My Experiences Volunteering Abroad as a Global Impact Fellow in Accra, Ghana

By Julia Goldberg
Yale University Student
Summer 2010 (May 10-20) Global Impact Fellow

Volunteering with Unite For Sight in Accra, Ghana, during the summer of 2010, was a unique opportunity for me to pursue my medical interests and to have hands-on experience working with a clinic abroad.  Starting from day one, my fellow volunteers and I were incorporated into the daily activities of the Crystal Eye Clinic, observing surgeries and helping with documentation and organization for the clinic.  To perform surgeries on the dozens and dozens of people that came through the clinic’s doors that day, everything had to run efficiently and smoothly.  Right from the start, I learned about the processes of running a clinic and the most efficient methods to extend healthcare to large populations of people, which are two of my primary health interests.

My favorite part of my experience in Ghana was participating in outreaches.  After driving for hours to the surrounding areas of Accra, we would arrive at a village, where already dozens of patients would be waiting for the Unite For Sight outreach van to pull up.  A few patients at each outreach were there for a check-up after a previous surgery at Crystal Eye Clinic, while the majority of them were first-time patients.  As the days passed, I learned more from the local eye doctors about testing vision, their diagnosis of eye diseases, and the treatment and medicines used for different eye problems.  I also picked up some words in Twi, the local language of Accra and its surrounding areas, in order to communicate more easily with the patients.  This proved more difficult at the Buduburam Refugee Camp, where there were many languages spoken that reflected the various nationalities of the refugees.

Working at these outreaches made evident to me all of the organizational layers that went into planning one day of outreach.  The local volunteers spread the word of Unite For Sight’s outreach to that village and planned a location for the screening processes.  They were key for the success of an outreach, helping with unexpected problems and especially with translating.  We came to the villages with the ophthalmic nurses, who talked with every single patient about their eye problems and treated their symptoms.  The medicines they prescribed were either subsidized greatly or available free from Unite for Sight, with eyeglasses sold that came from donations across the United States.  My fellow volunteers and I primarily ran the registration, visual acuity, and dispensing stations, where we gave out these medications and eyeglasses that were prescribed by the local eye doctors.  In between working at all of these stations, I also found time to enter and organize patient data as well as observe the ophthalmic nurses examining patients.

Although I love to travel and I am fascinated with medicine, I never would have thought that I would have an opportunity such as this to work directly with a clinic abroad and see how healthcare can be spread to even the most impoverished populations, especially just after my first year of college.  I not only directly interacted with patients, helped organize outreaches, observed surgeries, and raised money and eyelasses for the organization, but I also learned important lessons about developing healthcare internationally.  Along with this, I investigated successful processes and theories that help local clinics extend care to large populations of people, which is exactly what Unite for Sight strives to do.

With my strong interest in the operation and functioning of clinics abroad, my experience with Unite For Sight has been remarkable.  Unite For Sight works very efficiently and effectively at extending eye care to multitudes of patients each week, and serves as a model for other nonprofit organizations by incorporating both idealistic and practical methods to ensure the greatest success – defined by the number of patients seen, the number of surgeries performed, the number of people whose lives have been changed by restoring their vision.