Posts tagged ‘Ghana’

My first everything in Ghana

After an easy trip. I arrive to Accra, Ghana. The first feeling you have when you step out of the plane is an intense hot an humidity, and this in when you miss the snow at home.

It is 8 PM and the Ghanian national football team is playing the semifinals of the African Cup against Burkina Faso. The whole country is mobilized. I can hear the screams all along the airport. For the moment they are drawing, but with good opportunites. Maybe it is because of the macth that taxi drivers are behaving in a foolish way. I asked one of them about a hostel I knew, and he answers me he takes me there without any problem. I jumped on the taxi with all my stuff, we move forward few meters and he starts asking everyone where the hostel is. I ask him if he truly knows where it is, and he answers me no.

I make the same process with another taxi and it happens completely the same, till a kind woman called Evelyn, offers me her help. She told me she knew a hostel not far from her home. I relied on her and her little son John.

After a few minutes drive we arrive to the hostel. It was not as cheap as I expected, but it is 10 am, I am exhausted and the last thing I want to do is wandering in an African city of  3,5 million habitants. I go straight  to bed.

The day after everything is the first time for me.

My first bedroom

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 19.59.16

Mi first sight of Accra

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 19.59.30

My first bathroom

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 19.58.50

My first coconut

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 21.05.36

My first meal

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 19.59.42

My first defeat.

I realize Ghana lost in penalties. It is in that moment when I remind they almost are the first African country in reaching Worldcup semifinals. An Uruguayan player´s hand  and the latter missed penalty of a Ghanian player impeded it.

Bad luck in football continues for me. In El Salvador I attended with Fundación Campo Microfinance the qualifying game between Costa Rica and El Salvador. Of course, they lost.

But this event do not remove the smiles from them. They know what is suffering in the field and out of it. This is why they give thanks for reaching so far and they will try again harder than ever next year.

Captura de pantalla 2013-02-08 a la(s) 21.06.38

The day after the defeat, some supporter demonstraiting their devotion for the national team.

14 February 2013 at 09:00

Update from the Field: Client training in Mexico, saying “hello!” to Burkina Faso, + learn a little bit about Albania!

Compiled by Isabel Balderrama | KF17 + KF18 | Bolivia

The road to work

The road to fellow DIana Biggs’ job in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso

This week our intrepid team of KF-18 fellows brings us an interesting mix of stories from a wide variety of countries. From taking a lesson on how to raise and care for sheep in Mexico, to learning more about little-known countries such as Burkina Faso and Albania, this week’s posts are sure to keep your interest. Read on for a fellow’s take on what it is that’s keeping Africa from achieving unity and to catch a glimpse of what a fellow’s first few days at work are like in a new and challenging environment.

Bonne Arrivée: Welcome to Ouagadougou
Diana Biggs | KF18 | Burkina Faso
Freshly arrived to our favorite city to pronounce, Diana tells us a little bit about the challenges, and the joys, of living and working in her hot and humid new environment.

A United Africa Part One: What is standing in the way?
Carissa Look | KF18 | Ghana
Here, Carissa brings us Part One of a two-part blog about the political and communication barriers that face the countries of Africa throughout their quest to become a more united continent. In this first installment Carissa explains how Africa’s sheer size is a great impediment to its countries working together.

 Mexican Tale of Women and Sheep
Emmanuel M. von Arx | KF 16+17 | Mexico
In his last post, Emmanuel covered FRAC’s involvement with “Mexico’s greatest artisan fair” and thus made us aware of some of the non-financial services that this partner MFI provides its clients. In this post, Emmanuel stays on this topic by telling us about another non-financial service provided by FRAC: Sheep-rearing courses provided by a UNAM-educated veterinarian. Read on to learn a little more about the benefits of this service, and also if you’ve always been curious as to why sheep have four stomach compartments.

A United Africa Part Two: Why is my internet so slow, why are my phone calls so expensive and what can be done about it to unite Africa, enhance Kiva, and speed development?
Carissa Look | KF18 | Ghana
After reading this first installment about some of the possible geopolitical causes for a lack of unity in the African continent, Carissa moves on to analyze the high cost of telecommunications as a culprit for some African nation’s lack of cooperation with its neighbors and the rest of the world. In this post, Carissa also explains how these challenges affect Kiva’s work in Ghana.

Spotlight on Europe’s most mysterious country
Alice Reeves | KF18 | Kosovo & Albania
As you might remember, on her last post Alice enlightened us on one of her two assigned destinations: Pristina, Kosovo. This time around we are taken on a brief historical and geographical tour of Albania, her second destination, and she also introduces us to VisionFund Albania (VFA), the partner MFI she will also be working with.

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Updates from the Past Month:

Update from the Field
Life as a Fellow in San Francisco, a walk through an art fair + becoming part of a winning soccer team
Appreciating Volunteers & Poetry from a Newly Arrived Fellow
Introducing joinFITE.org, a new platform designed to empower women in entrepreneurship

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Plus, more pictures from the past week:

Diana’s sweltering office in Ouagadougou

Diana Biggs’ adorable alarm clock

Veterinarian Linda Velázquez giving FRAC clients and fellow Emmanuel a presentation on how to properly care for sheep

9 July 2012 at 08:00 4 comments

Fellows’ First Days in the Field

by Luan Nio | KF18 | Nicaragua

We think we are all well-travelled, educated and smart, with great interpersonal skills and able to handle difficult situations. But what does actually happen at a Kiva Fellow’s first day in the office?
Most of us have not worked in microfinance before, have never visited their destination country and sometimes don’t speak the local language as well as they might think.

Here are impressions from around the globe during our first day with our assigned Kiva field partner.

(more…)

30 June 2012 at 11:03 4 comments

Along the road

by Jacqueline Gunn, KF13 Ghana, KF14 Ukraine

For the past 7 months I have been roaming the world as a Kiva fellow. I began in the lovely town of Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana where I spent my days in the office and my evenings and weekends on the beach. When I applied for a second fellowship, my only request was that it provided contrast to Ghana. Working in an industrial factory city in Eastern Ukraine has certainly delivered that. I arrived in Winter and it was -20 degrees Celsius outside and not much warmer inside.

Before I started on this adventure, I had expectations about what I would learn- microfinance in action, the inner workings of Kiva. I have had so many great opportunities to learn about microfinance, but for me this experience has been so much more as well. Here are just a few of the things I have learned as a fellow.

No food for lazy man- Abura, Ghana

Continue Reading 16 May 2011 at 14:02 4 comments

Microlending Behind the Scenes: How MFIs Judge Credit Worthiness

By Nila Uthayakumar, KF14, Uganda, 

With the help of several other Fellows in the field

Borrowers of an MCDT solidarity group meet under the shade of a tree in Kampala, Uganda.

I’ve met all kinds of borrowers. From age 16 to 76; from orphans to a former beauty queen; from potato sellers to auto parts saleswomen to motorcycle transportation tycoons. I’ve met them in urban slums, in villages, in homes, on porches, in churches, in community centers, and outside in grassy fields. I’ve listened to their stories, I’ve photographed and filmed them, I’ve played with their children, and I’ve been welcomed into their homes. Two months into my Kiva fellowship, and I am more motivated and inspired than ever. My name is Nila and I live and work in Kampala, Uganda.

What I have understood from these borrowers is that poverty takes many shapes and forms. Poverty can mean desperation and destitution, and it can also mean having to make impossible choices between paying medical bills or school fees. It can mean not having enough food to eat today, or not having a secure enough future to be able to retire. The microloans I have seen in action place into the hands of borrowers the power to shape their own lives. The recipients of these loans are among the most dignified people I have ever met, and when given the chance, these individuals make tremendous improvements in their lives. (more…)

5 May 2011 at 11:31 2 comments

Happy Earth Day from Kiva Fellows around the Globe!

Compiled by Caree Edson, KF 14, Armenia

One of the unfortunate sight-seeing adventures that you never sign up for when you travel (especially in developing countries) is the unseemly amount of trash cluttering the otherwise beautiful landscapes. In Armenia, it isn’t possible to see the horizon through the smog most days and the streets are covered in cigarette butts and litter. I found no exceptions to this as I inquired from other Kiva Fellows about the dire situation in their countries. Environmental education and reform are simply not a top priority in many countries. But the future of climate change initiatives are not entirely hopeless…

Continue Reading 22 April 2011 at 11:06 3 comments

Update from the Field: Man’s Day, Singing Fellows + Learning How to Count

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

The Fellows will be covering International Women’s Day later this week but let’s take a moment to acknowledge its lesser-known cousin in Kyrgyzstan, “Man’s Day”. And while you’re appreciating culture and history in far-off places, take a trip to Peru and West Timor through photos, visit borrowers in Uganda and Rwanda through video, learn a little something about communicating in South Africa, and catch up on the latest from Liberia, Ghana, and Mexico (home to the “Singing Fellow”).

Continue Reading 7 March 2011 at 00:16 7 comments

Update from the Field: Videos, Epic Commutes + Going Beyond Microfinance

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

Another week, another incredible range of dispatches from around the world. Several Fellows told their stories with video and pictures while others took time to reflect on the state of microfinance as a global industry and in their respective countries. And what would a week in the field be without getting to know a few borrowers? Plus, scroll to the end of the post for pictures you may have missed the first time around.

Continue Reading 28 February 2011 at 00:38 10 comments

Last Week in the Field: “Christmas”, Trekking, Adversity + Good Company

Compiled by Alexis Ditkowsky, KF14, South Africa

Members of the 14th class of Kiva Fellows have officially hit their stride. While we never know where the next dispatch will come from or what interesting topics the Fellows will cover next, we always know we’ll be transported, entertained, and edified. This past week, topics included “Christmas”, trekking to a remote village (with video!), handling adversity (including a serious car accident and stolen electronics), and enjoying the company of loan officers, borrowers, and community members. Enjoy!

Continue Reading 21 February 2011 at 02:17 12 comments

Florence’s dream

by Jacqueline Gunn, KF13, Christian Rural Aid Network, Ghana

Whenever I choose a not for profit to support, I always carry out in depth research before I commit. I read through their financial accounts to see how their money is spent, I search for stories that I think have a long term benefit- I’m a natural sceptic and I want the organisation to prove to me that the money will be spent well, I dislike waste. For me, the opportunity of being a Kiva fellow would allow me to be the ultimate investigator into microfinance and hopefully prove my sceptic side totally wrong.

Continue Reading 21 December 2010 at 11:00 2 comments

Food makes the world go around

by Jacqueline Gunn, KF13- Christian Rural Aid Network, Ghana

Food sustains people. Many thousands of individuals create a living through food production, distribution and on a large scale, exportation. People communicate and build communities through food- joining together to prepare a meal before sitting down together to enjoy it. In order to celebrate National Farmers Day today, I invite you read about agriculture in Ghana and join us for lunch (through the form of video!) at Christian Rural Aid Network in Cape Coast.

Continue Reading 3 December 2010 at 12:00 5 comments

As my Kiva fellowship concludes…

by, Zerrin Cetin, KF12 Ghana

When I embarked on my fellowship four months ago, I was excited but nervous. As with any new experience, the unknowns can be interesting, exhilarating, challenging and overwhelming all at the same time. With these feelings, I boarded my flight to Ghana. I had two simple objectives for my fellowship – help my MFI as much as I can and learn as much as I can. As my journal entry from my flight states, I wanted to learn about microfinance, Ghanaian culture, common characteristics that make us human, and myself. Though I’ve probably only scratched the surface on these lofty goals, I am surprised at how much these objectives shaped my fellowship experience. I’d like to take this final blog to share a little bit of what I’ve learned.

Continue Reading 2 December 2010 at 04:00 5 comments

The beat goes on…

by Jacqueline Gunn, KF13, Ghana
One of the first things I noticed about living in Ghana is the ebb and flow of sound. It feels like Ghana is living by a constant rhythm which is created in every household, on every street and every road.

Continue Reading 22 November 2010 at 12:00 6 comments

Prescriptions are not just for medicine

By Zerrin Cetin, KF12 Ghana

Obruni (Often yelled, “Ooobrruuuniii”). A word that meant nothing to me just three short months ago. Now, it is a word that induces feelings of happiness, anger, and indifference all at the same time. In Ghana, a foreigner is called obruni. Really, it is more of a greeting than anything. Admittedly, it took me a while to get used to being called obruni.

While my fellowship is providing me with a fantastic opportunity to learn about microfinance, this obruni example illustrates a part of my fellowship that I equally cherish – Living in a country very different than my own. This is pushing me to be open-minded despite how strange circumstances might seem at times. This openness, in turn, is pushing me to think about things that I had never thought about before. I think a recent experience illustrates this nicely. A very interesting question was posed to me by a Ghanaian. “Do you think my country will ever reach your country?”

Continue Reading 25 October 2010 at 04:00 9 comments

Macroeconomics Meets Microfinance

Zerrin Cetin, KF12 Ghana
In my time as a fellow, I expected to interview borrowers and hear lots of touching personal stories. I never expected to finally understand economics in a way textbooks never described it for me. Economics was not a course I chose to take. It was a mandatory credit I had to take. While I managed to memorize how supply and demand curves moved, for the life of me, I could not see the practical applications of economic theory. This was the case until a very special aha moment last week thanks to my field experiences and a fantastic discussion with CRAN’s Director of Microfinance. I finally understood the interplay of demand and supply at a very practical level. Upon reflection, I am starting to believe that a vital assumption for microfinance to be a success story is that there is continued excess demand in the marketplace. But what happens if supply exceeds demand?

Continue Reading 1 October 2010 at 04:00 15 comments

Non-Financial Costs and Benefits of a Kiva Partnership to an MFI

By Zerrin Cetin, KF12 Ghana

Like any business partnership, a partnership with Kiva brings both financial and non-financial benefits and costs to a Microfinance Institution (MFI). I believe that partnerships, whether personal or business, need partners’ values to align in order to succeed. So I will analyze this topic within the context of Kiva’s values – dignity, accountability, and transparency. The question I’d like to discuss is “What are the non-financial costs and benefits to an MFI in aligning with Kiva’s values of dignity, accountability, and transparency?” Since this blog represents my observations of one MFI partner (Christian Rural Aid Network – CRAN, in Ghana where I’m currently serving), I’d like to invite others to share their observations and enrich the discussion on this topic.

Continue Reading 10 September 2010 at 04:00 8 comments

What I like about being a Kiva fellow

Michelle Baker, KF 11 Ghana/Tanzania

The best part of being a Kiva fellow is meeting with the borrowers.  During my first two months as a Kiva fellow, I had the opportunity to meet with several borrowers to learn how they used their micro loans and to learn about their hopes for the future.  What I found most impressive about many of the borrowers was that although they had very little formal education, they were very business-minded and had big dreams of expanding their businesses.

I would like to share the stories of two business savvy Ghanaian women.    Since they are both still repaying their loans, I have changed their names to protect their identities.  Their courage and determination to take out a microloan to open and run their own businesses is very impressive.

The first borrower, Mary, had very little formal education, but she had big dreams of providing her children with the opportunity and access to education.  Mary operates a cold store in her community.  She used her Kiva loan to buy fish and meat to supply her cold store.

Before she even told me about her Kiva loan, she was happily discussing the current construction of her new family home.  Mary explained that the profits she made from her business allowed her to construct a home made of cement.  A home made of cement is not common in her rural community and it will provide her family with great protection against the heavy rains.

Mary also told me of her plans to expand her supplies in her cold store to sell water and sodas.

In addition, Mary used her profits from previous microloans to buy 4 bicycles and 5 wheel barrels, which she rented out at a daily rate to people in her community.  During our interview, I noticed that 2 bicycles and 3 wheel barrels had been rented out for the day.  I was impressed to see Mary successfully operating several small businesses out of her home.

The second borrower, Beatrice, took a loan to buy women’s clothing and accessories for her boutique and to buy food supplies needed to operated her fried rice stand.  Beatrice had no problems making her repayments and was eager to pay her loan off early so that she could take out a bigger loan to open another fried rice stand on the main road, where there was more pedestrian traffic.  And if her two other businesses did not keep her busy enough, Beatrice also ran a small stand where she sold top off credits for cell phones.  Beatrice wasn’t content with just running her current businesses, she had dreams of opening fried rice stands throughout her community.  I am hopeful that she will realize her dreams.

A photo of Beatrice in front of her boutique and a separate photo of her fried rice stand.

As I begin wrapping up my time as a Kiva fellow, I feel very thankful to have had the opportunity to meet with Kiva borrowers to learn about their hopes and dreams and how their Kiva loans have helped them realize some of these dreams.

7 August 2010 at 02:25

Azuma Blow

By Michelle Baker, KF 11, Ghana

“Azuma blow” refers to locally made soap commonly found in the rural areas of Ghana.   Apparently, the soap is named after the much beloved Ghanaian three-time featherweight boxing champion, Azuma Nelson.  Although every person I have asked has told me that “Azuma blow” is named after Azuma Nelson, the reasons for the soap being named after him have varied.   One person told me that it was because the soap looked like the blow of Azuma Nelson.  Another person told me that it was because the soap is very hard and heavy like Azuma Nelson’s fist blows. And another person told me because the soap is very strong that it combat any stain like Azuma Nelson combated his opponents.

For the past month, every time I went out into the field I asked about this soap called “Azuma blow,” but no could locate any for me. Finally, this past week I went out into the field to meet a borrower who manufactured and sold “Azuma blow” soap.   At the conclusion of our meeting, I eagerly asked her if she had any of this soap and if I could buy one from her.   I really wanted to take a photo of it.   It only cost about 20 Cedis, or roughly 14 cents to buy two balls of “Azuma blow.”   After inspecting the soap, I think that it is called “Azuma blow” because the soap is very hard and heavy like a blow.    After traveling for 2 ½ hours in a tro-tro (minivan) where the heat was a little too warm to get comfortable, I felt rewarded by finally seeing what “Azuma blow” actually looked like and the Kiva borrower got a nice laugh out of it as well.

Here is a photo of a Kiva borrower who manufactures and sells “Azuma blow” soap.  And a close up of what “Azuma blow” soap looks like.


24 June 2010 at 08:10 5 comments

Kiva Love for Loan Officers

By Michelle Baker, KF11 Ghana

I spent the entire past week out in the field training branches and meeting with Kiva borrowers, and it was the most inspiring thing I have experienced in a very long time.

The loan officers are some of the most amazing people who I have met. Without their hard work, I am certain that microfinancing would not be possible. The loan officers that I met start their days before 8:00 a.m. and end as late as 11:00 p.m. They do not spend their days in a comfortable air-conditioned office, but instead spend most of their time traveling from rural town to rural town meeting with current and potential borrowers. They do not have cars, but instead must wait on the side of the road for a tro-tro (a mini-van packed with people) or a shared taxi. In the town of Kumasi, where I currently live, you will come across 10 tro-tros and taxis every 5 minutes, but in the rural areas, you may have to wait anywhere between 15 minutes to 1 hour for a passing tro-tro or taxi. Did I mention that it extremely hot and humid in Ghana?

These loan officers are dressed up in slacks, a long Oxford shirt, a tie and polished shoes. They often meet in churches that have a ceiling fan which really only moves the hot air around, but doesn’t really offer any relief from the heat. In one of the rural towns outside Kade, two loan officers met with over 30 groups of borrowers. Each group had 5 to 10 individual borrowers. These two loan officers collected repayments, offered training sessions and listened to any grievances that the borrowers had. They do this all with a determination and kindness that I am not sure that most people would be able to have, including myself. I asked one of the loan officers what he likes about his job, and he told me that he feels like he is providing a service to a community of people who are less fortunate than himself and really need the help. It was nice that he did not treat his work just as part of his job, but that he actually felt inspired about the work he was doing.


A photo of a Kiva team members collecting journal updates from Kiva borrowers.

I also got to meet some Kiva borrowers, and attempted to converse with them in their native Twi language. Well I shared the three phrases that I know! Mma ache, which means good morning. Wo ho te sen, which means how are you? Me ho ye, which mean I’m good. They loved it!

A few photos of Kiva borrowers.

Finally, the loan officers and the borrowers wanted me to tell Kiva and all the Kiva borrowers that they were so thankful for providing loans and how these loans have helped the borrowers to care for their families. I think the loan officers also deserve praise because without them, Kiva and Kiva borrowers wouldn’t be able to reach these rural borrowers!

24 May 2010 at 02:02 7 comments

Soon… (Kumasi, Ghana)

By Michelle Baker, KF11 Ghana

I have been in Kumasi, Ghana for about 10 days just in time for the rainy season. Many people living in tropical areas probably know that when the rain comes the city shuts down, along with the power and the water supply. When you ask, when will the rain stop, the reply is “Soon.” When you ask, when will the power come back, the reply is “Soon.” When you ask, when will the water come back, the reply is “Soon.” I am coming to realize that “soon” really means MAYBE in a few hours if you’re lucky.

A few nights ago, there was a terrible rain storm that caused the power to go out around town, including my apartment. After a long day at work, I came home to darkness and no food, and so I went to bed.

At about 5:00 a.m. the following morning, I woke up and was excited to learn that the power was back, so I hopped in the shower and lathered up my hair with shampoo. Of course at that exact moment, the power decided to go out again along with my water supply. Thankfully, I had some bottled water on hand and used it wash the shampoo out of my hair. I rushed to get ready and made my way to Adom, Kumasi’s city centre to meet my colleague to a catch a bus to a branch office located in Techiman, which is a few hours away from Kumasi. A colleague and I went to this branch office to conduct training on Kiva loans.

We rushed through the chaos of the central market only to learn that we had missed our bus. When I asked when the next bus came, the reply was “soon.” I asked “how soon from now, 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour?” The reply was “it is coming now.” Nearly 2 hours later waiting in the heat, the bus finally came.

Techiman’s main road.

Arriving at about 11:00 a.m. at our destination, we learned that the power had been out since the morning as they also had experienced the rain storm. Our training required a computer, and without power, there wasn’t much we could do but wait. As you can guess, when I asked when the power was expected to be back on, the reply was “soon.”

At about 7:00 p.m., the power finally came back on permanently. We were able to assemble our group and present our training at 8:00 p.m., nearly 9 hours after we arrived. Under normal circumstances, I would have been highly agitated, however, you soon realize that this is the way of life in Ghana and the people are pretty relaxed about it. And so, it is my turn to adjust and just relax because the rainy season has only just begun!

10 May 2010 at 02:29 13 comments

Allah’s Rewards

By Nancy Tuller, KF8, Ghana

As a Kiva Fellow in Ghana, the most rewarding aspect of my fellowship has been meeting people like Khadija, whom I met while visiting microloan clients in a “zogo” (Muslim neighborhood) in Hohoe, in the eastern region of Ghana.  Because she touched me deeply, I’d like to share the little I know of her story with you.Khadija

Khadija is a beautiful woman who has seen more than her share of hard times.  In this photo, you can see her lovely smile, which I had to coax from her after we had quietly chatted for some time.  She has had one leg amputated, and must use crutches to move about.  She is a single parent of two boys, ages ten and seven, and lives with her mother and a sister in the eastern region of Ghana.  As a single parent and an amputee, Khadija almost certainly faces untold prejudices in this cultural context.  These facts alone speak of her strength and perseverance in the face of adversity, which have surely aided her in her entrepreneurial efforts.  Khadija is a seamstress, and has been for the last 16 years.  She just opened her own shop four years ago, however, and this is the major source of income for her household.

(more…)

5 September 2009 at 05:47 5 comments

Connecting with Fuseina

By Nancy Tuller, KF8, Ghana

Fuseina is the kind of person that you want in your life.  She is kind, gracious, friendly, confident, warm, generous in spirit and loving, all at the same time.  Our short visit together reminded me of the reason I am here, and the reason I love this work (if you can call it that!), and the reason I so admire what Kiva is facilitating.  This is human connection at its finest.

This connection is what drew me to microfinance 15 years ago.  When Kiva came up with a way to personalize that connection even further with their online lending to specific individuals back in 2005, I knew they had hit upon a recipe for success.  It is this personal, intimate connection between individuals—knowing that your loan is going to Gifty Mensah in Senegal, whose face you know, and whose need to buy a new oven for her baking business is so real—which draws increasing numbers of people who may have never considered giving to other organizations, to begin a sustained program of lending and re-lending.  I told several of my mail clients (I am a letter carrier at home in California) about Kiva and several of them have loaned to clients here in Ghana.  I visited two of those clients last week, and we had a wonderful connection.  I”ve visited with clients and their families in their homes and just the other day made a lunch date with another client’s wife!  I have friends who have emailed me wanting to lend to clients, I have started three lending groups so far, with many joiners who have expressed their desire to make that connection with a particular client.  I have made many intimate connections with Kiva loan clients, which has been the most rewarding aspect of my Kiva Fellowship.  My photos and memories are my own proof of that connection.  Clients have, time and again, expressed their deep gratitude to their lenders, and I have even seen a woman break down in tears when expressing that gratitude and wonder that someone she doesn’t even know would give her such help through a loan.  This is what connections are all about: recognizing that we are one family interconnected through our shared humanity and our shared destiny. (more…)

16 August 2009 at 06:33 5 comments

Obama-rama in Ghana!

Hotel Obama

Hotel Obama

By Nancy Tuller

KF8, Cape Coast, Ghana, Africa

I knew President Obama was going to visit Ghana even before I came here, and was excited to think that perhaps on some off-chance I might meet him.  Ha!  After completing my first placement as a Kiva Fellow in the regional capital of Kumasi, I arrived in the country’s capital, Accra, on July 8th, and Obama arrived the next day on July 9th.  I went to several hotels and all were fully booked.  My taxi driver suggested a new hotel called, (guess what!)  Hotel Obama!  Only in Africa!  It was actually a very cool hotel owned by a Ghanaian family who had lived in New Jersey for some years, and had returned to start up this hotel.  Each room was named for someone.  There was, of course, the Barack Obama suite, the Michelle Obama room next door to it, and the Joe Biden room across from it.  I stayed in the Coretta Scott King room that was right next to the Martin Luther King room.  There was beautiful African art work on the walls and there was a good restaurant attached.  And, I was definitely in good company!  It rained hard that next day, and I didn’t even know Obama’s schedule, so I went about my business in the capital city of Accra, including buying my bus ticket for Cape Coast, where my second Kiva placement would begin the following Monday.

The next day I left for Cape Coast.  (more…)

30 July 2009 at 12:15 6 comments

On Committment, Hope and the Meaning of Wealth; A Kiva Fellow’s Perspective

Sinapi Aba Trust Rocks!By Nancy Tuller,

Kiva Fellow Class 8, Ghana, Africa

As a Kiva Fellow in Ghana, Africa, I have been working with Sinapi Aba Trust (SAT), established in 1994 and based in Kumasi, the heart of the Ashanti region.  Sinapi Aba, as the non-governmental organization (NGO) is often referred to, has a vision of dedication to the building of a nation in which the strong help the weak and people’s dignity is maintained through their own efforts at providing for themselves, their families, and their community.  The NGO aims to do this through the provision of both financial and non-financial services to the economically active poor in ten regions of Ghana.  It currently serves over 76,000 clients from 40 branch offices spread throughout these regions.  Your loans to Sinapi Aba clients are helping Sinapi Aba to come closer to the realization of its vision through expanding the reach of microloans in Ghana.

In addition to offering microloans, Sinapi Aba offers its clients business training, social service and consultancy services, as well as training in wise credit usage, vocational skills, savings, accounting and record keeping, and customer service.  Its non-financial services include capacity building, training and technical advice to other microfinance institutions, along with client-oriented programmes in HIV/AIDS awareness and community development, and a very successful youth apprenticeship programme.  Sinapi Aba Trust staff is comprised of some of the most dedicated and committed individuals I know.  Their salaries are not handsome by any measure.  They do this work because they believe that their actions should reflect their belief in, and commitment to, serving others.  Their passion to stay true to their mission of serving the economically disadvantaged in society through providing opportunities for enterprise development and income generation is only surpassed by their successful track record in doing just that.

It is with Sinapi that I have taken my first baby steps in this continent.  It is Sinapi staff that has nurtured me with its knowledge, wisdom and love.  I adore my Sinapi family, and am beyond finding the right words to convey my gratitude for what I have gained through this experience.  Now, all too suddenly, I have to leave my Sinapi family, and move on to my next placement in Ghana.  As I ride the bus that takes me further and further from Sinapi and towards my next destination, (more…)

17 July 2009 at 08:41 7 comments

Ghanaian Reality Check

By Nancy Tuller, KF8 Ghana, Africa

“Akwaaba!”  (Welcome!), I heard, over and over in my first few days here in Ghana, and what a wonderful welcome it has been!  When I stepped outside the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, my heart lept at the feel of the warm and humid summer night clinging to my skin and the cacophony of voices in Twi, which is the most commonly spoken language here in Ghana.  It sounded to me like a kind of chaotic harmony, blending perfectly with snatches of disparate Ghanaian music coming from various vehicles as I left the airport for my hotel.  Every face I encountered could only be described as friendly, every voice warmly welcoming me!

Now I have been in Kumasi, the city of about three million residents, where Sinapi Aba Trust (SAT) has its headquarters, for four whole days as a Kiva Fellow.  That is enough to know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be!  One Kiva staff member told me that she felt that Africa was her home.  I wonder if I will be next to express that sentiment!   Already I am calling the apartment where I am staying with one of the SAT staff members and his wife “home”.  Joshua, Nana and I live in a two bedroom apartment on the third floor in a complex that at one time was a prestigious address, but has lost the right to that claim since the corporation who owns the complex decided not to maintain the roads, lights, security or even the reservoir that should be pumping water to the complex.  The apartment itself is modest, simple, clean and lovely, and I am very comfortable here, but all residents suffer a lack of running water.  A water truck brings water, and persons are paid to carry water in 20 liter buckets on top their heads, up the stairs (no elevators) to each apartment.  Water is used very sparingly, and of course the water problem is not just in this complex, it extends all over Africa, and much of the developing world.  The effects of climate change are very real-time here.  Nana says the monsoon season definitely is bringing less rain (it’s only rained briefly one time since I’ve been here and it is monsoon season now), and the large river that has always supplied the Kumasi area with water is low.  Though there is a large water table beneath Kumasi, very few can afford to bore a hole to access it.  This is a country where almost everyone, and perhaps especially the poor, have to pay market prices for clean water or make do with polluted water, increasing their exposure and vulnerability to illness and disease.  Add to this the absolutely alarming rate of inflation (currently 20.6%), in which the price of a banana or a cassava (and water) might go up by almost 0.66% overnight, and where unemployment is (depending upon whom you ask) between 30-40%!!  Such are some of the most visible factors of poverty here in Ghana, making microfinance,the provision of basic financial services such as savings, loans, and insurance, all the more crucial to the ability of the poor to weather such tumultuous financial storms.

Pounding plantains for fufuFrank &Thomas at SAT offices

If you would like to learn more about Sinapi Aba Trust and the provision of microloans to Ghanaian entrepreneurs, go to:  http://www.kiva.org/about/aboutPartner?id=88&_tpg=fb

Browse through SAT borrower profiles, make a loan, and and make a positive change in someone’s life at: http://www.kiva.org/app.php?page=businesses&partner_id=88&status=fundRaising&sortBy=New+to+Old&_tpg=fb

1 June 2009 at 23:51 8 comments

Time for a change

In the United States, my home country, our motto as of late has been change. I have been working at the Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN) in Ghana for almost two months now, and I am just in time to witness some monumental policy changes of its own that will redefine the way CRAN does business and may even give President-elect Obama a run for his money.

Currently, CRAN has seven different branches in three regions of Ghana. Four of its branches are located near the main office around Cape Coast and Elmina, Ghana, two fishing towns that aren’t rural but aren’t urban either. On top of loaning to people in town, CRAN also lends to many rural communities around Cape Coast. About an hour away, CRAN has two more units running in rural fishing communities. Until June of last year, one of these units didn’t have electricity or computers. The other one still doesn’t. CRAN’s last unit can be found about a six-hour drive away in the Volta Region. Due to this branch’s distance from the head unit where a Kiva Coordinator uploads all the Kiva borrower profiles, none of the clients from that unit can be found on Kiva. This is something that CRAN would like to change sometime in the near future.

At each of the units, there is a manager along with loan officers, each of which has a portfolio of clients that he or she is in charge of. The loan officer is in charge of overseeing the loan and filling out all the paperwork. Since CRAN works only with groups, the loan officer talks everything over with the group’s president, secretary, and treasurer to make sure they know what is going on. The loan officer also visits all of the people at their workplaces to take photos in order to put the borrowers on Kiva. Other employees include the cashier and field officers in charge of collecting both loans and susu savings (a small daily savings).

As CRAN moves forward and attempts to make itself a sustainable financial institution, the employees are changing the way things are currently done to a new and exciting framework. Current groups have ten members or more, but from this month forward CRAN groups will consist of five members. This change is being made because right now many groups are scattered, hard to reach for loan collection, and hard to gather together. The loan officers often only know the president, secretary, and treasurer in a group and must rely on them to find the other members. Some of these groups have multiple family members or an employer and his or her employees comprising the group as well, so from now on group members must have their businesses located in the same area, and must not have any other family members in their group. Sometimes this is the case just because people find it hard to develop a group with at least ten people in order to receive a loan. A group loan is designed so that each of the members guarantees the other members—it is a lot more to take on with ten people.

The other caveat of any group’s membership is that every member must have health insurance. A National Health Insurance Bill that was designed by the governing New Patriotic Party and passed into law in 2003 by the parliament is an insurance plan designed to ensure that Ghanaian residents would have access to basic health care services without paying money at the point of delivery of the service. It has had some criticism, mainly by the opposing party that had implemented a cash-and-carry system. This cash-and-carry system, which was used since 1985 in Ghana, was replaced for various reasons, including a fall in clinic attendance. It required every Ghanaian to pay before receiving clinical care. Since implementing the new scheme in 2004, health care is free for children, pregnant women, and Ghanaians over the age of 70. There are also various plans for everyone else, costing as little as a few dollars and lasting for one-year increments. Because health care makes such a big difference in people’s ability to work, CRAN has decided that insurance is a must. Many Ghanaians get sick with illnesses such as malaria—a disease that can keep them from the workplace for a few days if treated but can even be deadly if untreated. This is, to make it economical, bad for business. A Ghanaian who can’t work can’t make money and needs to rely on help from others to sustain a business and a family. Health insurance will ensure that all Ghanaians who work with CRAN have access to the health care they need to be healthy.

Now, taking out a loan from CRAN is more than just taking out a loan. It is a commitment on the part of the borrowers that they will attend a pre-loan training that involves an introduction to CRAN and the loan disbursement. After receiving the loan, the borrowers attend a monthly training. It is not just one group of borrowers that meet, but many—totaling around 75 people, making it less of a time burden on loan officers to meet with their groups. During these trainings, they will make their monthly loan payments and also receive various lectures on topics such as health, fire safety, and money management. Near the end of the loan period, one of the trainings is dedicated to Kiva journals—ensuring that almost all of CRAN’s Kiva participants from this point on will have a journal. This will not only be a wonderful thing for Kiva lenders, it will also be great in terms of social performance. CRAN will have an opportunity to keep track of the people it loans to and the social progress that the loans make in their lives, which may also help CRAN to modify loans to make them better for the borrowers.

One of the biggest problems currently facing CRAN is high loan deferment rates—incidences where borrowers don’t pay back on time or at all. This new format will attempt to address this problem and will hopefully ensure that field officers aren’t constantly chasing down the people who need to pay—a waste of time, energy, fuel, and money for the organization. This new format—where attendance is close to mandatory in order to get a second loan later on—gathers the group on a monthly basis and gives the loan officer a perfect opportunity to collect the loan repayment.

One of the greatest strengths to this new system is budgetary. CRAN believes it will help the organization cut costs, which is imperative in CRAN’s long-term plan because it is a non-profit organization that runs off of loans. Any money loaned out to borrowers that isn’t from Kiva comes from loans from larger banks. Thus CRAN has interest of its own to pay, and when the borrowers don’t pay back, it negatively affects CRAN and how many other borrowers it can help.

My one big question as I have been introduced to this new system, which has been implemented at one of the units this month, is what will it do for the borrowers? I agree that it is best for the organization as it will hopefully lead to financial stability. However, in terms of borrowers, the recipients will be poor but probably not the poorest businesses in the area. The poorest people won’t be able to pay for health insurance and a susu savings (a small daily savings that is another new requirement of CRAN’s borrowers—so if borrowers don’t pay back CRAN will already have some money to take the repayment from).Thus, poor people will be helped, but some of the poorest won’t have the opportunity to develop their businesses through CRAN.

I do believe that this new system, especially the training, gives CRAN the opportunity to make an expanded social impact in the lives of its borrowers. And then once it is financially secure, it will be able to offer services designed for even poorer borrowers to help them develop their businesses.

This new system will involve a lot of change—from the organizational structure to what is expected of the borrowers, change in policy is revolutionizing almost every aspect of CRAN. These changes are being made in order to address and combat all of CRAN’s weaknesses as an organization and to put CRAN in a position to meet all of its future goals. While I am sure new challenges will arise with the new system, CRAN is working hard and intelligently to become a stronger organization.

ELECTION UPDATE: Ghana just had its presidential elections, which were very peaceful and well-run. Every other commercial on television the day of the elections (December 7) was about peace in Ghana. The country was praised by its African neighbors for doing so well. However, there will be a run-off taking place between the top two candidates on December 28. I will post an update following that in regards to the elections and whether Ghana is able to maintain peace.

12 December 2008 at 08:00 2 comments

The art and science of communication

Language is said to be the thing that separates man from animal. Oliver Wendell Holmes said it is the blood of the soul into which thoughts run and out of which they grow. It is also the way in which we can most easily communicate our deepest thoughts and desires with another. It is a tool that we use to bridge us together.

Yet since I have arrived in Ghana, I have begun to define language in an entirely new way. It is a constant ebb and flow of words and understanding. It is a roller-coaster ride of gerunds and participial phrases that mean all the world to some people and don’t make any sense to others.

Ghana is a tribal-based country with about 80 languages. In any given region of the country, a different language is spoken based on the tribe or tribes that reside there. In addition, Ghana is a former British colony so English is the official language—which means that people who receive an education study the language of their region and English during their schooling, and the language is used in government and business practices. This leads to an interesting work environment in that none of my co-workers other than myself speak English as their first language. On top of that, while much of the work does involve speaking native languages, not all of the employees speak the same native languages. At least three different languages from three different regions are spoken in the office on any given day, and not everyone understands each others’ tribal languages, so the use of English becomes a middle ground where employees can meet to talk to each other.

Even the English that is used here in Ghana is different from the English that I am used to. People in Ghana learn British English, which is not all that different from American English, but they have taken it and changed it in their culture to make it their own—in part, I believe, due to a lack of exposure to the way the English language is used in the Western world.

Take the word fuel, for example. I kept hearing the CRAN drivers saying they needed foo-elle. Foo-elle, I thought. What in the heck is foo-elle? Oh, fuel, of course. Then there was the time I walked around the entire University of Ghana-Legon looking for the math department and asking everyone I met for directions while being pointed in every direction. Apparently they didn’t know what math was. I found out later that the word math is pronounced mass here. If only I had asked for the mass department, they would have known exactly what I was talking about. There are many words that are now pronounced differently, for lack of knowing how to pronounce it perhaps. Either way, it is culturally right to pronounce such words that way; otherwise, no one will understand what you are saying.

At first I thought that the people in Ghana have a whole different and less-than-American grasp of the English language. As a vivid reader and copy editor, my understanding of the science and art that is the English language is strong, and I saw a lot of rules that weren’t known and that were broken. I realized that the people I work with and interview only use it as a second language and don’t have the poetic vibe that being fluent in a language brings—that ability to truly and clearly articulate the specific words desired. Granted, there are varying levels of English and some are quite high, but each is different than that of a native English speaker and each is developed in accumulation with the culture.

Interestingly enough, despite the fact that many of the people I interview for Kiva profiles didn’t have much schooling and don’t speak English much or at all, they all know and use some English words on a daily basis. English has somehow fused with the native languages to become, in a sense, their own native words. Rather than saying Good Morning or Good Afternoon to someone in a tribal language, you actually speak these words in a sentence. For example, “Paucho, Good Morning. Ete Sen?” Translation: Please, good morning. How are you? In response, you might say, “Boco,” with a long o at the end. This means “I am cool.” What is funny is that even when speaking in English and I ask them how they are doing, people still respond by saying, “I am cool.” In that same way, the word please (paucho), a commonly used term of respect, is often used in the English language. Thus a waiter at a Chinese restaurant I went to once—that’s right, Chinese in Ghana—responded to our orders by saying, “Please, one order of rice.” And “Please, here is your coke.” The fun of this is that I can and do say “please, thank you” on a daily basis.

Many of my interviewees don’t speak the English language, yet they use a few English words—words that have become a part of their daily speech. So someone who lives in a rural area and who never went to school—someone who claims to speak no English—still says sorry when he or she bumps into someone.

Ghanaians have taken the English they learn and created an entire new way of speaking with it. I have been told a few times not to speak in slang—something that can actually unnerve me considering I am speaking proper American English and not slang at all. Until I learn Ghanaian English and start using words like foo-elle and mass in the proper settings, I will always be speaking slang to some Ghanaians.

I still love the English language with all its rules and regulations, and I love my understanding of it. But living in Ghana has taught me that the true role of language is to communicate, and sometimes that means throwing all of the rules out the window and telling people that mass was my least favorite subject in school and asking how much foo-elle prices are right now. The true purpose of language is to bridge a gap between the ideas and thoughts of two different individuals, and while I still love the rules, sometimes they don’t help me do that here. I will adjust over time, just as Ghanaians have included the English language into their own speech. And despite all the rules, isn’t it true that language is a melting pot of culture and a constantly changing means of expression anyway?

My university grammar teacher would be horrified.

*Note to reader: The language examples are Fanti, a language spoken in the Central Region where Christian Rural Aid Network is located.

26 November 2008 at 11:56 2 comments

A Party and a Funeral

I take a break from my normal broadcasting about microfinance to discuss a special event. This weekend I had an invitation to attend a funeral a couple hours away in a part of the country I have never been to. I was invited by my friend and co-worker Lawrence, but I live with Lawrence’s mother’s twin sister and her family. Lawrence’s grandmother had died at the age of 86, so it was going to be a family affair.

At first I was really excited about going—I had gone to part of a funeral once but knew there was much more to it than I had first experienced in the few hours I had spent before. I did have one big worry about going—I just pulled my calf muscle and could barely walk. I was worried about going, but I was more worried about being stuck in my house in Cape Coast alone all weekend with no access to food or water—since I don’t have any food in the house and am almost out of water. I figured that I might as well go, rest my leg as much as I could, and experience something new.

Lawrence, his Aunt whom I live with, her 7-year-old son Francis, and I left Friday at the end of work to drive what was supposed to be two hours. I brought pillows to elevate my leg on and was excited to enjoy the view. About two hours in, however, we picked up a woman who I learned was Lawrence’s older sister. The car was at that point full of people and luggage. I had my bag with my laptop and my purse on the ground at my feet and was holding two pillows and a blanket on my lap. My legs were squished together, and I knew that this wasn’t going to be good for my calf. But, hey, we were close so I could do it.

Two hours later, we finally arrived at our destination: a city in the Central Region of Ghana called Breman Asikuma. It turns out that we had taken an entirely different road to pick up his sister and had gone quite a bit past our destination. We then had to turn around and go back south and quite a ways more east. Most Ghanaians are not the most explicit of people, and on top of that they don’t usually speak in English unless they are speaking to me, which makes it difficult for me to know what is going on. I have learned a lot of basics, and as I learn them I can question Ghanaians on what they are saying, but otherwise everyone just keeps speaking different languages (there are many that are spoken). By the time we arrived, I could barely walk. My calf was so swollen and cramped I literally stumbled and needed someone to hold my hand to walk.

I quickly hit the couch and elevated my leg, but everyone else wasn’t so lucky. They began getting dressed for the wake, a ceremony that involves a service and seeing the deceased one last time. It starts around midnight and goes on until daybreak—this one in particular ended up going until 3 a.m. Because of the shape of my leg, I decided not to go and rested instead.

The next morning, I woke to the sounds of voices—many voices. I went to the backyard and saw about twenty women cooking all sorts of dishes. I watched for a while and then they put me to work. I saw that some women were preparing the meat—fried fish and chicken mostly along with intestines and other meats that were meant for their soups. I also saw them making giant bowl after giant bowl of one of my favorite dishes in Ghana: Jollof Rice. Jollof Rice is a dish similar to (and thought to be the origin of) the dish called Spanish Rice in the United States. The women were pouring the sauce, which they had previously made, and then added rice and water to the mix. The giant bowls were on small outside ovens consisting of charcoal and at times rocks that they took from the backyard. My job was simple: fan the ovens. It was pretty easy, but it was much more work than we have when we use an oven in the United States. In the meantime, I got to spend time talking to all the women, which was really fun despite the language barriers (English is the official language in Ghana, but that just means that only officials speak it and only when they are at work. Anyone who has gone to school speaks it, but there are quite a few people who don’t know it.)

We made giant bowl after giant bowl of Jollof Rice, and after we finished one bowl it was dumped into a cooler and the bowl was washed so we could repeat the process. As we finished the rice, others had already started making the stew, made with fresh vegetables and lots and lots of vegetable oils, that we would serve with fufu and preparing the cassava to make fufu with. Fufu is made by boiling cassava and plantain and pounding it into a glutinous mass. It is served with a soup or stew and meat. Others boiled yam, a food similar to a potato that is served boiled and with meat and palava sauce (a sauce consisting pretty much of oils, vegetables, and sometimes meat. and still others cooked the plantain, a food very similar to a banana but less sweet that in its boiled form is eaten with the palava sauce as well.

Fufu being served with stew and meat

Fufu being served with stew and meat

By the time all the other foods were finished, it was fufu-pounding time. Pounding fufu takes hours and is not for the weak at heart. It involves one person using a large thick stick with a wooden masher at the end to repeatedly pound on the cassava while another person continues to add more and more cassava, constantly putting their fingers in danger of total havoc. I have no idea how long it took them to pound as much fufu as they were making (enough for at least 100 people and probably more than that), but pounding fufu for one person usually takes about 15 minutes.

Each piece of cassava in the bowl gets pounded one at a time

Each piece of cassava in the bowl gets pounded one at a time

I guess I should step back and say that all this food the women were making was for guests of the funeral—and it was more food than I have even seen at weddings that I have attended in the United States. In Ghana, when someone dies, people are expected to come and pay their respects—and usually they leave after having eaten and danced. In front of the house, there was a large sitting area set up where people, clad in traditional black and red African clothing to properly mourn the death of Auntie Dadzie, aged 86—people also wore black and white to celebrate her old age, something guests can do if the person who died was more than seventy. Various people were on hand to serve a variety of drinks filling two refrigerators to all the guests along with the food that we had slaved over all morning.

At about this time, we headed over to the other part of the funeral in a large outdoor area that included three large seating areas complete with canopies all facing a canopy under which the band was playing. In between all the canopies in a center area was a dance floor, at times aptly inhabited by numerous Ghanaians strutting their stuff, sometimes too much stuff for the many men who had simply had too much to drink.

When we arrived, people in t-shirts with the deceased women’s photo on the front and the words Demirefa Due (Respect is due) sprawled across the back. Some of them handed out small pieces of paper with Lawrence’s grandmother’s photo and information on it along with pins so guests could pin it on their bodies. In the center of one of the canopied seating areas was a donation table where guests could give back to those who planned the entire day and who had paid for the band, the food, the drinks, and the renting of the chairs and canopies among other things. I gave the equivalent of $5, and in exchange for my donation I received a keychain of the woman along with her information and when she died.

I couldn’t help but to thinking in the midst of all the chatting and planning that if Ghanaians could organize such a great party, they surely have what it takes to organize revolutionary change at great magnitudes—aren’t the two always related?

Despite my injury, the weekend was full of learning new words in new languages, learning to make new foods, learning to live with a family very different from my own, and learning to see a funeral as more than just goodbye. Next month, I will be going to another funeral (this time the funeral of a chief and one of my friend’s fathers—it is planned out so far in advance to allow ample time for people to prepare to come and attend the event, not to mention ample time for the family to save up enough money for the event)—and I am excited for the chance to learn more. In Ghana, funerals are more than just a funeral or a party or a gathering; it is Ghanaian culture. Ghanaians love to dance, party, and relax, they have a culture that is very hospitable and caring about others, and they strongly believe in taking care of their children. And once children are grown, they have the responsibility of taking care of their parents, even in death.

Dancing the day away

Dancing the day away

The next day was Sunday, and although I spent the day at home resting my leg some of the others had another event to man. After church, there was another celebration that lasted for many hours—the final in a weekend ode to a woman whom I’ve never met but whose family made sure I would never forget.

3 November 2008 at 10:21 2 comments

Ode to Veronica

Veronica was more than just the small provisions shop owner across the street from where I used to live in Ghana’s capital city of Accra. She was more than just a woman full of life and smiles who I would often visit with on my way home from work. She was a friend, one I even visited at home to say goodbye to when I left. So when I spend my first five days in Ghana back in the neighborhood where I lived for two months last year while working at a popular Ghanaian newspaper, one of the things on my to-do list was to see Veronica.

I walked down the street where I used to live, down the entire neighborhood spanning about six blocks that I called home. The salon that a good friend of mine owns is the same, but many of the faces inside have changed. The pharmacy I frequented after falling over a random step in Ghana (which left permanent scarring) has been remodeled and my confidante Alex who used to work there has moved away. Further down, many of the same families and shops look almost exactly the same—the way I realize that I wanted them to look, which is funny considering I came here to help effect change. Other things changed drastically, such as the former trash pile that has now become a taxi station. And then there was what used to be Veronica’s shop, missing from the mix as if it had never been there in the first place. When her shop closed down, she left as well, where to I may never know.

Apparently Veronica had taken out a loan but was unable to pay back for some reason. I don’t know the specifics of what happened, but I was told that she had made some bad business decisions and got herself in over her head in debt and was unable to handle it. It was hard for me to hear considering the reason I came back here and chose to work in microfinance was to make a difference in the issue that for me was the greatest difference between people here and people back home—lack of resources. I hate seeing the economic divide that sometimes fills the air while walking down a busy street. I can see it in the eyes of those who pass me. I can hear it when children ask obruni to give them money (Obruni means foreigner but is often used to say white foreigner, which is obruni co-co). I can feel it when I receive compliment after compliment on my slippers (flip-flops) even though they are just like theirs but with a Nike swoosh. The fact is that people in Ghana can’t readily access resources the way people in the United States can. You want a house but can’t afford it, so you take out a loan. If people in Ghana want a house but can’t afford it, they save up until they can and then start building until they run out of money. Then they save up some more and keep working on the house. There aren’t nearly as many scholarships or educational opportunities, and even if they get an education, the Ghanaian people say there’s no place to go with it. There are a lack of jobs, and even a good job at a bank pays about $350 per month—not bad money for Ghana, but how can people compete and take care of a family in a global economy—imagine saving up to go on a cruise if you only earn $350 each month and have a family to take care of; it is simply not an option

I think about my life and about how hard I have worked for everything I have, be it the clothes on my back or the laptop that I am typing on. I feel as if I deserve these things because I worked so hard to attain them. But then I look around me in the office I share with Ghanaians—who earn about $210 each month– and wonder what my life would be like had I been born Ghanaian. What if, no matter my profession, I never had the opportunity to earn a comfortable lifestyle. It is a scary thought for me growing up as an American where I consider my college years and post-college years of constant lack of money the character builder that I will remember throughout the rest of my life when I do have money. It is a means to an end, but people in Ghana never have that comfortable end in sight. Some do, of course, but it is a much smaller pecentage than those that reach such a place in the United States and with much less stuff. The family that I am living with here in Ghana is relatively well off. They have a big house, running water, a toilet, a television even—but you can’t help but to notice that the walls are empty. I think of my own house covered with photos, knick-knacks, and the like. Money only goes so far in Ghana, and photos are a luxury item. With a 4 by 6 costing the equivalent of $1, such items are scarce here.

It reminds me that nothing in this life is promised—that picture-perfect future that I still hope will happen is not certain. Because even if I work really hard to make it happen, the same thing that happened to Veronica could happen to me. I could fall on my face, and no one may be there to help pick me up. I think maybe hearing about Veronica should have depressed me, but it made me want to work harder. I want to make it so that people have a place to access resources, so that when the economy deflates or when a crisis occurs people can take care of themselves through it.
The goal of Kiva is to alleviate poverty by enabling and empowering the poorer people in the world to pull themselves out of poverty in order to create a sustainable and better life for themselves. My goal is to do the same but on a more micro-level. I can only do so much here at Christian Rural Aid Network, but if I successfully do so along with the other Kiva Fellows, then I believe we can do so much. Maybe I have to have this faith because otherwise how will I ever be doing what I am doing.

I end this first fellows blog with my favorite quotes by one of my very favorite authors, Arundhati Roy, because it is everything I am thinking about as I am about to finish my third day of work.

“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty in its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never, to forget….another world is not only possible, it is on her way and, on a quiet day, if you listen very carefully, you can hear her breathe…Either way, change will come. It could be bloody, or it could be beautiful. It depends on us.”

17 October 2008 at 12:14 3 comments


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