Citizen Airman teaching critical skills back home in Ghana
By Master Sgt. Mark Olsen
/ Published August 02, 2018
JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Serving locally, making a global impact is what is expected of every Reserve Citizen Airman.
Senior Airman Selina N. Okyere takes it to a whole new level.
“I want to teach everyone in Ghana basic life-saving skills,” said Okyere.
This is no easy task. The Republic of Ghana is the size of Oregon with nearly 29 million people.
Yet, she is succeeding.
In January, Ghana-born Okyere, who is assigned to the 514th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron, visited three high schools in the city of Kumasi. At one location, she taught basic life-saving skills to more than 5,000 students. This summer she plans to return to certify the teachers so they can build it into their curriculum.
Before joining the 514th Air Mobility Wing at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey, in 2016, Okyere was with the New York Army National Guard’s 69th Infantry Battalion. During her training, she took a combat lifesaver course.
The course was an epiphany for Okyere. She realized she could teach what she had learned in Ghana. It also gave her a purpose.
“I believe you don’t have to be a health professional to save a person’s life.”
Okyere created Global Life Savers, a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization and in 2016 it was incorporated and granted 501 status.
With her own money, she bought six blocks of land in Kumasi. Okyere is in the process of raising $500,000 to finish the school.
“The foundation is laid and I hope the school will be open in three to five years,” said Okyere.
The public’s lack of life-saving skills has had a personal impact on Okyere.
In February, a friend of hers, famous Ghanaian singer Ebony Reigns, was injured and later died in a traffic accident.
“Everybody stood around and took photos; no one stepped forward to help because they didn’t know what to do,” she said.
Ghana will benefit from Okyere’s training. After she completes her schooling as a medical technician, she plans on getting her nursing degree.
“The knowledge I get here, I can take back to Ghana and maximize what I do there.”
In Ghana, few people outside the medical field know life-saving or even basic first aid skills – not even members of the military, police and fire departments.
"My priority is the police,” said Okyere. “With this training they can save more lives.”
This is critical, because in large cities, the traffic is congested nearly 24 hours a day. That means it might take an ambulance 45 minutes to get to the hospital. And because most ambulances are not equipped with life-saving equipment, if your injury is life threatening, chances are you will die before you make it to the hospital.
“The police are the solution because they are the first responders when there is an accident.”
The key is getting buy-in from the government. Okyere is working on setting up classes at the 10 regional police training schools in Ghana.
“I reached out to the inspector general of the Ghana police because in order to make this happen, it will have to be mandated from the top down,” she said.
Okyere is also working with Dr. Anthony Akoto Osei, the Ghanaian minister for monitoring and evaluation. Akoto Osei set up the teaching opportunities at the three Kumasi high schools.
“He understands and endorses the need for this training,” said Okyere.
In the meantime, Okyere is buying training aids, such as CPR manikins, as well as first aid kits for every school to go along with the training.
“I want a curriculum that starts at the elementary level and builds on it through high school,” she said. “I want to build a generation of life savers.”
Okyere has also taken those life-saving skills on the road to churches and sporting events. That training is paying off.
In the town of Ejisu Asaman, one of Okyere’s students saved a man who had a heart attack. In the past, that person would have died. Because of that class, that person lived.
“This is not one persons’ problem; it can happen to anybody. We are all in this together,” said Okyere.
(Olsen is assigned to the 514th AMW’s office of public affairs.)