Last year, I had an amazing experience volunteering for Mission Rabies and participating in their vaccination drive in Goa. I blogged extensively about it (start here), allowing me to joyfully relive the experience as I went through all my photos from the trip.
Traveling has always been one of my pleasures in life, and being retired has afforded me even more opportunities to do it. As if impacting the health and well-being of people and dogs wasn’t enough, the fact that these vaccination drives occur in some very exotic places is the icing on the cake for an adventurous traveler like me. I’ve been keeping my eyes and ears open regarding other Mission Rabies opportunities, and a few months ago, on their website, I saw what I was looking for:
On the website’s description of the mission, I saw this picture of a man from Ghana with a handful of puppies that had been recently been vaccinated (as evidenced by the red paint on their heads) and that sealed the deal. I had to apply.
I know these vaccination drives are popular, and I was hoping that I’d secure a spot. It was an awesome moment for me when I received the e-mail that said that yes, I’d been invited to join the Mission Rabies Ghana team. Fortunately for me, having been on the recent Goa mission, all of my application materials were still on file and still valid, making the application process easier than the first time.
Africa has always held a fascination for me. I’d been to Morocco before, but it’s in Northern Africa and I felt more of a Middle Eastern feel. We ended the Morocco trip in Tangier, and it had a kinda European vibe, being just across the water from Spain. I guess when I think of Africa, my mind conjures up the classic Kenya-Bostwana-Zimbabwe-lions-and-tigers-on-the-Serengeti images. I’ll be going to Kenya (and Ethiopia) with Mark in December, and I did book a few game drives, so I’ll finally get to experience that. I’m not sure what to expect in Ghana, but whatever it is, I know it’ll be fascinating.
I don’t know much about Ghana. Africa is a huge continent. I looked at a map of Africa and saw that Ghana is West Africa, a little country bordered by the Ivory Coast to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, and Togo to the East, all of these countries being a mystery to me. To the south is the Atlantic Ocean, and apparently the country has a picturesque coastline and lots of lovely sandy beaches. I read that despite its small size, Ghana is one of the leading countries in Africa because it was the first country south of the Sahara to achieve independence from colonial rule, in March of 1957. Spurred by Ghana’s example, more than 30 other nations followed suit, declaring their independence over the next decade.
The capital is Accra, and it’s the commercial and educational center of the country. That’s where all of the international flights land. Amazingly, there are direct flights to Ghana from New York a few times a week. It’s a 15-flight, pretty similar to my flight to India last year.
The itinerary in interesting. I fly out of New York on January 31st, and will land in Accra the next day, February 1st. I’ll be picked up at the airport and taken to the Agoo Hostel in Accra, where the core staff and the rest of the volunteers will gather and meet. We get to rest up a bit, and then the next day, we travel five or six hours to Lake Bosomtwe, the only natural lake in Ghana. The lake is situated in an ancient impact crater 6.5 miles wide. The area in which the lake is located is known as the Ashanti Region. In the 18th and 19th century, this area was the seat of the Ashanti Empire. The Ashanti consider Lake Bosomtwe to be a sacred lake, where (according to traditional belief), the souls of the dead come to bid farewell to goddess Asase Ya.
There are many villages around the lake, and it’s the dogs in these villages that we are targeting. The goal is to vaccinate 70% of the dogs in the region. Studies have shown that if you can vaccinate 70% of the population, it breaks the rabies cycle.
In Goa, we went door to door, vaccinating dogs in people’s homes. We also spent a significant part of our day vaccinating stray dogs that our animal handlers caught in their nets. In the document that contained our Ghana itinerary, it said that we would be going door to door, and also participating in static point clinic work, i.e. we set up a base that serves as a vaccination clinic, and dog owners bring their dogs to us for vaccination. That’s my interpretation of it. I’ll know for sure when I get there.
Between week 1 and week 2, we’ll have the weekend off to relax. In Goa, the volunteers visited a meditation retreat deep in the jungle. According to the Ghana itinerary, we have many options for that free weekend, including a day trip to Kumasi.
Kumasi is the capital city of the Ashanti region, and is Ghana’s second largest city. In Kumasi, you’ll find the largest market in West Africa. The images of the market that I saw online look overwhelming!
My partner Mark loves to cook, and is a food fanatic. He basically spends every evening either reading his cookbooks or watching cooking videos on his iPad. One of his favorite travel/food vloggers is Mark Wiens. Wiens travels to the four corners of the Earth, enthusiastically reporting on the cuisine and culture that he encounters. Here’s his excellent video about Kumasi and the Ashanti culture.
I found the video fascinating, and I cannot believe that I’m going to actually get an opportunity to visit Kumasi on a day trip!
I’ve already gotten my Yellow Fever vaccination (proof of vaccination is required to travel to Ghana, no exceptions), and am in the process of securing my visa. I upgraded my iPhone to the iPhone 11 Pro, solely because the camera is said to be fantastic (trust me, it is), allowing me to better document the experience for myself and for readers of the blog. In only a few short months, the Ghana adventure begins.
In February 2020, I will be joining a team of Mission Rabies volunteers on another vaccination drive. The destination: Ghana! Our intention, as always, is to vaccinate as many dogs as possible, with a goal of immunizing 70% of the dog population. At this level of immunity, the rabies cycle is broken. To do this type of work is expensive and requires many resources. If you support the work that I am doing with this amazing organization, I ask that you make a donation to the cause. Every dollar helps.