Heart to Heart

The ICHA Blog

Devon Watts has worked with global health organizations and international NGOs since 2003, when she first visited Ghana. She spent that summer in a small fishing village near Elmina, educating the community about HIV/AIDS. This experience set her on a career in the global health profession. In 2005 she spent a year in Uganda working for the UK-based NGO Plan International. Devon revisited Ghana in 2007 to evaluate a surgical education program at a teaching hospital in Accra.

Devon now works at Medpedia, a worldwide project to collect and advance health and medical knowledge and make it freely accessible to all. Devon lives in Noe Valley and enjoys skiing, puzzles and (obviously) travel!

Meeting the chief of Elmina

As is customary in Ghana, before we started working in the clinic and the community of Elmina we were introduced to the local chief and queen mother, and the traditional council. Through the Medical Director of the clinic, who acted as a translator, we explained to these leaders the purpose of our visit and our plan for the next few weeks. The chief, queen mother and councilmen welcomed us graciously and thanked us for the good work we set out to do.



It was a fascinating experience visiting with these traditional community leaders. While there was definitely a strong feeling of deep-rooted custom, there was also no escaping modernity. During the ceremonial pouring of libations, when a couple of the councilmen prayed to the ancestors for us to have a successful visit, we heard a beeping jingle and noticed one of the other councilmen pull a cell phone out of his robes and answer a call! It was an amusing reminder of the strange circumstances in which we found ourselves, and we all had a little chuckle (including the councilmen!)



Meeting the chief was a very important step for ICHA. We now have his all-important blessing, and have been officially sanctioned to work in the community on this and all our subsequent outreach trips to Elmina.


Welcome! It’s hard to believe we’re finally here in Ghana! It’s been a really great visit so far – and really busy! When we arrived in Accra, we jumped straight into a van that took us to Elmina, where we’re working. Elmina is a town of about 25,000 people, situated on the coast about 2 hours drive west of Accra. The economy of the town is centered around fishing and, as you can see from the photo, there is a busy port where the long wooden fishing boats are docked when they’re not out at sea.



Our first full day here was a public holiday, in celebration of the 100th anniversary of Kwame Nkurmah’s birth. We spent the day exploring the town and meeting with community members, while the clinical team set up shop at the Elmina Urban Health Center, where they will be educating the community health workers about cardiovascular disease prevention.

My bags are packed, I’m ready to go…

It’s the night before departure and the feelings are familiar. I’m anxious to get back to the sights, sounds and smells of Africa, and to get to work. Part of me is kind of wishing we had another week to prepare! But I know, having been in this moment before, that this is only nerves – we’re as prepared as we can be, and we really are poised for success. 

Besides, all the preparation in the world couldn’t guarantee that we’d be able to anticipate every challenge we might come across. Establishing a participatory health awareness program on topic around which there is very little existing awareness will be difficult, to say the least, especially in a resource-poor environment such as the one we are stepping into in Elmina. But the work we have done over the past year has brought us to this point – where we have the tools, knowledge and connections we need in order to engage the community in the planning and implementation of such a program.

As my laundry rolls around in the dryer and I’m checking the last few things off my packing list, it’s finally setting in – we’re going to Ghana tomorrow. We are ICHA’s groundbreaking team of volunteers, and we’re going to start off with a bang!

Sister Abena

On my first visit to Ghana in 2003, I learned how the Fante people get their traditional names. It all depends on which day you were born -- not the date, just the day of the week. Having found this out, I took it upon myself to figure out that I was born on a Tuesday, and that women born on Tuesdays are usually named Abena. I figured a local name would serve me better in this foreign land, since my own name, Devon, is difficult even for some Americans to remember, spell and pronounce. So Abena it was, for the duration of my two month stay in Komenda, a small fishing village very near Elmina.



One of my fondest memories of that trip (and there are many) is of walking through the village and stopping to chat with people. As is common almost everywhere when making small talk, one of the first questions that typically came up was, "Wo frow'den?" or, "What is your name?" The first time this happened, I was happy to respond with something that I thought might put a smile on the villagers' faces -- "Fre me Abena," I said. "I am called Abena." (Note: I am attempting to spell the Fante words phonetically, and am undoubtedly butchering the real translations. Please forgive me for this.) Little did I know that the reaction I'd get would be far more than just a simple smile.

Continue reading "Sister Abena" »

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The International Cardiovascular Health Alliance (ICHA) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to promoting cardiovascular health in the developing world. ICHA works closely with local clinics and community organizations to provide knowledge and tools to prevent cardiovascular disease.
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