During the weekend, I happened to be in the Ada area for some Lodge related and social engagements. A Brother who works with the Ghana Health Service in the Ada East District as an auditor, Mr. Augustus Harry Imbeah played host to a friend, Ato Sesah Rockson and I. Harry is indeed a capital chap! After our Lodge assignment, the rest were pure fun and some relaxation.
However, along the lines, something changed. I was humbled beyond measure by what I experienced and learnt. I encountered nature at its best and came to the realization that the true and actual heroes of our land are not the politicians and sanctimonious ‘big men and women’ who annoyingly ply our roads with blurring sirens. No! It’s not even the false or self-acclaimed prophets who cannot even foresee the demise of their own close relatives but disturb our ears like buzzing bees with horror stories of how a very distant president or public figure is going to die, “kwatakwata by June ending” as the jokes go.
My host, Harry, had to do some visitation at one of the health facilities under his remit so, together with Ato. To my surprise and initial shudder, the visit meant we had to travel on the Volta River in a boat and visit one of the islands in the East Ada District called Pediatorkorpe. This island is situated on the western shore of the Volta River. It has some nearly nine thousand (9,000) people living on it, I was to learn later.
Crossing a river to an island? Hmmm! Although, I count myself as a good swimmer, suddenly my belly and mind started racing with the following thoughts: Boat? Water? Volta River? Estuary? Castro? (I don’t mean to upset his family), Capsize? Undercurrent? High tide? Low tide? Maamewatta? My wife and kids? Mummy? etc. Hmmmmm! I sighed again as Harry signalled me to park the vehicle we were driving in under some trees in front of a shrine close to the river bank. Phew! Under the tree sat about a dozen female fetish priestesses who had apparently finished with whatever they went there to do and were about leaving. Holy Chripes! “I ain’t going anywhere near them nor the boat nor the river nor any visit”. I just wanted to go home at this point. “Harry, no way! I no go fit park there ooo”. That was my fine excuse. “But that’s the shortest way to get to the boat”, Harry replied. Well, eventually we all agreed that I park by the roadside and not under the tree where the bevy of spooky-looking fetish ladies sat.
“Behold the cross of the Lord, flee ye all powers of darkness…” I found myself murmuring while we walked through the apparently friendly priestesses to the bank of the river. They even wished us Happy New Year and joked that “a year by now when you are passing, you would be holding something in your hands for us” in Dangbe.
After the ‘safe’ passage through the fetish ‘gangsters’, we got to the river bank and all I could see were some wooden fishing boats and one small dingy aluminium Panfish-like fishing boat. Harry pointed to that one with pride and said, “That’s our boat”. Ummm! Ghana Health Service has a boat. I did not know this. In the distance, I could see some powerful private luxury yachts, speed boats and ski jets dangling in the greenish blue waters of the Volta River. In that same distance, posh waterfront houses dotted the bank. These are apparently holiday / vacation / relaxation dens for some rich and famous people in Ghana. Some obvious names were mentioned. These guys and their families and friends would come and enjoy themselves paaa oblivious of the national sacrifices being made by some average people just a few distance across the river on an island.
I looked at Harry’s ‘pride’ again, that dingy aluminium fishing boat. “Dear Lord”, I prayed in my head, “I’m going to go in this thing on the Volta River to a ‘frigging’ island I do not know”. “Forgive me of all my iniquities and have mercy on me”. Before I could end with Amen, Harry called out, “Charley! Isaac, make we go”. “Ay3 3ka. Today be today”, I said, smiling with trepidation, to myself.
This is where the real story of the actual heroes begin.
Isaac Atitsogbey (captured in pink t-shirt over a black and red swim shorts in the accompanying pictures) is a 58 year-old native of the area who has served for about fifteen (15) years in the Ghana Health Service in Ada East (GHS) as a boatman. Until the eye-opener opportunity by Harry, I did not even know this extent of the work of the GHS. Thus, for 15 years Isaac’s duty of call has been on the Volta River. I am sure if he were to be a female, he would have turned into a mermaid by now. Quietly and humbly, this man is playing a very crucial role in our health sector without anyone recognizing his immense contribution to mother Ghana. I think that not even the waterfront holiday home revellers give a hoot!
There are about ten health facilities, one clinic at Pediatorkorpe and the rest are Community Health Planning Services (CHPS) Compounds dotted across the seven Ada islands. So, it has been the duty of Isaac for the past 15 years to ferry health workers – nurses and other ancillaries like Harry) from mainland to island or from one island to the other, not forgetting the seriously ill or the occasional dead bodies.
So, our trip to Pediatorkorpe, after all that stomach-churning thoughts and encounters, started with relief as I sized Isaac’s confidence level and watch the ease with which he caressed the tired boat into the Volta waters. He started the outboard motor and slowly we slithered and cut through the river. My new knowledge and appreciation of the work of the 58 year-old man and me constantly pondering on his role and what he has gained out of it kept the fears away except for a few knee-jerking manoeuvrings. In no time, we were at ‘port’ Pediatorkorpe. Harry led us through a short bush path and hey presto! there we were, Pediatorkorpe Health Centre. Harry was at home; like a baboon seeing a bunch of bananas. You could sense the joy and accomplishment in him to have visited the Centre. “In-charge! In-chaarge! In-Chaaarge!!!” he shouted. After a short while, a lady carrying a baby emerged from the back or front (I am not even too sure of the architecture of the quarters). She was obviously also happy to see Harry. A second lady appeared, this time with two kids. Harry introduced them as Portia and Ruth, two (2) out of the only nine (9) nurses that serve the ten (10) or so health facilities dotted across the Ada islands. When I saw them I thought they were going to call their mother, my perceived nurse, to come out. Wow!!! These young girls are nurses on an island?
Portia Ammafio Haynes, a 33-year old is a Senior and Enrolled Nurse at the Pediatorkorpe Health Centre. She is the longest serving health worker on the island. She is in her eighth (8th) year on the island where most health professionals would not want to be posted, tending to the health needs of the islanders. She lives there with her two-year old daughter and I understand her husband lives and works in Accra.
Ruth Ankomah is a 28-year Staff Nurse and the In-Charge of the Centre. She is in her fourth (4th) year at the Pediatorkorpe Centre. She also has an island baby, a one-year old. Just like Portia, her husband also lives and works in Accra.
So these are two of the fantastic nine nurses who have devoted their time, energies, marriages and other pleasures and conveniences on mainland to render their services to Mother Ghana on remote islands. There is no doctor or a Physician Assistant on the islands. On daily basis, Isaac, with his tired boat would ferry them from one health facility to another across islands on the Volta River. One can only imagine the dangers they put themselves through, but talking to them, I only got the feeling of how content they are contributing their quota to the health services of the country.
They said they could do with stable electricity on the island since lights have not been stable for about two years, enough supplies of anti-snake venoms due to the number of reported cases of snakebites (I never thought snakes also live on islands), more medical supplies to treat malaria, skin diseases, upper respiratory diseases etc and portable drinking water since the only water they have now is pumped from the Volta River. The aspirations of the two, Portia and Ruth, are to further their education and upgrade themselves in the line of their chosen career. As for Isaac, I am sure that he could also do with an upgraded or refurbished boat but personally and looking at his age, he should be compensated and retired well when time comes.
I am certainly aware that there are many other professionals or men and women in many obscure parts of the country doing wonderful jobs that no one is paying attention to. These are the actual heroes of Ghana and they must be recognized as such.
Well done Ghana Health Service, Ada East District. I pray you get the needed support to do more. Well done Harry for the eye-opener trip. Your bosses must be proud of you. Well done Isaac, the God of the Volta River and the fetishes of Ada are certainly with you. For Portia and Ruth, I will deport your husbands from Accra to join you on the Pediatorkorpe Island. It certainly must be cold at night. All of you are some of the true and actual heroes of Ghana. The island babies will grow to know your sacrifices and be proud of you. I am sure the authorities have taken note of this.
#LetUsKeepGhanaBeautiful# # LetUsFightDirty#
#GhanaHealthService# #PediatorkopeHeroes# #HeroesOfGhana# #TheCleanInstitute#
The writer, Ben Ackah-Mensah, is a banker, development & corporate communications specialist and an environmental and sanitation advocate.