Support Women and Girls in Ghana

 
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Scholarship graduate and future lawyer, Rose
Scholarship graduate and future lawyer, Rose

WomensTrust Launches Scholarships for College-Bound Graduates

Earlier this year, several generous donors of WomensTrust provided seed funding for a new scholarship program to send our interns to college.

Regina, Mary, and Stella, the young women who intern in WomensTrust's office in Pokuase, have big dreams. They’ve already accomplished what the majority of girls in Ghana do not: they've graduated from high school.

And now, they want to accomplish even bigger things with their lives -- go to college, and pursue careers. Regina wants to be a nurse. Mary wants to become a teacher of fashion design. Stella wants to be an accountant.

But going to the university is out of the question for most girls in Ghana, who average just 11 years of school. Making it to the 8th grade is usually where a girl's education ends; just 2-3% ever finish senior high.

Even though children attend public primary and junior high schools in Ghana for free, there are still costs involved like uniforms, school supplies, and entrance exam fees that are beyond the reach of too many of Ghana's poorest citizens. And if families can only afford to keep some of their children in school, it's usually the girls that are pulled out first.

Girls like Stella, who was raised by a single mother struggling to support her family as a petty trader and had no other choice but to withdraw her daughter from school. A multi-year education scholarship from WomensTrust--costing less than $300 a year -- enabled Stella to go back and finish junior high, then stay in high school all the way through to graduation.

Regina and Mary also grew up in impoverished circumstances, but were also able to finish high school because of WomensTrust education scholarships.

"I don't know what my life would have been like had I not been able to finish school," says Stella, now 19. "I might have been a trader like my mother and always struggling."

Currently, about 25% of the more than 185 girls who've received education scholarshps from WomensTrust this year are enrolled in senior high school, and will be ready to graduate within the next one to three years. WomensTrust will be there to ensure these girls finish high school. And then be there to provide the support they need to reach for their life's dreams. Or, as Regina says, "to turn impossible upside down."

On a recent visit to our office in Pokuase, we met another WomensTrust scholarship graduate, Rose. At 19, Rose posesses the poise, confidence and expressiveness of someone who was at the top of her class, as she was. Rose dreams of becoming a lawyer, and maybe running for office one day, "because our country needs more women leaders," she says. Acing the entrance exams would be no problem for Rose. But she is from a poor family, and there is no money to support a university education. So Rose stays at home, helping with chores as she dreams of a better future.

In 2014, WomensTrust aims to build our university scholarship program so we can enable Rose and other promising young women leaders to reach for their dreams and "turn impossible upside down." Please, these young women need your support.

WT intern Stella dreams of becoming an accountant
WT intern Stella dreams of becoming an accountant
WT interns Stella, Regina & Mary address visitors
WT interns Stella, Regina & Mary address visitors
On the path to graduation: Christiana & Abigail
On the path to graduation: Christiana & Abigail
Clients in Nsawam with WT
Clients in Nsawam with WT's Priscilla Danso(r)

Pictured above: WomensTrust clients Nadiyatu (l) and Habibatu (c) with WomensTrust - Nsawam Program Director Priscilla Danso (r), on a recent Market Day in Nsawam.

MONDAY IS MARKET DAY  in the town of Nsawam, a major trading hub in the mountainous Akwapim region of Ghana about an hour’s drive north of the country’s capital.

Earlier this year, WomensTrust opened a branch office in Nsawam to extend its microfinance program to the area’s burgeoning population of small traders who drive the local economy. Market Days are a weekly occurrence here, attracting thousands of people who crowd the streets and central marketplace to buy and sell goods of every kind, from foodstuffs to clothing to housewares: If you can’t find it in Nsawam, it probably hasn’t been made yet.

Nadiyatu Adama, 35, and Habibatu Mohammed, 33, are among the many small traders who travel by tro-tro from remote villages in the area to stock up on goods and supplies that they will bring back home and resell at a small mark-up to their own customers.  Both women hail from the neighboring enclave of Esumia, where Nadiyatu makes a living selling porridge and Habibatu runs a small provisions shop. They wear the graceful shawls donned by married women in their community. Both of their husbands are farmers, and the women's businesses provide most of the family's income. Nadiyatu has three children, ages 3 to 15 and Habibatu has three sons and a daughter. While neither woman has ever attended school herself, they are proud that all of their school-aged children are enrolled in school.

This past June, Nadiyatu and Habibatu became clients of WomensTrust. Joining with three other women in their community to form a lending group, they then met with Priscilla Danso, WomensTrust Program Director in Nsawam, who evaluated their businesses and cash flow, and their ability to meet a repayment schedule.

Each woman then received a personal passbook and a first loan of 200 cedis (about $100). With her loan Nadiyatu was able to purchase larger quantities of corn and gari (coarsely milled flour made from cassava), the main ingredients used in porridge, a typical meal served at breakfast. Habibatu used her loan to buy pricier items like tissue paper and powdered milk to add to her inventory.

Their extra buying power resulted in an immediate increase in their profits, which enabled each woman to quickly repay her loan in full and become eligible for a second, higher loan of 400 cedis (about $200).

Loans provided by WomensTrust have enabled Nadiyatu and Habibatu to become regular weekly shoppers on Market Day and loyal customers of other women who ply their trade in Nsawam’s marketplace.  Nadiyatu makes a point of buying her flour from another WomensTrust client, whom she recently met at a group orientation meeting for all of our new loan clients in Nsawam. In that way WomensTrust creates a multiplier effect with every woman we serve, not only strengthening her individual purchasing power but also contributing to the profitability of other clients’ and women’s businesses in the community.

We met many of our more than 200 clients in Nsawam on a recent Market Day:

Pictured below: (1) Women doing business with women--Wholesaler Mercy Ntim (l) does a brisk business with customers like Nadiyatu (c) and Habibatu (r), who stop by her kiosk every Monday on Nsawam’s Market Day to purchase bulk quantities of dry goods like biscuits, powdered milk and paper products.

(2) Felicia Nyarko sells second-hand clothing on one of the busy throroughfares in Nsawam. The mother of 3 children,  she is able to pay for her children's school fees from her business profits. Felicia has received three small loans (ranging from $100-150) from WomensTrust to purchase jeans and other contemporary fashions to add to her inventory.

(3) Mary dreams of opening her own stand-alone shop in town. She currently operates from a small kiosk in Nsawam's central food market where she stocks rice, canned tomatoes and a variety of spices.

WT loan clients  support each others
WT loan clients support each others' businesses
Felicia sells men
Felicia sells men's and women's clothing
Mercy plans to open her own shop.
Mercy plans to open her own shop.
new clients in Nsawam
new clients in Nsawam

Praise Obikyere runs a small elementary school in Kpone, a village near the port town of Tema, on Ghana’s southern coast. On a recent morning, Praise led her class, of about a dozen bright-eyed 6 and 7 year olds, in a head-to-toe vocabulary game.

 “Where is your nose?” she asked. The children touched their noses. “This is my nose,” they answered in unison. “Where is your mouth?” “This is my mouth,” they said, touching their lips. And on down, switching from “this” to “these” with elbows, knees, toes. They beamed at Praise’s applause, proud of their growing mastery of English. In neat, matching uniforms – girls in jumpers, boys in shirts and shorts – with new backpacks hung in an orderly row along one wall, it didn’t seem possible that many of these children are orphans, living in impoverished conditions.  The meal the school serves them in the morning is likely the only one they get for the day.

 With spiraling inflation hitting Ghana’s most vulnerable, those meals are becoming harder to provide, Praise told us, on a visit several US board members recently made to Kpone. A study in contrasts from the modern bustle of Ghana’s capital city Accra, just 20 miles away, Kpone is a rural hamlet of unpaved roads, tin roofs and free-ranging goats, whose residents are still largely fisherman and small farmers, and women typically end their schooling before reaching their teens; most become small traders. Praise grew up in Kpone, and pursued a career as a teacher, then returned to start her own private elementary school for disadvantaged children--in a town that had never before had an elementary school. Her husband, Daniel, helps run the school, which now has over 60 students enrolled, all under the age of 8. There are also two other teachers on their payroll.

The school receives a modest subsidy from the government. But with a recent surge in the price of staples like corn and rice, the school did not have enough funds to cover food costs for the rest of the school year, and Praise was considering closing her doors.

This past January, WomensTrust extended its microfinance services to Kpone, one of several new communities where in the last six months we've added more than 200 women as loan clients. In Kpone, Praise is one of 42 women who've received their first loan from us. With a loan of 1000 cedis (about $500) Praise was able to purchase bulk quantities of corn, rice and other foodstuffs for the students’ meals. Paying in cash allowed her to purchase directly from a wholesaler, who gave her a volume discount, which brought down her costs for each student's meal and eased the strain on the school's cash flow.

During our visit to Kpone, several more WomensTrust clients met with our Senior Loan Officer Solomon Fiagah and  Mary, who finished high school with the help of a scholarship from WomensTrust and is now an intern in our Pokuase office, assisting with record-keeping and loan collections.  Loans to women in this community vary from 300 cedis (about $150) to 1000 cedis ($500) depending on the type of business and the client’s ability to repay, among other factors, explains our Senior Loan Officer Solomon Fiagah. Typically, WomensTrust’s loan cycle is four months, at 15% interest.

 Unlike some other microfinance organizations that operate in the area, WomensTrust  loans have “no hidden costs," Solomon notes. "We are partners with every one of our clients. We are here to ensure they succeed."

Our loan clients in Kpone, like all of the women we serve, represent a wide range of businesses. During our visit we met Mary Nati, who runs a brick-making operation in Kpone and employs four workers, at salaries totalling 160 cedis per day. To meet her overhead and increase profits, she used an 800-cedi loan from WomensTrust to purchase a double-axle truckload of sand that enabled her to double her output and increase her to capacity to serve the region’s burgeoning building boom.

We also talked with Joyce Farhu, a self-described “fishmonger” who sells fish that she buys from local fisherman and then smokes in a traditional mud-walled oven commonly seen in the yards of people’s homes along the coast. She also farms a small plot of land on the outskirts of town where she grows okra and maize. She used a 300-cedi loan from WomensTrust to purchase seeds. In a few months’ time, she hopes to be increasing her income with the sales of fresh okra and corn that she will harvest from her farm.

Aishye Iddriesu, an elegant woman in an embroidered headscarf, also came with passbook in hand to make a repayment on her loan. Aishye told us she earns most of her income sorting and reselling scrap metal from old electronics equipment. But her passions are making jewelry and other products she can sell to women. Recently, she met a wholesaler of shea butter, a common ingredient used in moisturizers and cosmetics, and saw an opportunity to become a supplier to local hair salons and individual customers. WomensTrust provided her with an 800-cedi loan to purchase the shea butter, which is giving Aishye the opportunity to develop a new business and expand her customer base.

Kpone is only one of several new areas in which WomensTrust is expanding its microfinance services beyond our home office in Pokuase. Recently, WomensTrust began working with the market sellers’ association in a small, vibrant neighborhood market in the Achimota area of Accra where we now serve more than 60 loan clients, whose kiosks and tables in the crowded aisles offer everything a cook would ever need, from the staples to the pots and pans to the charcoal to cook it on.

WomensTrust will continue to widen our reach by working with local leaders and partners to strengthen and grow our programs in communities of need throughout Ghana.

Kpone loan client Aishye (r) with our intern, Mary
Kpone loan client Aishye (r) with our intern, Mary
US board members with staff, clients in Kpone
US board members with staff, clients in Kpone
Comfort, WomensTrust client-Chantan Market, Accra
Comfort, WomensTrust client-Chantan Market, Accra
Mabel: charcoal seller, WomensTrust client
Mabel: charcoal seller, WomensTrust client
Praise Obikyere, with students in Kpone
Praise Obikyere, with students in Kpone
Sophia, loan client, Nsawam, Ghana
Sophia, loan client, Nsawam, Ghana

WomensTrust has opened a new office in Nsawam, an agricultural community in the Eastern Region of Ghana, with a major marketplace. Our Nsawam loan clients are market sellers and women in the surrounding villages.

 

The girls’ scholarship program distributed school uniforms, school supplies and paid school fees for 240 girls from Pokuase and Nsawam for the 2012-13 school year. Some of the girls in Pokuase have now graduated from Senior High School, some with dreams of higher education. Three of those girls are “giving back” by working in the WomensTrust office.

 

With the addition of the Nsawam office, we have added a Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) program. This program works with the poorest of the poor, who do not qualify for microfinance loans. We are overseeing a pilot program in Avaga village, which is run by community members, with training and oversight by WomensTrust staff for one year, at which time the members can then operate on their own. It is transparent and is effective in fostering savings.

 

We at WomensTrust are excited about these new projects, run by local community members and look for continued support so we can reach many more women and girls.

Student receives new uniform and school supplies
Student receives new uniform and school supplies
Village Savings & Loans Assoc., Avaga, Ghana
Village Savings & Loans Assoc., Avaga, Ghana
Palm oil seller Adua, new loan client in Nsawam
Palm oil seller Adua, new loan client in Nsawam

WomensTrust is expanding our microfinance and education programs into new communities that will allow us to help empower thousands more impoverished women and girls in Ghana to build better futures for themselves and their families.

In December of 2012, we extended our microloan programs to women in Nsawam, a vibrant trading center of 120,000 people located about 10 miles north of Pokuase, the village where WomensTrust maintains its main office. WomensTrust has opened an office in the community and will hire two new employees to administer our programs there.

Currently, WomensTrust has more than 700 active microloan clients, and has awarded over 800 scholarships to keep girls in school.

Nsawam loan client, Gifty, sews school uniforms
Nsawam loan client, Gifty, sews school uniforms
Loan client Janet sells tomatoes in Nsawam market
Loan client Janet sells tomatoes in Nsawam market

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Organization

WomensTrust, Inc.

New London, NH, United States
http://www.womenstrust.org/

Project Leader

Jeffrey Stevens

Adminstrative Officer
New York, New York United States

Where is this project located?

Map of Support Women and Girls in Ghana