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Airman seeks to build a generation of lifesavers

Airman seeks to build a generation of lifesavers

Portrait of U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Selina N. Okyere, a crew chief with the 514th Maintenance Squadron, 514th Air Mobility Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., Nov. 4, 2017. Okyere created Global Life Savers Inc. 501(c), a nonprofit organization to teach basic first aid skills to the citizens of the Republic of Ghana. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)

Airman seeks to build a generation of lifesavers

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Selina N. Okyere, a crew chief with the 514th Maintenance Squadron, 514th Air Mobility Wing, Air Force Reserve Command, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., poses with a CPR manikin July 16, 2017. Okyere created Global Life Savers Inc. 501(c), a nonprofit organization to teach basic first aid skills to the citizens of the Republic of Ghana. The CPR manikin is one of the tools Okyere uses when she teaches basic life-saving skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Mark C. Olsen)

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. -- Senior Airman Selina N. Okyere has one goal in her life.“I’m trying to teach the whole nation (of Ghana) to know basic life-saving skills,” said Okyere.

That’s no small undertaking; the Republic of Ghana, which is about the size of the state of Oregon, has a population of close to 29 million people.

For Okyere, this goal is personal: she was born in Ghana.

"People die in Ghana because the people around them don't know basic first aid," said Okyere. “It’s crazy when you hear about someone dying and it was something simple – that could’ve been prevented.”

It took joining the New York Army National Guard 69th Infantry Battalion in 2012 and taking her first combat lifesaver course for Okyere to decide on making this, her life’s purpose.

The course was an epiphany for Okyere. She realized what she had learned could be taught in Ghana.

“On the battlefield, you don’t have doctors or medical professionals following you, we take care of our battle buddies. So why can’t we teach someone how to apply pressure, or a tourniquet if someone is bleeding, or do CPR?”

So after Okyere received her U.S. citizenship, courtesy of her military service, she began working on how she could train the average Ghanaian with those life-saving skills.

There is definitely a need for this training, because in Ghana, very few people outside the medical field know life-saving or even basic first aid skills. This includes both police and fire departments, and the military.

"I spoke to the police and firefighters and they said this is the type of education they need to know,” said Okyere.

To illustrate this need, if you live outside a major city in Ghana, the closest clinic or hospital can be an hour and a half away. Even those in large cities, because of congested traffic, it can take an ambulance or taxi 45 minutes to get to the hospital. So in Okyere’s hometown of Kumasi – a city of more 1.7 million people – if your injury is life threatening, chances are you will die before you make it to the hospital.

"Your life really depends on bystanders because the most they can do is get you in a car," said Okyere. “It’s between you and your god if you survive.”

And if you do survive and make it to a hospital, there are still no guarantees.

“I did a survey of the clinics in my area and some of them don’t have any emergency room nurses. A big clinic near where I lived had only one. You can’t expect that person to work a 24-hour shift, or seven days a week.”

For Okyere the solution is simple: Teach people basic life-saving techniques, so in an emergency, they can step in and provide first aid until help arrives.

“I believe you don’t have to be a health professional to save a person’s life.”

During her time in the New York Guard, she started investigating ways to raise money for her plan and decided that she needed to create a 501(c) (3) nonprofit organization.

In 2016, she got Global Life Savers both incorporated and 501 status granted.

It was also the same year she transferred to the 514th Air Mobility Wing as a Crew Chief with the 514th Maintenance Squadron.

The organization’s vision is “Empowered people saving lives.” Their mission is advocacy and education, resourcing and skill development.

Okyere’s big push is to raise money for training aids, such as CPR manikins, and patient simulators, as well as first aid kits for every school.

“I want to start in elementary schools, teaching children basic life-saving techniques – I want to build a generation of life savers.”

To accomplish that, she is taking her message to Ghanaian government.

On Sept. 30, 2016, Okyere spoke with Nana Akufo-Addo while he was campaigning for the Ghanaian presidency.

Her meeting with him paved the way to a meeting with cabinet members.

“I spoke to the minister of communications – he was very interested.”

Okyere is following up with another meeting with Akufo-Addo during a training mission to Ghana this December.

“I am making plans on meeting with the president and some ministers on this trip,” she said.

Okyere’s long-term goals include getting supplies, beds, and other basic hospital supplies. She has also put her own money toward realizing her dream.

“I have purchased six blocks of land in Kumasi.”

“It is my dream to create an EMT school to specifically train nurses and other people because they lack the basic life-saving training in schools,” said Okyere.

Okyere is looking to raise $500,000 to build the school.

Once the school is built, then there is also the need to staff it.

“I’m looking at bringing nurses over here (to the United States) to get the education so they can go back and teach at the school.”

To accomplish this, Okyere is exploring partnering with American medical schools and hospitals.

Okyere is also investigating other partnerships.

One of the groups Okyere is talking to is the European Resuscitation Council (ERC). The ERC’s goals mirror Okyere’s in that they look at improvements in science, research, education, and implementation and make those skills available to everyone.

In the meantime, Okyere has assembled a group back in Ghana to take those life-saving skills on the road.

“When I was in Ghana, my brother, who is a nurse, got some people together from his hospital and I gave a CPR and basic life-saving skills class. Then we went to churches, schools, and sporting events to teach people about first aid.”

The classes last 30 minutes and go over the basics.

“Last year, I was in Ghana twice. This year I was there March through April, and I’m planning on going there in December,” she said.

The training is paying off.

In May, Okyere’s group had gone to the town of Ejisu Asaman to give a series of classes. Soon after, one of the students used those skills and saved an individual who had a heart attack. In the past, because the village is located in a remote part of Ghana, that person would have died. This time, because of the training Okyere’s group had given, that individual lived.

“They did the right thing and saved the person’s life,” said Okyere.

With that life saved, Okyere is one step closer to realizing her goal.