Koffi Addai was just 15 when he emigrated from his native Ghana to the U.S. in 1996. After graduating from Brandeis High School in New York City in 2000, Addai enrolled at Le Moyne, where he majored in business and became active in Campus Ministry. His thoughts often turned to his hometown of Worawora in Ghana’s remote East Volta region, more than 5,000 miles away. He wondered what he could do to help young people there who, like him, were dedicated to educating themselves. Then the answer came to him: collect books to establish a library. With the help of some friends, Addai began knocking on doors across the Le Moyne campus requesting donations. When he stopped at the office belonging to Susan Bastable, Ed.D., director of the College’s nursing program, and explained what he was doing, her response was immediate and enthusiastic, “Absolutely! What kind of books do you need?”

Addai had a feeling it would not be the last time their paths would cross. He was right. After graduating from Le Moyne in 2004, he founded People in Action for Community Enhancement (PACE) Ghana, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing resources and support to community centers, schools and hospitals in Ghana. The latter is what reconnected him to Bastable. Early this year, they traveled to Worawora with 12 Le Moyne College nursing and physician assistant studies students. Over the course of two weeks, they helped to care for patients at a local hospital, held a community outreach health clinic, and traveled to people’s homes to treat them. The students, all of whom are registered nurses or enrolled in Le Moyne’s physician assistant studies program, honed their clinical skills. Equally important, they had the opportunity to learn from the people they met, and to gain a better understanding of the culture of Ghana and how medicine is practiced there.

“The most rewarding part of the trip was being able to immerse myself in the Ghanaian culture,” said Christopher Spinella ’14, a nursing student from Syracuse, N.Y. “The people of Ghana were welcoming from the beginning. They taught us about their language, dance and cultural norms. We were able meet almost the entire community, and to grow close to several individuals.”

That was Addai’s goal: to connect the student to the people they cared for. “There is a misconception about Africa and service work there,” he said. “I think that most of the time when we think about service work, we think about giving back but, in reality, the poor have much to offer those of us who are more privileged. I really grew my faith during this trip. I hope that the students did as well, and that they can carry what they learned with them in their future careers.”

Shortly after arriving in Ghana, the group went to work in a rural government-run hospital in Worawora. While staff members there were extremely conscientious, caring and professional, they faced a tremendous shortage of resources. The nursing students filled in wherever they could, helping deliver babies, assisting in the operating room, and treating people who came in with emergencies. While working in the hospital, Arlene Jones, a graduate student in nursing from Brooklyn, N.Y., said she came to realize “how lucky we are in the U.S. to have the equipment we do to provide the utmost care for patients” and “how important it is for us to be of service and help others to have better health care around the world.”

Beyond their work in the hospital, the students also held a community outreach clinic. Over the course of six hours, they saw 172 patients, conducting head to toe assessments, dispensing medications, and teaching health promotion and disease prevention to the villagers. They also delivered thousands of dollars of medical equipment donated by Welch Allyn to the hospital in Worawora and St. Patrick’s Hospital in Kumasi, Ghana’s second-largest city.

This was the fourth time that Le Moyne nursing students have traveled abroad to provide care, having traveled once before to Worawora, without Addai, and twice to Quito, Ecuador. Beyond the clinical work they did, the students also had the opportunity to explore Ghana, including Kakum National Park and Cape Coast, which gave them a richer appreciation for its history.

For Katie LaMay ’14, a nursing student from Watertown, N.Y, the experience was about much more that developing her clinical skills. It was about building trust and communication, learning about a new community, and experiencing a newfound gratitude for what she has in her life. She could not have asked for more than that.

“I achieved above and beyond what I had hoped for this trip,” she said.