Saturday, October 27, 2007
Nurse by profession, soldier by design
By: K.A. INKOOM
IN 1960, an enterprising Ghanaian woman, returned to Ghana after pursuing courses in nursing in the United Kingdom. She had but one ambition – to set up her clinic. She was convinced that by setting up a clinic she could make a great impact on the lives of others and contribute her quota to the development of the newly independent Ghana. She never set up a clinic and she ended up in many male dominated disciplines with responsibilities and assignments that have made her an icon in both civil and military history in Ghana.
Now approaching her 85th Birthday (in December), Lieutenant-Colonel (rtd.) Christine Kwabea Debrah rightly points out that she has paid her dues to the nation.
To mention but a few she was the first Ghanaian Matron of the 37 Military Hospital, President Nkrumah’s family nurse; one time Executive Chairperson of the Environmental Protection Agency; Director-General of the then Posts and Telecommunications Corporation of Ghana; member of the National Commission for Democracy; Commander of the Women’s Auxiliary Corps of the Ghana Armed Forces.
At her Cantonments residence this week, Lt.-Col. Debrah recounted to the Spectator how her hopes of setting up her clinic changed when the Ghana High Commissioner in London suggested to her to join the army.
“At the time, I did not have enough knowledge about the army so I said I would go and think about it. I was not sure what being a soldier entailed although my brother, a soldier, was killed in India some time ago”, she said.
Made up her mind, she did. She ventured into the Ghana Armed Forces, abandoning her plans to set up her clinic. That effectively launched her into a career with the military.
She describes her entry into the army as God’s design. “I am a nurse by profession and a soldier by design”, she says, and believes it is her entry into the military and her meeting with the first President of Ghana, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, that ushered her into public life.
Col. Debrah lost both parents before she was ten and had to be brought up by her elder siblings and grandmother. She recalls that being the last child of her parents she had to devote a great part of her time doing things for the elder siblings. Hardworking as she was, she always looked forward to a day when she would grow up to become a great person in society.
“When I was young, I always was interested in seeing women who had made it. Any time I saw a woman driving a car, I would stop and look at her saying in my heart that one day I would like to be like her”.
So in 1954, after her middle school education she thought the best way to get to the top was to join the nursing profession and went ahead to pursue a course as a Qualified registered Nurse (QRN) after which she worked briefly at the Achimota School as a matron before going on to the UK to do courses in the State Registered Nurse (SRN), Family Planning and Public Administration.
What probably shot her to public light was the decision of the military authorities to post her to Tamale after her training. Although she initially opposed the posting she later requested the extension of the three month duty tour to six months.
When I went Tamale, I worked very hard. At the time there was a crisis in the Congo and a great number of the soldiers had been sent there so I was practically in charge of the whole hospital. “I was a nurse, midwife, doctor, health visitor and social worker, I had to go and visit the wives of the troops who had been left behind and I did all those things for three years”.
It was while here that she was introduced to President Nkrumah by the Chief of the Armed Forces, General Alexander, during a visit to Tamale by the President.
President Nkrumah later invited her to the Flagstaff House where she met the First Lady, Fathia and eventually “I ended up becoming their nurse and madam’s midwife.
The children still remember me, especially Gorkeh who is the eldest. They came up to see me the last time they were here”.
Although her association with the First Family was very close she was not a politician, a stance which she said helped her to excel under all governments.
“I am not a politician; I am a nationalist. I have never had any field in politics. I was not in any party”. In spite of this, she found herself as a running mate of an independence Presidential candidate, Dr. R.P. Baffour in the 1979 elections.
She recalls; “One morning, Dr. Baffour sent a team of four men to contact me to be his presidential running mate and although I said no initially, I consented that my entry as a non partisan candidate could help change the face of politics in the country. Dr. Baffour did not win, though”.
In 1982, she was invited to be the Director-General of the then Posts and Telecommunications Corporation (P & T), a job she executed to the administration of many.
After serving with distinction at the P & T Corporation, she was appointed the Executive Chair of the Environmental Protective Chair of the Environmental Protection Council (now Agency), a job she says she did with passion. He love for the environment spurred her on to perform her duties and according to her, that period was the most memorable of her work life. And one cannot fail to recognize that with a cursory glance at her resume.
“The most interesting period was when I was selected one of the 10 top environments in the world” and explains her flair for the environment. “I love nature, probably a legacy from my mother”, who, she recalls had a small garden which whipped up her interest in nature and gardening. But also as God’s creation it is necessary to keep a clean environment and ensure that life goes on. The reason why, even at 85, she loves to do some gardening.
Col. Debrah has participated and delivered papers at many international conferences on the environment in Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas.
The secret of her success? She has the three Fs – Fair, Film and Friendly – nothing that people must be praised where praise is due and punished when, necessary.
He demeanour and accomplishments in life have won the hearts of the chiefs and people of Akuapen where she was been installed Ankobeahemaa of the Adonten Division making her one of the chief advisers to the Paramountcy. She was also honoured at the national level with the Order of the Star of Volta.
Col. Debrah has six children, Mr. Alexander Smart-Abbey, Mrs. Fredricka Ayoola, Dr. Ebenezer Charles Smart-Abbey, Dr. Victor smart-Abbey, Miss Josephine Smart-Abbey and Miss Evelyn Afari.
§ KWAME NKRUMAH’S NURSE
§ 1ST MATRON OF ’37 MILITARY HOSPITAL’
§ COMMANDER, ARMED FORCES
§ WOMEN’S AUXILIARY CORPS
The Spectator - Saturday, October 27, 2007 Page: 5