Rotary Club of Essex returns from massive humanitarian mission in Ghana

Filed under: Headline,In Our Community |

submitted to the EFP

On the evening of Monday, January 29, members of the Essex Rotary Club hosted a wine and cheese event at Essex United Church. The event was hosted for two reasons, to allow the Rotarians who recently returned from a mission trip to Ghana to speak about their experiences, and offer a chance for potentially interested members to interact with long-time members.

As a result of the recent mission trip, thousands of destitute villagers in Ghana now have access to clean water, flush toilets, showers, new schools, textbooks, and school supplies, thanks to the supreme generosity of residents from the Windsor-Essex region.

A staggering $190,000 was raised for these initiatives, and other projects. An intrepid group of 21 local volunteers completed the trip in December, who travelled, at their own expense, to the central region of Ghana on a Rotary Club of Essex sponsored mission.

“We started off with a modest goal of building a school, drilling a water well, and distributing backpacks to kids and malaria-prevention mosquito bed nets to pregnant and nursing mothers, but as word spread about our projects, donations began pouring in and we quickly expanded the scope of our work to include the construction of three schools, a sanitation facility featuring flush toilets, sinks and showers, and the drilling of five water wells,” Kim Spirou said, who is the President of the Rotary Club of Essex and the team’s leader. This project was one of the biggest missions ever undertaken in the Essex Rotary Club’s district.

Several medical professionals traveled with the team, who worked in rural health clinics, maternity wards, and a dental clinic. Many of the patients who sought their help were suffering from life-threatening illnesses, which they were able to treat with the medicines and medical equipment they brought on the mission. Team members also assisted with the delivery of babies and provided polio vaccines, helping to keep Rotary’s promise to the children of the world to eradicate polio from the planet.

“A two-year old toddler was one of the first patients I treated who came in with severe second-degree burns covering 80 percent of both her legs,” Dr. Chris Spirou said, who is a family doctor from Tecumseh. “She had been playing close to a pot of boiling banku stew and the contents spilled all over her lap.

“Her mother heard a western doctor was at the clinic and brought her to see me for treatment. Fortunately, I had packed special bandages, ointment for burns, and lots of anti-biotics, so I was able to treat this little one. I followed her progress each day, debriding her wounds, and by the time we departed for home, her burns were healing well. She was a brave little girl; a real trooper. I can’t imagine what would have happened to her if we weren’t there,” Dr. Spirou explained.

“Sadly, I treated many children with malaria, an often-fatal disease, and I encountered several kids suffering from e-coli and cholera due to contaminated water and lack of sanitation. It was heartbreaking to see them suffering from something that could have been prevented if only they had access to clean water,” Dr. Spirou added.

Dr. Noel Jackson, a dentist from Trenton, Michigan, also saved lives while working in the dental clinic located in the region’s only hospital. There was one child in particular encountered who had “Ludwig’s Angina,” caused by a tooth infection that had advanced to a point that the infection caused a large abscess to develop in his neck, which threatened to block his airways. Jackson said if left untreated, this child would have died in a few days.

“In my 30 years of practice, I’ve never seen a case of Ludwig’s Angina in North America. Infections rarely progress that far because of our access to antibiotics and good dental care,” Jackson explained.

Thankfully, Dr. Jackson was able to operate and drain the abscess and repair the tooth. Dr. Jackson also brought 1,000 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste to distribute to children in nearby schools in an effort to enhance oral hygiene.

Hundreds of patients were also fitted with orthopedic braces, crutches, canes,  walkers, and wheel chairs that were shipped in containers ahead to the team’s arrival. The team also set up eyeglass clinics and distributed 1,100 pairs of eyeglasses to villagers in various outposts, including many children.

“Giving the gift of sight is an emotional and very moving experience,” team member Pam MacDonald said, a retiree who celebrated her 73rd birthday during the mission. “We are abundantly blessed here in Canada and we take many of our blessings for granted.

“The people we worked with in Ghana have none of the basics we take for granted, like running water, sanitation, access to medicines, and medical care. Most of them suffer unspeakable hardships and struggle daily just to survive. An experience like this mission trip makes you really appreciate living in a first-world country,” MacDonald added.

The team also established a sewing cooperative program for teenage mothers who were forced to quit school and shunned by their families. “Many of these girls, as young as 13 and 14, are out on the street with no means to support themselves or their babies. Our team raised enough funds to purchase 100 sewing machines and we found seamstresses willing to instruct and mentor these young women as they learn to sew. Armed with a marketable skillset, these teenagers will now have a brighter and more secure future, thanks to Rotary,” Spirou said.

“The most fun we had on this mission trip was the day we delivered over 400 backpacks to students attending one of the schools we renovated,” Andrea Bechard said, a 27-year old teacher who joined the mission team to garner some international experience to add to her growing list of accomplishments. “The kids were bursting with anticipation and when they saw our bus pull up and the team unloading hockey bags containing all of these backpacks; their cheers were deafening. Children in Ghana rarely receive anything new and they were so excited  to receive these precious gifts,” Bechard added.

The backpacks were part of a “Pack for Success” program the Rotary Clubs of Essex, Cottam, Leamington, and Harrow spearheaded. Each backpack contained age-appropriate school supplies, toiletries, new clothing, re-usable sani-pads for the older girls, and a toy for Christmas. The teachers also received backpacks filled with books, teaching resources, and classroom supplies.

The team participated in the commissioning ceremonies for the five water wells they drilled in remote villages whose inhabitants’ only source of water was drawn from contaminated rivers and streams, poisoned by human waste and poisonous residue from nearby mining operations.

“At each well commissioning, the villagers didn’t say ‘thank you for the water’ or ‘thank you for the well.’ Instead, they thanked us for the ‘gift of life.’ For them, water is life and it’s a gift that lasts for generations,” Spirou added.

“We are one human family and participating in a mission like this one is definitely a transformational experience. We are so blessed here in Canada and it is enormously gratifying to be able to share some of those blessings with our brothers and sisters in Ghana.”

The Rotary Club of Essex is already at work organizing the next mission to Ghana, which will take place in the Fall of 2018. Anyone interested in participating in the next mission can email: or call 519-551-3747.