Nurses find 'Hebrew' African village

Arms wide open: Sarah Mercer in Tamale, northern Ghana

Arms wide open: Sarah Mercer in Tamale, northern Ghana

Two Jewish nursing students had a pleasant surprise when they travelled to an impoverished town in Ghana only to discover a health clinic decorated with Stars of David.

Katie Susser and Sarah Mercer, both third year students at Birmingham University, have just returned from a two-month trip to Tamale, northern Ghana.

They volunteered at the Shekhinah Clinic, which was founded by Dr David Abdulai in 1989 and is run by local volunteers, helping patients with malaria, HIV and leprosy.

Ms Mercer, 20, from Manchester, said: “It was amazing. We came into the building and saw Magen Davids all over, painted on the gates, in the operating theatre, on the walls. The word Shekhinah [divine presence] was written in Hebrew letters on the outside of the building.

Part of the Shekhinah Clinic in the village

Part of the Shekhinah Clinic in the village

“We felt like it was fate and that we were meant to be there.”

Ms Susser, 21, from Finchley, said: “It was a really moving and inspirational trip. I went out to Ghana prepared for having a wider cultural experience — and then I saw something that made me feel at home.”

Ms Mercer and Ms Susser had travelled to Ghana as part of the elective programme offered to nursing students at Birmingham University.

They travelled with Jewish aid charity, Tzedek, who housed them with 13 other Jewish volunteers.

Ms Mercer said: “What appealed to us was the opportunity to do a project within the Jewish context, but in the wider world.

“Dr Abdulai explained his interest in Judaism to us. He had great admiration for the Jewish faith.

“We found lots of other local places that showed an interest in Jewish imagery, like a hairdresser called Shalom Hair.

“There were posters about the links between Israel and Ghana and claiming that some lost Israeli tribes now lived in Ghana. It was really amazing.”

Ms Susser added: “Beforehand, I was slightly nervous about being such a minority, but the Ghanaians were so welcoming and inclusive.

“They were really excited when they found out we were Jewish, because they knew the clinic was based on Jewish concepts but they had never met a Jew before.”

Dan Berelowitz, director at Tzedek, said: “These volunteers’ experiences aren’t unique. People in Ghana usually don’t know what a Jewish person is but if they do, they show an enormous amount of respect for them.

“I think it’s amazing that the clinic had Jewish symbols. Over here in Britain we sometimes feel that the whole world attacks Jewish people, but over there they accept Jews with open arms.”

    Last updated: 5:44pm, October 29 2009