Ghana has a critical need for better eye care. People are suffering from preventable or curable eye conditions. As a Unite for Sight volunteer, I worked with other volunteers to assist Dr. Wanye, one of the only ophthalmologists in the north region of Ghana, with screening outreach programs throughout the Northern Region of Ghana. I arrived in Accra on July 1, 2008 around nine in the morning. Standing alone, gazing at the unfamiliar faces and scenery, I questioned what I had gotten myself into. We drove up the entire country on unpaved roads, stopping for only ten minutes to pick up bananas for lunch. When the van reached the outreach location, I was in awe. The scenery was beautiful, with acres and acres of grass. A closer look, however, revealed the burden of the families living there. They bore the burden of struggling to survive without running water or even clean water, the burden of a lack of resources, the burden of no proper health care. Kids were running around in dirt with raw cuts and scrapes. And even as the mosquitoes were feasting into their wounds, they seemed unfazed. At the community outreaches we screened mostly seniors who spoke very little to no English. The volunteers at the local eye clinic helped us pick up enough Dagbani, the local language, to conduct successful visual acuities. For most of the community members, it was their first time having their eyes checked. Many had already developed mature cataracts; a handful even had cataracts in both eyes. All patients who needed further assistance were referred to the eye clinic for treatment or surgery, with all costs covered by Unite For Sight. Transportation was provided for all patients of the community if necessary because some communities could be anywhere from thirty to seventy minutes from the clinic. For patients with vision problems, we supplied proper glasses at the outreach site. I enjoyed watching the smiles appear on patients' faces as they realized they could now read their pocket-sized Qurans without squinting and easily thread a needle to sew clothing for their families. On an average day of surgery, Dr. Wanye worked nonstop for six hours, seeing 10 patients and operating on 13 eyes with mature cataracts. The procedure itself was twenty minutes and involved using basic tools, many of which I was confident I could find in my medical pharmaceutical lab kit from high school. On one of the outreaches we encountered an eight-year-old girl who was blind. She had been born with bilateral cataracts. In the states, the cataracts would have been removed right after birth, never given the opportunity to mature. Dr. Wanye had to perform surgery for merely forty minutes to give the girl the gift of sight. Without the service and support of Unite For Sight volunteers thousands of Tamale Ghanaians would be suffering from preventable or curable eye conditions. In the mist of focusing on our personal lives and professional growth, we may forget about the concerns of the developing world. Living in the states, we have the resources to become aware and support those in need. Developing countries need the help of international volunteers. Through service, we can achieve short-term goals such as providing proper living conditions, healthy nourishment, and necessary health care. These goals must be met to ensure that people in developing countries have a fair chance at life. Therefore, service abroad is a commitment we must readily choose. My service abroad with Unite For Sight and commitment to the Tamale, Ghanaian people has proven that voluntary efforts play a crucial role in helping individuals. There has never been a better time to say, change is in our hands. The author is a Columbia College sophomore.
Columbia Spectator Staff