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One GCU Service Trip to Ghana Touches More Than 850 Lives

GCU nursing students volunteer in Ghana

Eight Georgian Court nursing students went to Ghana in January hoping to make a difference in people’s lives. And they did, using their training to provide malaria testing/treatment, wound care, and blood pressure checks to more than 850 Ghanaians, as well as attending to two births. The people being served made a difference in the students’ lives, too.

“The Ghanian people, who have so much less than we do, seem to be so at peace and harmony with their lives,” said Lauren Fernandes ’22. “On our last day, when I was heartbroken to be leaving, the children we played with daily told me not to cry. One even gifted me with a bracelet he made for me. Kindness and love radiated from every Ghanaian we had the pleasure to meet.” 

Maureen Bailey, Ph.D., RN, lecturer in nursing, and Vincent C. W. Chen, Ph.D., assistant professor of exercise science, led the trip, “Ghana: Service-Learning in Health Care,” which was facilitated by the GCU Office of Global Education Programs in conjunction with International Volunteer HQ.  

Ghana, on Africa’s western coast, was chosen for the GCU trip for several reasons, foremost being medical service, especially related to malaria, a significant public health concern in the country. “Throughout our time in Ghana, we really lived the Georgian Court core values,” said Dr. Chen. “Not only service, but compassion, respect, justice, and integrity as well, all in the Sisters of Mercy tradition.” The trip also provided opportunities for students to explore Ghana’s capital, Accra; view the country’s natural beauty; and enjoy cultural activities.

Nicole Mercado in Ghana
Nicole Mercado

The Health Care Gap

The GCU team was based at one village about 70 miles—but a three-hour drive—from Accra. They also set up temporary health care sites in three other villages about 20 minutes to an hour from the host location.

GCU nursing students saw firsthand the health care disparities between Ghana and the United States. A wound that would have been easily treated in the United States, was often a dire situation in Ghana.

“People came to us with small cuts or bites, and as I was treating these deeply infected wounds, I would think, ‘Are they going to lose this leg?’ I knew that surgery was not a likely option, and the sad truth was the patient would probably die from infection before doctors even had a chance to amputate,” said Nicole Mercado ’22. “This really opened my eyes to how privileged the United States is, and at the same time, how much we waste, especially in ‘expired’ medical supplies. Other countries would be able to utilize so much of what we don’t, and I would love to see a collaboration take place. I am positive they would appreciate our expired sterile gloves, when they have no gloves at all.”

GCU students had the joy of attending the routine delivery of a little girl, Effai (the name given to any Ghanian female born on a Friday), and weighing, dressing, and holding her. Nicole and Lauren were among the students who assisted a 16-year-old villager during the labor of her first child. This second labor was much more difficult. “It was a complicated delivery, and the fetal heart rate was low,” said Lauren. “The experience really opened my eyes to how lucky we are in the United States to have high-tech monitoring and medical equipment ready at all times, along with medications to assist with birth and treat pain.” Eventually, the decision was made to transport the mother to the nearest hospital.

“They Changed Me”

GCU students in Ghana
Dr. Chen (left) and GCU students with some of the Ghanaian children they helped during their trip

It was the first international service trip for Lauren, Nicole, and most of the other students. Their desire to serve people from another culture—especially those in dire need—brought them to Ghana.  And while the health care disparities were troubling, the overwhelming warmth and friendliness of the Ghanian people were uplifting.

“They are friendly, overly accommodating, and so welcoming. Everyone waves to you and says, ‘You are welcome!,’ and they truly mean it. I would go back in a heartbeat, even though leaving my family was extremely difficult for me,” said Nicole, the mother of three children. “I know that I changed many lives in my short 11 days in Ghana, and that is a feeling I will never forget. The truth is, they changed me, too, and I am forever grateful for that.”

“This was truly the trip of a lifetime and helped me to realize that this is what I want to be doing with my life. In the future, I hope to incorporate at least one mission trip a year to an impoverished country, and for an even longer duration of time,” said Lauren. “I want to help people that really need help, while simultaneously immersing myself in different cultures and developing friendships across the globe!” 

Watch GCU nursing students attend to patients in these videos.

The  “Reflections from Ghana” post on the Global Education blog provides additional perspective about the trip. Read other Global Education student blogs by clicking here.

Learn more about volunteering and study abroad by contacting GCU’s Office of Global Education Programs.

Story contributed by freelance writer Sheila Noonan. 

Aerial view of GCU.

About Georgian Court University

Georgian Court University is a leading regional university that provides a transformative education, preparing students for ethical leadership and service in the Catholic Mercy tradition. Founded in 1908 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, Georgian Court University is Central and South Jersey’s only Catholic university. The university has a strong liberal arts core and a historic special concern for women.

As a forward-thinking university that supports diversity and academic excellence, GCU is known for expanding possibility for more than 1,900 students of all faiths and backgrounds in 35+ undergraduate majors and 10+ graduate programs. The GCU Lions compete in 16 NCAA Division II sports in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC). In 2020, GCU was named a Best Value College by and a Best Bang for the Buck (Northeast) by Washington Monthly. High student retention and graduation rates make GCU a Top Performer on Social Mobility on U.S. News & World Reports rankings, and in 2024, GCU was named one of the best Online Master’s Colleges in New Jersey.

The main campus is in Lakewood, New Jersey, on the picturesque former George Jay Gould estate, a National Historic Landmark. Georgian Court, which is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, also serves students through its Center for Professional Studies, and at other locations, including GCU at Brookdale, and through multiple online degree and certificate programs.