramped seats (plus when it gets really hot you just stick to the seat and the person next to you!) We saw some remarkable sights, waterfalls, three-headed palm trees, caves, botanical gardens, Ghana on a steam train, the Lake Volta, many gorgeous beaches and not to mention the castles for slaves. I think that was one of the things that really hit me hard - learning about how the English, Dutch and Portuguese treated the native Africans.

I would definitely go back to Ghana, but not until after I have completed my degree. I had such a fantastic time in Ghana and it an experience that I will never forget. Projects Abroad were extremely supportive and made my time in Ghana even more enjoyable.

Ruth Malthouse

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