Contributor: Jackie Han
A Life-changing Trip
I will never forget August of 2019. I left Toronto alone and crossed three continents in two days — the Americas, Europe, and finally, Africa. Arriving in the town of Cape Coast in Ghana, after a bumpy four-hour ride from the capital Accra, my group and I embarked on a three-week international medical volunteer project.
In local villages, we set up tents to test and collect data on the health conditions of residents. I organized them into lines and recorded data like blood pressure, age, gender, body temperature, as well as the presence of HIV, hepatitis B, and diabetes. Simultaneously, I also made sure that all villagers were thoroughly informed to visit the hospital for timely vaccines. Over the three weeks, I collected data from almost a thousand people and it was simply heartwarming to see the smiles on their faces from our volunteerism. During my time at the Cape Coast Hospital, I was assigned to the pediatrics and birthing units, helping the doctors and nurses with some basic care of new infants while simultaneously gaining an invaluable appreciation of how different the local healthcare system was.
Most notably, we also went to several leprosy camps and witnessed the oldest pandemic in the world. I treated some extremely gruesome wounds by hand. The wounds were unimaginably grotesque. For instance, when the old bandages and gauzes of a certain patient were removed, I saw fluids leaking out of an abnormally shaped leg (the sequelae of leprosy deforms limbs and bloody wounds). Having caught sight of the unfortunate injury, I clearly remember that a Dutch girl in our group fainted on my shoulders. Another volunteer turned his head and vomited. We couldn’t believe we had to treat this level of wound. At first, it turned out to be a great challenge, but I soon became quite skillful. There was a procedure to follow, and it was extremely difficult to not only get the process right but also to conquer the visuals of the wound in my mind in order to move my frozen hands...
One specific event that really moved me was when a little boy came over as a leprosy patient. I remember the only broken English that he could stammer was, “help me, it hurts”... I teared up after that. Perhaps it will not sound touching on paper, but as I write, that moment is engraved in my memory as if it has just happened. The experience made me realize that there are still diseases impacting the world that I preconceived as eradicated. The lack of proper medical facilities and the Cape Coast’s local population’s need for medical care deeply motivated me to do something for them. This thought has continuously intensified my ambition of making a change...
I’ve come to the realization that the world requires more understanding and empathy and that knowledge should be transformed into an altruistic force. My unforgettable experience in Ghana and the sudden explosion of the COVID-19 pandemic after the trip made me wonder: while technology has even allowed us to explore Mars, there are still endless unsolved mysteries encompassing our physical bodies. Our understanding of "science" must shift— it needs to synergize with compassion.