First Visit – Orthopedic Training Centre in Ghana

Tom WilliamsGhana

After the complete shambles at Accra’s International Airport trying to get in to Ghana which included complications with my visa, the drama of  a missing yellow fever certificate and finally with my main luggage not actually turning up I felt confident that things could only get better. I walked out of the airport with just my small bag complete with an awkwardly shaped running blade poking out the top and thankfully Peter the Orthopedic Training Centre (OTC) driver was still waiting for me ready to take me to my new home for the next two days.

I was greeted at the OTC with the bright eyes and big smiles of about 20 amputees who had formed a small crowd under a large pagoda at the site’s entrance. Some seemed more interested in their game of checkers but others were excited and laughing out loud probably discussing who the new visitor was. I was here to offer my eyes and ears and take as many notes as possible before relaying the information back to the team so we could then work out how we could tailor our service for the centre.

After parking up outside I made my way to the on-site guest house where a lady who I’d heard so much about, spoken to for so long via email, came out of the guest house and greeted me with an almighty hug. It was Sister Elizabeth and she’d been running the OTC with great efficiency since 1974. She only let me drop down my bag before she insisted I came up to her house to meet Sister Celia and share a late lunch. It was inspiring to hear the Sisters stories, the countless lives they had impacted and how the centre had evolved over the years. I was also shocked to hear what many disadvantaged people go through in Ghana, many of them children and I could see how this has devoted the Sisters to their life’s work.

The next morning started under the big tree where patients of the OTC would gather as the early heat set in. At 8AM was scheduled group exercises and this served as a great way to get my own heart pumping as well as getting to know the few of the patient amputees waiting to be fitted with a prosthetic leg. After the exercises Sister Elizabeth took me up to the workshop and introduced me to Anthony, the Workshop Assistant Director, he then went on to show me the impressive workshop facilities and his brilliant workforce. I sat down with Anthony in his office whilst he consulted patients and I asked him about what extra tools would benefit the workshop. With a large queue forming outside to speak with Anthony I saw this as my opportunity to depart and spend time at each workbench and to speak to each and every one of the technicians and prosthetists. It was invaluable to obtain as many perspectives as possible, not just that of the OTC but also of the situation in Ghana, especially for amputees. I heard stories of extreme hardships and also successes but overall I felt a sense of passion from the staff that I was speaking with.

I spent lunch with Sister Elizabeth and shared stories of the day so far and I boasted to her that my cheeks were aching as I’d been smiling so much all morning, having actually seen the hands that the components we send are worked by gave me tremendous confidence and a sense of pride, Without the efforts that we make in the UK, centres like the OTC would have a far different situation on their hands.

After lunch, came stats and I was introduced to the data centre. I can’t express how refreshing it was to see so much statistical data in the ‘data desert’ which Africa is known so well for.  After expressing to the data team how impressive this was the team leader said that they would prepare a summary of the 3,000 patients that the OTC has seen in the past four years. My jaw dropped. I told them how beneficial this would be for us to prove the need for the work we do and would probably help secure some much needed funding. The mid afternoon sun was passing and it was time to meet the magnificent Gloria, Gloria was Sister Elizabeth’s Secretary and also took care of the PR for the centre and from what I’d seen and heard she was doing a very good job. We spoke at length about how we’re now looking at a more reciprocal relationship than first expected which could also help Legs4Africa with statistics, a potential volunteer program, frequent photo updates to plenish our donor updates and even post graduate placements in our other partnering hospitals in Africa. It seems I got far more than I bargained for at the OTC and I hadn’t even met the kids…

The next day began with the morning bell ringing out loud at 8 a.m in the children’s area which signified the start of exercise time for them too. It was fascinating to watch how the instructor managed keep so many kids moving, all of which with quite different and complicated abilities and all done with an impressive level of compliance! However after half an hour the kids were starting to become restless and it was time for their maths class to start. I didn’t want to show the kids up with my impressive times-tables so I met with the prosthetics training department to learn more about what they do and discuss their needs. The OTC has 60 diploma students spread across 3 years and they all crowd around the limited components and machines to get through their syllabus, which triggered to me a straightforward bottle neck for us to overcome.  

Shrieks of laughter started from outside and it was play time on the grass. I couldn’t resist and joined them for some football, general chasing and compulsive tickling. Somehow in this heat it seemed to be only me that was tiring so I surrendered early and headed to Sister’s bungalow for some iced tea, a final review and promise that I’ll be back for longer next time. I’d been at the OTC for around a day and a half and my time was coming to an end. It has proved to be a flagship centre which we are able to collaborate with in more ways than one. In June 2018 we plan for a large consignment to leave Bristol bound for the OTC which should replenish the workshops store cupboard for over 12 months. This will provide the training centre with the necessary components to keep the students constantly on the move as well as other much needed materials, tools and mobility aids which had been discussed.

Just as I was gathering my thoughts and belongings before being driven back to the airport my name was shouted out by the Pagoda and I could see Gloria frantically waving her arms towards me and she was clearly with someone else I was destined to meet.

Gloria was accompanied by Prince and as soon as I heard his name my mind twigged. Just before leaving Bristol for the trip we had a request from Gloria for running blade and sports knee. She explained that a promising athlete had visited the centre, he was 23 years old, still at university and had lost his right leg in a motorcycle accident in 2017. As we had had what was needed in our store room I squeezed it sort-of-into my bag before leaving and it was a wonderful surprise to meet Prince and chat with him about his paralympic ambitions before I had to leave.

Watch this space!