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Soccer's Woeltz Traveled to Ghana to Aid Youth

Junior Coco Woeltz

Junior Coco Woeltz

July 8, 2014

Junior Coco Woeltz, an economics major, traveled to Ghana as part of a service trip in June. She recounts her mission, as well as the experiences in the new country.

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Ghana Health & Education Initiative (GHEI) was a program that started in 2001 with the founding mission to educate and provide health resources to the Ghanaian communities of Humjibre, Ghana. GHEI integrates a staff of both Americans and Humjibre local representatives. Together, this faculty of people has built, and continues to build, an incredible health organization by launching specific programs to target some Ghana's issues and needs.

This past fall I applied to one of GHEI's programs, a service trip offered over a two-week time span in the summer. So on June 1, I arrived at Humjibre, Ghana, on behalf of GHEI's Vision Session 2014. I joined this program along with six other volunteers, four of who were first-year medical students. Vision Session 2014 was also a pilot program that was established and led under these four medical students. I was asked to join them to help fundraise and accomplish their mission, which was combining GHEI's two central themes of health and education by researching and testing students' eyesight, and then ultimately providing the students of this community a better resource for their impaired vision.

In taking on our mission, my team and I screened over 300 students from schools in the nearby villages. We tested the eyesight of children aged between seven and 13. Vision screening involved giving each student a basic eye exam, which I was trained to do during orientation. It was an exciting learning experience that gave me a glimpse of life in the medical field. In our screening, we looked for signs of strabismus, glaucoma, and cataracts, which can all be common contributors to a student's weaker eyesight. Of the 300 students we tested, 25 showed seriously impaired vision. From this step, we took those 25 students to the local hospital of Bibani, where a practicing ophthalmologist could prescribe glasses and would hopefully be able to treat the cases.

Prior to this trip, GHEI requires a fundraising goal of all its volunteers. With the incredible support and contributions, my team and I were able to fundraise and cover the expense of glasses and medicine. We brought over 200 pairs of U.S. glasses, which after prescribing their vision, lenses were adjusted. We also hoped this would set a foundation and future for the Vision Session 2014 program.

Woeltz screens a young patient

I had never been to Africa prior to this trip. Staying in Humjibre, meeting the people of its community and working for a rigorous, well-respected program, I was fortunate to have had an incredible first-time experience. I was originally most excited for Ghana, because of the service and work I was preparing myself to do. However, being back in the U.S. for two weeks now, I realize the excitement I anticipated did not actually occur in the service or fundraising, but rather, in the conversations, the introductions, the goodbyes and all the people-to-people moments that are not so different from home. The people of Humjibre welcomed my team and me; they took interest in us. They expressed kindness towards. They wanted to share their stories with us and for us to share our stories with them.

In these connections I made, I developed a great respect for the Ghanian community's friendliness and work ethic for their families. I sensed a loyalty among these people that was also quite familiar with Boston and the people I've grown around. Ultimately, I am so thankful to GHEI for including in their mission. I am so thankful to the student body and community of Humjibre for welcoming me as a friend. I am thankful to Boston College, as it was where I discovered the GHEI opportunity. And finally, I'm forever thankful to my family and supporters who made this journey of mine possible and were with me all the way through.

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