Yasmeen Youssef makes a difference
At age 14, Yasmeen Youssef was the youngest member of the Humanity First Ghana team. This year’s theme at Yasmeen’s school, the American International School in Riyadh was “Make a Difference.” Upon her return from Ghana, Yasmeen presented a talk to her class, enriched with pictures, detailing her experiences during this amazing trip. It was such a hit, she was asked to present it again to the entire Middle School. After this presentation, the school decided to create a special award which they called the “Make a Difference Award.” During the end of the year Passage Ceremony for Middle School to 9th grade, Yasmeen was the recipient of this first annual award given to a student in recognition for going above and beyond the rest in helping mankind. We are proud to report the Humanity First was mentioned both in Yasmeen’s presentation as well as in the awards ceremony.
The Road Ahead: Fizan Abdullah
If you are going to see your surgeon to have surgery, you expect 100% success all of the time. When this does not happen, it is natural to get upset or be disappointed. For those of us who live in the United States of America , this occurs in a healthcare system where we have all the resources and support for success. So the question becomes: are the expectations of those who need surgery or medical care for their loved ones in a low-income country like Ghana any lower than ours? Is the need for the patient to get back to work to support his family or the preciousness of the smile of a child any less in such situations? Of course not, but this is the challenge that many of our fellow inhabitants of planet earth are facing every day. Despite limitations in resources, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, and children are facing disease and sickness in healthcare systems that are poorly equipped to provide them the care they need and deserve.
This is one of the imperatives of Humanity First – to serve people in need regardless of faith, color, or political affiliation. Certainly, Humanity First’s global mission to improve health systems is one of the major reasons I am dedicated to continue to work with Humanity First on this important journey. This being my 6th annual surgical training mission to Ghana with Humanity First, I can see firsthand that we are making a difference and have seen it with the expansion of the types of surgical procedures being performed there. I see it in the eyes of our enthusiastic physician participants in our 3rd annual laparoscopy course and from those who participated in our first ever inguinal hernia course this year. I see it in the eyes of those patients we are privileged to serve.
After another successful visit this year, my gratitude goes out to all those who have embarked on this journey with Humanity First and to all our supporters without whom it would not be possible. We have so much work to do, but I know we are making a difference and hopefully helping to prevent disappointment, one patient and family at a time.
Volunteer Insight: Ryan Schellpfeffer
Our Humanity First team returned to Accra, Ghana after training physicians and working for several days at a rural hospital in the Ashanti region. During the five hour drive, I had plenty of time to reflect on these past two weeks. Traveling from Sioux Falls, South Dakota on a journey halfway around the world to Ghana in order to help those with limited access to health care has been highly satisfying on a number of different levels.
From a medical perspective, I have been able to communicate and teach many doctors advanced anesthesia techniques despite their limited resources and equipment. The medical situations encountered in Ghana are very different from those I typically see in the Sioux Falls. Over two weeks, I was able to learn about the breadth of situations that Ghanaian physicians encounter and tailored a very broad education program to fit their general needs. In the process, I learned some unique anesthesia techniques from the physicians and patients that we saw in Ghana. It’s amazing what these doctors have had to improvise due to the lack of proper anesthetic. I believe that this experience was truly unique and the skills I have learned here will have a lasting impact. The opportunity to teach and discuss questions with the local healthcare providers has allowed us to touch even more patients and the knowledge and supplies we have left in Africa will last long after we have gone back home.
On a more personal level, I am impressed at how well a group of strangers, our Humanity First team, has come together to accomplish the task at hand. Organizing and executing a surgical mission trip requires a lot of time and preparation, as well as a lot of supplies. In a land of limited resources, learning to make do with what is available has made me a better physician. Indeed, everyone in the group adapted quite well to the challenges of doing our regular everyday jobs in a place that is anything but regular when compared to home.
Scenes from Today
Volunteer Insight: Trisha Justice
Love for all, hatred for none. As we drove through more of this beautiful country, this was the phrase on a bumper sticker of a local taxi cab. A very appropriate thought to associate with this amazing group of people we have been blessed to share time with over the past several days. Their hospitality, kindness, and eagerness to help and learn is unmatched.
At first glance it would seem that a common bond would be difficult to establish. The differences from the US are all around, from language to clothing to hairstyle to food to buildings to healthcare to mode of transportation. There is little to remind us of home.
Then we get out of the van and are met with smiles, and laughter. We share friendly greetings and exchange handshakes or hugs. We pose for photographs together and the curiosity from both parties is eased. Amazingly the differences fade to the background, while the bond of humanity shines through.
As a mother I can relate most to the mother’s here as they care for their children and show concern as we take them for their surgery. They are just as eager to know that their child is well and to once again have them back in their arms, or on their back as the case is in Ghana. A mother’s love is not limited by cultural diversity.
And the children, oh the children, they could not be more beautiful or full of life. Most have had very little for material things, but despite this their smiles could light up a night sky.
My time here has allowed me to further recognize that not in spite of , but sometimes because of our differences we share so much more than it seems. I will miss these amazing people and their unique and beautiful country.
Volunteer Insight: Diana Scorpio
When I was first asked by Humanity First about my willingness to volunteer for this mission to Ghana, I was filled with both excitement and anxiety. Excitement to finally see Africa, to help people who are in need, to make a difference. Anxiety, however, to experience the unknown. What will it be like? After all, this is my first visit to Africa. What will the patients be like? How will I communicate with them? Can I handle seeing the poverty, the medical necessity, the lack of resources, the overcrowded hospitals, and the sick children? Can I overcome my emotions to tackle the job at hand?
The answer is I have never been so motivated in my life. Long travel days, long work days, lack of sleep, sore back, I don’t even think twice about the time, the day, when is it time to go home? I only think about who is the next patient? Who else can I help? Can we see more patients? What more can I do? I know I am not alone in my sentiment. This is surely how all volunteers respond to this mission. We are dedicated, motivated, and enthusiastic.
I especially knew I was meant to be here after my interaction and connection with one young patient, a courageous 10 year old boy. He was back after one year following removal of a large mass from his right hip and the local surgeon had saved the case for the Humanity First surgical training team to assist him. They were not able to biopsy the mass due to limited resources. This time it was bigger and likely more invasive. But he came to the hospital, brave as can be, with a smile that could melt an iceberg. All I could do was to be close to him and to be there throughout his entire procedure. Holding his hand and rubbing his back. We could not speak each other’s language but he knew I cared and that I wanted the best for him. He never stopped smiling, even though his procedure was invasive, he continued to be brave. He stole my heart. He was the reason why I came here, to make a difference, to show the people here in Ghana that we care, that we want the best for them. The amazing part is they not only knew that, but they so graciously thanked us for everything. “God bless you madam” was what I heard as I passed through the hospital hallways. “God bless me” I thought? No, “God Bless them” for being an amazing group of people who live life with little but are thankful for so much. I will forever be changed. My life will never be the same. Ghana and their people will be with me forever.
Diana G. Scorpio, Humanity First Volunteer
(Please note that through the use of a translator, express patient and guardian permission was granted to share this story)
Scenes from Today
Volunteer Insight: Lauren Orpin
There are no words to describe this experience in Ghana. It has been so rewarding.
I arrived at the airport not knowing most of our team members. As nervous as I was to meet and work besides them, this team of 13 amazing people was very welcoming and encouraging. I truly couldn’t ask for a better group of professionals to work with. We were all motivated to teach and train our Ghanaian counterparts. And that chemistry was evident both in the classroom during the hernia seminar and in the “operating theater”.
During the seminar, I had the opportunity to present on the aseptic technique. I demonstrated how to maintain sterility, how to set up a back table and my instruments, and how to glove. I also stressed the importance of counting soft and sharps before and after a case. I had the hospital staff work besides me during a case and mentored each “student”. During the mission, I managed and maintained instruments, which meant ensuring instruments were properly autoclaved and ready for the next case.
I was impressed by the eagerness of the local staff to learn, their insightful questions, and their motivation to practice their new skills. This enthusiasm makes me want to work harder and make a difference, not only in the realm of international health, but back home in Baltimore as well.
Day 1 in Ashanti: 2 Operating Tables, 20 Surgeries
Today is our first day working at a district hospital in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. Throngs of people traveled to the hospital from across the region with the hope that our team, working alongside the local physicians, would evaluate them. Some patients have been postponing their operations for over a year so that they could be operated on by the Humanity First surgical team. The local surgeon has saved many of the more technically complex procedures he has encountered over the past year for us because he needed additional assistance. The demand far surpasses the number of procedures that we could realistically assist with in our three days.
The operating room and medical facilities at this hospital are dramatically different from those encountered in the first hospital we visited earlier in the week. There is one operating room measuring approximately 20ft x 15ft. In that room we have two operating tables and limited availability of electricity. In our first several hours, the power has gone out several times and we have relied on a generator to kick in for lighting. Air conditioning is unavailable and with 15 people packed inside such a small room, temperatures hover between 80-95 degrees in the operating room.
Our team is prepared for the marathon up ahead. After evaluating the patients in the wards, we have decided to help the local physician perform 20 operations today. There will be constant motion in the operating room so that we can have a quick turnaround, sterilize equipment properly, and set up for the next surgery. Although we may not have a chance to operate on everyone, we have vowed to do the best we can. Despite the high volume of cases and time commitment required, our focus will be on training and teaching the local physicians and staff so that they can continue to operate successfully throughout the year.
With a strong team ahead and the experience of the local physicians supporting us, we are confident that we can positively impact a large number of patients.
Volunteer Insight: Rashida Rana
Long Live Ghana
“Long live John Hopkins University! Long live Humanity First!” were the chants heard as we concluded a historic 2 day lecture on hernia repair. Local physicians serving 7 districts across the country traveled hours to a hospital in the Western District to attend the lecture and practical.
Humanity First has sponsored numerous surgical training and education oriented missions to Ghana for years in an effort to “train a man how to fish….” however this was the first formal lecture with a fancy projector, powerpoint slides, handouts, and everything else needed to make a highly effective and professional presentation. These “students” were skilled physicians in their own right, already repairing hernias using the instruments and techniques they were accustomed to prior to our lecture. Maybe not a permanent fix, but providing the temporary relief to their patients to get back home and take care of there families.
The emotional reaction at the conclusion was not quite what I expected. Definitely not anything I’m used to hearing when i walk out of training sessions in the US where sometimes I feel “Wow really insightful, now where’s the nearest Starbucks?”
So what was the big deal? Why the emotional reaction? Moreover, why did all of us sitting there feel so moved and humbled by their expression of gratitude?
Maybe their enthusiasm was a reflection of their understanding that people really do care. It isn’t just some tax deductible vacation. We really do care about improving healthcare and the overall well-being of the developing world. And with that understanding comes trust and the increased likelihood that the lessons we are seeking to impart will be integrated into their everyday practice.
I have a responsibility to maintain that trust. I’ll be back next year, God willing, because in my heart i chant…..Long live the Western District Hospitals, Long live Ghana!