Sarahli Necoechea
University of Ghana, Legon
Fall 2015
West Africa AIDS Foundation
Dr. Naa Vanderpuye

West Africa AIDS Foundation is an organization in Haatso, Accra which helps battle the spread of HIV/AIDS, TB and other communicable and non communicable diseases by providing health care services including medical care, support, and by implementing both intervention and preventative programs for diverse age groups in a variety of different communities. Their facility holds space for nurses, a laboratory, a counseling department, and a consultation room where patients meet with a doctor. WAAF’s aim is to set up comprehensive health centers within all regions of Ghana in an effort to provide health care to all people living in communities which do not already have access to quality care. WAAF’s ultimate goal is to provide services for the general population while emphasizing the more at risk populations through outreach programs. Target populations include the vulnerable such as the LGBT community, sex workers, the elderly, pregnant women, and children. However, all people are excepted and welcomed. Stigma, discrimination and other societal constructs and norms leave people vulnerable and in need for
organizations such as WAAF to implement their programs which reach and aid communities outside their own.

Throughout my twelve weeks working for the organization I learned about myself and my desires for my future career path as well as the challenges and assets of the different target populations and communities as a whole through learning about the agency itself. Visiting a variety of locations helped me understand how different communities although close in geographical area are in need of different services. At times the same services were needed but the way the services needed to be delivered in order to be successfully implemented are different. As a foreigner I was assisting an organization that worked within a culture I didn’t fully understand. I had only been in Ghana a few weeks before starting my internship and I believe it takes years to live within a different culture to finally begin to understand the people and their needs. I’m now excited to go back to my own community in which I believe I have more to offer although during my time working with the agency I earned tools which have aided in my career development. I have become a self starter as I worked with people who had their own projects in progress. In order to successfully finish multiple tasks within a given time self discipline was not an option but necessary in order to successfully end a day. I also learned to work in groups and collaborate as I relied on my group members to do their part as I did mine. Many of the interns were taking courses on the UG campus which altered every individual’s schedule differently. We relied on each other to advance on projects even in the absence of some group members in order to keep the projects growing. Stigma, discrimination, and prejudice keep people from obtaining medical care within Ghana which explains why there is no indication WAAF is set up in its location as to not discourage patients from seeking treatment. Even once inside there is no way of knowing one’s condition without seeing an individual’s file. During my stay I visited close by venders who sold food and they showed no recognition of the center when they asked what I was doing there.

When other individuals on the UG campus asked me of my mission in Ghana and I told them of my internship with WAAF I was concerned with their reaction. Many people although not all were distant after the knowledge that I was working in an organization that worked with people who were HIV positive. This heightened my understanding of some being discrete about WAAF but not of the International Health Care Center (IHCC). WAAF works with the IHCC and within the same building. The International Health Care Center works with patients of all backgrounds
with various concerns pertaining to health. WAAF works with specialized cases while treating all patients equally within the same facility and staff allowing for an environment which keeps those who are HIV positive anonymous and safe. My time interning at WAAF has allowed me to think more critically about social interactions with individuals concerning their background and culture. This is important to me as I plan to work in California after graduating where there are people of many different ethnicities, cultures, and backgrounds all residing in close proximity. I want to aid people of all walks of life but without culture sensitivity I would not be able to do so effectively. Working at WAAF has given me the experience of working within diverse groups which is a tool I will need in all work spaces. The most valuable piece of knowledge I have learned while working in a service learning
project is that we as people although living within different cultures are not so different. Our needs are similar and as part of society we have a responsibility to take care of the people within our communities. Although, the difference can sometimes lie within how the need should be resolved and to serve the people within a specific community. Trying to understand each other and the background from where our perceptions come from is necessary to be able to collaborate with one another.

My responsibilities as an intern for the West Africa Aids Foundation focused on three projects. I was given the opportunity to shadow during outreaches tailored to the LGBT community, build the foundation for the Passion Squad project within private high schools, and aid in the funding and writing of the proposal for the Children’s Rescue and Recovery Mission. In addition to the projects I also shadowed Dr Naa, the CEO of WAAF and the MD of the International Health Care Center as patients visited her in the consultation room. My responsibilities were up to me to balance and my hours were tailored to my school schedule. By the end of my time interning for WAAF I had completed 130 hours and thirty minutes. The first project I assisted with was the mobile health outreach program which aimed to bring medical care to the doorstep of the people within the LGBT community. A WAAF nurse,
interns and peer educators were involved in the process. Peer educators were trained and sent out to the field within their own communities to establish a group of people in need of services. Without them WAAF staff would have no effective way of distributing services to target populations who would otherwise not be able to have access to quality care without facing discrimination. The mobile outreaches provided consultation and medication if needed as well as
screening for HIV/AIDS at no cost to the patient. A variety of cases are seen and the target population is not always reached. People received access to treatment to STIs, rashes, body aches, and more. The project is in collaboration with the Human Rights Advocacy Center therefore also promotes an individual’s human rights and the reporting of any form of human rights violations through the appropriate channels. The project gave me the opportunity to assist
and shadow Guro Sorensen, the International Health Care Center’s registered Nurse and counselor. While shadowing I witnessed the communication and interactions between a trained professional and patients and it was interesting to see the dynamic change between the two and how most patients seemed at ease after rapport was built. Although the interactions were similar to what I would expect at home I couldn’t help but pay close attention to the minor subtleties between cultures. For example, I hadn’t noticed at first how people in many communities wanted
medicine not due to a specific ailment but due to the misconception of medicine making them stronger regardless of their existing conditions. This misconception was addressed but it was something widely thought throughout various communities. In this case the knowledge of the idea helped in understanding why some people would appear ready to leave with medication without the need.

The mobile outreach program provided me the hands on experience I hadn’t received before in any other work position. I had the opportunity to administer the first response test for HIV/AIDS. This test signified that an individual who tests positive must go to a clinic to be tested for HIV/AIDS. This experience was eye opening in the sense that it reminded me of how important it was to talk to people about the dangers of not protecting one’s health starting at a young age. The stigma of HIV/AIDS seems so high no one wants to talk about it and how they
can prevent it. This motivated me to want to work with youth to help empower them when it came to their own health. The second project I was involved in was Passion Squad, a project designed by WAAF created to help high schools build health-related clubs lead by determined young people in Ghana’s senior high schools to implement research-based peer education interventions. Each school independently chooses what they want to learn about based on their needs and with the guidance of a teacher on their campus they do their own research to learn different topics which aids in their personal empowerment as students. WAAF is there as support and to supply in any
materials needed throughout the course of the program. Prior to the students being able to take full control of the program the Passion Squad team helps build the foundation of the club by offering guidance and an introduction to different aspects of one’s health with a focus on HIV/ AIDS. My responsibilities included gaining school participation and incorporation of the project within their schools. Although we were able to contact some schools it was not possible to fully implement the program within the time we were allotted. We did however help with the foundation for the next interns to put into action. We located private senior high schools in the area to make a contact sheet in which we also included our contacts in case there were a need for further assistance. We created a presentation to introduce schools to the program so they could then decide if it would be something they were interested in. Workshops were written up for those schools and interactive activities were planned to gain the interest of students. The project is meant to impact the community as a whole therefore the inclusion of all stakeholders were taken into consideration including teachers, parents, and community members. Passion squad is meant to start clubs in high schools to help empower and educate students on their health, in the long term we believe this will help the community in which they reside in as they will have the tools to become a voice to advocate for their needs and the needs of their community members specifically concerning human rights and health care.

While contacting schools we were to hand deliver letters and wait for a response from schools who wanted to be introduced to the program. Communication was very different from what you were to expect back in the United States. Adapting to customs such as this due to lack of wifi is one example of how we had to adapt quickly in order to carry out our task effectively. Service learning within a country other than your own really helps you understand how flexible you must be in order to work well with others from different backgrounds. Children’s Rescue and Recovery Mission is the third project I worked on which focuses on emergency intervention for children suffering from HIV/AIDS, TB, malnutrition and other life threatening conditions otherwise not treated due to insufficient funds, negligence and/or the absence of caretakers. My responsibilities included writing the proposal for the new program as well as a budget plan and I am currently helping with fundraising. The most pressing need for the project is financial stability in order to provide a stable environment. At the moment there is one full time staff member who is the founder of the program and two children who have both rehabilitated to stable health. One child has TB as well as the second who has also tested positive for HIV. At the moment there is no stable home and they are forced to move from place to place as they depend on the generosity of others to aid them in shelter. As an intern I worked with a team to look at designs and fabric used to make into products to sell. Although I will not be able to work with the project directly once I’m back in the United States I will continue helping with fundraising. I plan to help in what I can even from overseas but I know my input would be minimal due to distance and lack of adequate communication.

Working with the Children’s Rescue and Recovery Mission has made me aware of the age group I would like to work with in the future. As I worked with the boys at CRRM I learned my potential working with youth but I noticed I feel more comfortable working with adolescence. I enjoy helping in their self empowerment and knowing that I made a difference in a young mind which is ready to impact others. Obtaining this knowledge of my niche at an early process of my career path will save time in the future as I narrow down my career choices. In addition to the project activities I was also given the opportunity to shadow Dr Naa who is the CEO of WAAF and the MD of the International Health Care Center (IHCC). I was given the chance to sit in the consultation room as different patients visited. Much of the
consultation was spoken in Twi as that was the language patients were most comfortable with. The conversation was then translated to me. Shadowing Dr Naa gave me the experience I needed to help me understand the variety of cases the clinic sees on a daily bases. When the needs of the people were explained to me, they made sense due to the clients that were seen regularly. I was also recruited into the World’s AIDS Day Committee where my responsibilities fell under helping plan the event. This event is meant to remind us all of the devastating impact HIV/AIDS has on people living with HIV/AIDS and commemorate those who have passed away due to it. This day pushes us to reflect on our contributions and commitments to our efforts in battling HIV/ AIDS. Some of us know the pain of watching someone we love or simply know battle with HIV/AIDS but for those of us who don’t this day brings awareness to something which lacks recognition from many due to the fact it is not relevant in their own life therefore easily ignored. WAAF holds two core values; respect for all and teamwork. From this I take that we as a community should take responsibility for each other’s well being and to ignore each other’s hurt is to ignore that responsibility simply because we feel we wont be punished for it. Taking part in a field study opportunity in a collectivistic country has opened my eyes to the individual and leader I wish to be. I am working to improve my qualities of being inclusive,
welcoming, and understanding of other’s ailments whether physical or emotional. I want to work to show those two core values in my work and character. As a student studying Psychology and Social Behavior I decided to study abroad in the University of Ghana, Legon during Fall 2015. I took psychology courses all of which helped me understand certain concepts during my time in my service learning placement. As part of the Ghana Society and Culture course our program supplied trips to various locations of which Kumasi and Cape Coast were most memorable. These trips were held two weeks before the semester started and four weeks passed before I started my internship. This course helped me understand Ghanaian culture better before becoming immersed in it completely. If I did not have the guidance of the course I believe I would have had a much harder time adapting to this new society. Similarly my social psychology course helped me understand the culture as my professor elaborated on examples from the US as well as from Ghanaian culture when he explained cultural phenomenons. This helped me feel more comfortable once starting at WAAF. For example, my social psychology professor explained why people tend to come late to social gatherings even to business meetings. He talked about how people who come early or on time are punished because these people will still have to wait for those to come later so that the meeting can proceed. Therefore people will wait some time until they think the meeting has started or they will wait until someone calls them to appear. The understanding of this perception helped me become more patient and adopt this mentality to an extent in order to successfully interact with people. If I were not to adapt I would continue to be punished and I would not be able to start off meetings well. Although I kept my habits of arriving sometimes a little too early, I understood the time of meetings were previsionary. As I shadowed Guro Sorensen during the LGBT outreaches I saw how she build rapport quickly just as we were told to do during our guidance and counseling course. She had the ability of making people feel comfortable even with the limited time they had with her. While working with the LGBT community I saw how sensitive situations were handled and how people seemed to leave with the understanding of their next steps. Advocacy is another highlight of the same course Guidance and Counseling and my time working with the Children’s Rescue and Recovery Mission has aided in those skills. I have been able to connect my time here in Ghana with my friends and family back home which has helped me articulate a need in which people can connect to and become involved in. Along with advocacy we also poke on the importance of stakeholders and their involvement. Stakeholders came into thought when creating aspects of the Passion Squad project. The project is meant to ultimately impact the community but is only able to do so if the foundation was built with all
stakeholders in mind. The lessons I learned during my service learning with WAAF were specific to Ghana and irreplaceable in every way. I was immersed within a different culture and system with people from different backgrounds and experiences from my own. My courses in my home institution University of California, Irvine supplied me with the foundation I needed to comprehend all projects and was the reason I was able to input ideas and thoughts. For example, my mandatory Human Sexuality course taken at UCI supplied me with the knowledge I needed to know about HIV and the stigma that goes with it although different from Ghana. My previous social
psychology courses had also supplied me with he background I needed to understand some social phenomenons I might have had a hard time understanding otherwise. Ultimately I am glad I decided to study abroad as a senior due to the fact I was able to implement my knowledge from previous courses into my projects. Working with West Africa AIDS Foundation was truly an immersive field study experience which gave me the tools I needed for future jobs/positions. Although the experiences were specific to WAAF the lessons I learned will be beneficial in future job positions/roles. I learned how to collaborate in groups, how to contact other organizations/schools while representing an organization, I learned the meaning and importance of advocacy, I realized my preferred age range to work with, and I solidified the type of leader I wish to be.

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