Development overseas

Emily Rogers worked in Ghana for two months under the Wessex-Ghana Stroke Partnership Scheme. She outlines the complexities behind making volunteering count


Before going to Ghana I had little experience of international development work and no idea of what the project would involve or the commitment required.

Writing my aims and objectives was a challenging process. It was difficult to extract pure aspects of stroke care and what are simply methods used because they fit with our UK system.

Once some of these aspects had been identified they needed to be prioritised, and I found it very hard to become focused. Each issue that arose turned out to be part of a bigger barrier. It was interesting to see just how small you had to make your thinking in terms of what is achievable and where to focus your support. One of the biggest things to recognise was that if something is going to be sustainable it has to come from within the country itself.

During my first few weeks away I became very aware of the many voluntary projects that existed in Ghana. I suddenly realised that it is not an entirely selfless act to volunteer in developing countries, and questioned who I was there for.  

I started to see that some volunteer work potentially provided very little impact in terms of sustainable change, and could indeed breed apathy in the Ghanaian teams. I started to see that for some voluntary placing projects the emphasis is placed on supporting the Western volunteer, not necessarily ensuring that the work carried out is genuinely benefiting the local community.

I think having advice from people with significant experience in international development work is essential for trying to achieve the ‘holy grail’ of sustainable change, as is having very small and specific aims. I am extremely grateful for these experiences and to our team, and hope to continue supporting the project as it develops.

Emily Rogers is a senior neurophysiotherapist working in Wiltshire.

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