My name is Anne Sophie Breuning and i am a Kiva Fellow in Ghana. I have now been in Accra, Ghana for almost 72 hours and my jetlag is slowly wearing off. The air is hot and humid; the streets are crazy with no sidewalks, open sewers, a million honking cars, and street peddlers hawking everything from plastic spoons to Ghanaian soccer shirts. We are staying in the Osu district in the center of Accra at theMotel4.com – not to be confused with having any connection the internet since the hotel has no internet connection or website. Most places here are named God is Great, God is King and Trust in Him so names that have nothing to do with the business itself are quite common here.
Yesterday I went to my first field meeting to meet some of the Kiva clients – each fellow has to meet and journal about 15 clients per week. Since Kraben (Kiva partnership organization in Ghana) has only one official vehicle, we took tro-tro’s to the meeting. A tro-tro (also named by my fellow Kiva fellow Delana as a ‘sweat-sweat”) is a beaten up minivan (and not the cushy kind with DVD’s and comfy seats) with extra seats put into it. Yesterday I counted 16 adults in the first one and 17 adults and 2 kids in the second one – a tro-tro doesn’t leave its stop until it is “full” so the battle is to always find one that is almost full so you don’t get stuck waiting in the heat! The fare per person is about 25 – 40 cents – in Ghanaian cedis this is 2500 / 4000 – the currency is devaluing in about two weeks since it is becoming rather impractical to carry around a million cedis ($100US) in your purse. It feels like monopoly money when you are millionaire!
The first group meeting we went to was 3 tro-tro rides and a 20 min walk into the village to find the Addente Barrier Women’s Association who meet every Tuesday under the banyan tree. Our next group Abundant Grace was another 2 tro-tro rides away – they meet every Tuesday in one of the women’s stall’s that sells snacks and drinks. All of the women in each group have received 1 million cedi ($100) as their first initial loan and should cycle through to their second loan once they show steady repayment cycles of their first loan and some of the group members are on their 3 or 4 their loan cycle– as part of their training they receive basic book keeping skills and each woman has a bank book where each loan payment and repayment is recorded. The women are subdivided into smaller groups of about 5-7 and this smaller group is held responsible for the repayment if one member defaults on their loan – the interest rate on the loans received through Kiva’s partner Kraben is about 20% – this is relatively common for NGO micro finance programs – commercial micro finance that are beginning around the world typically charge more in the 40 – 50% range.
At Abu dent Grace I meet Agnes. Agnes is not sure how old she is, but she has birthed 10 children, 8 of whom are still alive and she has 13 grandchildren – 4 of whom still live with her today. Her husband deserted them 22 years ago and she has been taking care of her children alone since that time. She has been a member of Abundant Grace for 7 years and owns a “chopbary” (a stall that also has 3 or 4 tables to serve food). Though Agnes does speak some English (it is the official language in Ghana and all signs are posted in English) she speaks Twi and our conversation is facilitated through Millicent – a fantastic young woman who works for Kraban. Agnes has savings in the bank and wants to send her youngest son to vocational school so that he can learn to type – this will give him the opportunity to get a job in the government or a NGO like Millicent. When I comment on how impressed and humbled I am by Agnes’ feats in life, she laughs with a wide grin and says that is her duty as a mother – to take care of her children. I ask her if she thinks that they will take care of her when she is too old to work. She says she hopes so, but doesn’t want to put that burden on her children, so she plans to save for her retirement once she has paid for her son’s education. It is truly humbling to sit across from this woman and know that she supports her entire family on less per month than what I usually spend on a weekend in San Francisco….when I ask if she has any questions for me, she says that she wants Kiva lenders to know that she would re-invest more money in her business if she were given another loan!
My culture shock is competing with my jetlag to spin my head in more directions…the heat, crowded streets where any second I could be hit by one of the crazy drivers incessantly honking while yelling “Obroni, Obroni” (white person) to get me to buy something or take a cab or talk to them, the excitement in the village kids eyes when we blew up 3 beach balls for them to share amongst the 20 of them, the vibrant colors of women’s head dresses, the dust and soot in the back of my throat all converge on slight nausea and giddiness. One moment Delena (the other Kiva fellow who is an amazing 20 year old woman from North Carolina who has been here for 5 weeks) and I are dying laughing about cultural impressions and the next we have more questions than I ever thought possible. Today we are spending the day at the Golden Tulip aka the “Obroni” heaven – the only 4-star hotel in Accra. There is wireless Internet, a swimming pool and a reprieve from being Obroni! More on our adventures there later.
Africa is hard and I wonder if I am up for conquering it/>