There's a symbiotic relationship between Stouffville and the northern region of Ghana that many people may be unaware of.
For the past five years, health care professionals, mostly from Stouffville and Uxbridge, have provided medical care to this impoverished area for two weeks a year, while the Ghanians provide the visiting team with gifts of food, warmth, gratitude and blessings.
It all started about thirty years ago when a young man from Ghana, now knowns as Dr. David Mensah, got a summer job at the Paisley farm in Stouffville to support himself while he studied at Tyndale University and later U of T. He had nothing more than a few pennies in his pocket, a bible in his hands and a spirit made of steel.
During his stay he married Mr. Paisley's daughter, Brenda, and they had three beautiful daughters. The family left for northern Ghana to care for the poorest of the poor through an organization called Northern Empowerment Association (NEA), which Dr Mensah and a group of students started before he left for Canada.
NEA is a Ghanian Christian development organization that works along Ghana's poor to alleviate poverty and transform communities, and its Canadian counterpart is Ghana Rural Integrated Development (GRID).
After starting several successful antipoverty programs in Ghana, Dr. Mensah explained the tremendous health care needs of his people to Dr. Jennifer Wilson from Uxbridge during one of his return visits to Stouffville.
There are only 17 doctors for the 2.5 million people living in this region as apposed to 5,075 doctors for the same number of Canadians. Many of Northern Ghana's district hospitals have no doctor at all. There is only one optometrist and no dentist. The problem is compounded by the shortage of pharmaceuticals and medical supplies. In addition, most individuals cannot afford the $7 annual fee for health insurance.
Dr. Wilson responded to the call in 2001 by organizing the first team of 24 courageous health care professionals. Since then the team has grown to 48, including a surgical team from Operation Hernia based in the UK.
I participated on the team in November 2011 by serving as a registered nurse alongside fellow Stouffville residents Dr. Sarah Barclay, Dr, Martin McDowell and Mary Lovatt. The mandate of the Ghana Health Team is to follow Jesus' command to visit the sick and provide medical care until Northern Ghana can supply its own sustainable health care.
Our mobile medical team, including the 100 Ghanian volunteers, provided medical, surgical, dental and eye care to 10,000 people during our exhausting but highly-rewarding two weeks. Our family physicians and paediatricians prescribed the necessary medications and treatments and our well-stocked pharmacy dispensed the meds, while our nurses cleaned wounds, started IV's and provided health care education.
The hernia team performed 288 procedures, restoring men and women to health, their jobs and their lives. Our eye team provided sight to the blind and partially blind by giving them glasses and medications. Our dental team alleviated much pain and agony and may have even saves some lives.
It is amazing how much good was accomplished in just over two weeks. Although the people who came through our clinics were transformed by our assistance, I believe were were transformed by them as well. We were inspired by the children who were happy and well-behaved, delighting in simple things like and empty water bottle to play with.
They rarely begged, always returned my sunglasses to me after playingw with them--even though sunglasses are a rare and treasured commodity--and were eager to assist us by carrying our bags and medical supplies. Although the people of Northern Ghana were very poor, they were generous in their gifts of food, dancing and blessings. One tribe even gave each team member a wooden spoon carving. Ghana and the lovely Ghanian people will always hold a warm place in our hearts.
Those interested in participating in future trips can visit www.grid-nea.org to full out an application. The team normally provides health care in November, but with an election in Ghana in late 2012, it was decided to move the date of the next visit in April to 2013.
We welcome donations to this worthy cause. Every dollar donated to GRID is matched by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA).
Glenda Dekkema-de Vries is a freelance writing living in Stouffville. She attends the Community Mennonite Church at Parkview Village www.cmchurch.ca.