James Amugsi is an award-winning senior staff nurse at the Builsa District Hospital in Ghana, with over five years of experience in nursing, youth mentorship and community volunteering. James volunteers in his community and
is especially proud of the work he does with the Diabetes Association of Ghana and its mentorship program. When asked why he chose to work on diabetes, James explained, “Diabetes is a noncommunicable disease. It is not infectious, and because of that, much attention is not given to it.” Each month James and other volunteers host educational programs and call-in segments for people to gain knowledge on how to manage their diet, exercise and medication. James also provides advice on preventing malaria, which is the leading cause of outpatient care in most African hospitals, as well as mental health lessons and pregnancy preparedness advice.
“I believe that a leader must not go where there is a way, but where there is none — in order to provide or to create a trail for others to follow. I have decided to be a trailblazer.”
James encourages YALI Network members and those involved in various professions to be hard workers, show passion in their projects, be resilient and be positive. To hear more about James, listen to his interview with Mandela Washington Fellow Jaleela Hassenally or read the transcript below.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE
YALI Voices Podcast: JAMES AMUGSI
♪ Yes we can ♪ ♪ Sure we can ♪ ♪ Change the world ♪
JALEELA HASSENALLY: Hello, young African leaders. Welcome to the YALI Voices podcast, your home for the best stories from the Young African Leaders Initiative Network. I am Jaleela Hassenally, a 2018 Mandela Washington Fellow from Mauritius, attending the Public Management Institute at Howard University in Washington, D.C.
Thank you for joining us. I’d like to welcome James Amugsi from Ghana. James is an award-winning senior staff nurse at the Builsa District Hospital. He has over five years of experience in nursing, youth mentorship, and community volunteering. He also volunteers as a diabetes educator and a weekly radio panelist on You and Your Health, a health program that he and his colleagues founded in 2011.
Before we begin our conversation with James, don’t forget to subscribe to the YALI Voices podcasts on iTunes and Google Play and visit YALI.state.gov to stay up to date on all things YALI.
JAMES AMUGSI: Hi.
JALEELA: How are you doing today?
JAMES: I’m fine.
JALEELA: Cool. Are you ready?
JAMES: Yes, please.
JALEELA: James, what makes you an award-winning nurse?
JAMES: Thank you very much, Miss Jaleela. Nursing is a noble profession, and I would like to say a big thank-you to all the nurses out there and other health workers. Nursing is a profession I went in because I have passion for the work. I don’t always work with the aim of being rewarded, but I do it out of passion, and when a reward comes, I take it. But if you, you will permit me to tell you some of the things I do at the worksite.
JAMES: I’m hardworking, the hardworking type by nature. I do selfishless services, or selfless services.
JAMES: Yeah, I do selfless service or sacrifice. I sacrifice at the worksite a lot, and I add innovation, and I’m able to work in a team, and I have good communication skills — always know how to communicate with my colleague workers and juniors and then to, to keep things going. And, for instance, I’m always the first in my unit. I go to put things in order for the day’s activities. Always actively involved. I don’t consider being a senior at the worksite to be something where I will sit on the desk and allow the work to be done by juniors or students. I get involved in whatever tasks I ask them to do. Besides, to prevent staff from shirking their responsibilities, I was the first in the hospital to design a duty schedule. That one is for a 10-hour rotation. When you report at the worksite, you already know where your tasks are for the day. So when I’m looking for a particular staff, I just go to the notice board, know where I’ve scheduled that person, I go straight there, and the person will be there. And this has really helped my hospital. We did a lot of things, and in 2011, because of our hardworking nature, the hospital was ID’d the best in the region. And that was the same year I also took home the best staff award of the hospital. That is an art piece in the department. Thank you very much.
JALEELA: Brilliant. Congratulations, James.
JAMES: You’re welcome.
JALEELA: But, James, why did you choose diabetes to work on?
JAMES: Yeah, thank you very much. Diabetes is an noncommunicable disease. It is not infectious, and because of that, much attention is not given to it. I’ve realized that many people are developing complications, and they are dying as a result of it. Some even have comorbidities, that is, diabetes with hypertension, and that puts a lot of strain on their health, especially their cardiovascular health or their heart. Now, we were given the opportunity by the Diabetes Association of Ghana to attend a mentorship program. They organize a program for diabetes educators so that we can also impact it to others. A friend and I attended from the hospital. That was in 2013, and ever since we attend, we started organizing classes for diabetics in the hospital. Every month we group them. We give them education on their disease condition, help them know more about their disease condition that’s diabetes, help them know how to manage it in terms of their diet, exercise, weight reduction, adherence to their medication, and also how to self-check their blood sugar level at home because diabetes is a chronic condition. You might be taking drugs for life or for a very long time, so there is a need that the people are empowered to self-manage it at home. Thank you.
JALEELA: Thank you, James. Educating patients about health care is clearly very important to you, James, between your work as a nurse and your weekly appearances on radio programs, for example. What are you hoping to do with this work? Why is it important? And can you tell if you’re making an impact in your community?
JAMES: Thank you very much. Yeah, for our health education programs, we are making a lot of impact in the community. People are getting richer and healthier as a result of the work we do. You know, we run the radio program with the motto “Your health is your wealth.” As a nurse, I have seen people going broke during the period of their illnesses. Time without number, I give money out to persons or their relatives who have been hospitalized at the hospital without money to even buy food, let alone to buy drugs. So we realize that ill health is one of the contributing factors of Africa’s being poor.
So, it is one of the models that I would like to use to alleviate poverty in Africa because I believe that when you are strong, even with a little, you’ll be able to manage. But when you are sick, even with a little, you become poorer because you spend all on medications among other ways of getting health.
Now, for the impact we make, people also call in. We usually provide call-in segment for our listeners every day, and there has never been a day without someone calling in to thank us for what we are doing for them.
And people getting complications as a result of diabetes and hypertension, has also gone down because they now know what to do. They know that taking their medications at all times is important. They have been empowered. They now know that their health is not in the hands of only the physicians, but they have a role to play.
With regards to malaria, malaria cases are also coming down because we preach preventive measures to them because we believe that even to prevent is better than to treat. So we preach how to use mosquito insecticide, mosquito nets, among other things for them. So malaria cases are also coming down, as well as other conditions, so we are making great impact in our community.
JALEELA: James, you mentioned diabetes, malaria, so you’re working on a lot of projects, James.
JAMES: Yes, please.
JALEELA: Can you tell us about the projects?
JAMES: Thank you very much. I do a lot, as you said. Our health education program is general, but we throw more emphasis on malaria because malaria is a leading cause for OPD attendance in most of the hospitals in Africa, so we give much emphasis to malaria.
We also talk about mental health because it’s a condition that people usually get stigmatized against, so we stake so much on it. Maternal health is something we also consider. We give education to pregnant women during pregnancy, pregnancy preparedness, what they are supposed to do in order not to harm their unborn children and what to do to be able to help them deliver successfully.
Apart from the health education, in my role as a diabetes educator, um, I believe that a leader must not go where there is a way, but where there is none — in order to provide or to create a trail for others to follow. I have decided to be a trailblazer. I suffered financially when I was in college, Nurses Training College. At one point, I was sacked because of unpaid school fees. I came to the house, did not know where to go for this money. Although many people have supported me, my family has supported, but, you know, education in Ghana is expensive, and you need a lot of support. So, and I managed to complete. And you know the one who helped pay my fees for me? It was a colleague student. And I said, wow. If a colleague student could help me pay my fees, then I can do something. So, immediately I completed. I had that passion to help others. So, I initiated an educational fund. I sold the idea to my church. They agreed, and yearly they are contributing money so I’ll be able to help the youth, especially the less privileged or the brilliant but needy, access college or university education. And we are making progress by the grace of God.
To add to that, James is also designing a model approach to poverty alleviation in Africa, in Ghana, for that matter. Because I have grown up in a less privileged family, I know how it is to go without food. As part of the components, health is one, yes, as I told you, because your health is your wealth. Another component is that we want to look at methods that we can use to address youth unemployment. And this can be tackled through skills acquisition, mentorship, and career guidance programs. Besides, women and children suffer a lot in Africa, so part of the component is to focus more on women and children and entrepreneurship. Encouraging women to go into entrepreneurship, encouraging the youth to go into entrepreneurship. Agric is one. ICT is one that they can use to help themselves and to also help Africa grow. These are but the few programs that are projects that I’m undertaking. I’m hoping that the knowledge that I’ll gain from the Mandela Washington Fellowship here will help me even come out with more innovations to help me achieve my goals.
JALEELA: We hope for you and so we wish you, James.
JAMES: Thank you very much.
JALEELA: But, James, for other people in Ghana, in Africa, in the world, who would like to go for volunteering and social work, what do you think are the most important aspects of any health communication campaigns that they should consider before doing that? Social work, of course, with respect to health, like you do.
JAMES: Thank you very much.
JALEELA: Thank you, James.
JAMES: Miss Jaleela, health communication is very important. It involves the study and use of communication strategies to inform and influence individuals and communities. Decisions that enhance health. And in any health communication campaign, one must bear in mind the seven Cs. You’d like to know the seven Cs? They involve command attention, clarify the message you want to give out, communicate the benefits to your audience. You also need to be consistent with whatever information you give them. You have to create trust between you and your audience, and you need to cater for their heart and their mind. And the last C is call for action.
JALEELA: And on the information we received about you, James, you mentioned the importance of mentorship and equal access to higher education. What does mentorship and equal access to higher education mean to you? Why is it important, and how are you working to provide those opportunities to the less fortunate people?
JAMES: Thank you very much. Not everybody has equal access to education, just one of the causes of this gender inequality that is happening in Africa and elsewhere. So I would like to use equal access to education as a medium to break that gap and to promote gender equality. It is also important because if everyone has opportunity of higher education or of being educated, they could help the economies of Africa to grow. It shouldn’t be like, men should work, women should be in the kitchen.
One of our educationists in Ghana once said, “When you educate a man, you educate an individual, but when you educate a woman, you educate a nation.” So, I think for our nations to develop, there should be, there should be opportunity for both girls and boys, men and women to have access, to equal access to our education.
Now, with mentorship, mentorship is opportunity to learn from a mentor, and a mentor can be a young person or an older person, but someone who has an expertise in what you do not have. So, through mentorship is important because through mentorship, you are able to provide for the psychosocial needs of your mentees. You are able to help in their personal and professional development. These are important to me. And through mentorship, you know what? You can also learn. The mentees can also teach you, and I do learn a lot. What I do is I provide guidance to the younger generations who want to go into education or who want to go to school in general. I also give guidance to those who want to come to my field, that is nursing. I tell them what to do right from the time of their interviews to what to do in order to come out. As I told you, I was able to overcome poverty and other challenges in order to complete my college education. I provide for their psychological, and if it’s financial needs, I may not have money in cash to give them, but I give them encouragement. I ask them not to give up. I ask them to always think positive. And that one has helped both my mentees and myself. Thank you.
JALEELA: Thank you, James. James, you’re passionate. We can feel that. Who inspired you, and where do you get your strength from for your works, for all the beautiful works that you do?
JAMES: Thank you very much. I always have this good that has helped me, and that is success. It’s not about the accumulation of material wealth, but how you can make impact, positive impact in the lives of those who are around you. So, growing up, I always had the passion to help others. My mother also inspired me a lot. Hope you are not surprised. Women are strong…
JALEELA: We are.
JAMES: … and I salute you for that.
JALEELA: Thank you, James.
JAMES: Growing up, my mother would struggle to put food on the table for us. My father is hardworking as well. But the determination of the woman is greater than that of the man. She always provided me with psychological support, urges me on to always work hard. My colleague, my friends, my spiritual fathers, my pastors, they also inspired me a lot. Thank you.
JALEELA: Thank you, James.
JALEELA: What advice, James, can you give to others who want to be a force for positive change in their communities? Not just when it comes to health care, any aspect of social work really.
JAMES: Thank you very much. We can all — the nurses, health workers or teachers — I believe that no profession is better or greater than the other, so even if you are a street sweeper, do it with passion, and people will feel it. It will impact positively on the life of the community members. My advice is the young ones out there, community volunteerism is the best place to be. Think positive. Start small. God will provide the materials. In Africa, many of us are looking up to our governments. They are also trying their best. I know there are some countries that are practicing bad governance, but some other countries are also doing their best. Only that the efforts of the government alone will not be enough. The problems in Africa are so many. There is therefore the need for all of us to get on board. When you talk about what is a graduate unemployments, graduates should be part of the solution. Graduates will learn to employ their colleague graduates, and, I mean, and the problems of Africa will what? Will lessen. So, community volunteerism is opportunity. We are able to help the less privileged in society. We are able to augment government efforts at making the societies a better place to live in.
So I will encourage everybody, especially the youth, to enter into community volunteerism. I’ve seen the benefits, and I’m still into it. I know I will learn a lot more skills from here. And as I go, I’ll mentor more to go into it.
JALEELA: James, what can YALI Network members learn from your experience? What would you advise them, the YALI Network members who are interested in this type of work that you do, what can they do to be successful?
JAMES: Thank you very much. To be successful, I would say there is no other thing or word than hard work. In order to be successful, you have to be hardworking. Hard work is one of the catalysts that can help someone to succeed in whatever you do. The other thing I would like to add is passion. When you have passion with what you do, then you are able to do it well. When it comes to the activities of YALI, where we want to make positive impact in the community, where you may not even get, what is it? You may not even get, gains, or you may not even get rewards, then you need to be passionate in whatever you are doing. So when you are passionate in whatever you are doing, then you will be able to do your work well. So they should add passion to hard work, and they should also learn from others.
For me, I have overcome challenges. They should try to be resilient. They should try to be determined. They should try to be positive. And always put others first. Before you can go out there as a volunteer, you should learn to put others first. In that way, they will be able to succeed in whatever thing they do.
JALEELA: If you had one message, James, for the listeners, what would it be?
JAMES: Thank you very much. I love everybody. I thank the YALI Network for the opportunity given. It’s not easy. We know the amount of money that has been pumped into educating us here and not only me and my colleagues, for this year, the previous years, and the years to come. We cannot reward YALI. We cannot reward IREX and that of U.S. State Department. We want to see God richly bless them. And to my colleagues, I would like to say, let’s continue the good work. When you go through the profiles of all of us who are participating this year, 2018, we are all great women and men from Africa, if only we’ll be able to put to work whatever message that will, I mean, whatever information we’ll get from here, then in the next five to 10 years, Africa should change. So that’s the message I have for. It’s to keep doing the good work they do. Thank you.
JALEELA: Thank you, James.
JAMES: You’re welcome.
JALEELA: Be sure to come back for more inspiring stories from young African leaders on the YALI Voices podcast. Join the YALI Network at YALI.state.gov and be a part of something bigger.
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