Hot Days and Bright Hearts in Tamale, Ghana: Reflections on Being a Global Impact Fellow

By Arch Martin
University of South Carolina (2011 Graduate)
Summer 2011 Global Impact Fellow

What a day fortune granted me when, perusing through the vast library of information on the Internet for medical volunteer experiences, the name Unite For Sight popped onto my screen. There was a great deal of other programs I had read about, and it had been a long day of learning as much as possible about international programs, NGOs, and the like, but the seriousness and professional attitude of the program kept me reading on. Very quickly UFS became my reality. It had all the elements I thought to look for, such as actual volunteering instead of medical tourism, far away places, and a seemingly well developed strategy. It also had a lot of elements that I did not think or know to look for, including extensive training, a fellowship, research, a responsive administration, and global health certificates. Unite For Sight certainly is, folks, a complete and wholesome volunteer package. And yes, it will change your life! Be prepared!

Volunteers in Unite For Sight’s Global Impact Corps have many responsibilities. In fact, volunteers are in charge in many ways and have to make many hard decisions together. There is no babysitting. UFS trains volunteers thoroughly. This training is tested over and over again during the daily outreaches. Here are some of my main responsibilities while volunteering in Tamale, Ghana, the capital city of the Northern Region of Ghana. During the week, we did daily outreaches to distant, underserved villages outside the city. Though it may be common to think of these villages as impoverished, they are in fact very rich in culture, activity, family, and kindness – essentials of a healthy and deep human element that at once made me realize how underutilized these elements were in my own sterilized modern life. Unfortunately, their other realities include, in general, a lack of health education and monetary inability to afford even basic medications such as medicated eye drops for conjunctivitis. This is a double hit on their health by taking out both disease prevention and disease treatment. As a volunteer, I had the chance to make a direct and lasting impact on both of these.

Yes, I arrived back in the states with a sense of relief that only cool air conditioning can provide, but also with a longing to have never left at all. One of my main reflections on my trip is that I should have stayed longer. Ghana invites you and welcomes you in a way that greatly surprised me. Don’t be afraid of taking extra time in this beautiful place. Your contribution to global health through Unite For Sight means that you also get back what you put in. For me, the ultimate personal reward was discovering that medicine is right for me. Before Unite For Sight, there was only the hint of a desire to be a physician. Now, I can think back to what it’s like to be a part of a professional medical team. I think back to the innate human element in medical service. I think to the magnificent Dr. Wanye who has taught me what a truly and uniquely great physician looks like. And not least, when I remember the impact that was made against so many odds in this world, I feel an empowering and deep sense of hope for the future of humankind.