Volunteering in Ghana – an Adventure

By Michelle Shine

I came to Ghana with no expectations, having scratched three weeks out of my diary, I knew I was about to embark on a massive adventure. I had a heavy suitcase full of books and a return ticket in hand. I told Linda Shannon, my premier UK contact for the Ghana Homeopathy Project that I was happy to be used by GHP for my twenty odd years of homeopathic experience, and was only a little bit fazed by what this might mean. Over the last four years I’d travelled on my own to a handful of faraway places I’d never been to before, each one a step forward on my own healing path and every journey recorded with great pleasure in the old memory bank. But this trip was intended to be something a little bit different. On this trip I was to give something back as well as receive. The plan was that I would teach potency, susceptibility and chronic diseases to homeopathy students and I would take cases and prescribe in the little village of Mafi Seva (Mafi is the tribe) in the Tongo region, and also in outreach clinics.

Mafi Seva
Mafi Seva

I arrived in Ghana on a hot balmy night

and was met by Julius, the principle of Premier International School of Homeopathy and Alternative medicine (PISHAM) in Kasoa and Ben the taxi driver. I was already tired. My debut novel Mesmerised had only been published a few weeks previously and promoting it had been added to my general list of things to do in London: seeing patients, writing, preparing for my travels and taking care of personal business. So, with that in mind I began my stay with a day relaxing at Langma Beach. Grace, Course Leader at the School came to visit me and so we began a discourse that continued throughout my stay and one that soon blossomed into a beautiful friendship.

Langma Beach
Langma Beach
Grace, and stray dog
Grace, and stray dog

Then began two days of teaching at the homeopathy school in Kasoa, which is a suburb just outside Accra. The first day was the most fruitful, I feel. It was certainly the best attended. At one point, I had nine students in the class. I was to lecture on potency, a facet of homeopathy that I had studied in depth before writing my textbook What About the Potency? And I’m glad to say that my talk inspired a lively debate on the subject and food for thought for the students when I introduced ideas such as: the gentlest potency is not necessarily the lowest potency, but the potency most homeopathic to the case …

PISHAM students
PISHAM students

At lunchtime I was introduced to the delights of roast plantain cooked on a barbecue by the roadside and sweet, juicy mango, warm and ripe. The second day I found a little more challenging. My remit was to talk about ‘susceptibility’ a huge topic and that could be interpreted in many ways. My students were all in different years and I spent a while fishing for what they already knew about the subject, which seemed to differ from student to student. I desperately wanted to pitch it so they learned something new. In the end I can only hope that everyone took something away with them that they could incorporate to good effect in their own practices.

At the end of my second day I travelled for three hours in a taxi with Philip (he’s second on the left in the picture of students) over the Volta river and into the countryside to Mafi Seva where I stayed in the Mafi Seva community clinic that offers nursing, midwifery and homeopathy. The resident homeopath, who has been trained by volunteers with the Ghana Homeopathy Project, is an extremely charitable, softly spoken, hard working and jovial man that I only know as Emperor (I say ‘only’ because I have now been informed that all African people are given an African name at birth and a Christian name when they are baptised) and was immediately put to work as people come to the clinic at all hours of the day and night from all over Ghana, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days of the year. Volunteers and students come and go, but unbelievably, Emperor rises to the challenge of treating homeopathy patients without ever taking a break. And not only that, he also runs the Amurt project which has brought water to all of the villages in the Ghana Tongo region. The man is a legend in his own lifetime and also a character; he has a country and western ringtone on his two mobile phones that he sings along to whenever they ring, and they do permanently. On closing my eyes I felt I’d been teleported to Texas, and it provoked a yee-hah response from me every time.IMG_1022

Mafi Seva and its surrounding villages

house a farming community, and I would take a walk every evening through a world of mud huts with thatched roofs, and land growing corn, chilli and cassava, amongst other crops and a glut of churches, for every Christian denomination. I longed to experience a gospel service but unfortunately, I never got around to it. The people who visited the clinic as patients were predominantly poor and all desired more money, predominantly so they could pay for orthodox medical treatment that had already drained their financial resources to no avail. And yet, a way of life exists there that is comfortably slow and steeped in nature. Everyone says ‘hello’ in passing, ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’. Children are exuberant and mostly smiling. I got the feeling that perhaps that was how life was in parts of the globe closer to home in some once-upon-a-long-ago time.

Village children
Village children

Judging by the cases we saw AIDS does not seem to be quite so rife in Ghana as it is in other African countries, but malaria is very prevalent. There is lots of high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, which surprised me. Less surprising are the headaches, probably caused by the heavy loads that people carry on their heads, and the backaches and joint problems of the farming community. Many problems are brought on after a dream about a witch or some other belief in witchcraft. Impossible not to notice was the awful effects on the female reproductive system brought on by Depo Provera, the quarterly contraceptive injection. Ghanaians often don’t like using condoms, well who does? But the price women pay for a more drastic option is high.

I’ve been home for a week now, and have managed one very brief conversation with Emperor in which he advised me that he’d conducted ten follow-ups for of the cases I’d prescribed for and all of them had improved. But the most dramatic result that I encountered whilst there was a young woman who was brought to the clinic in an unconscious state. On examination:, she was cold to the touch and perspiring, her skin was very pale, her pulse was weak, and the lifting of her eyelids only revealed the whites of her eyes. I prescribed Veratrum album 200c, based on the observable symptoms. Within a short period of time her irises were visible through her semi-closed lids, and her forehead was warmer. We repeated the remedy after twenty minutes and she very quickly had the wherewithal to turn herself onto her side. Within an hour she was sitting up, and able to answer a few questions, and once she was able to walk, sent her home with some more Veratrum album 200c to take if her symptoms persisted.

In the few remaining days that I was to stay in Mafi Seva, between patients and the country and western twangs coming from his phone, I kept asking Emperor if he’d heard from the Veratrum album woman, to which he always replied in the negative but assured me that with a response like that to her remedy she was definitely going to be okay. I felt less sure, and needed to know from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

From left to right: Martin, Gideon and Philip (students). Then Gideon’s wife Abigail and Emperor holding Gideon and Abigail’s son Philip - in Mafi Seva
From left to right: Martin, Gideon and Philip (students). Then Gideon’s wife Abigail and Emperor holding Gideon and Abigail’s son Philip – in Mafi Seva

After six days in Mafi Seva I returned to Kasoa for another day of teaching, this time on Chronic Diseases which we tackled using miasms as a gateway. The student’s interest peaked when we discussed Cancer, especially when I divulged that all orthodox hormonal treatments are known to cause it. For lunch I was introduced to fried cassava and hot chilli sauce which is incredibly delicious, although unable to be savoured as I was requested to take the case of one of the student’s who was in the throes of an acute whilst I ate. The next day was spent in an outreach clinic, taking cases with the students who acted as my translators. When we took the case of a woman who was being very evasive with answers to our questions, I happened to mention to the student next to me that I was considering the remedy Arsenicum album. He immediately asked her if she trusted us (an Arsenicum album characteristic is not to trust their physician). She said yes, of course but I had to point out to him that he needn’t have asked that question, the way she was behaving told us everything we needed to know in that direction.

And then back again to Mafi Seva for another four days of continuous patients, and fresh organic foods prepared for us by the nurses and midwives. Whilst I was there I was invited to attend two births. The first was very joyful, a young first time mother who gave birth to a healthy baby. The second was a stillbirth, which left me saddened. Both babies were born in the early hours.

As night comes on about 6pm

and seemingly very quickly, everyone retires early and is up before dawn. One morning around 4am I heard drumming and singing coming closer and closer towards the clinic, I rushed out of my room to see what was going on. A long line of young people ran past to their own musical accompaniment, and I turned to one of the nurses who happened to be standing next to me and asked what they were celebrating.

‘They’re just jogging,’ she replied.

Just Joggin - the Mafi Seva way
Just Joggin – the Mafi Seva way

During my second stay in Mafi Seva Emperor put me out of my misery. He had seen the brother of our Veratrum album lady and was informed that she had completely recovered from her little episode. Oh, she of little faith! I was very relieved.

When I left Mafi Seva for the second time I was once again very tired. I think I must have seen around 60 patients in a relatively short period of time. So, I returned to the beach for a few days of relaxation before going home. I stayed at a place called Big Milly’s, owned by a British woman who is neither big nor called Milly, but who has a fabulous staff of very friendly people and an establishment with a very laid back atmosphere. It was the perfect place to reflect on a wonderful and satisfying experience.

Big Milly's
Big Milly’s
portrait of Michelle ShineMichelle Shine lives in London, England. For twenty years she ran a successful homeopathic practice. She is the author of What About the Potency? A homeopathic textbook now in its third edition and The Subtle Art of Healing, a novella which was longlisted for the Cinnamon Press Novella Award in 2007. Her short stories have appeared in Grey Sparrow, Liar’s League, Epiphany, and several collections. Her debut novel, Mesmerised, is out now in paperback in the UK and on kindle worldwide. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck University.

2 thoughts on “Volunteering in Ghana – an Adventure”

  1. Michelle It sounds like you had a very successful time in Ghana, and at the same time very rewarding.
    Although you lead a very busy lifestyle it was so good of you to spend that time with those that really appreciate all you did for them.

  2. i loved your rememberings and really related to having given a remedy being anxious to hear if it worked. I cannot imagine ever knowing nearly what you know but right now I am trying to gather some strength to send a team of homeopaths to Liberia to deal with Ebola. DiDI Rucini in Kenya is willing to head a group but the base camp is a problem and without that we cannot move foreword with either funding or real plans.
    Any ideas will be most happily received.
    John Board

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