Reflections on Volunteering Three Times in Ghana

By Optometrist Maya Patel
Global Impact Corps Optometrist Volunteer

I am grateful to have volunteered for Unite For Sight. I experienced the wonders of Ghana, worked with the clinic staff and the lovely volunteers, and I have built very strong friendships.  My three trips to Ghana have been life changing experiences. I was completely in awe and overwhelmed by the dedication of the clinic staff, the shear volume of people needing eye care, and I realized that simple eye correction is taken for granted in the UK.  In UK practice, I get 25 minutes with patients, and I have the luxury of familiar surrounds and people. Not in Ghana. Through my work with Unite For Sight with both Northwestern and Crystal eye clinics on outreach, I learned many things, and fast. I adapted to setting up screening in churches, schools and community halls. We screened many patients in a matter of minutes, and efficiently. Taking lunch breaks was really not an option, knowing you have patients waiting since the crack of dawn. It was inspiring to know and see that outreaches are carried out all year round, with or without volunteers.  The dedication of the clinic staff, the ophthalmologists, and Unite For Sight really made me proud as a volunteer to be part of such amazing work. Each outreach had its challenges, from being overwhelmed by the number of patients attending, the heat, seeing the joy and gratefulness on peoples' faces, and seeing a variety of eye conditions. There were also heartbreaking occasions as I saw so many many people blinded by glaucoma, and some so very young.

Simple health talks to individuals, and educating people and their families, is the least I felt I must do. This really pushed me to become even more geared towards educating patients both in the UK and in Ghana.  I've shared so many laughs, tears, smiles and more with the wonderful Northwestern and Crystal Eye Clinic teams and accompanying volunteers. It left me wanting more, so I returned a year later, and it was just as exciting and another immense learning experience.  What I learned could not be taught, only experienced: the meaning of dedication, the value of human life, and above all, I learned and saw how I dealt with situations totally alien to my experience in practice. I'm so grateful for the chance and insight that I have gained. I learned more about myself than I could have thought. Thank you, I truly left a changed and better person for it. I would recommend volunteering with Unite For Sight. If you're thinking about it, do it, do something amazing and gain from it, like I did.