It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago, the nine awesome young women that make up the West Africa Discovery team, were just landing in Accra, unsure of what kind of adventure they were in for. Now they are in the thick of it all; with stronger muscles and glowing dirt tans, they are looking and feeling more like locals and have definitely caught the “I love Ghana” bug. The journey began in Cape Coast, where the ladies got a hands-on history lesson by revisiting the memories of the trans-Atlantic slave trade at both Elmina and Cape Coast Castles. Through group discussions by the beach and under the stars, the group explored the role Ghana played in  shaping Western society as we know it today. The group bonded above the rainforest at Kakum National Park, which made the squishy tro ride back to Accra that much more fun.

Cape Coast Looking out at Cape Coast Castle from Elmina castle

Back in Accra, the group got the opportunity to visit Old Fadama: Ghana’s largest illegal settlement. Over 80, 000 people, mainly from the regions of the North, have established a community there. But twenty years later, they are still not recognized by their government, face possible eviction, and are denied access to crucial human rights: proper sanitation, education and health care. By helping a graduate student conduct surveys of the members of the community, they were able to ask questions about what life is like for the women of Old Fadama, why they still continue to live there, and what they hope for the future. Hearing the stories and struggles of community members unleashed an array of emotions and feelings of powerlessness. However, the group learned the importance of uniting community spirit and that Old Fadama would not be forgotten even as the group continued eastward to the Volta Region. After a three hour climb up a lush, green mountain side, the group arrived, sweaty and out of breath, to the village of Wlitodzi, working with an eco tourism group called Rise Up Ghana. Wide-eyed and all smiles, they spent the next three days immersed in mountain village life. Wlitodzi is not accessible by road, and lacks a health clinic and enough teachers. The group learned to plant and pick cassava, and tried fufu for the first time. They visited the primary and junior high schools and helped the students with homework and learned new games and songs.

The team gearing up to plant cassava in Wlitodzi The team gearing up to plant cassava in Wlitodzi

Hola from Iquitos! After traveling up Peru for several days via a grueling 30 hour bus ride, a quick sleep in an eyebrow raising hostel in the bustling town of Yurimaguas, and an endlessly surreal 3-day ferry ride, we have finally arrived in the jungle city of Iquitos! We have had a few days of settling into our routine, cooking delicious meals, exploring the fascinating city by 3-wheel motorcycle taxis and preparing for our major volunteer projects. The weekend ferry ride up the Amazon was peaceful and relaxing with hammock lounging, clusters of diamond stars, and beautiful green scenery. But of course, we faced a few challenges, such as cold winds at night, questionable boat food, rain that soaked everything, and adjusting to the whole no shower thing.  However, tried and true backpackers that we are, we prevailed through it all and arrived in Iquitos pumped for the next phase of our adventure! Our time volunteering with the people of Pampachica has only just begun, and we can already tell that the experience--though long, muddy, sweaty days are ahead--is going to be impactful and mutually rewarding. In this community just on the outskirts of Iquitos, we will be working with Kallpa Iquitos, a local NGO working on a healthy living campaign for the nine small towns there.

Walking into the town of Villa Primero de Mayo on the first day. Walking into the town of Villa Primero de Mayo on the first day.

Volunteers and townspeople alike join together to tear down boards, pick up trash, and slick through the mud in order to work towards our goal of building a sustainable wall to help improve sanitary conditions for the community. Serving as a drainage trench for the entire area which completely flooded this past rainy season, a ditch of water packed with polluted trash and contaminated water runs through the middle of a town called Villa Primero de Mayo. In order to create a healthier, more livable environment, we are making the ditch deeper and implementing the envisioned wall to eradicate the damage done when flooding occurs.  Communication is limited for a lot of us due to a fairly significant language barrier, but that’s no problem, especially as the children are concerned...they couldn’t be happier to connect with us all!

Six weeks have come and gone and our early summer Global Health trip to West Africa is over! Our trip took us through some of Ghana's busiest city streets, its vast and beautiful mountains and forests, the red-earth and clay roads of the north, and along its breathtaking coast. Along the way we made great friends and got to learn about  the lifestyle, culture, food, drink, dance, and everything in between. Our work and volunteer placements ranged from the surgical theater at the National Cardiothoracic Center in Accra to the makeshift football pitch at Horizon Children's Centre (HCC) in the Upper East Region. During our independent travel time, we each managed to travel from the northern-most region to the western gold coast. Some of us saw the expansive Mole National Park on the way, while others chose to extend their volunteer placements in Kumasi and Accra. We all met in Princess Town - a dreamy fishing village in the western part of the coast - to have a few days of rest, relaxation, and a disorientation from the mind-boggling six week adventure that had just transpired.

Mole National Park, Ghana Mole National Park