Friday, September 5, 2008

Update from Ghana

By Colleen Fant:

This past week since Jon and Nikita left has been very busy. On Monday, mother's began coming to the Center to be interviewed by Sarah for the nutrition center that will begin this coming Monday. Since the GlobeMed money came in, all of the cooking supplies have been bought for the Center. Beginning next week, mothers will bring children that are underweight or are having difficulty with complimentary foods will be able to come to the Center and learn how to prepare and introduce a variety of balanced foods to their children. Every mother in the program was given a day to come and some, those children that are severe cases, will come more often than others. The nearby village of Ando has been pretty incredible. Two of the mothers stayed all afternoon at the Center helping us sort through the beans, roast groundnuts, and peel the groundnuts. We are now all prepared to begin on Monday.

Yesterday Dr. Eleeza stopped by the Center. We are almost ready to create and submit the Laboratory proposal to GlobeMed. After some stressful and expensive phone calls home we got a potential budgetary figure from the NU students to base the Laboratory proposal on. Hopefully Monday we will have something finalized to send to the NU students. But its Ghana, so by Monday, I mean it'll probably be done sometime before Friday. Its pretty incredible how much just being here has catalyzed the program development at the Center. When GlobeMed received the potential 3-year plan from Margaret and Dr. Eleeza in February the top 3 goals were: Nutrition Project, Diagnostic Laboratory, and HIV testing facility. Right now all of the goals on that list are in the works.

My individual work on the VCT is also going well but slow. It's really good that I'm staying for as long as I am because I realize how incredibly long it takes to build up that level of comfort and discretion that I'm going to need to bring in this VCT. It's really great that the GHS wants to put one at the Center and I get to have a role in making that a reality, but I think that in terms of my contribution, I'm starting to realize that I can be more useful if I am able to look into how to make this VCT more incorporated into the Center for it to be successful. The direction that I think I will be heading in (and I think I get to spend this weekend hashing out a revised "project proposal" for my fellowship) will be in examining how HIV testing fits into the overall scheme of sexual and reproductive health and how that will look for actual program design and implementation at the Center. I think it will be important to not just have HIV testing at the Center, but if we're testing for that, I'd like to look into other STD prevalences, testing, and treatment alongside overall sexual health. The trick I think, and I haven't really figured this part out yet, will be to bring in overall sexual health in a way that's not just women since the Center already has such a strong emphasis on women. We shall see how that goes.

Three other new developments. First, Sarah and I met with the program director at Future Generations International, and he agreed to help me when the VCT is established. His organization provides support groups, ARV access, and is looking into income-generation and nutrition for HIV+ people - so basically the perfect collaborator as long as he proves to be genuine. In addition, tomorrow at 6:30am Sarah and I are meeting him and we will be going to an HIV support group in Aflao (2hrs away). So that should be very interesting. The second thing is that Margaret's NGO, Strength of Women, got accepted to attend the Friends of Africa Conference sponsored by UN fund for AIDS, Tb, and Malaria in Accra in 10 days. This is such a huge honor for her. They called her yesterday when we were in the car and she was so happy. Yelling, smiling, and hugs all around. I'm so happy for her. And the really exciting part is that I get to go with her!

Sarah leaves on Friday and then I'm officially on my own. I actually pretty excited for that. A bit terrified, but excited. This afternoon we stopped by a student hospital near the university where I will likely be moving to. By myself. I'm looking forward to learn more Ghanaian cooking, have my own room, getting myself around, and finally being able to put my specific "project"tasks and needs first. Not really looking forward to overwhelming loneliness or having someone to talk to about the experiences of being a yeavou in Ghana.

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