KONONGO VILLAGE, GHANA (WTOC) - A few weeks ago, WTOC video journalist Ricardo Thomas and I went along with Goodness and Mercy volunteers on their mission of mercy to Ghana.
Our journey was nothing short of amazing. The people of the Konongo village work hard, but since there is no industry in the remote area, medical care is hard to come by. That's why these medical missions can become a matter of life or death.
Each day, the crowd gets bigger as the word spreads about the volunteers who have come to treat patients in Konongo village. "I think that really they are sent from God," said Elemia Barry.
Elemia, 13, is one of thousands who are in desperate need of medical care but cannot afford to pay for it. So when these volunteers come to town, it's the answer to their prayers.
While she and her mother wait for their turn to see a doctor, she jumps in and starts helping the volunteers.
"We all know that you all have your language and it is different from ours. Yours is English and ours is Twee. So, I interpret for them so they can get understanding and tell whatever they need to the doctors so they can get quick medical treatment," she said. "Because I have love for my people and my country, I decided to interpret for them."
Her assistance really helped the English speaking volunteers with the older villagers who speak little or no English.
Dr. Eugene Nwosu is leading this team of nearly 30 volunteers. They work from 8am until 5pm, taking only a 30 minute break.
For some of the patients, it's just a routine checkup, but for others, their treatment will require follow up care. "She had this for about six years because she doesn't have money or insurance to take care of it privately," said Dr. Eugene Nwosu.
Goodness and Mercy is paying for the women's insurance, the surgery and after care. A surgeon removed the cyst while we were there. We got to see this woman walk without the cyst for the first time in 6 years.
Gynecologist and surgeon Dr. Ilam Bornstein, performed ten surgeries during our weeklong mission. "My goals here were to do the surgeries and not only help the women, but to teach some of the local surgeons some of the techniques so when I am gone, they can perform some of the surgeries themselves," added Dr. Ilam Bornstein.
It was all hands on deck that week. I even got called into service. I helped during one of Dr. Bornstein's procedures by making sure one of his patients got the oxygen she needed.
By far, the eye clinic was the busiest place all week long.
Optician Ryan Trettien ran the clinic. "The need here is so great. Almost everybody here cannot read because they have trouble seeing," explained Ryan Trettien.
By week's end, that number had significantly changed, the eye team, made up of five volunteers, handed out 1,164 pairs of eyeglasses.
No matter what the patients needs were, most of them ended up in the pharmacy where Beth Heape and her team, made up of Chris McKenzie, and Robin and David Findlay, rushed to meet their needs.
They had some help from four Ghanaian pharmacists and the Maynard children, Kianna and Kimani. "We counted 25,000 pills and it took about three days. It was really boring too. Even though it's really boring, it sure does help out people," said 12-year-old Kimani Maynard. "They have to take the drugs and pain medication. So even though it's boring, we have to do it."
Volunteers admit it's hard work, but they also say it'll be hard for them to imagine any other work that would be more fulfilling.
"This has been a very humbling experience for me to know that this day and time there are still people by our standards suffering at the poverty level to this degree, but yet still manage to survive and to know that they are so gracious for any and everything that we give them in the form of our service, it means a lot," said Rev. Liston Singletary.
It was a very moving experience for all of us. Tomorrow and throughout the week, I'll introduce you to more of the volunteers who really made a tremendous sacrifice to treat 2,716 in five short days.
Some had to close their businesses and they all had to leave their families and the comforts of home to go on this mission. Nearly 30 people made up the team, among those volunteers was Saint Joseph's/Candler Health Systems CEO Paul Hinchey and Savannah City Councilman Van Johnson.
I have a lot of interesting stories ahead that should really make everyone proud of so many very special people who make up our community.