It was back in first year that I decided I wanted to go away, just while I still could. I didn’t have any commitments other than to university, so I thought it was the perfect time to go before the rest of life got in the way.
And then when I was in second year my friend said that she wanted to do something similar, so we started planning it together. We absolutely couldn’t have done it by ourselves — Work the World just helped with everything. We had to book our flights ourselves, but even then the Work the World team helped us figure out where was best to travel from and how to avoid stopovers as we were still deep in the pandemic.
We went through the whole pre-departure preparation that the organisation does for you then it was off to Ghana. When I first landed my first thought was, “Wow, I’m here for 6 weeks!”
We were so excited, and then we met a member of the Work the World Ghana team at the airport. We travelled back to the house together, but because we arrived in the wee hours of the morning, we slept most of the way.
We went to visit our placement hospital for the first time on the Monday morning. It was very different. It was really busy, and there were patients just sat on the floor because there wasn’t room. I even saw a chicken roaming around!
But then over the course of the next few weeks we got more used to these things. I started paying more attention to the differences in how local midwives were practising. It mostly came across in how they delivered babies. They did a lot more episiotomies over there than we do in the UK, but they don’t use anaesthesia, so the women just have to grit their teeth and bear the pain.
If a woman made too much noise from pain, whether that was from an episiotomy, an examination or actually delivering a baby, the local midwives would firmly tell them to quieten down and sometimes even swat them with their hand. This was a totally different approach to what I was used to, but practises like this are all an accepted part of local culture so the labouring women didn’t think anything of it.
There was no real privacy for the women either. Doors were left open even during vaginal examinations with people walking past in the corridors. We didn’t go to any other departments, but from what our housemates told us this was common across the whole hospital.
The funny thing was that the women didn’t seem to mind. I think it was us who brought this idea with us and because it was done differently in Ghana it felt strange to us.
There was one delivery I was involved in. I had all the local PPE on — wellies, apron and a hair net — and one of the local midwives was doing the episiotomy. I’m a qualified midwife so I could have done it, but I chose not to as I wasn’t comfortable doing it without administering pain relief. The baby started coming down and as it did, the local midwife started to pull the baby out — something we would never do in the UK during a normal birth. The mum then delivered the placenta, but after that the midwife used her hand to remove the clots from the woman’s uterus. Again, with no pain relief. In the UK we would let these pass without any intervention.
Needless to say these were huge differences in practice when comparing things to the NHS.
Outside of the placement experience there was plenty of time for us to get to know our housemates and go travelling at the weekends. As I say, I travelled with my friend, but we met another girl at the airport who happened to be staying in our room for 5 of the 6 weeks we were there. We became really good friends, and she actually came to visit my other friend and I since we’ve been back in the UK.
There were some Dutch students in the house too. It was nice to learn about each other’s cultures and languages as well as the culture in Ghana.
Life in the Work the World house was great in general and we really loved the staff, they were lovely. They’d go out of their way to help with everything, from things like getting a top up for our local phones to ordering taxis. They were available to help out even when we were in the hospital on placement.
It was really reassuring to have them around because they were friendly faces that everyone in the house knew. You could always go to them.
We had a lot of fun during our weekends as well. One weekend we took a boat trip to a village on stilts and a beach resort called Maaha Beach, and that was really lovely. It was my birthday on one of the weekends and we went to Mole National Park.
On the way there we stopped off at this beautiful lake in a place called Kumasi, and then went to swim in some waterfalls and did a canopy walk. It was an incredible experience. We finally got to Mole and stayed in this beautiful luxury resort with an infinity pool that overlooks a wild elephant watering hole. I’ll never forget it.
We did so much while we were there.
If you’re hesitant about doing a trip like this or you have any apprehensions, don’t worry at all. Work the World helps with everything and they’re always there for you if you need them. If you’ve never travelled to somewhere like Ghana before they’re great because they prepare you for everything and they made it so easy. Everyone in the house will be great and you’ll make friends instantly. I enjoyed it so much that I’m going to go and do another placement!