Kyle Gibson - Micro-finance in Ghana
I spent ten weeks volunteering in Koforidua, a city of about 80,000 people, on a micro-finance internship. This was truly one of the best experiences of my life and I think I got more out of it than I put in.
Choosing Ghana as a destination
I started developing an interest in micro-finance and the power it can have to effect change in the years preceding my internship. When an opportunity to take a sabbatical from my job as a Management Consultant arose, I immediately started looking into places to volunteer. The chance to explore an interest I had first-hand was an opportunity I could not pass up.
Ghana immediately stood out as the perfect destination. Ghana has had a relatively stable political climate, it was heralded as one of the safest places in Africa, and there still is a lot of poverty. On top of that, I lived in a city that got as cold as -40 degrees Celsius in the winter, so the climate also appealed to me!
After I decided that I was going to make the plunge, I called a friend of mine and pitched him the idea. He was immediately intrigued and a few short weeks later we booked our flights.
Arriving in Accra
After 24 hours of travel, we finally landed in Accra, the capital city of Ghana. I distinctly remember the feeling of being wide-eyed and completely speechless. The humidity was almost overwhelming, there was green foliage in every direction, and everyone was smiling!
After we started meeting a few Ghanaians, I was immediately astonished by how friendly everyone was. Everyone wants to talk to you, is willing to help you with directions, or answer any questions. The hospitality we received was absolutely unrivalled compared to any other country I’ve visited.
The Projects Abroad staff greeted us at the airport and gave us all the important information we needed and took us right to our host family.
Our host family, the Fahene’s was a key part of our experience. Peter and Kate, my host parents, treated me like their own son from day one. On top of that they had four sons and one daughter that hung out with us almost every night, shared information about the Ghanaian culture, and took us out on the town.
Kate cooked our meals for us every day, which was a treat. The cuisine was better than I expected and full of grains, fish, chicken, and vegetables. My absolute favourite food was Fufu which takes a lot of manual labour to make but Kate was always willing to make it for us if we asked.
I still stay in contact with the Fahene’s via Facebook today and when I go back to Ghana I’ll have a bed to sleep in!
After meeting with the Projects Abroad Micro-finance Coordinator the first morning we immediately got to work. Our job was to meet individuals from two small villages, Salom and Oboutumpan, to get to know everyone and start discussing business ideas.
In Salom we set up a poultry farm with one hundred chickens, but plans for rapid expansion. Projects Abroad financed the cost of the chicken pen and chicks, located suppliers for feed, and implemented a management structure to help ensure the farm would be sustainable.
Oboutumpan had a passion for soap from day one, so we set up a small factory to manufacture bars of soap. Projects Abroad financed the locally sourced ingredients, cost of the factory, and set up a performance management structure to incentivize the soap sales teams.
Both businesses were set up to be self-sustaining, both operationally and financially, which will allow the local people to save for essentials such as a well and electricity.
Memorable moments in Accra
One of the most memorable moments from my experience was being invited for dinner by one of the elders from Salom in his house. In a village where people only have the very basics the generosity displayed meant a lot to us. It was truly as authentic of an experience as there is.
Every weekend we travelled to a different part of Ghana so we ended up: seeing elephants, visiting Ghana’s largest waterfall, feeding monkeys, dancing to traditional Ghanaian music, and hanging out on countless beaches.
All of the reasons for choosing Ghana initially turned out to be true but there was so much more that made this experience amazing. I can’t overstate how friendly the people are and their amazing outlook on life. Material possessions aren’t at the forefront of everyone’s mind, a sense of community and family is.
I cannot wait to travel back to Ghana and see my family and the people I work with, and hopefully some change in the villages we worked with.