Nurse Lauri Rupracht would see Africa on television as a child and tell herself, ‘some day I’m going to go and help them.’
That day came when her children were grown. Now Rupracht, 51, is organizing her third trip in as many years to the rural villages of Ghana. She says it is a safe and peaceful country with a high poverty level. “The country has so much potential,” she says.
Last spring she spent her vacation time leading a group of 13 nurses from the Syracuse area to Ghana. They sweated from the time they got off the plane, traveled for hours in a bus along dirt roads and slept beneath mosquito nets. One of the nurses, Kimberly Vuocolo recalls the working conditions throughout the villages they visited: “Sometimes we had electricity, and sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes we had water, and sometimes we didn’t.”
Vuocolo, 28, an oncology nurse, says in addition to providing health care to 1,470 people, the group delivered school supplies and sneakers to some orphanages and schools. They also managed some tourist side trips.
Rupracht is organizing another trip this spring. The Americans Serving Abroad Project will return to Ghana in March 2014 to provide medical care in rural villages. “It’s probably the hardest work anybody’s ever going to do, under the circumstances in the heat,” Rupracht says. “But you get so much out of it. You come back with a whole new perspective. I think you come back a changed person.”
The volunteers provide first aid, blood pressure and diabetes screening to patients who would otherwise have to walk for hours for care. Patients with problems that require follow-up are directed to a hospital. The ASAP group partners with the nonprofit ElGhana, which helps arrange the clinics, lodging and transportation between villages.
Perhaps the most difficult part of the trip is realizing that, as Rupracht describes, “you can’t do everything.” A girl of 8 or 9, for instance, had never seen a doctor and was obviously malnourished. Checking her pulse and looking in her mouth for obvious tooth decay was not going to solve that. But, “you can only do so much.”
Listen to an interview with Rupracht