Sunday, March 16, 2014

Week 8: Visiting the Farms

This week has been dedicated to visiting the cocoa farms of all of the eligible students in our Asamama class. Douglas has taught us that if there is mistletoe hanging in the farms, that is a bad sign, because it negatively affects the growth of the cocoa trees. He was entertained when we told him that, in America, if you walk under mistletoe, then you must kiss him. Judging from the look on his face, this fun fact only confirmed to him how crazy Americans can be. After visiting eight farms this week, we are heading out for a long weekend to Cape Coast in celebration of Ghana’s Independence Day on March 6th. Douglas is joining us for part of the trip, which we are very excited about!

We’d like to give a shout out to Spencer for his great effort in collecting from a past recipient who hasn’t made any payments in over a year. Spencer has been very dedicated to helping this recipient finish off his payments so that he can be out of debt! Spencer is planning to follow up with him next week in order to hopefully collect the rest of the money that he owes.

Once we return, we are looking forward to getting down to business with writing up business plans and then finally funding some of the great students we’ve discovered in Asamama!

Week 7: Interviews in Asamama

We were privileged to have Stephen Abu join us this week in Asamama to interview potential loan recipients. With so many qualifying students, we spent six straight hours in interviews. The process was very helpful for us in narrowing down the group to those who are best suited to receive micro loans. We were able to determine the loan amounts that we would want to potentially issue to each recipient.

We have also been making appointment with past loan recipients who are behind on their payments. The boys have been making a big push with one particular debtor who has a large and very old payment. We have visited him three times so far, and Spencer has made a deal with him. We are really hoping that we will be able to collect from him this coming Monday, relieving WSV of the burden and helping him to be debt free!

While visiting past loan recipients in Ekorso, Rachel stopped by one of the students that she funded last month. Regina runs a provision store from a great location, but she didn’t have the money to buy inventory, as she was using all of her profits to pay her children’s school fees. After receiving the loan, her store is looking great and fully stocked! Business has been good for her. It is always very rewarding to see the difference that a small loan can make in the life of a single person.

Regina in Ekorso

Asamama Interviews

Week 6: Finishing Class in Asamama & Halfway Done

Well, this week had a lot to celebrate. First off, we finished teaching our first-time class in Asamama. It was the first time that WSV has taught in this particularly large village, and we had 50 students complete the class! We now have a lot of work to do moving forward in selecting which students will receive loans this semester. There are many students with very good businesses and potential as good investments. We’ve spent a significant amount of time meeting with each of the students at their businesses to learn more about what they do. Next week, our focus will be on narrowing down the class to the top students for interviews and moving forward in the loan process. Though the class was chaotic and stressful at times, it really was amazing to see the commitment of all the students, and to see how their homework got better with each class over the time of the course.

This week also marked our halfway mark here in Ghana. To celebrate, we attempted to make brownies in the Abu’s oven. Well, the oven isn’t really used here much, and apparently Ruth, our cook, broiled our brownies…so they came out as “blackies” instead—yes, they were worst than burnt marshmallows. We were all pretty depressed that our turtle (walnut & carmel) brownies were ruined, but we got as much of the good stuff out as possible! We then attempted with cookies. We got so far as to frying them, but that failed as well. Our Halfway Celebration turned out to be a complete failure as far as dessert goes, but we did celebrate the special occasion with a visit from Margaret. We got to enjoy her delicious cooking and company at dinner, which was really enjoyable.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Week 5

This week has been very busy for us, with three straight 10+-hour days out in the hot, Ghanaian heat! Aside from teaching our classes, we have gone out to visit both past recipients and then potential loan recipients from our current classes.

We did double duty in Akokom with both collections and business visits. In Akokom, David and Rachel visited Akosua Owusuaa. She receved her first loan about six months ago to start a business selling banku and kenkey at a road-side table in her home village. Not only has she consistently made all of her payments on time and in full, but also she has used the profits from this small and simple business to begin building a kiosk. During the time that we were in Akokom, I watched a large number of customers come through—she always had a line of people waiting to buy from her. Akosua is hoping to get a second loan in the near future to help finish the funding of her kiosk and business expansion so that she can have a small restaurant. Even without a second loan, though, Akosua could potentially build her restaurant over time. She is continuing to make profits that she is reinvesting into her business every single month.

Pictured below is Akosua standing between her current table and the kiosk that she is building.
With out large first-time loan class in Asamama now down to about fifty, we have started to visit their businesses to get a better feel of which students from the class we may want to fund. We visited a dozen businesses on Tuesday, and the diversity of them is pretty large.

Ghana Week 4

This week, our work has definitely picked up. Since we finished our second-time loan classes in Wekpeti and Ekorso, we completed business plans for each of the eligible recipients for a second loan. After those were approved, we worked on writing up the loan agreements. On Wednesday, we were able to issue loans to all the pods in the two villages.

Our first loan class in Asamama is getting better and better. We’ve gone from 100 students down to about 60. In the beginning, it was difficult to get to know the students because of the large class size, but as the class shrinks, it’s becoming better. There are also fewer distractions, and the students who attend are genuinely interested in the material that we are teaching. They are also turning in better homework with each lesson. We are beginning to look into their businesses now to see which of the students would be best for loans.

Finally, on Thursday, we traveled to Asunafo to provide rebates to two pods who completed all of their payments early and in full. They are under the best loan collector we currently have, Benjamin. Next week, we are planning to go and talk with the past loan recipients of Asunafo to see if there is potential for a second-loan class there.

All is well in Abomosu, especially after we got the ledger and database all figured out and aligned. We had some confusion with the cashbook, but it was great to get it all worked out. It was neat for us interns to have the opportunity to look at the ledger and to problem solve for information that was imputed before we were here. There are no differences now!

Monday, February 3, 2014

Week Three

It’s Week Three here in Ghana for us. This week, we are finishing up second-time loan classes in Wekpeti and Ekorso. Spencer and Liza’s class in Wekpeti consists of four farmers and a goods marketer. In Ekorso, David and I have been able to visit extensively with all of our six class members about their businesses, all of which are unique. We have been going through their financials this week and getting the details of their businesses.

We are excited to be issuing second loans to all of the class members, both in Wekpeti and Ekorso for a total of eleven loan recipients. All members asked for significant sized loans. We have decided that, because all of the attendees of these two classes are eligible and worthwhile to invest in, that we will grant them all second loans. To do so, the four of us have really enjoyed talking with each business owner about how they can leverage their savings and a second loan in order to accomplish their same goals by bringing together what they have in savings in addition to the loan they will receive.

The four of us have also enjoyed teaching in the Kwabeng High School with Douglas, making Ghanaian chocolate cake with Sister Dalton (the local senior missionary sister in Abomosu), playing soccer with the local kids, getting our hair braided (the girls), and receiving life advice from Stephen Sr. over meals. We are beginning to get into more of a routine and becoming more affective teachers in our SEED classes. We are excited to continue our work here!

Week Two In Abomosu

We got to start teaching this week, and it’s been a really great experience for all of us! Sorry that we don’t have any pictures up yet, but the internet is barely even allowing us to connect. We will be sure to post photos when we visit Accra.

This week, Rachel and David taught a second-loan class in Ekorso. We have five students who are all very passionate and fun in class. They answer questions, talk about their businesses, and keep things lively. Liza and Spencer are also teaching a second-loan class. Theirs is in Wekpeti, and it is a short walk to get there from Ekorso.

On Wednesday, the four of us headed out to the high school where Douglas teaches in Kwabeng. We set up a schedule to volunteer there each week in various classes including math, physical education, and social studies. Douglas then treated us to lunch at his home in Akwadum before we taught a second-loan class there. We were privileged to meet his wife, Gladys, and their two children, Sylvester and Annette.

The Akwadum class is the largest of those we are teaching for second loans. It has twelve students because we have combined several past loan recipients into one class for convenience. Douglas informed us that all members of these classes have had smooth businesses since receiving first loans, so we are excited to get to know them and to help them further develop and expand their businesses.

Our first loan class in Asamama was quite large. We taught there twice this week, and more people came to the second class than to the first. With them, we introduced the SEED Program and talked about expectations and requirements. It was very interesting: they were all pretty nervous about having to form pods in which they can receive loans, but we were able to answer their questions and calm their nerves.

We got to meet Margaret Abu this week when she came into town for the dedication of a World Joy school. She cooked for us, so we had the privilege of trying out fufu. I don’t know what everyone is ranting about, because that is definitely my LEAST favorite Ghanaian meal that I have tried so far!