Taking vital signs

Cape Coast, Ghana

Written by Rachel Mowery and Jennifer Meija, 2015 Ghana: Global Health

Waves crash on the sandy shores and the air has a familiar whiff of salt and suntan lotion. This is where our week began, at the coast where eyes marvel at the immensity of the ocean. Cape Coast is a city with a layered history which can be seen today in its structures such as Cape Coast University – one of the leading learning institutions in Ghana; the slave castle – a cultural monument whose presence speaks to the legacies of oppression that communities still face worldwide; and the town itself – developed as the prior capital of the country, now a spot for the fishing trade and foreign tourists.

It’s hard to digest how such a beautiful site can also contain a painful past. Yet local organizations are working to build a better future for its residents through improving their quality of life. This city has been gifted with people who desire to counteract the issues of health through various projects that focus on providing access to primary care, nutrition, education, income generation, and physical activities for youth.

Nkwa Foundation is an NGO that considers community development its top priority. They work to support the livelihoods of communities by planting sustainable crops like peppers and carrots, as well as by promoting health through outreach which educates residents about the prevention and treatment of prevalent diseases like malaria and cholera. During the outreach sessions blood pressure and weight is also collected, and counseling sessions are held by community health nurses like Victor, who came with us this week. One of the outreach sessions we participated in took place at a nearby school. We taught students about proper hand-washing and body hygiene through a song we learned in Fante, the local language of the area.

Measuring blood pressure

Hoops Care International is the second organization we partnered with this week and they started by reaching out to the children of Cape Coast through sports. With time their approach has expanded to working with schools in the area and communities near the center of town such as Amanful. It offers after school sports programs to anyone who desires to join and, during the earlier part of the day, it provides health, hygiene, and dietary talks in schools and in the communities. During the week in which we collaborated with Hoops Care we also had the chance to do screening and measure peoples’ blood pressure. Their work extends beyond what can be seen in a week and written about; this organization is a true factor of change for the people it has linked arms with.

While we did not expect to transform a community in one week, we did learn how NGOs operate on the ground and have gained a greater awareness of the specific health concerns Ghanaians face. Our week was brought further excitement as Kobi, a friend of the program leaders, surprised us by preparing a traditional Ghanaian dinner for us on the beach that we ate by candlelight. After dinner a massive bonfire was lit and a cultural performance with traditional drumming and dancing was done on the sand by a local group. At one point we all gathered in a circle and one by one we danced to the rhythm of the drums with the moves they showed us. We ended the week by making a huge dinner for all the partners we worked with during the week and the friends we had made. It is with ease and a smile on our face that many of us can claim Cape Coast as our favorite part of the trip so far.

A dance at the end of the week