Last week was the first time I volunteered at the Beacon House, a children’s home here in Accra operated by a missionary woman. It currently houses around 35 children, ages 3 months to 14 years. I was there the same day an immunization clinic was being held at a nearby church. Government nurses travel to different parts of Accra throughout the month providing free vaccinations to babies and toddlers. We (3 female Ghanaian staff, another missionary, and myself) took advantage of this opportunity and gathered up 8 children under the age of 2 and their medical records and walked with them the 4 blocks to get some shots. I must admit that carrying one child and holding the hand of another short and very slow person was challenging.
We arrived at the immunization clinic as the nurses were setting up. There were about 25-30 mothers with their young children. Interestingly, there was one young man with his child, also. Everyone was seated in his or her own white, plastic chair. The first order of the day was to weigh each baby. Each parent undressed their child completely. However, I noticed that nearly every child, except the ones we brought, was wearing beads around their middle. I’ve since learned that if a child doesn’t have this necklace around the waist, it means the mother is a witch. Sarah Erdman, a Peace Corp volunteer who was in the Cote D’Ivoire and wrote of her experiences in Nine Hills to Nambonkaha, best describes the weighing process. There are 2 tall wooden supports across which there is a beam and a dangling hook. The naked babies are fit into “shorts with straps. . . . Hang the scale on the hook and the shorts’ straps on the scale, and the contraption suspends the baby several inches above the ground.” It’s quite a sight watching the “terrified hanging babies pedal the air.”
After each baby was weighed, they were redressed and the parents waited for their baby’s name to be called for vaccinations. I observed as the nurse drew up medication into new syringes, using a new needle every time. However, I was a little mortified as I noticed that she never once put on gloves to give the shots. After a shot, the babies, of course, cried which allowed the nurse to administer an oral vaccination. After only a few short hours, we headed back to the Beacon House, children in tow. I was glad to have the opportunity to see more of the medical care provided in Ghana.