AT first glance the group of 20 volunteers look like a piecemeal bunch. There is a cocktail barman working alongside an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and a bespoke cabinet maker working with a biomedical scientist.
The ages range across five decades, and the heritage of team members leaps from Europe to Africa to Asia.
Yet they all have one altruistic goal in common: improving the health and education of deprived villagers living in a remote and largely forgotten corner of Ghana.
Northampton-based charity FREED UK has been working in the Nandom area for six years, developing the regional hospital and supporting local schools.
The charity was set up by Dery Tuopar, a dental surgeon at Northampton General Hospital (NGH), who grew up in Ghana. Rather than turning his back on the town and villages he called home as a boy, Mr Tuopar is using his western skills and finances to invest in the region and set up a series of sustainable projects.
In November this year he travelled with a team of 18 volunteers from the UK, and one childhood friend still living in central Ghana, to the upper west region 400 miles north of capital city Accra.
The group split into a dental team, laboratory team, school and orphanage team and hospital kitchen team to oversee a series of projects all funded by UK donations.
Clinical nurse specialist Anne Hicks, who also works at NGH, has been a member of FREED UK since its inception. She has seen the charity develop from beyond a focus on dental services to helping the wider community in Nandom, with the help of volunteers from varying professional backgrounds.
She said: “We all have many different skills but we work as a team and that is why this charity has been so successful.”
Mr Tuopar said this trip had been the charity’s most successful to date.
He added: “The impact has been absolutely huge.
“The hospital has been so busy because they know about the work we are doing.
“People are now moving away from traditional methods of treatment and coming to the hospital which is now a centre of excellence.
“All of the other projects have been absolutely fantastic and the team has achieved so much, we even got coverage in a national Ghanaian newspaper.”
The feeding Kitchen at Nandom
IN 2007 the Chronicle & Echo launched an appeal to help FREED UK raise £7,000 for a feeding kitchen at Nandom Hospital. Three years later the building has been constructed and is now being used to provide food to patients and staff, plus schools in the wider community.
The aim of the kitchen is to reduce the number of people cooking meals on the bare grounds of the hospital to feed their sick relatives and to improve nutrition to help recovery rates. With no kitchen in the past, patients suffered from malnutrition and would sometimes die after successful operations due to a lack of adequate food.
It is also hoped the kitchen will reduce the amount of livestock people bring to the hospital grounds such as live chicken and goats which wander around freely.
During their recent trip to Ghana, FREED UK officially opened the kitchen and invited local dignitaries to the commissioning ceremony. As part of the opening ceremony FREED UK paid for all 47 sick infants in the hospital to have one nutritious meal.
MP for the Lawra-Nandom region Ambrose Dery asked that FREED UK continue its hard work and pledged to support the kitchen with an £18,000 grant for seeds to support the kitchen farm.
He added: “FREED UK have done so much to assist development in this area. I thank them for leaving their comfort in the UK and coming here. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of good nutrition in the recovery of patients. We will work with FREED moving forward.”
Nandom chief Polkuu Puo-Ire re-emphasised his gratitude for the kitchen.
He added: “I am proud and glad that people from the UK have supported us here in Nandom to have a kitchen. I am more than grateful to FREED UK for this wonderful job they have done.”
The money raised by Chron readers went into the first stage of the project, making the bricks for the building and getting the outer shell constructed. For the past three years FREED UK has been raising further funds to build the internal frame, develop a store room, toilet and canteen, plus pump gas into the kitchen and buy three large cookers.
The final stage of the £35,000 project was to build work tops and storage units for the food and kitchen equipment. Cabinet maker Mark Dayman, who runs Northampton business The Art of Wood, built the kitchen units in just three days with the help of hospital carpenter Richard I-Kenye.
He said: “What we have provided is simple and functional and will keep all of the kitchen implements and food off the dirty floor where there are a lot of large bugs. It is a complete contrast to the bespoke high quality finish of my work in the UK. It is refreshing to make something that I can knock out in a few days without having to worry about levelling up everything precisely and matching it exactly to the existing furniture.”
To contain the large fruit and vegetables, FREED UK bought six weaved baskets from 80-year-old Kabru Hooko, the mother of Dominic Hooko, one of the members of FREED UK who also grew up in Nandom before emigrating to the UK.
He now works as a surveyor, contracted by Hull City Council, but his family still live in their traditional stone house in Nandom.
Mr Hooko reflected on the first completed project. He said: “A thousand mile journey starts with one step. We are on our first step as FREED UK.”
Improving dental care
IMAGINE the agony of walking around with a giant infected hole in your mouth for three full years in an area with no dental service.
This was the painful situation 20-year-old Francis Singme found himself in until two dental staff from charity FREED UK arrived in Nandom, Ghana, to open a dentist suite.
Dentist Aarti Sodha and dental nurse Lisa Peat swapped their community clinics in Bedfordshire for a filthy, spider-ridden room in Nandom Hospital.
They worked in 35 degrees Celsius heat in a room with intermittent running water, erratic electricity and only basic instruments.
The arrival of Dr Sodha and Miss Peat was a welcome relief for their patients ranging from age 16 to 80, all of whom had never been to the dentist, as there are none qualified in the whole region. The problems treated by the duo included large abscesses, rotten teeth, gum disease and chips.
Despite the harsh conditions they saw 77 patients, extracted 94 teeth, provided fillings, prescribed antibiotics and carried out surgery on a 20-year-old Nandom Secondary School pupil.
But although the tools and conditions vary dramatically from the UK, the dental problems remain mostly familiar.
Dr Sodha explained: “We saw similar problems like decayed teeth and chipped teeth. I was not finding a whole mouth of decay, just one or two teeth. But the chronic problems were a lot worse in Nandom as they are left without treatment for longer.
“The patients have much more tolerance and a higher pain threshold than in the UK. At home people find it difficult to tolerate the pressure and we have to keep reassuring patients. In Nandom they were not flinching at all and this is their first experience of local anaesthetic. I guess they know what real pain is.”
Meanwhile over at the hospital laboratory a team of four biomedical scientists trained hospital staff, gave a feedback report and recommended areas for investment.
Azra Khan, Marilena Ioannou, Catherine Nestroruk and Lisa Brown, who work for health trusts in Warwickshire and Leicestershire, worked with the incoming laboratory manager Benjamin Botchway to improve test procedures.
Miss Khan, who has been to the hospital twice since 2007, said the lab had vastly improved and the new manager was a great asset and team leader. She added: “There are still problems like if a machine breaks it can take weeks to be fixed but from three years ago the lab has really moved on.”
The next step is to develop a microbiology laboratory to enable doctors to get conclusive test results and reduce the amount of misdiagnoses.