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Jun 22 / Ashley Joseph

Cultural Awareness

A beautiful Cape Coast beach

How can we change the world without understanding it? As students seeking to impact the world that we live in, it is crucial that we become culturally aware. Cultural awareness brings open-mindedness and an eventual appreciation and understanding of the diversity in the world. I appreciate how much I learned about the rich Ghanaian culture on our trip and was happy to experience the warmth and love of the people we interacted with there.

In Choosing Civility, Forni discusses another rule of considerate conduct which is to “Respect others’ opinions”. He emphasizes the importance of being open-minded and tolerant of the diversity around us. This leads to a more harmonious and progressive society. We don’t always have to like whatever we encounter in another culture, but we have to learn how to respect it. For example, while in Ghana we had the opportunity to try variety of new foods. Most of the cuisine I had was excellent! However, there was one cultural dish that I wasn’t too fond of – fufu. This is a traditional dish made of tapioca that has a thick, pasty consistency and is usually eaten with a curry. Though I did not really like the dish, I respected the time and effort the hotel staff had taken to prepare the meal for us, so I ate as much as I could so as not to seem rude and ungrateful.

African culture is very unique and rich with tradition and history. On one of our recreation days, we had the chance to learn about and practice traditional African drumming and dancing. It was quite a fun experience! We were taught how to drum on a djembe drum by a master drummer. I loved learning the different rhythms and beats. We were also taught traditional dancing steps used in ceremonies. The steps were beautiful but difficult for me learn.

Learning traditional African drumming on the djembe from a master drummer

Learning more about Africa’s history of slavery was very thought-provoking and emotional. We visited an ancestral slave site where many slaves walked through before they were sold to masters or died from starvation and exhaustion. We also visited Elmina Castle, which was a site where slaves were held in mass numbers before being shipped to different countries. They were living in such harsh and intolerable conditions. Their dignity was stripped from them. It was heart-breaking to learn about the cruelty the people suffered at the hands of fellow human beings.

Ancestral Slave River Walk

Overall, the trip to Ghana was a very enlightening and rewarding journey. I am grateful for having the opportunity to learn about Ghanaian culture and contribute globally as well. I am happy that I experienced Ghana with such an amazing group of students and faculty, from whom I learned a lot.

Trip to Wli Waterfalls, Volta Region

Jun 22 / Ashley Joseph

African Religion and Healing

In Ghana, the healthcare practices and healing are quite different than what is experienced in the west. Especially in rural areas, there is a great emphasis on traditional methods of healing. The use of herbal medicine and the importance of Shamans as medicine men are examples. While in Ghana, we had the opportunity to visit the Africa First Medicinal Farm and a research facility in Kumasi. These excursions gave me valuable insight into alternative methods of healing and the healthcare aspect of Ghanaian culture.

In Medical Anthropology and the World System, Baer notes that all medical systems focus on alleviating disease and promoting health. In industrial societies, such as in North America, physicians tend to practice medicine without the influence of religion. The interaction of physician and patient is segregated and private. In Ghana, there are two different approaches to medicine and sometimes they both are consulted. In the larger cities, there tends to be a push towards western practices of medicine: large hospitals and western medications. In the rural areas, herbal medicine and religion play a large part in the healing process. Most Africans are proactive with health. Bear notes that tribal societies most often emphasize prevention rather than reaction to a disease. Though this medical system may be foreign to us, it does work to alleviate disease and promote the health of the Ghanaian people it serves. In Africa, many people think that religion and healing often work together to heal.

An example of the intermingling of religion and healing in African culture is with the Gorvodu. Vodu is a West African religious culture marked by spirit possession and trance. The According to Judy Rosenthal in Possession, Ecstasy, and Law in Ewe Voodoo, Gorvodu is a specific Vodu order found in Ghana that is fuelled by memories of slavery where the people believe in spirit possession. Out of this, arise law and a moral code. The Gorvodu strongly believe in the overlap of medicine and religion. They uphold the idea that African life is circular and that all aspects of it are embedded with each other. The medicine man plays a huge part not only in healing, but also in marriage, therapy, and law. Rosenthal herself had an experience with Gorvodu healing. She gives credit for the treatment of her daughter’s sickle-cell anemia to a Gorvodu member, whom she believes treated her daughter’s disease with greater efficacy than western medicine is capable of. She was treated with an indigenous leaf with strong medicinal power.

At the Africa First Medicinal Farm, we had the opportunity to observe many different plants and hear about their medicinal purposes. Many Africans strongly believe in their healing powers.  I had a horrible cough that would not go away, and one of the herbalists suggested that I try a root plant. I agreed, and started chewing. It had a very bitter taste but it did alleviate some of the irritation in my throat. I was shocked that a plant could have such potent healing powers! I had never tried herbal medicine in the past, but I’m glad to have experienced it because it opened my eyes to the many benefits of alternative methods of healing that Africans have known about for years.

Treating my cough with a root plant - it worked!


Herbalists at the Medicinal Farm show us a healing plant

In Choosing Civility, Forni notes that being inclusive can give one a sense of belonging. It is this idea of inclusivity that the Africans value, which is very evident in their practice of medicine. Religion and healing are not separated. The idea of therapeutic pluralism has strong meaning in African culture. It is the idea that healing is not the result of one action, but many actions and people working together.

Jun 22 / Ashley Joseph

Sustainable Development

Talking about substance abuse and saying "NO" to drugs

Ready to teach!


One of the most rewarding experiences I had in Ghana was teaching health education in different schools. I believe that we did indeed make a positive impact through that service. Sustainable development is development that meets present needs of a community as well as future needs. It is development and/or social projects that aid future generations. These projects don’t just provide immediate solutions. Education is a form of sustainable development because the gift of knowledge keeps giving. The idea is that once an individual learns something, they can apply it and also teach others. In this way, the idea or practice can spread and hopefully implant itself in the society.

Education is a vital tool in overcoming many of the social problems that Ghana faces. Issues such as malnutrition, sanitation, and sexually transmitted diseases can be easily addressed and alleviated if the citizens are armed with knowledge to be proactive rather than reactive. With the Health and Life Protection Foundation, our group would split off into teams that went to various schools throughout the Cape Coast region to education young minds about relevant health topics. Each day we would discuss a different topic to classes ranging in size and age group.

One of most beneficial topics we taught about was sexual health. There is a high instance of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies, and it is a growing problem in Ghana. People are often sexually active at a very young age, despite being quite uninformed and unaware of the consequences of their actions. We taught about different STDs, practicing safe sex, and treatment options with the students. We designed our lectures to be very interactive and hopefully impacting. Other than sexual health, we discussed sanitation, hygiene, and drugs. Overall, teaching was a very valuable experience and I enjoyed interacting with the Ghanaian children!

We also had the opportunity to volunteer a day in constructing a library for a school. This is a form of sustainable development because the library will contain resources that can educate the children. And since children are the future of the country, helping them succeed is vital to the progress of the country.

After a hard day's work of building a library!

Many foreign aid initiatives provide “band-aid” solutions. Though not negative, they are only temporary solutions and do little for the benefit of future generations. For example, volunteer groups can come into an impoverished area armed with vitamins, nutritional supplements, and food items to alleviate malnutrition. Despite this being a great immediate help, as soon as the donations are depleted and the volunteers leave, things will go back to the way they used to be. However, if those volunteers come prepared to teach the population about how to eat healthy and use the available resources to get a wholesome diet, the people will be prepared to help themselves.

Jun 22 / Ashley Joseph

Role of NGOs

While in Ghana volunteering, our group had the chance to work with two non-governmental organizations (NGOs). ProWorld is the NGO that organized various aspects of our trip including our project work and housing situations. ProWorld works to empower communities, promote social and economic development, conserve the environment, and cultivate educated compassionate global citizens. ProWorld introduced our group to a local NGO in Ghana, Health and Life Protection Foundation (HALP) which we would be volunteering with in various schools. HALP is youth oriented non- profit organization that seeks to sensitize and educate people on health issues and sanitation as important tools for socio-economic development. It was established by two Ghanaians, Emmanuel Nyarko Gyasi and Benjamin Kpoh.

WSU students and faculty standing outside the newly constructed HALP office

Being in a new country, it was very beneficial for our group to work with these NGOs as we were not very familiar with the country. NGOs are groups that pursue a social aim and operate independently from a government. Both ProWorld and HALP work to improve the overall wellbeing of Ghanaians, and I was encouraged and inspired by the impacts they have made in the community.

In Choosing Civility, P.M. Forni notes that one of the rules of considerate conduct is to “Pay Attention”. That is, we should constantly be aware of the needs of others and our potential ability to help. Many NGO’s do this: they see the needs of the suffering and work towards solutions. As global citizens, it should not take a devastating event like an earthquake or tsunami for us to take action towards addressing the needs of others. We shouldn’t be jolted out of a state of sedentary complacency by a dramatic experience. Forni asserts that without attention, no meaningful interaction is possible. And meaningful interactions are what we, as humans, strive for. Paying attention to the needs of others means that we cannot be indifferent and instead must practice empathy. Many NGOs also anticipate the future needs of suffering people. This is also an act of compassion and kindness.

Although many NGOs, such as ProWorld and HALP, are making lasting and positive impacts where they work, there are certain disadvantages of NGOs. One is the dependency that can be created on foreign aid and the ripple-effect of consequences. There is a wise proverb that says “If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. However, if you teach a man how to fish, he can eat for a lifetime”. This can also be applied to countries. Often times, NGOs distribute a great amount of donated goods to impoverished communities with the best of intentions – to alleviate suffering. These goods, whether it is food, clothing, or toys, usually come from foreign countries. With a steady stream of foreign aid, local farmers or manufacturers have no opportunity to grow as a small business. Since donations can be attained at minimal or even no cost, there is no incentive to buy anything locally. And the dependency on foreign aid continues. Despite the good intentions, NGOs may inadvertently create this cycle of dependency and poverty. That being said, this does not happen everywhere because many NGOs work with the native population to alleviate suffering through projects on sustainable development. Individuals who want to make a difference globally should still consider volunteering through reputable and compassionate NGOs.  Dr. Paul Farmer, a well-known humanitarian and physician established Partners In Health, a very active NGO that serves in different areas of the world. Tracy Kidder wrote Mountains Beyond Mountains, a book that details Dr. Farmer’s work and his impact on an underserved region in Haiti. Not only is the book a biography, it is a challenge: Helping the suffering people is possible. Paul Farmer is doing it. Why aren’t we? I am motivated by his challenge to get out into the world, see beyond my own circumstances, and contribute more globally. Our trip to Ghana has inspired me to pursue more international volunteering experiences.

Jun 22 / Ashley Joseph

Medical Anthropology

One of the focuses of our trip to Ghana was medical anthropology. We did not only want to have a rewarding volunteer experience, but also gain an appreciation and understanding of the rich Ghanaian culture, history, and medical practices. Anthropology is the study of people and includes an aspect of participant observation. It provides an understanding of human cultures, interactions, behaviours and history. A subset of this field is medical anthropology which, according to Baer et al. in Medical Anthropology and the World System, is the study of human health, disease and healthcare systems.

One of the reasons I love travelling is because I enjoy experiencing and learning about new cultures. Over the course of the trip, I learned a tremendous amount about the country of Ghana and its people. African culture in that region is rich in traditions. One of the areas I noticed this in was in their health care practices and use of medicine. Medical anthropology is holistic and examines a variety of aspects to gain a whole understanding of a people’s approach to medicine and healing.

At the Herbal Medicine Research Facility: A researcher describes the many herbal products they produce.

In Ghana, we had the opportunity to visit the Africa First Medicinal Farm and a research facility in Kumasi. These were very enlightening experiences and the most educationally beneficial aspects of the trip. At the medicinal farm, which spanned acres of property, we had the chance to learn about, see, and taste various plants that are medically beneficial for different ailments. At the government-run medical research facility in Kumasi, we had the chance to speak to a researcher about the process of validating herbal medicine and its rise in popularity as a legitimate treatment option. He took us throughout the facility and explained the processes of validating and approving herbal medicines. I was excited to learn about this rapidly growing field and its potential in the healthcare system.

At Africa First Medicinal Farm, herbalists show us various plants that have medicinal purposes

In Medical Anthropology and the World System, Baer describes health as a sense of wellbeing not just in the physical sense. Emotional and psychological health is just as vital to a person’s overall wellbeing. I noticed in Ghana that there is a prevalence of many preventable diseases and medical conditions. I was shocked to learn about so many people suffering from malnutrition, sexually transmitted diseases, and diseases stemming from lack of sanitation. All of these are preventable with adequate knowledge and being proactive. Baer discusses an idea of “Functional Health” in which the individual is in a state of optimal capacity to carry out productive work that benefits the society to which they belong. In Ghana, much of the poverty can be attributed to physical, emotional, and/or psychological conditions that inhibit people from working to improve their own situations as well as contributing to society as a whole.

Disease is as much a social issue as it is biological. Baer notes that many medical conditions arise from social problems like malnutrition and lack of sanitation. This is evident in impoverished regions of Ghana, as well as in poverty-stricken areas all over the world. This is why I felt that we were making a vital impact by teaching young children the importance of prevention of diseases and how to stay healthy. Diseases interact with social conditions. For example, substance abuse can lead to domestic violence which can lead to an increase in sexually transmitted diseases. Health education is vital in curbing the rise of these medical conditions.

Jun 22 / Ashley Joseph

International Volunteering

The entire group (minus Dr. Eric Montgomery)

Our service and medical anthropology trip to Ghana has been a life-changing and transformative experience. Our group of almost twenty Wayne State University students and faculty travelled to this region of Africa for an international volunteering and learning opportunity in hopes that we would not only contribute to the wellbeing of Ghanaians, but also gain a deeper understanding of health practices outside of America. For this journal, I will be reflecting on the theme of international volunteering, our impact on the Ghanaian population, and the effect the trip had on me.

I felt very privileged to be giving my time for the benefit of others in Ghana. It makes me realize that different people help in different ways. Many students take part in local volunteering, others write a check, and other people donate their time through overseas volunteering. Margaret Mead once said “Never underestimate the ability of a small group of committed individuals to change the world…Indeed, they are the only ones who ever have”. Everyone has the capacity to impact the world in their own way. We are a small group of Wayne State University faculty and students and we will definitely impact the lives we encounter in Ghana.

In Choosing Civility, P.M. Forni emphasizes the importance of kindness and consideration in our daily interactions with each other. In essence, this is what international volunteering entails. Many people travel abroad with the desire to make a difference in an underserved area of the world. One’s heart must be full of kindness and compassion in order to leave their comfort zones and enter a new place where adjustments and compromises might have to be made. Whether volunteers are teaching in schools, establishing health clinics, or doing construction, the goal of the project is to contribute to the wellbeing of the native people. That is demonstrating kindness and compassion.

On several days throughout the trip, we had the opportunity to travel to various schools in the Cape Coast region of Ghana and teach about relevant health care topics. Providing health education to this community was a vital aspect of our trip. We taught classes ranging from 20 students to over 300. It was a very beneficial experience, not only for the students, but also for us as future health care leaders. I hoped that the lessons we taught about topics such as sanitation, hygiene, sexual education, and substance abuse resonated with the students. It is ideal that the students take what they learned, apply it to their own lives, and spread the word to their friends
and family. We also had the opportunity to volunteer our time in constructing a library, which was a very rewarding experience.

Teaching a class of over 300 students


Forni also notes that civility has to do with courtesy, politeness and ethics. As I mentioned above, international volunteering entails new environments and circumstances that the volunteer may not be used to. In Ghana, I felt like we were in a whole new world. The environment, climate, living conditions and culture were very different than in North America. There were so many different cultural nuances to learn about. For example, doing anything with the left hand is considered rude in Ghanaian culture. It is important to remember to shake hands, wave, or pass money only with the right hand. Also, it is important to greet others and be open to speaking to complete strangers. Although this may seem strange to foreigners, it is a part of Ghanaian culture that we, as guests in this country, should respect. This is a vital aspect of considerate conduct. We need to act upon the realization that the quality of our lives depends on our ability to relate and connect to people. This establishes relationships based on respect, consideration and kindness.  The people we encountered in Ghana – volunteers from other areas of the world, the people we served, individuals that took care of us – have in some way, small or large, impacted our lives. We, in turn, have also impacted theirs.