“I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.” – Rabindranath Tagore
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” – Mahatma Gandhi
My passion for service has been the driving force behind everything I have accomplished during the past three years. Service was the reason I came to Northeastern in the first place. I was given the opportunity to take part in the Civic Engagement Program, a group of students who give back to the Boston community in exchange for full-tuition scholarship. For my volunteer hours, I teach health education to Boston Public Schools and mentor inner-city youth. Service was also the reason I chose to study health sciences. I want to spend my life devoting time and effort to other people who need it to survive and live a happy, healthy life. Service has taken me across the globe – to New Orleans for Hurricane Katrina relief, to the Grand Canyon and Everglades National Parks for environmental conservation, to Belize for teaching and farming in a small village, and just recently to Ghana.
It’s not effective to simply send money and supplies to the African communities who are crying out for help. This is a quick fix – a Bandaid that won’t hold for too long. These communities need education, motivation, innovation, and enthusiasm. With the help of international co-op advisors and the financial support of Northeastern University, I was able to spend six weeks in Cape Coast working with Proworld, a nonprofit NGO that sends volunteers of different specialties to developing communities in hopes of building a sustainable foundation upon which the local people can continue to improve education, health care, small businesses, agriculture, and the environment. I worked three days a week in a health clinic and two days a week in a school for children with special needs. I lived with a small family that provided me with traditional meals, housing, and cultural exchange.
The health clinic was staffed by about 15 nurses and 1 physician assistant, poorly equipped and often lacked simple supplies like alcohol or wound dressings, and provided a wide range of care including maternal and infant health, general surgery, infectious disease control, trauma treatment, skin and wound care, etc. Another division of the clinic dealt with public health and traveled every day to rural communities or schools to provide health education, family planning, medical advice, and immunizations. I worked primarily with infant health which consisted of weighing newborns, checking vitals, administering vaccines and vitamins, and counseling mothers. I was also given the opportunity to educate and immunize school children with the public health nurses, shadow several surgeries, treat malaria patients, and work in the clinic’s laboratory testing blood samples. I quickly adjusted to the different medical procedures, insurance policies, and management techniques. I found that the two biggest contributions I could make, in addition to just being an extra set of desperately needed hands, were to be a constant display of productivity in order to increase work ethic among existing staff members and to offer organizational suggestions to make the clinic run more smoothly. Together, we were able to develop a plan to direct incoming patients to minimize wait time and optimize one-on-one care with the nurses. It truly felt like I made a sustainable difference, one that I could never have done without working with Proworld.
The school I worked at was one of the first of its kind. Physical and mental disabilities are still considered taboo in Ghana, and individuals born with these conditions are often kept in their homes and hidden from society. The school enrolled students ranging from 5 to 30 years of age with cerebral palsy, autism, Down syndrome, attention deficit disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and other mental disabilities. We taught the students self-care, communication techniques, music, physical activities, simple mathematics, and reading depending on each individual’s learning capacities. The school was only partially financially supported by the government so to make up for the rest of the expenses the students were taught how to make beaded jewelry and fabric bags to sell for profit to buy school supplies. Working with the students was incredibly rewarding. The school is constantly in need of volunteers to suggest new teaching methods and offer more one-on-one tutoring for the students. With the wide range of age and ability, it’s hard to educate the students in one classroom and many of them thrive with individual attention. Watching as students read their first few words, solved their first math problem, or learned to write their own name were experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything else.
Working in Ghana enriched me. The service work I did made a difference, a sustainable improvement that the community members could maintain even after my departure. The people I met showed me how to appreciate every part of life and never take anything for granted. The lessons I learned are unforgettable.
Lindsay Weigel, Health Science