Arne Van de Vyver  (Summer 2012)- Belgian Medical Student

Post date: Feb 19, 2013 8:32:44 PM

Name: Arne Van de Vyver  (Summer 2012)

Date of birth: 13 October 1991

Nationality: Belgian

Education: Medical school, University of Antwerp

 -       Your background

I am studying Medicine at the University of Antwerp. I am currently in my fourth year of Medicine. Last year I obtained a Bachelor degree, which is given after completion of three years in Medical school. Now I have started my Master degree, which will be finished within 4 years.

-   Program I worked on while with VPWA

Because I study Medicine, I chose to participate in the medical program of VPWA. We were placed in the Amasaman hospital, a public hospital near the capital city of Accra. I worked there for four weeks. During these four weeks I learned about the way the hospitals function in Ghana and the differences with Western hospitals. I also got a unique chance to participate and help the nurses and doctors the best I could.

It is difficult to get a function in a hospital if you are only there for four weeks. However, the nurses and doctors were very pleased to show us around and teach us new things. The main goal was observing the nurses and doctors, but to some extent we could also help out a hand. It is very interesting to see how medical techniques are performed in Ghana. I saw caesarian sections, circumcisions, vaginal investigations, labour, eye examinations, ENT examinations, buruli ulcer skin transplantations, woundcare and general consultations. I actually expected that the hospital would be more rural with less equipment, but I even saw surgical procedures, which was very unique for me. Still, the hospital has limitations. The infrastructure of some departments is in need of improvement. However, I found it very amazing that hygiene and sterility are always tried to be maintained to the best by the medical workers.

In some situations we were allowed to be of help to the medical staff.

I have worked in the wound care department, where there are always a lot of people queuing for treatment. It was nice that I could be of help so that the patients were helped quicker.

The Buruli ulcer department is very interesting, because this disease is almost unique to the area where the hospital is. The skin transplantations are done once a month and we were very welcome to come and observe the procedures.

At the labour ward, you are confronted with a non-Western way of giving birth. The tradition is very different. I found that this department gave me a perspective of the Ghanaian tradition, which not a lot of foreigners can experience. The relationship between nurses and patients is so much different from my country.

The ENT- and eye department are both limited in space. A small room is used, and the equipment is too big for the space. This is a pity. Once, a salesman came to promote a machine for the eye department. However this would be a great investment, there was no place to put it, and so the machine could not be bought. Again, I refer to the limitations they have to face in the hospital at some points.


A hospital is not only therapy and procedures. The nurses and doctors explained us the health care system in Ghana and the fact that not everyone has health insurance. We also experienced the fact that this is a reason why a lot of Ghanaians don’t go to hospitals, because it is too expensive. A girl of 10 years old had one record in her health book, namely her birth issues. This meant that she didn’t go to the hospital for 10 years. It is clear that follow up is thus very difficult for health workers. History is almost non-existent, which makes giving the best health care you want very difficult

In general I experienced that nurses and doctors are very motivated to help other citizens. They have to deal with more limitations than we do in the West, but still they try to give care in the best way imaginable.


-       Living arrangements

With a group of about twenty volunteers, we lived in a house in Pokuase. I did not expect it to be this comfortable, but it was. A gated house, with all the comfort we have in Europe. I slept in a room with four other guys, all participants in a specific VPWA program. A water pump in the courtyard constantly provides the house with running water. There is no hot water in the house, but that was not an issue for me at all. The water is not drinkable, but you can boil it to make tea, soup,… On the street you buy food for breakfast and lunch. Dinner is brought every evening by a VPWA co-worker. There is a supermarket on the other side of the street, which is very convenient. Dinner is served in a plastic box, so you can eat it whenever you want, for instance if you come home later from work. We tried to eat together with all the other volunteers as much as possible. Even the volunteers, who lived on the first flour, mostly came downstairs to eat with us.

My working day started at 8 a.m., so I woke up at 6.45 a.m. This seems early, but I experienced that while in Ghana, the days are very different from my own country. Because it is light at 5.30 a.m. and dark around 6.30 p.m. the days start earlier and end earlier. Mostly we went to bed at 10.30p.m.


-       What will I remember about Ghana

 The thing that has struck me the most is the hospitality and kindness of the Ghanaian inhabitants. People will notice you because you have a light skin, but there is no hostility. I had never been to Africa and was not sure about what to expect. Because there are also a lot of poor areas in Ghana, I expected that we would have to pay a lot of attention for pick pockets and harassment.  None of this is true. Of course you are always careful about your stuff, but I never felt unsafe. People talk to you as if you are their best friend, they dance with you,… They want you to feel welcome in their country. Also the streets are very lively, which is very fun.

Also in the hospital you can build up nice bonds with the patients, because they let you in their lives. They are very open and tell you about their living conditions, their families, what made them end up in the hospital,… This is so nice, because this way you learn a lot more about the Ghanaian way of living.


-       What makes VPWA different from other organizations


This was my first time I did volunteering work in a foreign country, but I think it is special that you can participate in a local organization, managed by Ghanaian people. They now their culture and people much better than foreign organizations that do volunteering work in Ghana too. This way they have a better perspective on different situations, and know exactly how to deal with them.

     -      Advice for future volunteers

The main advice I can give is to be prepared to work in an environment you are not used too. In the beginning you can have some difficulties with adapting to the Ghanaian way of living, but if you are open to everything it will be a great experience. Also sometimes it might be frustrating that things in Ghana are not done as quickly as in the West, but try to understand that they have to do a lot of things with less than we have. It might be easy to have a lot of comments on the Ghanaian way some things are done, but if you try to keep in mind that you are not in Europe or America you will find it much easier to go with it and see the positive things, instead of what you would do different.