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Dignity, Strength and Courage

By John Davies MBA

Chief Operating Officer, COMPASS-Ghana

I am sitting in the Vodafone office, Ejisu. I am being looked after by Ellen as I venture into the world of mobile money. In Ghana its either cash or phone transfer. The latter once hugely popular has been hit since May 2022 by a 1.5% tax levy on all transactions. Cash is inevitably becoming king. But without access to mobile money our campaign to raise money for end-of-life care within the Ashanti region will be disadvantaged. I muse through this debate with Ellen as I look out into the bright November sun light and onto the Accra to Kumasi Road. A busy road as there is no rail infrastructure and it carries the trade of centuries, there is no other route to the port of Accra.

Without fuss Paulina (I now know that is her name) sat behind me, dressed in black, a friend of Ellens’, she sits quietly.  In our pauses, Paulina speaks, around me, in Twi to Ellen and enjoys her lunch. It is peaceful and I move sideways to allow them to converse more easily, there are rows of chairs that depict an order, a queue as one religiously moves from chair to chair as one progresses to the front. Its accepted and honoured. But there is only the three of us, but the ritual is still respected.

Ghana has a pace of its own…I have learnt that the word soon “means no start time or end time, but its coming” . I was waiting for a letter of authority to sign and to enable me to move on to the next stage – biometrics (eyes and fingerprints), all collected on the mobile phone.  An elder gentleman disturbed the bright sunlight, entered the office and is right, I made way for him, and I sat beside Paulina and he took priority.

There I entered a world of sadness, courage, dignity, and the holding of hands. For no reason other than silence, I said to her “Good afternoon, I am John, I am so sorry for your loss” “Thank you John” as she stretched out her hand, “ I am Paulina” – in perfect, smooth English. Paulina’s story unfolded.

On the 14th August 2023 Paulina’s husband Samuel died and her three children lost their father aged only 54.

Paulina has three children, Belinda aged 31 a nurse with two children, Boatemaa aged 21 and Akyaa aged 15. At the time of her father’s death Boatemaa was sitting her final semester exams – which she successfully completed, she was then a third-year student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, the second largest in Ghana with an international reputation.

Samuel had been ill with kidney failure for three years and had been receiving dialysis at Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, three days a week. In Paulina’s own words ”Samuel had an attack at home, where he couldn’t breathe, it was something that use to happen to him often. As he was being taken to hospital he passed in the car, but we weren’t sure he had passed until we got to the hospital.”

I have been around the block a little bit….I said what everyone says, when they have no words to say…”I am so sorry”, thinking this should never happen, not even in Ghana to anyone whether they be a patient or member of the family. 

Paulina held my hand more tightly. She did not cry but looked at me. I asked how her children were coping?  It was as if I opened a window.

Managing her phone Paulina asked if I would like to read what Akyaa had written about her father’s death and would I like to meet her? First let me introduce you to Miss Maame Akyaa Oppong, winner of Ghana’s Essay of the Month. A bright, articulate teenager.

I watched in silence and whilst I watched, she scrolled through her phone. The video of Akyaa ended and passing me her phone. I read the following tribute:

“TRIBUTE BY CHILDREN” by Maame Akyaa Oppong – November 2023

A day we wish never came; a day we wished wasn’t in calendar.

It was a black Monday. 10 days after his birthday; during the last trimester of Ama Serwaa’s pregnancy, the day of Nana Boatemaa’s first paper and 2 days after Maakyaa’s B.E.C.E It was the day our dear father passed.

Oh death, How could you have come so early?

Daddy, we would have loved you to stay longer to see your three nations became the greatest assets but God has the best plans. In the past 3 years, we have seen you fight. Battling with all the pains, drugs, drips and all the hospital bills. You were such a strong man because even in your sickness you tried to do things normally. You wanted to stay strong for us!

We are broken but we do know for sure that we are happy; not because you left us but because we couldn’t bear the sight of your suffering. Not a single day would pass without you being in pain struggling to breath and eat. We also witnessed your weekly dialysis.

We are still in shock and denial about your departure but what can we say? We all loved you very dearly but could not do anything about the terrible pain but the one who loves you more than we do has taken you to place of peaceful rest.

We always prayed for your healing and he answered our prayers but just not in a way we expected it. Dad, wherever you are you are gone but will never be forgotten.

Today we do not say in grief ‘he is no more’ but in thankfulness that he was.

Rest well Daddy, you have fought a good fight.

(In Memory to Samuel a loving husband and a wonderful father)

We held hands, I cried.  I asked if we as a charity might share her story. I promised her that we are here to stay.

Our work to help those with life limiting illness and their families, not only to die peacefully but also to live until they die, with dignity and support, has only just begun.