Posted by Brian Ouellette on Aug 19, 2018
Woburn native and resident Susan Hartmere, a Woburn Rotary Club member since 1992 and our current president, recently joined a Rotary Club International Humanitarian Group on a trip to West Africa to provide some much needed health assistance to residents in Ghana. This is her 11th such humanitarian trip. Her account of the assistance is as follows:
Our days were spent immunizing children from newborn to five years old. The families came down from the mountains as a result of social workers spreading the word to tribal elders. After a child was immunized, his or her left pinky finger was painted with bright purple nail polish. Then, the following day, volunteers would traverse the mountains looking for children without a painted left pinky finger, and a vaccine would be administered. I noticed that the mothers wore their finest attire to this special event. It was a sign of respect for our team - that we had come so far to help them. The tribal elders had previously given their consent for the children to be immunized and I was impressed that they came to be part of this event. They were well dressed in ceremonial robes and sat in folding chairs, just watching, all day long.

At the end of the week, we went to the Gold Coast to see where the slaves were held before being sold and taken to other countries. I honestly will never, ever forget what I saw. I learned the men had been taken from their families by gunpoint and virtually imprisoned for three months until a ship returned. They were held in subterranean stone cells - were given porridge twice a day in their cupped hands and made to sleep on the stone floor. There was no air or light except for a small 3 ft. by 4 ft. square opening situated 50 ft. from the floor. It was pitch black. It was sad and regrettable. I never really realized. It was profound.

This was my 11th humanitarian trip, and I have learned and experienced a myriad of things. I’ve learned that people in the countries I have travelled to are not all that unhappy. I’ve learned that their life, as they live it, is all they’ve ever known. I try not to have excess bother me - that we can choose from five or six different brands of orange juice, each with the choice of pulp or no pulp. I learned they are quite happy with their orange. Over time, I stopped wanting to take whole populations home with me. And I stopped wishing things were different. It wasn’t going to happen.

In the beginning, I used to wonder whether we really made a difference. Then, when leaving India after the tsunami hit their country, I figured it out. The mere fact we had come all the way from the United States to help them was impressive to them. They were grateful, and I felt our efforts earned a feather in the proverbial cap for our country.

As with every other trip I didn’t have to relearn certain things – that I really appreciate hot water; excessive heat is tolerable; just how quickly one can miss cheeseburgers and pizzas; I can survive on yogurt and bananas and when making transactions, I am not very good at converting foreign money.