Thursday, 21 March 2013

Unanticipated Strengths – Resourcefulness by Nathaly Herrera-Lopez

Coming to Ghana, I knew that many tasks would be completed differently than at home.  Ghanaian ways of accomplishing tasks may not always be as efficient, but they are more inventive than I could have conjured.  The locals, the hospital staff, and now even I have learned to be very resourceful.  Whether it is walking on the street or riding in a trotro, the ways in which people demonstrate resourcefulness or the “capability of devising ways and means” (Merriam-Webster Inc, 2013) are innumerable. 

Examples begin in the area that we are living and in the street in front of our residence.  About a block from our front door stands one of the handiest shacks, or as I like to call it, the ‘Ghanaian Radio Shack.’  It sells multiple electronic needs such as headphones, adapters, and even DVDs—although I cannot guarantee that the DVDs are legally acquired.  In our own building there is a woman who offers to do laundry for a small fee, a little diner run by four great cooks who make us delicious food for a reasonable price, and a store the size of my pantry at home that meets all of our midnight snack cravings.  People here are constantly finding a way to stay alive and make a living, whether it is using the smallest sewing abilities to sell personalized dresses, or baking talents to sell the fluffiest white bread you’ll ever taste.  Any small nook in the wall can easily become a store and bring means to the family behind the counter.

Everywhere we go on the streets, women, men and even children are seen carrying loads on their heads in baskets or metal wash basins.  Not only do they hold the load, but they are able to run and make a sale to the trotros rushing by.   The load for the child may be too heavy for them to lift, but if they can walk the item is placed on their small heads.  No matter the age, everyone pulls their weight and is resourceful—the inventiveness is their livelihood and gives them a chance to make a living and survive.

 As Akapabli (2011) explains, even common traditional cloth, measuring about 2 yards, has many uses; from clothing to a blanket or a wrap for children.  Cloth can also be used as a bag, shawl, sheet, napkin or even cushion for carrying a load on their heads.  Not only is cloth used in a variety of ways, but many traditions are marked with cloth: when a girl becomes a woman and receives her first cloth, during marriage bargaining, or at birth when a grandmother’s old cloth is used to clean the infant.  Men also show appreciation to their wives by wearing their cloth in the early mornings.  Furthermore, women use cloth for privacy when the only available washroom is the roadside.  This traditional fabric is not only useful, but is also considered a fashion staple.

Resourcefulness is also apparent in people’s diets (Akpabli, 2011).   Ghanaians are passionate about their soup, which ranges from light soup or a broth to a thicker soup, not quite a stew. If traditional Ghanaians do not eat soup in a day it could be considered ‘not eating at all.’  Light soup can be transformed into thicker soup by adding new ingredients on subsequent days, or a stew can easily become a soup by watering it down and changing the meat or vegetables. 

In the hospitals, I have seen a new level of resourcefulness; at times it shocks me, but for the most part I am amazed at the innovativeness.  To start off, gloves can have the widest range of uses besides protecting your hands.  For one, the end elastic can be used as a pediatric tourniquet; or when blown up as a pillow, to relieve pressure from ulcers; and if a spirometer is not available, breathing in and out of a glove will do the trick.  I have used gloves as a balloon, to entertain children on the wards.  Another innovative use of supplies I witnessed in the hospital was when connecting incompatible tubing—nothing a handy pair of scissors and tape couldn’t fix.  Lastly, nurses often use patients’ supplies when doing dressing changes, and they become very skilled at assessing how to use those precious supplies in an efficient manner—there is no fully stocked supply closet such as we have in Canada. 

Ghanaian students and faculty also face challenges with respect to resources and access to up to date information.  Ghanaian students struggle to access full text articles to write scholarly papers when I can easily access numerous databases with endless information.  Faculty in Ghanaian schools also cannot easily access scholarly information, and books that are shelved in libraries are either out of date or limited (Donkor, & Andrews, 2011). 

Resourcefulness is all around me in Ghana. It is amazing how innovative the people here are, whether their goal is to save money or to earn a living.  While admirable, the reason Ghanaians are required to be resourceful is due to lack of means—what is available is what they use, and it is usually used wisely even though it may not appear efficient.  Ghanaians have taught me much about how to devise ways to getting tasks done despite the lack of resources, and have reminded me how blessed I am in have items so readily available.


Akpabli, K. (2011). Tickling the Ghanaian: Encounters with contemporary culture. Accra, Ghana. TREC
Donkor, N. T., & Andrews, L. D. (2011). 21st century nursing practice in Ghana: challenges and opportunities. International nursing review, 58 (2), pp.218 -224. Retrieved from CINAHL
Merriam-Webster, Inc. (2013). Resourceful. Retrieved from

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