I was 17 and a new immigrant to the United States of America. I had traveled more than 8000 kilometers from my home country of Ghana to begin my university studies at Westminster College. My journey to the USA was the 1st time I had left the shores of Ghana. I was scared and horrified by the thought of leaving my mother. My siblings who had all studied abroad convinced me that it was the right thing to do so I took a leap of faith and traveled to the USA. However, despite my own personal reservations, I was elated by the opportunity to come to the USA. It was 2008 and Barack Obama had being elected president. I remember staying up all night in Ghana on November 4th watching the election results. Even though I was miles apart, I could feel the emotions running through America. When it was announced that Barack Obama had won the election, all I saw around me were people hugging and crying. President Obama's victory had a ripple effect not only in the USA but in many countries around the world. It was as if at that moment, time froze, borders disappeared and we had all become one. I arrived in the USA right in time for the inauguration ceremony. Like most people, I thought that a new day had dawned on America. I became part of the generation of young people whose interest in public service was kindled by President Obama's election.
But then came the politics of health care, the America I came to meet -- united, hopeful, etc. was divided by an issue I thought was a no brainer. Was health care a right or a privilege? Health care in Ghana was for many years operated under a cash and carry system. Under this system, individuals had to make an initial payment before any service was provided. As a child who grew up with a pre-existing health condition, I spent a lot of my childhood in the hospital and saw at first hand the effect it had on my family. However, in 2003, the National Health Insurance Scheme was passed into law with the goal of providing equitable access and financial coverage for basic health care services to persons resident in Ghana. This scheme though a small step revolutionized health care in Ghana. Therefore, I was surprised to find out that richest country in the world did not guarantee universal health care for its citizens. (A few years later, I will travel to Denmark on a rotary scholarship and was blown away by its health care system).
I followed the health care debate closely and turned to my community in Missouri to find stories of ordinary people whose lives had been affected by the health care system in America. To my dismay, I heard so many heartbreaking stories, but one that had a personal effect on me was that of a young man who had to drop out of school to work multiple jobs so as to help his mother who had no health insurance pay her health care bills. Therefore, while the debate waged on, I nursed the idea of starting a free health fair to provided free basic health services to families in Missouri that lacked health insurance. I reached out to several hospitals and health organizations in Missouri and asked them whether they would be willing to provide their services for free during the health fair. Most said no and a few said yes. Through a partnership between Westminster College and the Callaway County United Way, we organized the first health fair in 2009 and within four hours we had provided free services to more than 100 people.
Initially, my idea was for the health fair to be a one-off event. However, looking at its impact and listening to the many personal stories from the attendees I decided to make this an annual event. For the past three years the Westminster/United Way Health Fair has provided free health services to more than 500 people in Missouri and we have more than 30 health organizations participating each year.
Just last week, the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act. While pundits and talk show hosts will continue to debate about the implications of this ruling, I remember the many ordinary families I encountered during the health fairs who like most Americans work so hard to provide for their families. I think about how this law will help them and all I can say is that this law is not a victory for Obama or Democrats. This is a victory for America.