Making a Difference – One Village at a Time
This past August, I traveled to Ghana, Africa for 12 days. It was the most transforming “vacation” I have ever had!
I had heard about this concept of Micro-loans that make a difference for people in third world countries. In fact, I met the Founder of WomensTrust, here in San Francisco. Five years ago, she turned 60 and decided that it was time for her to give back to a world that granted her great success on Wall Street. The first 3rd of her life was “to learn”…the second 3rd was “to earn” and the third 3rd was “to return”.
She went to Ghana and met with local politicians and started a micro-lending organization that provides small business loans – only $56 – to women stuck in poverty – but willing to work hard to take care of their families. I had to check it out for myself. I too wanted to make a difference……but this seemed too good to be true. I flew over 27 hours – first to London, then to Accra, Ghana, the capital. I arrived at the airport and hoped that I would find the person sent to pick me up.
The gentleman from the Lodge where I would be staying was there with his son and they helped with my bags and chatted with me while we drove to the Lodge. It was dark and I could not see the scenery around me.
New to the group, they welcomed me and included me immediately. I said I would tag along with the nurses and help any way I could. They would be weighing babies and taking the mothers’ blood pressure and hemoglobin (which I learned was to measure their iron levels).
I rode a “taxi” into Pokuase – the village that the WomensTrust had established their offices. The building was very basic, no glass or screens in the windows, but electricity provided by generators and overhead fans that kept the warm air moving. The women were lined up and sitting patiently waiting for their turn.
The end of the day, everyone on the trip met again at the long table outside in the perimeter of the lodge. We met to discuss our day, make observations, share ideas and incites. Then we ate dinner at the Lodge.
To be sitting around this table with women who had left their comfortable surroundings to be here – if only for a few days – to make a difference in the lives of this village was amazing. I learned so much from them.
WomensTrust started 5 years ago. It established itself as a non-profit (with the IRS) and an NGO in Ghana (non-government office) which has a certain status for getting things done without the government interference. Now they have provided 900 women small business loans. The women repay their loan with a small interest, building their reputations for repayment and then borrow larger amounts. It is all managed to empower women. They must open a bank account (for the first time, signing with their thumbprints) and this accountability helps them build self-esteem. There is an administrative team screening the applicants, processing the loans, collecting loans, etc.
I attended several Council sessions were the women in the community came together to decide what concerns they had and what projects they wanted for their community. For instance, after establishing the loan process, the women asked for clinics. Women there have a great deal of stress (sheer poverty – they want to take care of their families) and were concerned that many die in childbirth (1 out of 5). So WomensTrust established a team of nurses from the University of Massachusetts to assist twice a year and provide exams.
Medical insurance from the government is only $12 dollars per year but because of the poverty, women couldn’t afford it. So WomensTrust provides the $12 to the government for those women who are paying their loans back. Then the community council sessions decided that they wanted to send their kids to school. You see, the government pays for their education. But the kids cannot go without uniforms, books and pencils. Because of the poverty, kids cannot attend schools because the parents cannot pay for uniforms, etc. So, the scholarships are provided by purchasing uniforms, supplies and also tutoring. WomensTrust has provided 103 children so far with scholarships. WT has assigned a woman, with a degree from Ghana’s education system as a teacher, to decide which kids are good candidates to receive this scholarship. They must be bright and really want to learn.
Now, WomensTrust is building a Women’s Resource Center, a training facility with computers and other classes. It will be open at night (with lights!) and have instructors providing lessons in business skills.
Five years have gone by with gradual success. Now WomensTrust is offering others in the US to adopt villages near by. They are providing the administrative teams to process the loans.
I went there with the intention to observe but I was so moved by the possibilities that I adopted a village while I was there!
Before I arrived, a group of women from a nearby village approached WT and asked if they could get WT services in THEIR village! They had heard of how great these loans were and the impact they had one the community of Pokuase.
But they all shared the same desire for receiving a micro-loan to build their businesses. There were a few men there who were representing their wives, since their wives could not stop working…but they did not want to be left out.
I was amazed at their initiative and desire for their futures. You see, in anticipation of our arrival, they had already opened their bank accounts and formed their groups.
Wow! I had really only gone to Africa to observe and now I was promising these 50 women that I would come back with money to start the loans. I promised them that I would work as hard as they did once I returned to the U.S. – raising funds to start a micro-loan project in Medie, Ghana.
I have been receiving small donations for which I am very grateful. I have been sharing this story with others to hopefully inspire them to donate a little to this project. But I was getting worried. Here it is October and we had collected $2700 and we needed a total of $18,000 to start the program.
That was August. Today, I am so pleased to tell you that Joy2theWorld received a grant for $25,000 to begin the micro-loan program. Now, any additional funds collected can address the clinical needs, and start the scholarship fund for the kids. I shared this program with 2 teachers – at 2 different schools and they are involving their kids in collecting “pennies for scholarships”. I’m hoping to get a corporate match.
During the Communication Course-Power to Create, two participants volunteered to help. One, a nurse who will eventually build a team and travel to Medie; the other, a young person in high school who wants to build a team for collecting “pennies for scholarships” in his school.
I just interviewed a grant writer. We are still looking for someone who can design a professional website – with PayPal – we have one now, but it is not developed.
This project is so much bigger than me. I cannot do this alone. But I have learned that people have a desire to make a difference…for themselves, for others.
We are so blessed here – and we take so much for granted. In a village that lives on $1 to $1.50 per day, without clean water and without electricity, I began to really appreciate what is important. Believe me, I learned more from these women than they learned from me. They work so hard. They are up and walking miles to get supplies or sell their goods. Then they go home to begin dinner. They must find clean water, fresh food and begin to cook with charcoal ovens. They have the same concerns to take care of their children and extended families. Their days are long and yet, everyone I met had a smile for me “good morning!” “Good afternoon”. People who stopped to talk to me actually shared their goods with me. One woman made me a dress – because I admired her dress – and walked 5 miles to deliver it to me!
We are so blessed and yet we complain when there is a line at the drive through!
What I have learned (to the core) is that when you take on a project that is bigger than yourself – you forget all your little aches and pains. There is a higher level to live and experience when you do something for others.
Yes, there is a great deal of JOY that comes with this. And I’ve discovered that it comes from living your life passionately for others.
We are still building teams to help Joy2theWorld. Everyone has a gift to offer. Whether you join my team, or another team; whether it is a project within your family or for your community, get involved! Many of you know what I am talking about, especially those who are dissatisfied with their life, bored and wondering why they are not happy…
I invite you to experience indescribable JOY for living a passionate life for someone else!