Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ghana 2013 Planning Trip- Mission Accomplished!

Thanks to a timely and generous grant from the VCU Global Education Office, I just returned from a 2-week trip to my favorite country of Ghana. The purpose of this trip was to establish or (in many cases) re-establish in-country relationships, identify opportunities for our VCU OT students to complete study-abroad courses, and train a cadre of faculty to lead and co-lead the course in subsequent years. In addition to myself the participants include Dr. Shelly Lane (VCU Professor of Occupational Therapy), Dr. Richard Thorton (Physical Therapist and Adjunct Professor of Occupational Therapy), Dr. Carole Ivey (VCU Assistant Professor of Occupational Therapy), Dr. Jodi Teitelman (Psychologist, Associate Professor of Occupational Therapy), and Kacie Hopkins (VCU OT Alum, Children’s Hospital of Richmond).

Our group at Children's Home of Hope, Cape Coast
In the two weeks we spent in Ghana we visited five centers which were classified as children’s homes, orphanages, or foster homes; these included Osu Children’s home (Accra Region), Nyame Dua foster homes (Teshie, Accra Region), Children’s Home of Hope (Cape Coast), and Eugemot Orphanage (Hohoe, Volta Region). We also visited two schools for children with special needs: The New Horizons School (Accra) and the Gbi School for children with intellectual disabilities (Hohoe). As part of our ongoing work with Sovereign Global Mission we also spent time at the CMB program for “street children” and at the Grace International School in the Adoteiman community.

Kacie, Shelly, Rev. Eric Annan, and me at Grace International School

While our goal was to set up future sites for our students, we also tried to contribute to these centers as much as possible. In addition to bringing donations (in the form of shoes, book bags, school supplies, and medical supplies), we also conducted developmental screenings on children living in the homes/orphanages and provided consultation on positioning, feeding, behavior, and IEP goal writing for staff at some of the schools. The screenings are something we can hope to continue in the future since they can be useful for teachers, caregivers and potential adoptive parents. While most of the children that we screened fell into “average” range, some were identified as “below average” and we were able to make recommendations for those children on site. There was also a clear need for in-services to teachers and caregivers on topics like ergonomics, seating and positioning (e.g. for tasks like feeding or writing), wheel chair repair/configuration, safe transfer techniques for families and caregivers, goal writing and monitoring in special schools, and development of fine motor and problem solving skills for children who do not have opportunities for manipulative play.

Shelly and Kacie evaluating Master Kofi in Teshie
Rick and his new friend at New Horizon School

As is usually the case in Ghana, the children that we saw were warm, loving, and hopeful despite often coming from or living in disadvantaged situations. Places like Eugemot Orphanage always feel to me like one big family with everyone looking out for each other; it’s like coming home for me in many ways. And as I have been able to see firsthand at Eugemot, orphaned children that have been raised with this type of love and support are capable of growing into successful young men and women who contribute back to the orphanage and the community. Similarly, children who have more obvious physical and intellectual disabilities are well supported at places like the New Horizon School in Accra, where the staff maintains an ongoing commitment to excellence in teaching and rehabilitation. While some of the children there may never be able to fully integrate into regular community life in Accra, they are able to spend their days being productive, learning a trade, earning money and being surrounded by friends and caring staff.

Children at Eugemot looking at themselves on Jodi's Camera
Young adult seamstress at New Horizon School

This was an amazing trip and I am so thankful to the Global Education Office (GEO) for this opportunity. I am more excited than ever to show Ghana to our occupational therapy students next year. In addition to the GEO, I would like to acknowledge our Ghanaian friends who helped coordinate this trip and invited us into their homes and schools: Rev. Eric Annan and Felecia Annan of Sovereign Global Mission, Joha, Paul, Muna, and Joe of Eban Project, Mama Eugenia Kahu of Eugemot Orphanage, Vanessa and Jocelyn at New Horizon School, and the best Ghanaian driver ever Vincent. We look forward to seeing you all next May!