Upon leaving Ghana, I wanted to take time to reflect on what I had experienced. As a faculty member, I knew it would be important to reflect and process on multiple levels. The experience affected me as a person, as a faculty member on the trip, and as a faculty member with my own students. Now that I have returned I can say more about my personal and professional experiences abroad.
I was struck by the immense core strength of the Ghanaian people. What do I mean? Well for one, they have the physical strength to carry a lot of weight on their heads. This feat takes a great amount of core strength. I never saw any Ghanaian slouching, which also calls for core strength. I know this to be incredibly important for a number of reasons. Core strength typically means slimmer bellies and that means less weight related health issues. After working in the clinics, weight related concerns were not typically the primary presenting problems. Core strength contributed to the practice of carrying newborns and toddlers on the back. Young girls are given this task and are in “training” for later in life. Realistically, the girls are strengthening their back muscles as well as abdominal muscles so that they can support their babies later in life.
In addition, core strength can also refer to strength within. My experience in Ghana left me with the impression that the people have a core strength that I have been lacking. The people are patient, proud, grateful, and humble. These characteristics contribute to a sense of inner strength. On many occasions I witnessed this strength shining through. A overall lack of complaints and rudeness throughout our visit may be one of the prime examples of what I mean. I know that I personally get agitated if I wait at a health clinic for more than an hour; the Ghanaian people, however, waited for multiple hours without complaint. In fact, they saw this as an opportunity to socialize and make the time spent waiting meaningful. I also feel anxious if I am late to a meeting or to catch a plane. I did not experience this as an expressed emotion in Ghana. I personally see this as a characteristic I would like to attain. As a mental health counselor, I found myself wondering what types of things I would discover working with clients in Ghana. When people learned I was a counselor, they would all say, “I need to talk to you” or “I need advice.” While I did not engage in a counseling relationship with anyone, I did often wonder what types of things the individual might want to talk about. I could tell that the economy, jobs, and opportunity were all on the minds of the Ghanaians, much like these issues are on all of our minds. My instinct tells me that many of the mental health issues (or ones seen by counselors or psychiatric nurses) are organic in nature (i.e., schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder, etc) and that many of the things that we experience here in the U.S. are not experienced in the same way.
I am left to evaluate my own sense of being after this trip. I am left with a desire to strengthen my core and I know that I can take a lesson from the Ghanaian people and that I will share that lesson with others.