GROW 2010 Team: Margaret Asante’s thoughts and impressions

The members of the GlobeMed at Northwestern GROW 2010 trip with Margaret Asante. Photo courtesy of Reema Ghatnekar / GlobeMed at Northwestern.

When I received a mail from the outgoing executives of GlobeMed 2009 introducing the next batch of students who will be visiting Hope Center in Ghana in 2010, I was really thrilled and at the same time curious. I wanted to know the caliber of students and how they can fit into our activities at the center like their predecessors. Mails were exchanged and my anxiety heightened by each day.

Between 13th June to 25th June Allyson arrived first, followed by Kathleen and Reema, then lastly Joey.

Allyson Westling
I christened Allyson, “Mother Allyson” due to her humility, wisdom and her approach to work; my anxiety and fears evaporated immediately as Allyson, the first to arrive quickly, grasped the whole concept of activities at the center. She soon took charge and started planning activities of her colleagues with such an ease that surprised every staff at the center. Her main objectives were to help develop the phase four of the nutrition program for the center and also help revise the partnership agreement between GlobeMed and Ghana Health Service. She worked tirelessly to achieve the objectives.

Reema Ghatnekar
The ‘wide-eyed’ Reema was full of enthusiasm, zeal and have a great passion to work with us at the center. Her objectives were community mapping, and help with the continuation of phase three of the nutrition program. Her passion for the community work brought her closer to the two rural communities we serve, Ando and Kodzobi where she did a lot of interviewing to project the work at the center to the communities. Her final work is being used as a guide for our programs.

Kathleen Leinweber
Adorable Kathleen’s volunteering spirit brought enthusiasm and youthful exuberance into our work at the center. She was always asking questions that helped her to achieve her objectives in helping to evaluate the Sexual Reproductive Health for Adolescents program and community-mapping. She braced the odds and worked among the rural communities we serve, and also made friends among the children.

Joey Gill
Baby Joey, as I nicknamed him during his stay was the youngest. He continued with the electronic medical records and the community-mapping. He also worked hard among the two communities to bring out the way the community live, type of housing, water and sanitation, food, fuel used and family size. This information is essential for the center and we are using them to guide us in preparing community profile for the rest of the communities we serve.

The GROW 2010 team not only worked on their individual project but helped in most of the child welfare clinics by weighing babies and updating their records in the registers. They really fit into our system and worked very well. How we wish we could have them all year round

Yes, they did really had fun alongside their busy schedule, a trip to Wli waterfalls in Hohoe District, Kakum Park, the castles in Cape Coast, Kpetoe kente weaving town and of course, Kathleen’s birthday party at Sky Plus Hotel.

They were also ardent supporters of Black Stars, our national football team during the world Cup in South Africa 2010. Notwithstanding their “temporal” Ghanaian citizenship, they never forgot home whilst here. On the American Independence Day, I visited them in the house where they lived and we all sang the national anthem of their Home Country, USA. It was really a nostalgic moment!

I can still hear their voices giggling and their crazy music as I look forward to welcome GROW 2011, I really missed them. -MARGARET ASANTE, NURSE IN-CHARGE, HOPE HEALTH CENTER, HO.

Photo courtesy of Allyson Westling / GlobeMed at Northwestern.


A smoggy day in Beijing town: public health in Beijing

Traditional Chinese herb-picking alongside the Great Wall. Photo courtesy of Chi-chi Uichanco / GlobeMed at Northwestern.

For the past seven weeks, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to study in the crazy, crowded capital of the most populous country on earth: Beijing, China! The IPD program in Beijing is designed to allow us to witness the lasting impressions of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and learn about the basic public health structures in the country. Meanwhile, this lively, bustling city is our oyster to explore; it’s not too hard to blend in with a population exceeding twenty-two million.

The TCM half of the program was …interesting, to say the least. I came into this program with an open mind, excited to learn how other cultures viewed common health practices. After the first lecture we learned that, essentially, TCM revolves around the basic tenets of Yin-Yang Theory, the Five Elements, and Visceral Theory. Interestingly, they have quite a hold on modern Chinese culture as well. For example, Yin-Yang Theory dictates that every single entity on Earth exists as Yin or Yang, where Yin and Yang are two opposite but inter-related areas of life. Yang can be daytime, hot soup, or summer; yin can be night time, ice cream, or winter. Whether something is considered yin or yang will dictate how you treat it — that is, in TCM, whether a symptom is considered a yin or yang-symptom dictates whether you prescribe a yin or yang treatment. A common occurrence in China (especially for older people) is to refrain from drinking hot soup in fear of upsetting the body’s balance of yin and yang. Of course much of Chinese traditional thought has made way for modern habits, but much of the older generation is still quite resistant to complete westernization.

For a more hands-on experience, several students got to try out some traditional methods, such as acupuncture, moxibustion and cupping. All these practices serve to remedy imbalances of the body’s qi (or the energy which flows throughout channels in the body), but it seemed that acupuncture was China’s answer to every problem possible — migraines, cramps, even cervical cancer. Myself, I subtlety avoided the needles and opted for two small cups on my back which suctioned off a large portion of my skin for thirty minutes, branding me with got two large, red welts. I’ll tell you how my qi feels in a month. All this only scratches the surface of TCM — these practices go back ages in history!

Getting cupping done in the TCM ward of a Geriatric/Rehab Center. Photo courtesy of Chi-chi Uichanco / GlobeMed at Northwestern.

The second half of the program moved on to public health in China. This consisted of several hospital/health center/clinic visits, where we got to experience firsthand what Chinese citizens undergo to receive health care. Most practices were pretty standard, save for the occasional TCM ward or herbal pharmacy — it was great to see the growth of such an integrative approach, where doctors combined both Western and TCM techniques with their patients. Moreover, it was cool to see how the Chinese population worried about such different health problems than America does. Of course, we learned of the soaring number of cases of infectious diseases rampant in third world China. However, the leading causes of death area changing, especially in the more developed areas of China. For example, one of the most prevalent preventable risk factors in Chinese adult health is hypertension, or high blood pressure. This is due to certain aspects of the Chinese lifestyle, such as the enormous daily salt intake inherent in the cuisine. Equally as surprising was the lack of privacy in all the hospitals. Imagine, you’re prepping to receive a handful of acupuncture needles on your tender behind, and in comes a crowd of loud American students, furiously scrawling observations into notepads and snapping pictures. This was a fairly common occurrence wherever we went, but most patients didn’t seem to mind. Funny, how Chinese street decorum translated so seamlessly into Chinese hospital decorum…

I’m also excited to jump back into the health care debate going on States-side. Interestingly enough, there’s a health care reform currently under development in China as well. The majority of Chinese citizens are presently under government insurance programs, which are separated into rural and urban populations. However, the problem is that the majority of Chinese live in rural areas, while the majority of government health spending is allotted to urban health centers. Also, analysts have recognized a gap in health care coverage affecting the large population of migrant workers in China. Furthermore, the allotment system has suffered from inefficiency, requiring most health financing to come from out-of-pocket expenses. Currently, reforms are underway to alleviate these problems, but it will be interesting to see how these unfold in the coming years.

Aside from the academic setting, I think the true appeal of this program is tapping into the Chinese mindset. At first, my silly American manners prevented me from recognizing charm on the trash-ridden, polluted Beijing sidewalks: the fountain of loogies, public urination, exposed beer-bellies… it’s definitely an acquired taste. But after a while, you begin to realize that there’s nothing wrong with throwing politeness out the window. Of course, nothing’s personal; human interaction in this high-energy city is just very simple and straightforward… and simplicity can be a beautiful thing.

Of course, when I return to the States in a week, I’ll have to get re-accustomed to my ‘thank you’s,’ ‘excuse me’s’ and astronomical American prices. After weeks of painstakingly honing my bargaining skills (a cute flowy top down from 300 kuai to 80 kuai, fake Louboutins down from 4,000 to 250 kuai — how I’d love to bargain for my college tuition) I guess I’ll just have to accept that I’ll be paying four dollars for a cappuccino and there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it. -CHI-CHI UICHANCO


Powerful insight

Photo courtesy of Allyson Westling / GlobeMed at Northwestern.

Nurse Beauty gives a lecture on healthy eating practices to mothers who came for the monthly child welfare clinic. Photo courtesy of Allyson Westling / GlobeMed at Northwestern.

Photo courtesy of Allyson Westling / GlobeMed at Northwestern.

A busy day at the H.O.P.E. Center. Photo courtesy of Allyson Westling / GlobeMed at Northwestern.

Last week, we had the opportunity to have a meeting with a visiting physician from Ethiopia. He has had extensive experience in public health, spending a number of years working in a refugee camp. He also has a wide knowledge of the Volta region and a thorough understanding of the challenges faced by the communities serviced by the H.O.P.E. Center.

Our time talking with him provided us with deep global health insight as well as exciting avenues to take the Center’s outreach programs. For instance, he recommended more efficient ways to train peer educators for the sexual health program. There has recently been a lot of interest among church groups in the area for nurses to give lectures at their facilities. While this is great, it adds an additional work burden on the Center’s staff. Instead, this doctor recommended that we train a few peer educators within the church, who can then train others in their organization. This makes the program more sustainable in that it reduces the work burden on the nurses (who can now become the overseers of the program instead of the ones running the entire show). It also eliminates the need to keep retraining peer educators every year (a problem currently faced in the schools where the sexual health program is running). These principles can be extended to the childhood nutrition program as well: we will need to place more emphasis on making the program sustainable in the communities through peer education and personal farming tactics.

Our discussion provided us with a lot of valuable insight and great ideas to advance this partnership moving forward. The coming weeks will keep us busy working out a concrete partner agreement with the Ghana Health Services, outlining a strategic “5-year plan” for many of the Center’s activities, and developing new ways to advance outreach programs. We all came away from the meeting encouraged, inspired and committed to making our remaining time in Ghana the best that it can be!

Photo courtesy of Allyson Westling / GlobeMed at Northwestern.

Allyson and Joey at the beach in Cape Coast (before Allyson got pushed over by a monster wave!) Photo courtesy of Allyson Westling / GlobeMed at Northwestern.


World Cup at White House

The GlobeMed at Northwestern GROW trip members and fellow American students. Photo courtesy of Reema Ghatnekar.

So far, our time here has been amazing. Last Saturday, we went to one of the local bar/restaurants, White House, to watch the Ghana versus USA soccer game. We met some fellow American students, as well as many locals. It was amazing to see how excited the entire country was about the World Cup games, especially since Ghana is the last African country left. After Ghana won, the entire city began to celebrate. An impromptu parade began around Ho and the city was completely alive: people were singing, dancing, and hugging in the middle of the street, completely ecstatic about Ghana’s victory over the US. Tonight is the Ghana versus Uruguay game, so we’ll be heading back to White House to make some new friends and watch the game. Go Ghana Blackstars! – REEMA GHATNEKAR

Photo courtesy of Reema Ghatnekar.

Celebration following the Ghana-US world cup game. Photo courtesy of Reema Ghatnekar.


Healing at H.O.P.E.

Children walking around the H.O.P.E. Center. Photo by Allyson Westling / GlobeMed at Northwestern.

I am in the company of fascinating, wonderful people. Since I’ve been in Ghana, there has been no shortage of men, women, and children coming to welcome me into the community. One of the neatest people that I’ve had the privilege to spend time with is the H.O.P.E. Center’s head nurse, Margaret. She and I have had many conversations about the Center and its partnership with GlobeMed over the last week. Everything from balancing the Center’s operating budget to designing the next phase of the childhood nutrition program to taking steps toward the design of a future maternity ward- we’ve already begun to lay out a solid plan for next year.

Photo by Allyson Westling / GlobeMed at Northwestern.

It is neat to learn from Margaret. She is a passionate, dedicated nurse who not only runs the H.O.P.E. Center but also her own non-profit designed to empower women throughout the country. Besides her hectic work schedule, she still manages to reach out to those that need her most. For instance, there is a young, HIV-positive mother in town. When her HIV status was accidentally revealed, many in her village forcefully kicked her out of her home and have been hostile to her ever since (the HIV stigma is terrible around here, in case you didn’t catch that). Margaret immediately saw the potential in this young woman (and fell in love with her 5-month old baby girl- see photo) and took her under her wing. She and I have been to visit village chiefs, landlords, artisans, and church leaders so that Margaret can negotiate a future for this girl. Margaret’s persistence is inspiring and her integrity honorable. To be working in the company of such a woman is amazing!

I have also begun to conduct my first interviews for my research! I went into the village of Kdozbi yesterday to talk to six pregnant women and I had four interviews in Ando today. They have gone well so far and I am already getting a lot of good information that we can use to improve and expand the H.O.P.E. Center’s programming. My time here convinces me more and more that this is a place of incredible healing and “H.O.P.E.”


Living the dream…

Greetings from Ho! I have been in Ghana for a few days now, and am loving every minute of it! It has been so neat to meet the community and H.O.P.E. Center staff members, and become more familiar with the surrounding area. Yet, my favorite part so far has been my first visit to the H.O.P.E. Center. Seeing the actual structure has been a dream come true! It is so awesome to be able to visit the place that all of GlobeMed’s hard work and energy goes into supporting. The Center is a remarkable place — it is embraced by the community as a safe place to come for medical treatment, advice, lessons on proper nutrition and support. Our partnership with them is truly a privilege.

I have already begun discussing with the Center’s head nurse, Margaret, about ways in which we can expand our partnership between the Center and GlobeMed. One of our primary goals while the GROW students are here is to increase the childhood nutrition program. This has been a highly successful program, and we are currently looking for ways to improve upon and expand its positive influence. Stay tuned for more updates on this front!

My personal project while I am here will be to assess the nutritional status of pregnant women in the surrounding communities. We are interested in learning more about their current nutritional beliefs, practices, and knowledge. This information will help us create new facets within the current nutrition program that will best meet the nutritional needs of these women. I have begun speaking with my interpreters so that we can develop a plan to be able to interview the women and gain the data in a timely fashion. I am looking forward to working with them in the coming weeks.

All in all, life is great here! I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the rest of the GROW students, and can’t wait to experience more of the great things that the H.O.P.E. Center has been doing!