From Nightingale To Nightmare: A Ghanaian Nurse’s Migration Blues

Throughout the history of health delivery, the legacy of modern nursing founder Florence Nightingale stands as a beacon, inspiring countless nurses worldwide to embark on a noble journey of healing and compassion.

Yet, for Oparebea, a Ghanaian nurse, her aspirations to follow in Nightingale’s footsteps by embarking on a journey to Lebanon to serve humanity in exchange for a better future for herself and her loved ones turned into a nightmare that took resilience to escape.

As a health practitioner in Ghana, Oparebea’s commitment to healing and caring for others was a testament to her compassionate nature and a reflection of the love she had for her family as bread winner.

A friend introduced her to a job agent who promised her a better-paying position in Lebanon, sparking a glimmer of hope amid the challenges she faced in her homeland.

Fueled by the responsibility of being her family’s primary provider and the desire for a brighter future, Oparebea took the leap into the unknown.

“Because I am the main provider for my family, I decided to accept the offer from the agent. I was thinking about my family’s future, and things were not going well in my country, so I decided to take the risk” she recounted.

Upon arriving in Lebanon, the cruel reality shattered her aspirations. Her passport confiscated, Oparebea was thrust into unpaid caregiving for an elderly woman, enduring physical abuse at the hands of the family she served.

The confines of her ordeal expanded as she found herself ensnared in a web of prostitution, facing threats of violence and police entanglements. The cycle of abuse threatened to extinguish her faith, leaving her in the shadows of despair, fearing she might never see her family again.

“A woman found me on the street and offered me to stay with her. At her home, I was forced into prostitution and threatened to be beaten and taken to the police. The cycle of abuse almost made me lose faith that I would never see my family again”, she recalled.

Yet, within the darkness, a spark of resilience ignited. Oparebea summoned the courage to escape, reaching out to a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that became her lifeline. The International Organization for Migration’s Emergency Victim Assistance Fund (EVA) intervened, facilitating her return flight to Ghana.

With EVA’s support, Oparebea received reintegration assistance, allowing her to envision a brighter path forward.

“EVA provided me with reintegration assistance to start a small store to support my family. My dream is to continue my education in the healthcare field so I can get a better paying job in Ghana. I also want to grow my business”, she said.

Oparebea’s journey, though marked by anguish, is a testament to the resilience that emerges from adversity. Her story transcends the personal, embodying the struggles faced by many migrants who embark on perilous journeys in pursuit of a better life. Through compassion and fortitude, Oparebea stands as a beacon of hope—a survivor who dares to dream again.

Supported by IOM Ghana through the Emergency Victim Assistance Fund, Oparebea is now charting a path toward a brighter future. Her dreams include continuing her education in the healthcare field for better job prospects in Ghana, alongside growing her own business. Oparebea’s story serves as a poignant reminder of the struggles faced by migrants seeking a better life.

Home sweet home

Oparebea’s journey is not an isolated incident but emblematic of a larger trend. Over 3,500 Ghanaians have voluntarily returned home since 2017. According to data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) Ghana, these returnees comprise over 3,200 males, women, and children, with the majority falling within the age range of 18 to 30 years. They returned from more than 30 European and African countries, including Libya, Niger, Burkina Faso, Morocco, and Algeria.

Facilitated under the European Union (EU)-IOM Joint Initiative (JI) for Migrant Protection and Reintegration Programme, these returnees often face diverse challenges, from unfulfilled dreams to conflicts, leaving a lasting impact on their mental and emotional well-being.

A Reintegration Assistant at IOM Ghana Victoria Adomako, Regions like Bono, Bono East, Ashanti, Greater Accra, and others have witnessed significant influxes of returnees while the returnees often reached out to IOM due to unmet aspirations, conflicts, and other factors, resulting in diverse impacts such as trauma and regret.

She said the challenges faced by returnees upon arrival included mental health issues but  IOM’s comprehensive initiatives encompass pre-departure counseling, economic, social, and psychosocial support.

The organization, she said, collaborates with state agencies, including the Youth Employment Authority and the Ghana Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Commission, to support returnees in various fields.

Healthcare Exodus

Oparebea’s story resonates with healthcare professionals, exemplified by the exodus of over 4,000 nurses from Ghana to Europe between January and July 2023, as reported by the Ghana Registered Nurses and Midwives Association (GRNMA).

The President of GRNMA, Perpetual Ofori Ampofo, says the nurses are migrating due to inadequate conditions and a lack of respect for healthcare professionals.

“The truth of the matter is that our salaries in Ghana as nurses and midwives are not the best. But I also know that it is not only Ghana. Within the sub-region, within Africa as a whole, it is the same issue”, she said.

The Director General of the Ghana Health Service (GHS), Dr. Patrick Kuma-Aboagye, acknowledges brain drain as a major challenge but emphasized the importance of recruitment and training to replace departing healthcare professionals while addressing the root causes of migration.

Navigating Safe Migration

An IOM Ghana Reintegration and Community Outreach Assistant, Collins Yeboah, highlights the importance of safe and orderly migration. While acknowledging the socio-economic benefits of migration, he encourages the public to embark on safe journeys.

He said the IOM has intensified awareness creation in schools and communities, employing an information portal (IOM X/WakaWell) to provide accurate travel information.

Migrating as nurse is good

Kwame Berko, is Ghanaian nurse based in the United Kingdom. He left Ghana three years ago after meeting all the qualifications, doing due diligence and receiving all the clearance needed.

He testified to the benefits of traveling rights, saying; “Within the last three years, I have been able to send money home for my family to open a groceries store and they are building. It is good to travel through the right means. You have to be vigilant otherwise agents will scam you.

A Call for Comprehensive Solutions

At a Diaspora engagement event in Accra recently, the Chief Director of the Ministry for the Interior, Adelaide Anno-Kumi, said the diaspora played a crucial role in national development as the country received an estimated $4.3 billion in remittances in 2020, equating to more than six per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.

This means that the country could benefit from migration if done right. Collaboration among international organizations, government initiatives, and community support are crucial.  Oparebea’s journey symbolizes resilience, calling for collective action to build a sustainable future for those seeking opportunities both within and beyond their borders.

Credit: Ghanaian Times

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