(EDITOR’S NOTE: Sam Wheeler, staff writer for the Bethel Citizen, wrote the following blog while on a trip to Africa in May.)

In late February, I got invited on an eight-day service trip to Ghana, Africa, by a group of close friends. The primary goal of the trip was to conduct malaria tests at the Rabito Clinic, a small healthcare facility in the city of Koforidua, which is located in Southern Ghana.

After thinking about it for all of 10 seconds, I said “yes.” I kept telling myself that going to Africa is a once in a lifetime opportunity, something I could never pass up. After staying there for over a week, it’s safe to say it’s the best place I’ve traveled to in my life.

After dealing with nearly a day of layovers and plane rides, we reached the Oyinka Hotel in Koforidua on the evening of Tuesday, May 22. The hotel proved to be more than accommodating and made for a great place to stay throughout our visit.

After a night of adjusting to the intense humidity, I forced myself out of bed for the sunrise at 5:15 a.m. My friends and I found a good spot near the hotel to sit and wait. After 20 minutes, orange and yellow colors meshed in the sky over the mountains, creating an incredible picture and ridding me of the yawns I had awoken with.

At 7 a.m. we left for the clinic, which was a two-mile walk from the hotel. The streets appeared overwhelming at first with handcrafted fabrics and tools dangled from many of the shops, while the aroma of cooked food filled the air around us.

Cars zig-zagged their way through traffic, avoiding the many people who walked on each side of the street. The heavy vehicle and foot traffic had the entire group on alert our first day. However, by our last, we had mastered the art of navigating the busy streets.

After a 45-minute walk, we reached the clinic. It was located in the more populated part of the city. Inside the clinic there were a few different stations, all laid out for the work that was ahead of us.

What grabbed my attention most was this DJ who was playing music in the back. He played mostly African music but mixed in a few American songs to make us feel at home. I had the chance to talk to him a few times throughout my four days working there. He’s one of the many friends I made, and we’re still staying in touch via Facebook.

We worked a total of four days at the clinic, but honestly, none of it felt like work to me. I helped out at two different stations. I spent the first two days at the check-in desk, writing down patients names and date of births. Many of the patients had some of the coolest names I had ever heard, and although some were a challenge to spell, I had their pronunciations down after a little help.

My second task consisted of taking vital signs. I was hesitant at first, only because it involved taking blood pressure, something I had never done. But I had to learn at some point, right?

Sam Wheeler takes the blood pressure of a patient in Ghana.

One of the nurses walked me through it step by step, with my hands shaking through it all. I overthought the process without a doubt. It did not take me long to get into a groove, and I ended up spending the bulk of my time taking vitals. The best part of vitals were all the connections I made with the patients.

Even though these interactions lasted only a minute or two, it meant so much to them. Many of the people being treated had never had their vitals taken, or been to any sort of healthcare facility in general.

Getting hugged, high fived, or receiving a simple “thank you,” from each patient after they were done being tested gave me an indescribable feeling, and I assume many of my friends would concur.

Regardless if they tested positive or negative, a difference was being made, and getting them this help will hopefully lead to a healthier life in the future. At the conclusion of our four days at the clinic, we tested over 650 people.

My favorite moment on the trip came when the children showed up. They would come in small groups after school got out, and it’s safe to say their presence affected all of us. Talk about good dancers, they embarrassed my friends and me in a hurry, but one of us demonstrated the “worm” to them, so at least we had that going.

What I learned from the children was that it didn’t take too much to make them happy. All they wanted to do was laugh and dance, and they were good at both.

Our off days consisted of making a day trip to Accra, the capital of Ghana. In Accra, we shopped at a few markets in search for souvenirs. We haggled for each item we wanted, and with some work, were able to agree upon a fair price.

Another day we attended a church service and were applauded by all its members for our work at the clinic. We also surprised the head of the clinic, who wasn’t expecting us to be there. She could hardly contain her excitement when she first saw us. The rest of our free time was spent relaxing and indulging in the hotel restaurant and bar.

Being immersed in a completely different culture than the one I was accustomed to made for the best trip of my life and bettered me as a person. Being in a country deprived of the many privileges I was used to gave me a greater sense of appreciation for what I had back home.

Sam Wheeler

Regardless of the circumstances that surrounded me, Ghana was an amazing place. The welcoming people I met on nearly every street, along with the connections I made with people at the hotel and clinic, will stay with me for a long time.

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