Monthly Archives: December 2013

Let’s Have the Food Conversation

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When I talk to people from home, the first thing they ask me is, “How’s the food?” This is probably because everyone knows that I love food and am addicted to watching cooking shows. I always joke that I’m the best fed college student as I often cook elaborate meals for myself. Born and raised in the Midwest, my usually diet tends to be meat and potatoes with a hefty side of cheese. Don’t get me wrong, I love fruits and veggies, but as a child I always said my favorite food was steak.

My diet at home. Notice the yogurt sitting next to me? Dairy Addict!

My diet at home. Notice the yogurt sitting next to me? Dairy Addict!

Before coming here, I was entirely naïve about Ghanaian cuisine. I thought I would be eating tiny portions of rice and fruit right off the tree. I figured I would come back ten pounds lighter. Well, I’ve been here almost three months and have already gained weight. I don’t have access to a scale, but I would estimate that I’ve gained about seven to ten pounds. I even contemplated naming this post, “Gaining Weight in Ghana.” After talking to other participants and the ProWorld coordinators, I learned that just about everyone gains a few pounds here. What am I eating that’s causing this weight gain? Carbs and oil.

Ghanaian’s diet is very heavy in carbohydrate and fats. If you think about it, this is entirely logical. Traditionally many Ghanaians have very physical jobs and combined with the extreme heat, they need large amounts of calories. Not to mention, you need to replace the salts from all that sweating. If you don’t have a lot of money, what is the cheapest way to get these calories? Certainly not from eating salad. Thus Ghanaians eat a lot of fried foods and dishes with a lot of carbohydrates in them.

Yam Chips! Ghana's answer to french fries. They are often drenched in oil, but tasty!

Yam Chips! Ghana’s answer to french fries. They are often served with a spicy sauce. Yum!

Unlike the U.S. where a piece of meat may be the center of a meal, meat is used almost as a seasoning. As I’m located on the coast, people eat a lot of fish here, usually smoked or salted. As for meat, people mostly eat goat and chicken, though you can find beef in some places. Pork seems to be pretty rare. Ghanaians also eat random “bush meat” like rats.  Eggs are used as a cheap source of protein, and local fruits such as bananas, pineapples, and oranges are eaten as snacks. Veggies are often eaten in stews and sauces rather than in salads. Despite the abundance of goats wandering around, there is absolutely no dairy here. People drink evaporated or condensed milk, use margarine, and never eat cheese. This has been really hard for a cheesehead like me! I’ve splurged to buy some imported cheese at the obruni shops because I was craving some desperately.

Since my homestay mother prepares all of my meals, I don’t have much say in what I’m eating. However, Auntie Alice is very much aware that Americans struggle with traditional meals and takes it pretty easy on me. She’s known to be one of the best cooks out of the homestay families and often gets participants who have special dietary needs such as vegetarians. That being said, I struggled with the food when I got here. Like I said in an earlier post, I have IBS and my intestines were not happy with my change in diet. Now I’m pretty adjusted and only have minor stomach issues. Without further ado, here’s a bit of what I’ve been eating:

Breakfast:

My breakfasts are pretty predictable.  I get toasted white bread with margarine. The bread is slightly sweet and Auntie Alice toasts it using a panini press. Occasionally, she adds raw onions, bell peppers, and tomatoes to make little sandwiches, and on extra special days, an egg. I’ve gotten pancakes maybe four times and I usually get fresh squeezed orange juice a few times a week. I’ve recently started getting oatmeal, which I’m super excited about. It is thinner than I’m used to, and served with sugar and evaporated milk. For a carb overload, I get some more bread on the side.

red red

Red Red

Lunch:

Auntie Alice packs me a lunch to take to work every day. I get a traditional dish called red red about twice a week. It is plantains fried in red palm oil with a red sauce that contains beans. Red red isn’t my favorite as by the time I eat it, it’s no longer hot and a bit soggy. Sometimes I get my red red with fish, but you can get it elsewhere with chicken or goat. I also always get white rice with stew. I really like my auntie’s stew as she packs a lot of veggies in it and sometimes adds chicken. I sometimes get jollof rice with chicken, which is rice that was cooked in oil, tomatoes, and spices. I also really enjoy that. Lastly, I get sometimes get french fries with chicken.

My tasty lunch of jollof rice with chicken

My tasty lunch of jollof rice with chicken

Supper:

Auntie Alice’s cooking skills really shine at dinnertime. I get a lot of variety for dinner. At first I used to get a lot of fish, which I didn’t like. I would get smoked or dried fish that has a very strong flavor. Finally, I got the courage to tell her that I’m not a fan of fish and now rarely get it! Fish here seems to be a hit or a miss for me. Depending on how it’s prepared, it can be amazing or not so good. Here’s a list of thing’s I’ve eaten for dinner:

Dinner of boiled potatoes and veggie stew. Photo Credit: Papa Kofi

Dinner of boiled potatoes and veggie stew. Photo Credit: Papa Kofi

  • Indomie: this is a Nigerian brand ramen. I get it on nights when Auntie Alice gets home late from work. I really like the spicy kind.
  • Boiled potatoes and stew: usually the same stew that I get for lunch. Tasty!
  • Spaghetti with veggie sauce: This is probably my favorite dinner as Auntie Alice makes a delicious tomato-veggie sauce.
  • Chicken and Potato stew: I guess the best way to describe this is similar to the filling of a chicken pot pie. It has chicken potatoes, and various veggies. It’s comfort food at its finest.  Sometimes she mixes it up and uses sweet potatoes, or makes it spicy.
  • Curry Rice with chicken: This is one of Papa Kofi and my favorites.
  • Palm nut soup with rice balls: Palm nut soup is probably the one food that Westerners really struggle with. I’ve yet to meet one that likes it. It’s oily, slightly spicy, and often has a lot of dried fish in it. This was the dish that prompted the fish conversation. I really hope I don’t get it again.
  • Banku with okra stew: So I really enjoyed the okra stew. It was packed with veggies and was slightly spicy. The banku, was just ok. I wouldn’t go out of my way to eat it again, but it wasn’t awful. Banku falls into the “starchy dough” category of traditional meals. It is made from ferment maize that has pounded into a cookie dough-like consistency. It tastes like unbaked sourdough bread. The texture is very strange to me, and I’m not sure if you are supposed to chew it.
Indome!

Indomie! This is the best flavor. 

My meals tend to be less traditional than many other participants. Poor Max had to eat banku every evening.. Since she has a full-time job and is raising Papa Kofi alone, she doesn’t have a lot of spare time. Traditional meals seem to take longer to cook, which is why I usually only get them on weekends.  Here are some other traditional dishes:

Here's a pic of fufu and light soup. My friend Mary's got this during an outreach.

Here’s a pic of fufu and light soup. My friend Mary got this during an outreach.

  • Fufu: Fufu is pounded yam/cassava dough that is a bit softer than banku.  You aren’t supposed to chew it andit’s pretty flavorless. Instead it takes on the flavor of whatever soup you serve it with.
  • Light soup: It is basically tomato soup and often served with fufu and fish.
  • Kenkey: Kenkey is similar to banku and is wrapped in banana leaves. I tried kenkey at work and did not like it as it has a very strong fermented flavor. It is almost always served with fish.
  • Groundnut Soup: Groundnuts are pretty much the same thing as peanuts. Thus, groundnut soup is peanuty and slight spicy. Most participants love it. It is often served with rice balls and occasionally chicken.
  • Waakye: it is a mix of white rice and beans that turns purple when served in a purple leaf. It usually comes with sauce and sometime gari, ground cassava. You can get it with meat, eggs, or salad. This dish is easily found on the side of the road.

Overall, Ghanaian food is spicy, flavorful, and often tomato-based. Despite the abundance of cookies found in shops, Ghanaians don’t seem to eat a lot sugar and their food is much less processed that I would get home. Despite their availability, vegetables aren’t frequently eaten, unless fried or in a stew. I frequently buy oranges or other fruits to jokingly ward off scurvy.  To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of the more traditional dishes like palm nut soup or banku, and prefer the rice dishes. I look forward to continuing trying new foods here and need to ask Auntie Alice for her jollof recipe.

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Obruni Fever

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Settle in for a long post, folks. I could go on forever about this topic!

The term “obruni” refers to any foreigner, but is often used to describe a white person. Since Ghana’s population is approximately 99% black, white people obviously stand out. Being an obruni in Ghana is like being a celebrity anywhere else. For better or worse, people want to chat with you, ask you for money, take pictures of you, or simply “take” you as a friend. I’ve been followed by herds of children, harassed by shopkeepers, and shouted at by taxi drivers. On the more positive side, Ghanaians are extremely friendly and helpful. My coworker, for instance, had her husband drive me to the bank even when it was out of his way.

As someone who has never experienced a minority, I have found it challenging to stick out so much. I have a tendency to be introverted and don’t particularly like being the center of attention. There’s nothing I enjoy more than anonymously walking to class, listening to my iPod. Here, I’m never invisible. When I take the 20 minute walk to work, I’m stopped by people on the street, shouted at from vehicles, grabbed, and occasionally followed. About half of the time, I don’t mind or even enjoy the attention. I like chatting with the plumber near my house and hearing about his cousin in Michigan. I find it hilarious how excited children get when they see me. The other half though, I find myself annoyed, grumpy, or uncomfortable about it. Sometimes I walk home from work praying that no one bothers me. It never happens.

So what exactly is happening on my commute? The first and most common interaction I have is a Ghanaian pointing out my skin color. Often times, I get “obruni,” in which I respond with “obibini” (Meaning “black person”). This responds seems generate laughter or indignant harrumphs. I also get the English versions, such as “white lady,” “white woman,” “white,” or the weirdest, “white flesh.” I don’t like being simply called “white” as it often seems to be an accusation. Whether I’m bother by the name calling depends on the persistence of the caller and the tone used. Some Ghanaians will shout their racial term of choice at me fifty times, even after I waved or greeted them. Others will move on after one shout, or ask for my well being. Obviously I prefer the latter.  To an American, pointing out race seems rude and taboo. Here it’s a form of identification and considered normal. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, just different.

Next, I’ve experienced a lot of grabbing. Ghanaians have no sense of personal space and do not understand that Westerners aren’t comfortable with being grabbed at. It’s sweet and fun when a child grabs my hand while walking to school. However, I feel uncomfortable when a woman grabs my arm to drag me to her clothing stand, or when a man tries to grope me on the street. Like the name calling, context is everything.

I also get hit on or proposed by the extremely persistent Ghanaian men. It’s an interesting paradox. I’ve never been so desirable to the male species, yet feel so unattractive. I’m constantly sweaty, dirty, sunburned, and bug-bite infested. I never wear make-up and my muffin top is expanding from the Ghanaians’ carb-laden diet. It doesn’t seem to matter, as I get hit on at least once a day. The only reason I’m getting this many proposals is because I’m white. I have met many Ghanaian men who claim to only date white women (including my host brother). I find it strange to only limit yourself to such a tiny proportion of the female population, especially for those who have never traveled outside Ghana and only have limited experience with foreigners. While average back at home, I’m seen as exotic in Ghana. I’m frequently called beautiful, asked if I’m married (Tip: Always say yes), am proposed to, or asked out on a date. The doctor I saw during my first week even offered to “insert me with beautiful babies.” Usually I just laugh it off or claim I already have thirty other husbands. Sometimes, it becomes really bothersome. I particularly hate the “kissy noises” that only seemed to be reserved for white women. In general, this sort of attention has me wary of Ghanaian men. This objectification makes me feel like a piece of meat or a zoo animal rather than real person.

Last, I am asked for money constantly, usually by children. Some Ghanaians seem believe that all white people are rich. I can understand why as most of their experiences with foreigners comes from television/movies, volunteers, and tourists. Television rarely shows poverty in the west, most volunteers are unpaid (the funds must come from somewhere!), and tourists obviously have enough money to afford a vacation. So white people are almost always overcharged be vendors, shopkeepers, and taxi drivers. I jokingly call it the “obruni levy” and can be avoided using bartering. More troublesome, is that parents teach their children to beg white people for money. It’s always shocking to me to meet a child who knows no English other than the phrase “Give me money.” Someone clearly went out of their way to teach the child to beg. I’m even more irritated when I notice the child is wearing a private school uniform, which means the kid’s family is probably not strapped for cash (Private school fees are VERY expensive here). I have no problem giving a few cedis to the disabled man I see on my way to work as he genuinely needs the money. I do take issue with parents teaching their children to ask white people for money without true need.

Now that I’ve gotten the negative experiences out of the way, let’s talk about the good. For every grabby, demanded person, there’s a lovely one who genuinely wants to get to know or help you out. For example in Kumasi, a man talked to a taxi driver for us in order to make sure that we weren’t being overcharged. Also, everyone that I’ve talked to has been helpful with directions or pointed me towards someone who could help. Ghanaians always want to make sure I’m comfortable, giving me the best seat or providing me water. Many of my experiences here have proved time and again how hospitable Ghanaians can be.

Last fun tidbit:many Ghanaians are unable to distinguish between nationalities. To them, white people look all the same. I’m frequently asked if I’m from Germany, Australia, Sweden, the UK, and even China. Sometimes, I like to play along and say, “Yes, I’m from China.” I would have thought that the accents would be a dead giveaway, but apparently not. Also it is often assumed that all the white people in Ghana know each other. While driving past white people (whom I’ve never met), taxi drivers always ask if I want to stop for my friends or if I’m meeting them. The drivers are always surprised when I say that I don’t know them!

Off to Spain!

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Christmas is not celebrated commercially in Ghana, and really isn’t a big deal here. So I decided to buy the cheapest place out of here to spend my holiday.  For some reason, the cheapest destination was Madrid, Spain. So I will be gone from Christmas Eve (today) to January 3rd. I’ll also be taking a four day trip to Porto, Portugal. Don’t worry, I’m not going by myself. I roped Abby into coming with me. Despite having practically no warm clothing, I’m terribly excited!

Just because I’m enjoying Spain doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten my lovely readers (Thanks Mom!). I’ve scheduled a few new posts while I’m gone.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Ghanaian Quirks

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As I adapt to living in Ghana, I discover more and more interesting tidbits about their culture. Here are some examples:

Ghana Man Time (GMT)

In the U.S., we often use the saying “time is money.” Ghanaians don’t seem to agree. It appears to me that Ghanaians have no sense of time at all. Do you have a 9AM meeting scheduled? The person you are meeting with probably won’t show up until 10AM. As an extremely punctual person, I sometimes become frustrated with the lackadaisical approach to time management. I find it understandable why some international companies are wary to do business here. However, GMT has some benefits. Since people are unconcerned about being late, they will often go out of their way to help you. For example, a fellow intern was lost and stopped to ask for directions. She asked a man clearly heading to work, and he walked her to her destination that was in opposite direction of his workplace. I was taking to the CEO of CRAN this week and he actually thanked me for setting a good example for my coworkers (I’m never late to work). So who knows, maybe this trend is changing in the workplace.

Sorry I’m Late. It Was Raining.”

Rain showers in Ghana are generally short. However, when it rains, it pours. Since most of the roads here are unpaved, it can get REALLY muddy. So during these brief rainstorms, everything practically shuts down. People run to the nearest shelter and wait until the rain stops. This means that rain is a valid excuse for being late or not showing up for something. I can’t wait to try this one back at home!

“You are Invited…”

Despite their poverty, Ghanaians are an incredibly generous bunch. It is tradition that when you are eating something and other people are present, you tell them, “You are invited.” By saying this, you are offering to share your food. Most of the time you will be eating something that’s clearly one serving. In this case, invitation is purely out of politeness and people really aren’t expecting you to share. However, if there is plenty to go around, people will practically pressure you into eating something. My coworkers, for example, save me from scurvy by always giving my oranges and bananas. I think this is a really lovely tradition and reminds me on a daily basis to be generous to everyone.

“But we probably won’t eat together”

In most cultures, sitting down to share a meal is very important. This doesn’t seem to be the case in Ghana. Eating seems less of a social activity and more about fulfilling physical needs. I rarely see Ghanaians eating at all. While there are plenty of snacks on the side of the road, people don’t seem to walk and eat. There is no set lunchtime at work. People come and go to the “kitchen” as they please and often eat by themselves. Occasionally everyone will have a “kenkey party” and sit down to eat together.  My homestay is no different. In the almost three months that I’ve been here, I can count on one hand the amount of times that I’ve eaten with my host family. Usually, my auntie serves me by myself and eats later. I’ve never seen Ben, my oldest host brother eat, but occasionally get to eat with Papa Kofi. I am very surprised about the lack of socializing during meals considering how community-oriented Ghanaian culture is. Plus many of the traditional meals are very labor intensive. It just feels strange eating alone after Auntie Alice spent five hours making me banku.

Favorite Colloquial Phrases

Along with using British spelling and terms (Think pants vs. underwear), Ghanaians have developed their own slang. Here are some of the most common:

“I’ll flash you”

No, this isn’t an offer for some indecent exposure, but rather a way to share a cell phone number. “Flashing” consists of calling someone and hanging up after a few rings. That way the person is able to easily add your number to their phone. It can also be used to signal someone that to call you back if you are low on phone credits.

“It is finished.”

This is always the worst thing to hear at a restaurant. It means that whatever you were requesting no longer is available. It can be used for just about anything: food items, Internet, water, electricity, etc.

“I am coming.”

This is probably the most ambiguous phrase of the list. It is usually used when meeting up with someone. The thing is, the person may not actually be coming right away. They could be coming in an hour, or perhaps even the next day! Equally confusing, is that it also used as a goodbye. For example, when my supervisor goes to a meeting or to lunch, she will say, “Marissa, I am coming.” Nope, she’s actually leaving.

Bath vs. Bathe

The verb bathe is not present in Ghanaian vocabulary. Instead, someone will say that they are, “Going to bath.” I find this one really strange. I’ve tried to explain the difference to some people, but it’s not catching on. Say it with me: “BATHE.”

“Dash”

To dash someone is to give them something for free. For example, if the fruit lady dashed me an orange, this means she slipped an extra one in my bag.

“Are you sure?”

This one is my absolute favorite! It means, “I know you are full of crap. I’m giving you one chance to tell the truth.”Pretty much, it’s the socially acceptable way to call someone out on lying.

Ghana loses GH¢4.5 billion due to irregularities in use of public funds

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I like the use of the term “irregularities” instead of corruption or embezzlement. C’est la vie!

Xklusives Portal

By Edmund Smith-Asante

Available figures from the Auditor-General’s Department indicate that Ghana lost GH¢4,559,976,756.76 within five years as a result of irregularities in public institutions.

Reports from the Auditor-General spanning 2008 to 2012 indicate a general trend in the rise and fall of the incidence of irregularities, with the periods 2008 to 2009 and 2010 to 2011 being noted for massive leaps.

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Sweet Dreams, Mefloquine!

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Ghana is one of the many in countries in Africa infested with malaria-carrying mosquitoes.  If caught quickly, malaria can easily be treated with a three-day course of antibiotics. Other cases can be more serious and even deadly. Obviously, I want to avoid getting malaria, so I use bug spray laced with DEET and take an anti-malarial prophylaxis. Due to different drug resistances, the main two anti-malarials taken by travelers to Ghana are doxycycline and mefloquine. Doxy is a daily prescription and mefloquine is taken weekly. I take mefloquine.

Mefloquine Structural Formula. Coutesy of Wikipedia (I know)

Mefloquine Structural Formula. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Mefloquine, also known as Larium, was created as a response to the thousands of malaria infections experienced in the Vietnam War. The U.S. Army developed the drug in 1971 after strains of malaria became resistant to chloroquine. It was cheap to make, effective, and only needed to be taken weekly. It entered the commercial market in 1989, and is currently the third most prescribed anti-malarial. Only generic versions can be purchased, as the brand-name manufacturer, Roche, no longer sells Larium in the U.S.

Several years after being commercially sold, doctors began to notice some problematic symptoms among those taking the drug. According to the FDA, the neurological side effects can include dizziness, loss of balance, or ringing in the ears. The psychiatric side effects can include feeling anxious, mistrustful, depressed, or having hallucinations. In addition to those, mefloquine can cause hair loss, chronic insomnia, diarrhea, and migraine headaches; the drug has also been attributed to numerous psychotic episodes. These symptoms generally disappear after stopping the drug, but in some cases may be permanent.

Roche claims that serious psychological side effects only occur in one in 10,000 people. However, Dr. Paul Clarke, an infectious disease specialist from Great Britain, organized his own study after witnessing side effects in a greater frequency. According to Clark’s study, the actual frequency of disabling effects is closer to one in 140 people. This dramatic difference is mostly due to Roche’s qualification of “serious” versus Clark’s “disabling.” The drug company only considers a case serious if it causes death, hospitalization, or a long-term disability. Between 1997 and 2001, the FDA recorded eleven suicides and twelve suicide attempts that were linked with mefloquine.

So innocent looking, yet so dangerous.

So innocent looking, yet so dangerous.

On June 29th, 2013, the FDA released an announcement that strengthened the warnings about the neurological side effects. Then in September, the Surgeon General’s Office of the Army Special Operations Command ordered a halt in prescribing mefloquine for the approximately 25,000 Green Berets, Rangers, Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations soldiers. Furthermore, the Pentagon has been reviewing the potential neurological side effects on service members, as the side effects can often mimic other issues, such as PTSD. The review is expected to be completed this January.

So if mefloquine has all of these worrying side effects, why did my doctor prescribe it? As a proud member of the pasty people population, I didn’t have much of a choice. I’ve taken doxy before and experience sun sensitivity–not exactly ideal for traveling to a country so near the equator. Plus my doctor was hesitant to give me doxy for such a long period of time. I would have to take it every single day for almost six months. Lastly, buying that many pills can get pretty pricy.

So I’ve been taking mefloquine for about three and a half months now. So far, I haven’t had any of the scary side effects, like hallucinations, but I do have some of the more mild ones. I suffer from insomnia, especially on the days I take my dose. Even when I’m super tired, I have trouble falling asleep and wake up several times a night. Secondly, I’m frequently dizzy. It’s usually not too bothersome, but the vertigo has gotten so bad once or twice that I had to lie down or risk falling over. Lastly, I’ve experienced very vivid and occasionally lucid dreams. Since I never used to remember my dreams, this is an entirely new and often pleasurable experience. I even woken myself up several times laughing hysterically for no reason. I realize that taking mefloquine is not ideal and can be very harmful for people with history of mental illnesses. If I start experiencing any of the serious side affects, I plan to stop taking it immediately.

For more information, read this super scary article by CBS News, and one by The Guardian:

CRAN Microfinance

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I realized the other day that most of my posts have been about locations I’ve travelled to or about Ghanaian culture.  While I hope you find that interesting, one of my intentions for this blog was to discuss working for a microfinance institution. So I’ve finally taken the time to write about CRAN and what my daily schedule is like!

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Here’s a bit about Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN):

  • CRAN is a rural development NGO established in 1993.
  • CRAN’s microfinance program was created in 1998, but only became a categorized as a MFI and a Financial NGO in 2008.
  • It is headquartered in Cape Coast in the Central Region of Ghana.
  • It operates throughout Ghana, but its main banks unit are in:Abura (where I live), Takoradi, Cape Coast, Elmina, Twifo Praso, and Hohoe.

I work in the microfinance department of CRAN, or Christian Rural Aid Network. In particular, I work in the Kiva office. According to CRAN, the organizational vision for the microfinance operations is “to achieve an improved and sustained quality of life for the majority of the productive rural and peripheral-urban poor in the Ghanaian society through the instrument of microfinance (in combination with other instruments), as a basis for attaining and sustaining social justice.” So how does my work fit into that vision? (For a refresher on microfinance, read this)

My office!

My office!

CRAN Microfinance has three main products: individual loans, group ‘susu’ loans, and its Credit with Education Program (CwE). The loans I work with usually fall under the CwE program, though I do occasionally file some individual loans. CwE is a village banking approach where CRAN enters into a community and introduces the service to the community members.  Those interested are asked to form solidarity group of 4 to 6 members, and several solidarity groups are put together to get a bigger group called credit association. CwE uses a mutual guarantee system that holds group members liable if a member defaults.

Hanging out at my desk. Note: I had a bad cold when this was taken.

Hanging out at my desk. Note: I had a bad cold when this was taken.

Generally, CwE is geared towards women in rural areas with little access to financial services. As the name suggests, financial education courses are given to members before their loans are disbursed. After disbursement, groups host weekly meetings to make their repayments and discuss any issues relating to their businesses.

Meet my coworker, Veronica!

Meet my coworker, Rosemary!

According to some outdated report, CRAN has given out loans to more than 20,000 clients. But where does the money come from? That’s where I come in! Our CwE funds come from Kiva, an organization based in San Francisco. It’s pretty much the microfinance version of crowd funding. People from all over the world can lend small amounts of money to borrowers in developing countries. Lenders don’t receive interest, but are rewarded with the satisfaction of helping another human being better their lives.

Waiting to begin journal interviews

Waiting to begin journal interviews

The first aspect of my internship is to create profiles of borrower to upload to the Kiva website. I receive a handwritten packet from loan officers detailing the personal and business information of person in a particular credit association. From there, I use a data program called Loan Performer to acquire an ID number for each client and other crucial information. I next craft a story about each borrower that explains why he/she needs the loan and his/her intentions for the profits. After that, it’s as simple as uploading all of the data I gathered, the story, and picture to the Kiva website. If Kiva administrators approve of the profile, the loan is now “open” and can start raising funds.

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURES

So far, I’ve uploaded more than 300 loans to Kiva. While the work can be tedious, especially with the unreliable Internet and the frustratingly slow computers, it is absolutely crucial to CRAN’s operations. Without the funds from Kiva, CRAN Microfinance could not afford to give out loans.

One of our clients: Efua Nana

One of our clients: Efua Nana

The second aspect of my position is creating journals. Journals are updates that we upload to Kiva, so that lenders can track the progress of the borrowers. So I travel to the communities with my supervisor, Cecilia, as a translator. We then interview each borrower to see how their lives and businesses have been affected by the loan. This is easily my favorite part of my job. After uploading so many loans, I’ve become desensitized to the impact of these loans. Talking to these women (and a couple men) reminds me of how real their hopes and struggles are. I am able to see the real effects that a small amount of money can have on their lives. School fees can be paid, bellies can be filled, and housing can be acquired. Yes, I’ve talked to several women who have defaulted on their loan and are worse off. On the whole, I’ve been able to witness the beauty of microfinance.

A credit association

A credit association

In the near future, my job description is going to expand. Cecilia and I had a long chat the other day about other aspects of CRAN that I want to experience. I want to learn more about how finances are handled in Ghana, so I am going to be shadowing the CFO of CRAN. I also want to visit a community during the loan disbursements. Lastly, I want to experience the education side of CwE, so Cecilia is trying to arrange for me to get involved with the classes. Hopefully everything works out, and I’ll have a lot more information to share!