“Hello!” I said as I was opening the gate.
“Hello” he replied.
“How are you?”
“I am fine, how are you?”
“I am fine also.”
I then inquired about a stick that he was holding. It was about a foot and a half long with markings carved up the one side. Well, as it turned out, our previous greeting was the extent of this man’s English. He said a few things in Twi and afterwards gestured that he could not understand what I was saying. We both laughed as I attempted to apologize for not speaking his language. Luckily at that moment Stephen Sr. came out of the house. I told him that I had made a new friend, but that we could not understand each other. He chuckled and asked me what I wanted to say. I pointed to the stick and once again inquired about the curious markings. Stephen’s response was interesting.
“To this man, this stick is money” he said. I waited patiently for him to continue.
“When he goes out to the farm to clear an area of land, he makes a mark for each tree that he falls. At the end of the day he will bring this stick to the owner and receive payment for his work. It is a way of record keeping, because you see- this man is illiterate.”
This is one of the biggest differences that I’ve seen between doing business in the United States and business here in Ghana. Even though Ghana is the most developed West African country, illiteracy is not uncommon and it affects all aspects of business. When we were giving out loans to the new recipients here in Abomosu, about half of the people could not sign their own name on the loan agreement. Our translators had to teach these men and women how to write their initials- it was an eye opening experience.
For this reason, keeping records and doing the simplest accounting in business is difficult for the people here. Even if a person does know how to read and write, they do not understand the value in writing down what they buy and sell in order to better plan for the future.
When walking around here in Ghana, it is impossible to not think of ways to try and fix everything- potholes, illiteracy, hunger, children without shoes, elderly in obvious need of medical attention, and sewage in the streets after a heavy rain. Sometimes I feel so small compared to all the problems I see that come as a result poverty. However, I know that education is the long term solution and it is comforting to know that I am playing a role in that education. I am thankful that through the SEED program I have the chance to teach basic business principles as well as provide opportunities for people to create their own path to success.