Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Joy FM / PSGH Easter Soup Kitchen

This Easter Sunday was like none I’ve ever experienced. That’s because on this day every year, PSGH partners with Joy FM, Accra’s most popular radio station, and other organizations to put on the “Easter Soup Kitchen” (ESK) for the benefit of thousands of Accra’s poorest residents. In short, the ESK is a day of giving back, where anyone and everyone can come to get free medical care, clothes and a hot meal. It was a day I’ll never forget.

For me, the day started before dawn, when John and Jonas picked me up in the PSGH truck around quarter to 6, the flatbed already full of boxes of donated drugs and other medical supplies that we were transporting to the Children’s Park in downtown Accra, where the ESK was to take place. We arrived at the park about 20 minutes later to find dozens of volunteers already there, setting up the tables and chairs for the other stations. We quickly began unloading our boxes, so that John could go back to PSGH headquarters to get the second truck load of supplies.

truckload number one

That’s what PSGH brought to the table: the medical care. We had sent out letters about a month beforehand to pharmaceutical companies in Ghana, wholesellers, importers, and even the public sector medical stores asking for drug donations. The response we received was impressive, and over the next 4 weeks we were very busy picking up donations and taking stock of everything we received. That was basically my job, and I spent many days examining active ingredients and expiry dates, counting every single dose that we had and putting it into a nice little Excel spreadsheet. I would then repackage everything and slap a huge, easily-readable pink label on the box to make everything easier come Easter Sunday.

boxes of drugs in our office, each with a pretty pink label and my nice handwriting

As Jonas and I began sorting the boxes by drug type (analgesics, multivitamins, antihelminths (aka dewormers), antimalarials, etc.), we were soon joined by dozens more PSGH volunteers: doctors, pharmacists, pharmacy students, interns, and others who just wanted to help. The Joy FM people had finished constructing the DJ booth and stage and started up the music. When the first song out of the PA system hit my ears (Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”), I knew it was going to be a good day. Not only was it an extremely appropriate choice on many levels, but it also happens to be my favorite Marley song!
setting up the DJ booth around 7:30 am

so much water!

The people were to start coming around 9, so we spent the next two hours sorting and opening boxes to make the distribution as smooth and quick as possible. We set up several long tables topped with boxes full of different tablets, syrups, creams and solutions. And when the tables could not hold any more supplies, we piled the rest of the boxes behind them, which I was in charge of. We had arranged it with Joy FM so that everyone came to our medical station first, before going on to the clothing and food stations. In the past, many people just came and grabbed food, skipping over our services, so this time they had to get a hand stamp in order to get the food. This was great, because it meant that we would be able to serve the maximum amount of people, but it also meant that it was going to be a madhouse! We had arranged it so that people would:

- first come to one of many registration desks, where a volunteer would write down their age and gender on a form;

- from there, they would move on to the doctor/pharmacist stations where trained health professionals would do a quick consultation, writing down their symptoms, diagnosis and prescription decision;

- finally, they would bring the form to one of the dozens of volunteers doing the dispensing, who would provide the treatment and dosage instructions, take the forms from them and give them a stamp.

And at 9am, that’s exactly what happened; people started pouring in (the vast majority being women and children), and within 30 minutes, everything was running at full tilt. It was a good thing that there were security guards on site to control the lines, because it would have been mayhem without them. The lines were soon over a hundred people long, and I spent the next several hours running around refilling stocks, answering questions from dispensers about what drugs we did or did not have (even though I had converted the spreadsheet into an easy to read list, sorted by drug type, giving doses and expiry dates, and printed out dozens of copies for everyone to use as reference) and finding the hard to find ones from the boxes. In addition to the main dispensing tables, we had set up independent stations for distribution of deworming tablets and oral rehydration solution, and everything seemed chaotic but, all things considered, was running as smoothly as we could have hoped for. (Later, we would do the final calculation and realize that we were treating over 400 people an hour!)

one of the diagnosing tables

one of the dispensing tables

yours truly doing some dispensing

one of the lines for our medical care station

Around 11, we had already run out of some of the creams, and it was clear that we would start running out of some of the syrups, multivitamins and paracetamol. With no signs of the lines lessening, we decided to make an emergency run back to the PSGH offices, where we had extra stocks of some of the drugs. The clothing station opened around 11:30, and then an hour or so later, it was announced that the food was ready to be served. With other places for people to go, our lines were finally becoming a little bit more manageable! Dennis arrived from church around then, and immediately jumped right in. All the volunteers even got free food around 2pm: a welcome respite!
people waiting patiently for clothes and food; security guard and huge pile of clothes at far right

By about 3pm, the last dregs of people were filtering in, and we were able to start packing up. It had been over 6 hours of mayhem, but with over 80 volunteers at our medical station alone (about 10 times the amount of volunteers as last year!), everyone agreed that it had been the most well organized ESK yet! PSGH will conduct another similar free health outreach day, in conjunction with its annual general meeting in August, so stay tuned. We learned a lot of good lessons this time around, so I expect things will be even better managed in the future. It was truly impressive to see the hundreds of volunteers giving up time on their precious weekend to help those less fortunate than themselves, and I was just happy to be a part of it!

See more pictures at the Joy FM website!

No comments:

Post a Comment