Fall officially arrived on Saturday, but before I close the file on the summer adventure series, there’s one more column to include about an August trip to Africa that Rachel Holtmeier will never forget.
The two-week visit to Ghana was an awe-inspiring conclusion to Rachel’s nursing studies at Mizzou. Rachel, who hails from Washington, will graduate in December and is currently working with nursing professionals, “preceptors,” who supervise her hands-on experiences with patients. Rachel couldn’t be happier with Mizzou’s nursing program, which included the opportunity to take a university-sponsored health care trip.
Rachel returned to the United States on Aug. 19, and she’s still reeling from the experiences with the people of Ghana. She made the journey with a group of nine nursing students, plus her professor.
The group didn’t get off to a great start. At JFK in New York City, their jet remained on the ground for six hours. The passengers were forced to stay onboard while every issue imaginable arose.
By the time they arrived in Accra, Ghana’s capital city, it was quite late, and the students still had a three-hour drive to reach Cape Coast. That was the scariest part of entire trip.
Careening along at break-neck speed on a one-lane dirt road in the pitch-black was harrowing, “Like a Six Flags ride,” Rachel said. “It was a crazy beginning to a wonderful trip.”
The students stayed together in housing and then dispersed to villages where they’d initially meet with large groups, 50 or so, to explain what services they would offer the Ghanaians. The information was translated to the large groups, and in the various stations, where the students provided facts on HIV-AIDs, diabetes, hypertension, taught healthy meal planning and conducted blood glucose tests.
Even though a translator was always present, Rachel said it was challenging to communicate in English in simple terms that could be translated.
Many of the villagers’ blood pressure levels were “through the roof,” Rachel said. With no refrigeration, they coat their food with oil to preserve it. This could contribute to the high levels, as could poor food choices. Follow-up studies showed after receiving health care information the villagers’ blood pressure dropped. It was gratifying to know they were making a difference, Rachel said.
One of the first orders of business, once they reached a village, was meeting the chief. Introductions were always made right to left.
The Ghanaians are quite superstitious, Rachel said, citing the example of a blind man everyone avoided. His affliction resulted from pesticides, but the villagers believed he’d “been affected by a spirit.”
Though superstitious, the people are very religious and tolerant of one another’s beliefs, be they Catholic, Muslim or Buddhist, Rachel explained. “They also don’t believe in birth control at all. The women value being mothers, and so the birth rate is really high.”
To counteract this, education in family planning also was given.
Rachel went to Ghana intent on helping, and bringing home knowledge and life experiences. What she saw was a people with a “massive number of issues,” villagers whose beaches were strewn with trash, not because they are lazy, but because the country has no trash collection. She also observed a people who pride themselves on dressing well, yet live in poverty with no sanitation systems to drain away waste.
How best to help when the issues are so all encompassing? “Don’t give money or handouts,” Rachel said. Instead she learned the best way to offer lasting assistance is to “help the people sustain themselves.”
The trip to Ghana remains in the forefront of Rachel’s mind. She’s grateful, thankful to her family for helping finance the trip and to all who bought raffle tickets for a drawing that helped defer some of the cost for this life-changing journey.
Rachel hopes to continue giving back to all who have given her so much by being the best nurse possible, and perhaps in the future making another health care trip, perhaps this time to Honduras.
Rachel is the daughter of Joe and Margaret Holt- meier, Washington.