Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Ghana Part 1–the training trip

A few weeks ago I jetted off to Ghana (well I say jetted but really the airplane was as small as my couch) with Cecilia and Kristi. Kristi was going for a few meetings and then vacation, but Cecilia and I were going back to school! Thanks to the Carsey Institute and a MasterCard Foundation scholarship, we were taking part in an intensive one week course on a new way of savings groups that is catching fire and working phenomenally with the poor.

We flew to Ghana courtesy of our friends at SIM AIR Niger. The plane was very small and I have to admit it made me nervous. I have furniture larger than the inside of this plane!

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Cecilia and I sat in the back and Kristi up front with the pilot. The flight took 3.5 hours and parts of it were pretty rough and we were all looking and feeling a little green. I was so happy to touch down in Accra!

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Since we arrived on a Saturday and school wasn’t until Monday, we had a day to explore and shop! One of the big things I wanted to do in Accra was check out TK Beads. You can check them out at: TK Beads .

This very unique business hand makes beads using mostly recycled materials. We use these beads as the centre pieces for the 8 strand bracelets that the girls in our Girls at Risk school in Niger make, but they are pricey to get here in Niger, so I wanted to go straight to the source!

We got a tour of the facility from the owner/founder herself! As we walked through Cecilia and I were both thinking how successful something like this could be in Niger, but also how much work to set up!

They collect and buy all this recycled glass. it is broken bottle, broken window panes, beer bottles and whatever they can get their hands on. Kudos for their recycling!

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Then there are some very strong young men who use metal plates welded to a pole who bang and bang on the glass until it is ground into powder! Crazy! Check out the powder in this photo- it is glass!

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Then they add dye and pour it into these little moulds, with a thin stick in the middle that will form the centre hole. This is cooked 45 minutes in a natural clay oven at super hot temperatures.

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When the beads come out they are cooled and then each one is hand painted with beautiful designs. Then they go back into the fire to harden on the designs.

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And all this works turns out hundreds of designs and colors which are sold bulk and also as pre-made jewellery. Cecilia and I had a blast and bought around 15 pounds of beads to bring back to the beading group. Who were THRILLED!

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I found a little YouTube video on TK beads too- so those of you in North America with good internet should totally check it out:

YouTube video about TK Beads

So after this and a little bit more shopping, it was time for Cecilia and I to head to the University campus where we would be in class all week. It was really intensive and we were in class from 830am to 530pm with barely a bathroom break! Our brains hurt at the end of the day!

Most of the week, our time looked like THIS

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Our class had 14 different countries represented, 11 of which were from Africa! It was such a fun group of people to work with. As an added bonus, the Alliance Compassion Director from Canada (and good friend!) Joanne also flew out from Canada to take the course with us. We value any face time we can get with this fantastic lady!

One of the days, we took our classroom to the road and went 1.5 hours away to a village location to see these savings groups in action! Ghana is so beautiful and lush compared to Niger that I really enjoyed driving through the countryside.

Want something deluxy?

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We arrived in the village just while their two local groups were starting. These groups have a maximum of 30 people taking part, a large part of which are women, who meet weekly to save their money. There is NO money that is infused from outside sources. The participants run the group and save weekly within a set program. They can also borrow against the community pot and repay their loans within 3 months maximum at 10% interest rate, which also goes into the common pot. It is leveraging their own money to give them access to loans to start small businesses, pay for school fees, invest in agriculture improvements, etc.

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And it works! These groups are popping up all over Africa. And the return is on average 20-30% growth of their savings, plus the security of having access to loans (something that is hard for the poor) to be able to smooth over consumption flows and family needs.

The poor have money to save, even if it is only a little bit each week, but they traditionally have no way to save it, so it just gets eaten up every day. Which leaves them in the lurch when they need to pay for something that costs a little more money. Enter Village Savings and Loans groups!

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These groups really support each other. They dance, clap and celebrate success and loan repayments. By the way, loan repayment percentages run into the high 95+% of all loans taken. According to the group, it is very rare that a loan is not repayed!

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The participants bring their money (this banknote below is the equivalent of $6.18 and is her savings for that week) and their “passbook” which marks their total savings.

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It was amazing to hear their success stories. This group, with their loans and interest, managed to save thousands of dollars last year! And this year they are 2/3 through the cycle and they have already surpassed that total! At the end of the year, they divide up the pot and each person receives back money equal to the number of “savings shares” that they purchased over the year. And to give you an example of how it works, if they buy “one share” at $1 each, with interest and loans, that $1 turns into $1.20 at the end of the year for each share! So if they can buy a  maximum of 5 shares a week ($5) over 30 weeks, their $150 saved can turn into $180 repayment at the end of the year, coupled with their capacity to borrow and pay schooling, emergencies, etc!

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This lady took a loan from the group fund and started this small shop just  on the side of the road. She sells shoes (on the door) and bread and basic food items. She is the only store like this in the village and she says she has made good money and can send her kids to school now, without taking a loan for it! It has changed her life!

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It was pretty great to see the theory in action and hear first hand how this group is transforming the prosperity of the village. Cecilia and I are taking this knowledge and exploring it for us in our women’s groups here in Niamey.

And of course the people. Here are a few snapshots of some beautiful faces and places we saw!

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For more photos you can check out my Facebook album on Ghana at: Ghana Photo album

Well that’s the end of the road for now! Stay tuned for Part 2 in my Ghana series when I return there at the end of April, with Paul and the kids too, for a week of meetings and work followed by 3 days vacation!

 

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1 comment :

Steve said...

So cool! An airplane pic! I hope to get up to Niamey soon to visit Ian, Kevin, & co. The Cessna 182 is small, but sturdy. Kudos to your team for braving the turbulence and using their service.