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In July 2016 I decided to do some voluntary work in Ghana, Africa, at a hospital up in the picturesque mountains of Kwahu. My experience was incredibly humbling. As soon as I'd stepped out of the rickety taxi I'd taken from the airport to my new home for six weeks, I fell in love. In love with the school children playing shoeless in the dirt, the chickens and cows running freely around the town and the colourful stalls selling anything from bananas to banku.
My placement was at a hospital nearby which was home to four doctors who looked after hundreds of patients, working 24 hours a day, seven days a week. I was of course anticipating working in a tough environment, but nothing could prepare me for the devastation and misery that I would soon encounter. I will never forget the day I shadowed the doctor on a ward round when he had to tell a young girl she had kidney failure. She had tried to bleach her skin white. I was there when he dealt the crushing blow that she would need to travel to the capital, Accra, for dialysis. She replied, "I don't have the cash," and simply rolled over to face the other way. I was heartbroken. I couldn’t believe they were going to let this girl die because she did not have the money. But I soon came to realise that this was reality here.
I am still unable to part with the scarring mental image of a seemingly endless line of girls waiting for an abortion. They would have to pay 50 cedis (10 pounds) and the doctor would surgically terminate the pregnancy. No questions asked. Contraception is frowned upon here, and on the rare occasion it is used, a total lack of education means it is often used poorly. Looking at their vacant, accepting expressions, at times I felt I could see right into the souls of these girls. I wondered how many of them were old enough to appreciate what actually happens in theatre. The girls are flung onto the beds and off again like rag dolls. It tore me apart to witness all this. It's not their fault. Education simply does not bare the same relevance here.
Yet despite all this tragedy unfolding before me on a daily basis, just a minute’s drive up the mountain in a quaint shanty town, was an atmosphere so unbelievably in contrast with that of the hospital. Every night the village would come alive with music, drinking, and some amazing dancing skills! Laughter fills the air, showering hope upon everyone who chooses to embrace it. The beat of the drums summons anyone who hadn't already to join in. Cars are drowned in the sheer volume of people spilling into the streets.
These people have nothing compared to all the material things we ‘enjoy’ in the UK. But there is one thing they do have: happiness. A word whose meaning I am now truly familiar with.