Blog #3-Holidays and Humility

Hello blogosphere! It’s been a whirlwind of holidays in Ghana. Wednesday July 6 was Eid, and I found it interesting that all people, regardless of religious affiliation, have the day off. A big difference between America and Ghana I feel is the deeper respect for religion. I wish America would take a grander notice to Muslim holidays, as Muslims represent a significant portion of the American population. On Monday was the fourth of July. Six out of seven of MHIRT Ghana participants trekked to Bojo Beach, about 45 minutes away. Since it was an American holiday, the beach was relatively empty so we pretty much had it all to ourselves (which was a wonderful surprise). When we first arrived at the resort, there was a small boat that we could enter which would take us across a body of water to the ocean shore. We stayed for a good four hours and soaked up the sun. It was extremely peaceful being there. I felt that with each ebb and flow of the ocean a deeper connection to the world around me. I went and stood by the ocean a couple of times and allowed the cool water to wash over my slightly scalding skin. It’s hard not to feel like a little kid when doing that. As corny as it sounds, the Lee Ann Womack song “I Hope You Dance” comes to mind, in particular the lyric that says “I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean”. I honestly never knew what she meant in that lyric each time I heard that song (as I am not an avid beach goer), but now I finally get it. On Friday, July 1, was Republic Day—a national holiday in Ghana. The weather was beautiful and there was a sense of relaxation and joy in the air.

Due to all of the holiday blitz over the past few days, we did not have to come in for work every single day. Last week, our data collection seemed to be picking up in terms of getting more participants, especially at GAEC clinic. At Taifa, we were able to get an additional translator—Nancy, Mavis’ friend—to help. I stayed at Taifa with Nancy while Izabella and Mavis were at GAEC. Fortunately, they were able to get a good number of women at GAEC to take the surveys, but it was painfully slow at Taifa. Nancy even suggested that we look into an additional clinic to collect data from. While that may be a good idea, it would be hard for Izabella and I to split our time if it is just the two of us but three clinics. I have high hopes that we will be able to get a sample size of at least 100, even though 200 was our target number. At first, even the 100 was looking bleak. We imported data much of yesterday and today, and are up to over 60 participants. We’ve got about 3 weeks left!

Oftentimes I wish our survey was more qualitative in nature instead of box-checking and scales. However, every once in a while I am privileged to hear a woman expand on a particular section of the survey or even state her opinion on the work we are doing in general. There was a woman in particular who really challenged me one day, and her frustration was honest and heartbreaking. As I introduced myself to her and the purpose of the survey as I asked her if she was willing to take the survey, she asked me what we plan to do with the data. She asked because according to her, there are many researchers coming through and administering surveys but no concrete changes are being made. She was fed up and I honestly couldn’t blame her. If I was in her shoes, I would always be worried about exploitation if I repeatedly never saw any improvements to the healthcare system. I told her that while it’s for a project, the greater hope is that the findings can be used to enact policy change to improve the quality of care women receive in facilities when giving birth. Of course, seeing as I am an undergraduate research assistant, I have very minimal power over what will ultimately be done with the findings, but I genuinely hope and believe it is for the greater good and to help women in sub-Saharan Africa. I appreciated that she voiced her concerns to me, and I wondered how many other women feel the same way but don’t know how to say it because they don’t want to question any sort of institution, or even feel hopeless. I don’t know, but I appreciate when people speak up and voice their discontent, even if it’s to an undergrad who can’t really do much except listen and sympathize and do what she can to make some sort of change.

As me and this particular woman continued to the portion of the survey where we discuss their thoughts, feelings, and anxieties towards their current pregnancies, she said another thing that challenged me deeply. As I was explaining the section she said, amidst a visible frustration, “In Africa, we don’t really have time to worry about feelings. Can you imagine how difficult it is to have a graduate degree and not have a job and not being able to provide for our families? And the government doesn’t have any single system in place to help women in this situation, not even for something as basic as diapers. I don’t have time to think about this, please can we skip it?” Despite feeling grateful that she felt comfortable enough to be frank with me, I couldn’t help but share her frustration in the small way I could. In America, though it is nowhere near perfect, there are many “nets” to catch people who have fallen on hard times. According to the woman I spoke to, such support systems are nonexistent, leaving people (especially mothers and children) extremely vulnerable. I couldn’t blame her for being annoyed by the groups of researchers continuously coming around when there hasn’t been any visible change. It’s as if some researchers can think they are doing a good deed and go home with a good feeling that they are “making a difference in the world” while no change has actually been made. Maybe it’s naïve of me, but I really do hope that this research is able to do something for mothers—that it can improve their delivery experiences. At the end of the day, public health workers do the research and it is up to policy makers to implement a change. The community must be shown that it is valued, and I hope that changes in a positive direction can really happen to show that. It makes me wonder: how many people are that fed up but don’t know how to even express it or don’t feel like they are able to?

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