An African Adventure

Eleanor Brennan spent seven months in Ghana working in a leprosy centre. She spoke to Áine Freeman about her co-operative placement working for Ghana native and UL alumnus Dr Mark Mantey.

 Now in her final year, journalism student Eleanor Brennan spent her co-op placement in Ghana, working in administration and public relations for the Padre Pio Rehabilitation Centre.

Headed up by Dr Mark Mantey, who completed his undergrad, masters and PhD in UL, the centre is also known as Ahotokurom or ‘place of serenity’.

Dr Mantey grew up in a leprosy village close to the centre, as both of his parents suffered from the disease. He later secured funding from the National Lottery in the United Kingdom to develop the village, which became known as Enyindakurom, or ‘the village we did not expect’.

Eleanor explains, “Mark grew up in Enyindakurom, the leprosy village where people who were undergoing treatment stayed in, as the leprosy hospital was just down the road. They couldn’t keep travelling back to their homes because some of those people lived in different countries, so the journey was too much. Instead, they started squatting in this village and over time, people starting building makeshift houses. After Mark got his education in Ireland, he came back and became director of the centre and it blossomed into what it is today.”

The Padre Pio Rehabilitation Centre is a place for those who have become marginalised, physically disabled and disadvantaged as a result of leprosy. The centre is based in the Cape Coast region and provides care and a community for people who have been affected by the disease. There are a variety of facilities and services for sufferers and their families, which help them in overcoming the everyday struggle of having a connection to leprosy.

Eleanor decided to travel to Ghana during her second year at college. “I’ve always wanted to go to Africa; I’ve known that since a young age. So when I heard about this opportunity, I did some research. I became really interested in leprosy and what the sufferers go through. I thought this was a great way to travel to Africa and immerse myself in a new culture, while doing some good,” she says.

Eleanor travelled to Ghana in June 2015 with two other UL students. She lived in Enyindakurom with members of community who had suffered from leprosy and, although now cured, endure the stigma connected with it.

Although Eleanor’s official title was public relations and administration, her role varied greatly from day to day. “You definitely had to be very flexible. One thing I learned about Ghana is that everything changes; they run on their own time. We used to called it Ghana time. In the course of one day everything could fl ip, so you had to constantly be flexible.”

Her day began with the Muslim call to prayer at 4am. After a morning workout and a bucket shower in the open air, Eleanor made her way to the centre by bus. The bus ran primarily to pick up children who attended day care in the rehabilitation centre.

“At 7am, Bernard the bus driver would pick us up. Some of our wildest times were on that bus because Ghana doesn’t have roads, only dirt tracks, so the potholes were nuts. You are packed onto this bus, which is a 20-seater and there are 50 people on it, you’ve got music blaring, kids screaming, it was crazy,” she remembers.

Eleanor spent a lot of time with the children. She helped them get off the bus, as well as making sure they were clean and fed before their day began.

“The kids really worshipped us because we would play with them. It’s a very adult society where the adults don’t play with them, but the volunteers were happy to. It was good fun.

“We ran a homework club as well because, when there weren’t blackouts, we had one of the best sources of electricity in the village, compared to other houses. So if the kids wanted to do their homework at night-time, they could sit on our porch and use the porch light to do it.”

Her day at work, after helping with the children, consisted of meetings with her boss and some of the nuns working on the compound and dealing with applications for funding. Visitors to the centre were also common and Eleanor spent much of her time ensuring these visits went well.

“The Ambassador of Ireland to Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria came to the centre for a week with his wife and daughter. I was in charge of him during his stay. Meeting him and getting to spend so much time with such a figure was an amazing experience,” she continues.

Eleanor also began to run English lessons for the staff working on the compound around the centre.

“A lot of Ghanaian people have jobs there but they couldn’t speak English or needed to improve their English, so I ran adult literacy classes,” she says.

The days were short, even in the summertime. With darkness falling by 5:30pm. It meant the girls lived a quiet life.

“You’d come home in the evenings and Gladys, our housekeeper, would have dinner ready. You’d shower again and then the electricity would probably go, so you wouldn’t have a phone because it would be dead. We’d hang out with the children or we’d walk around the village at night or we’d read. We read a lot of books. It was a very peaceful lifestyle.

“Ghana changed my outlook on a lot of things. Specifically, poverty and what poverty actually means. We spend a lot of time watching charity ads and we think that’s what poverty is, but it’s not. That’s what normal life is in Africa, it is what it is,” Eleanor concludes.

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