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Jeanette Fell for Ghana

Jeanette Gammelgaard fell in love with Ghana during her internship as a social and health assistant. After returning to Denmark she decided to take the enormous step and move to Abokobi just outside Accra. Now, years later, she is back in Denmark with her Ghanaian husband. We talked to her about her relationship with Ghana.

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 Why did you choose Ghana for your internship?
It all started when I read to social and health assistant at the Social- and Health School in Silkeborg back in Denmark. I love to travel and thought that maybe there was an opportunity for internship abroad. I came into contact with a Ghanaian who was living in Aarhus and was running a project on elderly care in Ghana. It was exciting to me and I thought it sounded perfect for me! It took some time to convince the school that I should go as such internships should be approved. I got the place approved in record time, and me and a college mate took a month to Ghana. This was back in 2009, and when I went after a month's internship, I just knew I was not done with Ghana!

 
What caused you to leave Denmark and move to West Africa?

The adventure! I have always been fascinated with meeting other people from different cultures, and I love meeting folks from different backgrounds than my own. I always had a dream of living abroad for a long time, and since I had no obligations in Denmark at that time, it was perfect.

What is the one episode from your years in Ghana?
There have been a lot of episodes that have meant a lot to me over the years. Meeting so many different people has been absolutely amazing and indispensable.
Shortly after moving to Akbokobi, people started to migrate to my house, because they knew what I did - they stood and knocked on the street shouting and screaming for help. Some in the middle of the night, others during the day. Obviously there were poor people, but there were also very, very sick people who came to me. They came for the simple reason that they had no money for medicine, surgery, doctor visits etc. I realized that I had to make a decision about why I was there and what the purpose was.
My task and mission was not to treat symptoms, but to find the root and treat it.
Also the times I have been ill both with appendicitis, malaria, etc. I realized how fragile life is - one day you can feel healthy and in great shape - the next day you are so weak that you can hardly breathe yourself.
 

You're back in Denmark again – why?
That decision I took when I got pregnant - I already knew from the start of my pregnancy that I would want to give birth in Denmark, but that I would stay in Ghana for as long as possible during my pregnancy. I had a very easy pregnancy and there were no changes in my work, so I worked from morning to evening. As I was so close to the health system daily, I also knew that the standard of hygiene in Ghana is not close to what we have in Denmark, so I wanted to give birth in Denmark if it was possible.
It became relevant to travel back to Denmark when I was 7 months pregnant because I became seriously ill with malaria. My Danish forced me to jump on the next flight to Denmark, and today I am very happy with that decision.
 

You got married to a Ghanaian man. How does your husband feel about Denmark?
The very first day we arrived in Denmark it was freezing, and I have never seen a man freeze so much! He lay under the quilt for a week before going anywhere.
Denmark is very different in both temperament and culture so there were many things he had to get used to. After almost a year he was fluent in Danish, and also started a Danish education as a mechanic. It helped him to a network and meet a lot of people. Denmark has so many good things to offer so even if it was never his wish to move to Europe, he was pleased with the decision to stay here.

Photo: Private

Jeanette's sons' really enjoyed the month in Ghana.

How are your sons’ relationships with Ghana?
My two boys’ relationship with Ghana is quite strong - or as strong as it can be 6000 km in between Denmark and Ghana. It's important to me that they know where they come from, which family is behind them in Ghana and that they have knowledge and a relationship with their fathers’ side of the family - so we have regular contact with grandma and grandfather, as well as uncles and aunts - they are the top priority for us!
In 2015, when Ludvig was 3 years old and Vittus was 8 months, we spent a month at Ghana - it was so big to see how the children, especially Ludvig, took their role in culture. He completely adapted to the culture and norms, even though it was his first trip - but certainly not his last. 
 

Are you coming back to Ghana one day?
Yes! I will definitely be back. First of all, because my children have a strong relationship with Ghana, since it's their second home, but I'm also back because I've got some amazing friends and a bonus family - I had a wonderful life in Ghana so my relationship is also Quite strong. The two years in Ghana have meant so much to me in terms of work and in my personal development.
 
To me it has not only been a great experience, but it has been the most educational years in my life living I n Ghana. I have learned to appreciate the little things that we sometimes take for granted in Denmark - for example, turning on the hot water, getting out of our toilet, available food, daily electricity, etc. – you learn to focus more on the people around you.
I feel very grateful that I was allowed to become a big part of a local community despite being from a different culture, having a different skin color and background, I was considered part of the village.
I am also proud that I have created a place for Danish students in Ghana to do their internship. I am proud to that I dared to move away from peace of mind, friends and family.
Today I do not work as a social and health assistant anymore. I have opened my own clinic in Silkeborg with reflexology and acupuncture, and I especially focus on babies and children.