In the name of progress
There is no such thing as conversation in global health without discussion of development. Ghana is no different. According to the World Bank last year, it’s the most rapidly developing nation in Sub-Saharan Africa….and it was “upgraded” from low income to middle income. The best way to describe the state of Ghana right now through the use of the ever present physics term: momentum.
Ghana is on the brink of brilliance…or a beautiful disaster. Time will tell which way it goes though, I strongly suspect it’s the former. There’s an energy hear that most Ghanaians don’t appreciate but most foreigners pick up within a day or two. Things are changing…and changing fast. The change isn’t only in building of highways or 21 story buildings…but rather where all change begins…in the mindsets, attitudes, and belief systems of the people here. There are in many instances of blind adoptions of western cultural ideologies and even more instances of abandonment of cultural rituals and traditions in the name of “progress”. Be it the shock of americans wearing african print items in the USA or people wearing winter skull caps and timberland boots in blistering 93 F degree weather….there is no doubt that almost ubiquitous access to internet and rapid globalization has influenced the popular culture both here and in the west.
However, without the traditional evolution of thought, the microwave access to foreign ideas and customs has noticeably skipped important details that may have been included before. For example, apply to university here, you must apply and use
an unnecessarily confusing program on the internet. This may seem reasonable to most westerners but in a country where many of the middle/upper class does not have internet access at home…it’s a bit absurd. Not to mention the lower class citizens who certainly don’t have access to computers. When questioned about this policy university and government officials suggest internet cafes. Ridiculous amounts of traffic that are a result of poor roads, faulty rules, and corrupt police don’t always make it easy to travel to places like internet cafes and it certainly isn’t cheap. Nevertheless…the idea is that “Ghana is moving forward” and like the west, it’s citizens must adapt and learn the new technological ways. Sounds great in theory…but therein the details lie the problems. We say that basic education is a basic human right…but we must seriously look at access and the confines of each culture before broad policy is made.
Momentum is absolutely necessary in this age of globalization where if changes aren’t made you get left behind…but it is my sincere hope that as movement is being made in the name of “progress” important details aren’t ignored and that citizens here in Ghana aren’t left behind.
This journey of working in Ghana, can easily be described as one of the most frustrating experiences in my academic career only topped by that of a wretched physics course. It is also easily described as my most gratifying experience. After a loooooonngg and extensive series of pounding, I am happy to say that I have completed my data collection. We were able to complete over 250 interviews in about 2 months in the Dangbe West and Atwima Nwbiagya districts. The women were so incredibly eager and welcoming. Despite not getting any money or obvious benefit they were more than happy to answer the questions, and we often administered additional questionnaires because they requested it.
Many of the women were shocked we were asking questions about their emotions, given they had never been asked about such things before. In a country of exaggerated gender roles (as compared to the US) I was surprised that many men asked why they also were not included in the study, because they too “had problems”. In the 14 villages I went to, only 2 women refused to answer the questions. I left every day inspired and motivated to do more. In some villages they gave us soda or plantains to thank us for the work we were doing. I was truly humbled every time this happened because it was I who was indebted to them for the time I took away from their days.
The fieldwork component of our thesis is absolutely necessary because it reminds us of how important global health is, teaches us the reality of the communities that we study, and places our own world into context. I know that I cannot go back to the States looking at the world and development issues the same. This indispensable experience has helped me to solidify my career plan in the field. My grandmother told me after my first day in the field in Kumasi, after seeing me off at 5 am and welcoming me back at 5 pm, that the work I was doing was far from easy but I must love it or else I wouldn’t do it with a smile. She was absolutely right. I am passionate about research, global health, and mental health. Though the days were exhausting in the field and the days leading to the field left me in frustrated web of emotion…I know without a shadow of doubt that it was worth it. If the only thing the women in my study ever get is relief from talking about how they’ve been feeling then I know they will be content. However, I also know that, this is just the beginning and hopefully I will be able to do more for the communities here in Ghana. I will leave Ghana in a month and a half committed, dedicated, and evermore inspired to do more.
You’ve gotta believe in something…
My supervisor here asked me about a month ago why I chose global health and went on to ask me why I chose Ghana. The question was rather unexpected and left me momentarily without a response. However, after a few minutes of reflection I began to try and answer the first question.
In all of my personal statements, I always write about how I saw a [likely] schizophrenic patient walking around naked and disheveled through a market street. I had no idea that 5 minute experience would shape my future passions. Growing up I lived a life of privilege and comfort compared to the populations I’m working with now…I always knew that I wanted to work with people…I was just unsure of the avenue in which I would reach them.
Traveling internationally with school groups and family certainly sparked an interest in rich cultures..though, globetrotting through Europe is a far cry from the village life I seem to be drawn to now. So when my supervisor asked me why global health, I could only respond by simply saying that I believed in the potential of the field, the communities, and the work that was being done. I told her there was a clear health disparity worldwide, one in which too many people ignored. I felt that given my resources I was simply someone who chose not to ignore it.
Chuckling, likely at my earnest over-eager passion, she then asked me why I chose Ghana. This question, though a bit more commonly asked, is one that I still don’t know how to answer. Sure, my family is Ghanaian…but my research interest does end there. I began my MSc program intent on coming to Ghana. I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn about and help “my people.” Interestingly enough, since having arrived…many Ghanaians have made it very clear that I am American first…and then Ghanaian. My culture is so incredibly multifaceted that I cannot even begin to try and understand all of the idioms, history, anecdotes, parables and proverbs, or other cultural practices. Though I am thankful for the opportunity to learn more about my culture I chose Ghana for more reasons than culture. Ghana has been a leader in Africa since it’s reign under the Ashanti Kingdom and eons of years later, it serves as a role model within the continent economically, politically, and socially. The same way that I believe in Global Health, I believe in Ghana. There is so much potential in this great land…so many brilliant minds, so many resoures, and so much hope. Ghana has momentum and I can’t help but feel that it is on the brink of greatness. Maybe it’s blind patriotism…maybe familial pride…I’m not sure…but I do know that I’m willing to stick it out, see, and more importantly, work towards a better tomorrow for Ghana.
I’m officially half way through my study. I was absolutely shocked to see the amount of women who were willing to volunteer 30 minutes of their time to answer my questions though they weren’t receiving any immediate benefit or compensation. At some sites we had to turn women away. I knew that they committed to helping because they believed in what we were doing, they believed in research, and they believed that it had the potential to bring a better tomorrow for the communities. This past month, I’ve felt like I was doing exactly what I was intended to do on this earth…and it’s an incredible feeling. As I prepare to go to the next district I am holding onto my renewed inspiration and remember that through it all…the struggle and frustration the momentum will continue to push us forward.
***the title for this post was taken from Frank Ocean’s “We All Try”***
I’m a lover of languages…and oft think that things just sound better in a language different than my own. So when it came time to name my new travel blog…I started to think in my favorite language: Spanish.
Ojos Abiertos means: open eyes. my goal during my time in Ghana is to come with open eyes and allow my perspective of my country, the world, and my place in both to grow as well.