Old phones, tablets, and small laptops were Dr. Bret Batchelor’s latest request ahead of his yearly trip to Ghana to work for three weeks in a clinic there.
Dr. Batchelor has been travelling to Africa for work for several years. First it was Zimbabwe in 2017, but since then he’s worked in Ghana. Whenever Dr. Batchelor leaves, he likes to bring things with him that he can distribute while he’s there. In the past it was electrical fuses, but for his next trip in May, Dr. Batchelor is bringing small electronics again. Batchelor spoke about how the electronics help, and how he started working in Ghana.
“Last time I brought down 48 devices generously donated by the people around here, and probably these people are going to recycle them because they’re old enough there’s a lot of iPhone sixes and sevens. Down there, that’s gold,” said Batchelor.
The phones are still trickling in as Dr. Batchelor prepares for his trip, but he estimated that he had roughly 40 phones to bring with him again.
Bringing electronics –specifically phones– was an idea that came to Dr. Batchelor with inspiration from a friend and colleague.
While in Zimbabwe, Dr. Batchelor met a man who’d adopted two siblings whose parents had died in a fire. As the children settled into their new home, Dr. Batchelor’s colleague had shown the elder of the two children how to play chess when she expressed an interest in learning. He quickly realized that she was a natural protégé, but without online access, her competition was limited.
Dr. Batchelor had another friend who was also fond of chess. He recalled how his friend played on his phone constantly.
“I thought he was texting on his phone all the time, but what he was doing was playing chess. Like, he’d have six to seven games going online at any given time,” said Dr. Batchelor.
Watching the young Zimbabwean and remembering his friend, Dr. Batchelor gave the girl his phone, so she could play against international competition online.
“The weird thing about Africa is they have the most amazing Wi Fi system ever,” said Dr. Batchelor, adding that you could be in the middle of seemingly nowhere and have full bars of service.
The strong internet means that any device that can access it goes a long way, which is why Batchelor equated electronics to gold. Whether it’s for a chess protégé, a business, or school, the positive outcomes from a single device are significant.
Dr. Batchelor’s trips to Africa started when a general practitioner (GP) from Ontario reached out. The doctor from Ontario had been going to Ghana twice a year for more than 20 years, but he was on the cusp of retirement and was looking for help.
“When it comes to doing international work as a doctor, there’s kind of two types of work you do, and sometimes you do a bit of both,” said Dr. Batchelor.
He explained that doctors can provide either capacity building, or service delivery. The former helps to improve the local resources, while the ladder is jumping in to help lessen the load. In his time of working in Ghana, Dr. Batchelor has done both, but lately he does more service delivery.
Over the course of three weeks, he and the other doctors do roughly 200 surgeries. When he isn’t in surgery, Dr. Batchelor likes to help by roaming the compound, with tools that he’s brought over and left in Ghana, to fix things around the compound.
“I’m not a mechanic, I’m not a construction worker, but I know how to use YouTube and I know how to use tools,” said Batchelor.
Dr. Batchelor thanked the community for the electronics already donated.
“It’s just amazing how much people want to give and it’s, it’s neat to see how much of an interest there is to do that,” he said.
Dr. Batchelor said the work is never done and hopes to increase the amount of time he spends in Ghana, but he expressed his gratitude for his wife who continues to support the time he spends there.