Chemical engineering student Fima Macheret wanted to do “something
meaningful” during his summers, something that would give him hands-on experience in medicine. So before the start of the
Fall '05 Semester, he embarked on a journey of hope and goodwill in the small
fishing village of Prampram, on the west coast of Africa.
Fima Macheret with two of the clinic nurses.
“I’m going to medical school in a few years, so I wanted to work in a
part of the world that really needs help,” says the USC senior, who is
specializing in biochemical engineering.
He couldn’t have landed in a more remote corner of the world. Prampram
is a poor village located an hour from Accra, Ghana’s capital.
The town has a population of about 6,000 people. Macheret says it
is also known as “Gbugbla,” which means to “keep on trying.”
For three weeks, Macheret kept on trying. As part of a team of
volunteers from Global Volunteers, he helped nurses in the village
clinic administer shots and medicines to local residents. Global
Volunteers sends teams of volunteers to sites worldwide, including the
United States, to work on projects ranging from teaching English to
assisting with health care to constructing community buildings.
“The clinic staff quickly became both my teachers and my colleagues in
that they were excited to teach me their techniques but also eager to
know my opinion on various issues,” says Macheret, who hopes to
graduate in May 2006.
“International health care has a long way to go, but through hard work,
responsibility, and international effort, it will improve,” he adds.
High Incidence of Malaria
The young engineering student saw a variety of patients, 75 percent of
whom had malaria and were suffering from high fevers and body aches.
Other villagers came to the clinic with work injuries — cuts, scrapes
and sprains — while a few came in with injuries caused by domestic
violence. “I started giving injections the first day I was there,” he
says. “I learned that their babies had very leathery skin; it was
hard to puncture the skin with a hypodermic needle.”
Macheret administers a baby shot.
Fifteen nurses staffed the clinic, but they didn’t have much more than
basic first aid supplies, vaccinations and generic medicines to work
with, Macheret says. The nearest hospital was a half hour away, so most
of the ailing residents sought out the clinic for medical attention.
Marcheret says six or seven volunteer teams from Global Volunteers work
three-week stints in the village each year. Quite often, they
bring some of the basic medical supplies with them. Those
volunteering in the clinic learned how to dress wounds, take blood
pressure, and apply tourniquets before administering an IV of saline
solution to dehydrated patients.
While Macheret helped out in the village clinic, other volunteers
taught conversational English and other subjects in village classrooms.
The volunteers were given “rock star treatment” everywhere they went in
Prampram, he says, with throngs of children running up to greet them
and villagers always waving hello every time they arrived. The
volunteers were honored at one point with an invitation to a meeting of
the traditional council of the Prampram area, during which they
presented the council with 20 boxes of donated books.
“I was very happy about that, because they had a very good library in
town,” Macheret says. “I was really surprised to find a chemical
engineering textbook there.”
New Best Friend
Macheret discovers a chemical engineering textbook in the village library.
Macheret also assisted on school painting projects. Over the course of
a few weeks, he had struck up friendships that transcended geopolitical
boundaries. But Emmanuel, a young soccer player on the city team who
had bigger ambitions of playing in the nationals, stole his heart.
“Emmanuel ran on the beach for two hours each morning,” Macheret
says. “He was so inquisitive and had so many questions about
everything. I think one of the best things I did while I was
there was to help him set up an email address. And now that he
knows how to do that, he’ll be able to teach others in the village how
to get online.”
During their free time, the volunteers watched the fishing boats come
home in the afternoon and joined in other community rituals. They
also visited the homes of community members and learned to cook local
dishes. And they learned that everyday life in Prampram is difficult.
Too many residents struggle to achieve even a minimal standard of
living, Macheret explains. The fishing industry is unpredictable,
unemployment is high, and education is still inconvenient and
inaccessible for many.
Once part of the powerful Ashanti empire, Ghana figured prominently in
one of the most tragic chapters of Western history: the African slave
trade. In colonial forts perched along the Ghanaian coastline,
countless Africans were imprisoned until their departure on slave ships
bound for the New World. The volunteers had the opportunity to
visit these sobering sites.
Fellow USC student Jon Turco, Macheret, nurse Evelyn Narty, soccer
player and new friend Emmanuel Narty, and Lindsay, a volunteer from
Barnard College in New York City.
Macheret, who started a student volunteer group at USC called “Cry for
Freedom,” plans to spend spring semester “actively recruiting USC
students to undertake a similar trip next summer.”
Macheret says the volunteer group, co-founded by his friend and fellow
USC student, Jon Turco, is dedicated to freedom from inequality in
health care and education.
“I hope we can organize a fundraiser to raise some money for those who
want to go,” he says. “It’s a great way to apply your education
and to learn what it’s like in other parts of the world. It
really does transcend any learning experience I’ve had so far.”