Biking to enlightenment in Ghana

Three days after her car accident, she was still waiting for medical treatment in a Ghana hospital.

“I had to leave the hospital that we were in,” said Candace Mau, a Weber State University senior who traveled to Ghana, Africa, for humanitarian work earlier this summer. “I couldn’t handle it. It was so sad.”

The car-accident victim in the hospital was just one example of the many hardships Mau saw during a three-week stay in Ghana, Africa, during which she and recent graduate Sarah Rumpsa distributed bikes to people they deemed especially needful. Even in the midst of  suffering, however, she said she saw much happiness.

“I am so incredibly lucky just for the sheer fact of where I was born, but I’ve never met happier people,” Mau said. “They have just the smallest fraction of a fraction of what we have and they are so much happier. It’s bizarre.”

Mau and Rumpsa distributed 42 bikes — only eight short of their goal — to people who they determined would benefit most from them. Several of the recipients were nursing students scheduled to graduate in November. After they graduate, Rumpsa said she expects they will use the bikes to make house calls in the rural areas where they work.

“I expect that it will greatly impact their ability to be able to transport themselves,” Rumpsa said. “It’s really hard because here, everybody owns a car, practically, and if you don’t own a car, there’s the public transportation system you can use. So to put yourself in someone’s shoes where they don’t have any of that available, where they have to walk everywhere, it’s kind of hard to grasp what kind of impact that has.”

The bikes were delayed en route to Ghana and didn’t make it to the country until the last week of Mau’s and Rumpsa’s stay. After receiving the bikes, they spent another few days repairing damage the bikes incurred over the long trip across the ocean. Even so, they did distribute some of the bikes personally and received a list of names of anyone who later received bikes.

“It’s mind-opening,” Rumpsa said. “I feel like you can relate a lot better to people who come from different walks of life if you do humanitarian work. I have a much greater appreciation for the amenities I have here.”

One girl’s excitement upon receiving a bike was especially memorable to both Mau and Rumpsa.

“She was thrilled,” Mau said. “She just kept riding it back up and down the street, smiling all along.”

When Rumpsa returned home, she said she missed the sense of community and closeness in Ghana.

“The sense of community is just so strong there,” said Rumpsa, adding that her experience on a New York subway shortly after returning to the U.S. was very different. “On the subway, everybody’s goal was to avoid eye contact or conversation with anybody else. That was so backwards from what I experienced in Ghana. They don’t mind spending three hours after just meeting you just hanging out and talking. I really miss that here.”

It took several months of fundraising and planning before the pair were ready to travel last May. They went with Lisa Trujillo, a professor of respiratory therapy, and several students in Trujillo’s department. Trujillo is in the middle of a study examining the respiratory health of women over several years. The respiratory systems of women in Ghana are damaged by toxic air created by the coal-burning stoves they use to cook food.

“The basic things that we take for granted here are things that they don’t even have,” Rumpsa said. “The poorest people in the U.S. are better off than most of the people in Ghana . . .  I personally think that traveling is probably one of the best things you can do to apply your education to the world.”