This week was the culmination of a lot of work and a fair amount of taxi rides. It all started when we first came to the village of Akakom and announced that we would be holding a class for second time loan recipients. Truthfully I doubt they were much surprised by our news as we visited each of the past loan recipients who successfully paid their loans off but even still they were plenty excited. As part of our visit we made sure they knew when and where the classes were to be and sure enough when it came time for the first class they were all there. Some were shy and some were bold but all had hope on their faces and ambition in their eyes. It was a good sight.
At the beginning they were dismayed when we told them we were only going to teach them 2 lessons a week. Before I got too misty-eyed about their hunger to learn, they explained that because its Cocoa-harvesting season very soon, they wanted to get the money from the 2nd time loan as soon as possible so their businesses could receive money from the cocoa farmers. Seeing as we were needed the five weeks to accumulate the said funds we apologized and said that would not be possible and set about teaching them the third teaching phase material.
Some lessons were grasped intuitively. Some they discovered they were already doing a variation of what we were teaching. Other lessons saw our students grimly squinting at the board trying to understand the lesson through our enthusiastic translator Isaak. Occassionally I would joke with my teaching partner that we would teach good lessons but Isaak taught great lessons. This likely came because Isaak was a retired schoolteacher and likely taught one or two of them so we more or less had everyone mentally in the same neighborhood as us when the lessons would close. Sometimes we would notice the same handwriting on the different student’s homework or business plans for different businesses that looked surprisingly similar. More often we would see scrawled in mildly legible writing answers to the questions we posed the previous week.
We got a taste of this week a few weeks ago when we gave them back their rebates. The way the loan works is they are put in what we call pods which are groups of about three to five individuals and if the whole pod pays every month on time, they get half the interest they paid back free and clear. This works cause we only have to send the loan collector once for the money instead of multiple times. Thinking back, I remember the excitement, the smiles, the dancing, and cheering as we gave them the money that was theirs to do with as they chose. I honestly expected more of that from them this time. I didn’t get it.
Don’t get me wrong, they were excited to be funded again. But in the weeks since, Beverly and I hammered them on the expectations we had for them and the responsibility they were taking on. The class collectively asked for around 14,000 Ghana Cedis (little less than 7,000 dollars). After we ran the numbers on the board and showed them how much more they would be paying a month for that number, most conceded they could do with less. So on the day of the funding we painstakingly read word for word the contract they would be initialing and answered any last minute questions they had then had them sign their contracts and the contracts of those in their pods. When I say sign I should clarify that they only initialed as writing their name was beyond most. Once every name was signed and every contract was binding, we took pictures of every page (14 people multiplied by 4 pages each equals a lot of pictures. That was only one class. We still have 3 more to go!) for a record to get back to Wasach HQ. Then came the part they were looking forward to.
We ended up funding them 7,600 Cedis. One by one they came up and we made a big show of taking a picture with each of them receiving their money. Following which we took one of all of them together with us in the background smiling like proud parents. In many ways we were. I have reflected many times about how innocent these people are. Though we explained exactly what the contract says in detail, most aren’t that literate. They trusted us, learned from us, and now it was time for them to go back out in the real world where dreams are crushed and reality can be bitter. We comfort ourselves with the knowledge they have traveled this particular road before.
If we are lucky, Beverly and I can help them when problems come but more likely the problems that happen won’t be obvious until other interns are here and then it will be their problem. We can only hope they paid attention well enough to the lessons in the classroom and in their businesses to find the path to take.
Indeed, this time there wasn’t the cheering, the dancing, the excitement that the rebate brought. But I believe I caught a look of determination in their eyes as they smiled. That, I believe, is a better portent.