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.
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