Critical Lessons in Ghana: A Postcard from the Motherland
By Lauren Bryant, Brittney Goodman and Valencia Perry
Four graduate students (including the three of us) in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, John H. Johnson School of Communications, embarked on a humanitarian journey to the West African nation of Ghana. In collaboration with a delegation from Columbia University Teacher’s College, our professor, Kay T. Payne, Ph.D., afforded us the opportunity to gain clinical experience while increasing our appreciation for the cultural richness of the motherland.
In Accra, we worked intensely with the speech-language pathologist at Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. A life-changing experience was meeting a young girl, Augusta, who had a congenital bilateral sensorineural hearing loss. We were moved to tears when we found out that her family could not afford a hearing aid. But we were soon hit with the reality that if she were to get a hearing aid, it would be difficult to replace the batteries or get the hearing aid repaired.
We discovered that Augusta communicated using signs that her family created. We learned that our conventional ways, which are often technology oriented and costly, are not a reality in most parts of the world. Moreover, our ways could do more harm than good. Although we thought we were her only hope, we came to understand that Augusta already possessed hope; and most importantly, she was happy.
In Kumasi, we worked with the ENT [ear, nose and throat] specialist with cleft-palate patients at Komfo Anokye Hospital. Nothing had prepared us for what we saw. As we held the children in our arms, we sensed what the mothers felt—the pain of having a child with a disability and the wonder of simple surgery. We watched parents who had spent hours walking to our clinic weep openly, and walk away with smiling eyes.
In Garden City and Effiduase, we made a special connection with Kofi. His amazing story touched each of us in a different way. He went from begging on the street to finding a way to go to school every morning. In many villages, children with disabilities are left in the woods to die. So changing the cultural views and educating others became our mission. We saw the changes everywhere we went, which was the greatest feeling of all.
We provided children with low-tech communication aids, then took them to the market to apply what they learned. It was amazing to see the transformation of the vendors who were first annoyed because they believed the children would not be able to ask for what they wanted. But when they realized the children’s abilities, they became eager to help, engaging in conversation and even helping them learn. At the end of each day, we reflected on how our education at Howard provided us with cultural sensitivity and, more importantly, common sense.
Not all of our time was spent with clients. We attended classes, conducted tours of the amazing attractions such as the old slave castles and shopped for memorabilia and kente cloth. We were even able to pick up a few words in the native dialect, Twi, including “Afehyia pa,” which is “Happy New Year,” and “Akwaaba,” which means “Welcome.”
We will never forget the lessons learned in Ghana. The people were amazing, and the experiences both heart-wrenching and rewarding. Realizing that we made a difference in the lives of people—our people—halfway around the world is a priceless education.