Elena and I were blessed to be able to spend three weeks in Ghana this past June. We stayed at Margret Marquart Catholic Hospital in Kpando under the guidance of Reverend Sister Justine, and saw the love she showed to every person and patient. She waited late into the night for us to arrive and greeted us with a hug and a warm meal. Even though she is a busy woman with many responsibilities, she gave us so much of her time and made us feel welcome in Ghana.
The majority of our volunteer work was in the Child Welfare Clinic, where we experienced some of the hard realities of providing healthcare in Ghana. At each appointment, the child was weighed, measured, and given the necessary vitamins or shots. Sometimes the child would be malnourished, and a nurse would have to consult the mother about the importance of good nutrition for a growing child. Ultimately, it was up to the mothers to make sure that they brought their children in for monthly check-ups. This is difficult when the child is an orphan, because the financial burden on the extended family often results in less hospital visits. The nurses conveyed that many children could go years without ever seeing a doctor.
This is much different then healthcare in the United States, where families in poverty get many forms of financial assistance. The children most desperately impacted by these harsh obstacles are the H.I.V orphans.
Sister Justine had us spend some time helping in the H.I.V clinic, where she has been consulting patients for over a decade. We saw patients of every age, many of whom had HIV through no fault of their own. Besides the strong social stigmatization of the disease, the nurses also told us that the HIV medicine is very unpleasant (one side effect is terrible night mares). Unsurprisingly, the children try to avoid the medication but with superb mothering skills the nurses encourage the children with toys and other loving tactics. Another major obstacle, is that the patient must receive good nutrition to keep their immune system strong, in order for the treatment to be effective. Despite the Nun’s relentless work, the aspect of malnutrition is the danger that claims the most lives. The PFHS will finally give the Reverend sisters a place where they can fully monitor the H.I.V children (healthcare, nutrition and love). Until Pope Francis Children’s Home and School is built, these children will remain a major risk for premature death.
Sister Justine took us to meet some of the children that are already sponsored by Pope Francis Home and School, who lived around Kpando. Sister Justine, never stops and even goes into the community to check up on them regularly, to make sure they are doing alright. The first one we met was a little boy named Mensa, who lives in Kpando. When we arrived, he ran up to Sister Justine and gave her a big hug. He stays in a very small house with his older sister. During our visit, he stood behind her chair observing us quietly. He was very shy throughout our visit, but gave us a sweet smile and a wave as we were leaving.
Rose is a little girl of about seven. She lives outside Kpando in a little house by the side of the road. She only spoke a few words of English, but she was able to tell us her name and say a few phrases. We brought her a bottle of bubbles to play with, which she loved. She lives with her aunt, who also cares for eleven other children, so it’s difficult for her to get the food she needs to stay healthy.
We met little Eugenia in a village about half an hour outside of Kpando. She lives with her grandmother in a small, rundown house. When she saw Sister Justine, she ran up to her with a big smile and embraced her. Although she had a beautiful smile, she had some problems with her teeth and Sister Justine asked her grandmother about taking her to a dentist. Eugenia will need regular dental care, or she may have lasting damage to her teeth.
Ebenezer and Judith are siblings who also live with their grandparents. Their parents left them when they were little. Their grandparents also care for a third little boy, who was also abandoned by his parents. They live in a very rural region, on a farm. Their house had just one room, with a covered deck outside to give some more space. Just like the other guardians we met, they were so happy to see Sister Justine and grateful for the Pope Francis Home and School.
The last child we met was Israel. Unfortunately, he is not doing well. He had recently gone to the hospital in Ho for HIV treatment. Israel lives with his twenty-year-old sister, who also cares for seven other children. Although his sister is doing the best she can, there is no way she can afford to give him the proper nutrition he needs to stay healthy. Israel is very thin, and has a very weak immune system because of HIV. Hopefully he will be able to thrive at the Pope Francis Home and School.
Our experience in Ghana was one we will never forget; the people of Ghana are truly special. Every person greeted us with a smile and told us “you are welcome.” We would love to come again and visit all these children again when the Pope Francis Home and School is complete.
LONG LIVE POPE FRANCIS CHILDREN’S HOME AND SCHOOL!!
Cecilia and Elena