Nov 16, 2020

Felicia Is Able to Provide Her Children with a Great Education

Felicia the pottery maker!
Felicia the pottery maker!

Felicia is a 56-year-old mother pottery maker from Afari, Ghana. She has five children: two of them are teachers, two are practicing nurses, and one is training to be a nurse. She has been partnering with  Self-Help International’s Women’s Empowerment Program since 2006 and joined the program through the recommendation of her friends. 

Felcia’s work as a potter is capital intensive because of the materials she uses and the fact that she always buys in bulk. She shared with Self-Help’s staff about how she used to take loans for her business from other lenders before she began partnering with Self-Help’s program.

“I had been taking loans from other sources because I was so determined to be successful in my business and give my children quality education,” Felicia said. “But I realized along the way that I was so overwhelmed with debt. Sometimes, I even had to borrow from one place to offset the other loans.”

“It was like this until a family friend introduced me to the Self-Help’s program,” Felicia added. She shared how a payment plan helped her manage her loan from Self-Help, and talked about how she invested her loans.

“I wasn’t sure how different this loan would be from the other ones I had taken; but, my first daughter was about entering nursing school, so I needed money more than ever,” Felicia said.

Self-Help provides loans on a 6-month repayment plan, but the team is flexible with each business owner to determine what makes sense for them, their family, and their business.

“I was intrigued by the systematic payment plan that Self-Help put in place,” Felicia said. “My first loan was very disappointing because it was lower than the kind of amounts I was used to getting from other lenders, but I liked the payment plan. It afforded me time to invest the money into my business before the repayment started.”

“Whenever I received the money, I made sure to buy the materials I needed for my pottery before I purchased anything else - things like clay and firewood,” Felicia said. 

In addition to receiving much needed financial capital, Felicia attended business training sessions run by Self-Help’s staff. Self-Help always provides education and training as an integral part of the Women’s Empowerment Program. 

“One of the things I enjoyed most was the basic business skill training that came with the loans,” Felicia said. “I learned about topics like credit management, savings, and record keeping.”

“In my line of work, the information about how many pots you make and sell in a month should be at your fingertips. This information helps to keep track of your progress and creditors, and this should be done on a daily basis,” Felicia said. 

“The savings and credit management lessons were very relevant and helpful,” Felicia added. “With my previous lending, I didn’t know how to manage it, which caused my indebtedness.” 

The ultimate goal of Self-Help International is to alleviate hunger by helping people help themselves, and helping mothers give their children a quality education is an integral component to helping people break the poverty chain.

“I am most grateful for all the assistance for my children’s education,” Felicia said. “When I joined the program, my first daughter had just entered the nursing training college. My kids are very close in age, so it was very difficult enrolling all of them in school. [Self-Help was] there with me through it all.”

“Sometimes, I visited the staff because I needed money for the kids’ school; and even when I didn’t qualify for another loan, Self-Help still worked with me so I could afford their education,” Felicia added. “Now all of them except the youngest one are financially independent. In a year’s time, the younger one will also graduate and be independent.”

“I have achieved my dream of raising scholars in my home, and Self-Help worked with me to make that happen.”

Felicia working with her pots.
Felicia working with her pots.
Felicia's pots.
Felicia's pots.
Nov 2, 2020

Omar Learns How to Increase His Yields While Using Less Land

Omar.
Omar.

Across Nicaragua, farmers are greatly challenged by irregular crop sales prices. Many farmers depend on microfinance lending companies to finance their farming operations, but these companies charge very high interest rates. This means that in order to repay the loans, farmers are forced to sell their final products to predatory intermediaries. Since there is no pricing regulatory body for agricultural production, prices are dictated by the intermediaries, who buy up most small- and medium-sized farmers’ products for resale. These farmers often receive unfair prices for their products, and their families’ incomes are hurt in the process. 

Another challenge farmers face is a lack of improved planting systems and not relying  on their empirical farming knowledge inherited from their ancestors. Year after year, production declines due to poor agricultural techniques. This is why Self-Help International’s Agriculture Program provides training and tools (like the double-row planting technique) and technologies (high quality protein maize, or QPM, adapted to the zones and climates of Nicaragua). These allow rural families to fight hunger and improve production. Utilizing existing resources and avoiding soil contamination allow these farmers to advance their agricultural frontiers and have higher crop yields.

Omar is a farmer from Nueva Armenia, Nicaragua, about 45 kilometers from San Carlos in Rio San Juan. Omar has extensive experience in agriculture, which he started working in as a child when his father began teaching him how to produce maize, beans, tubers, and livestock. Sadly, his father - an acclaimed and hard-working farmer -  passed away two months ago. Now, Omar and two of his brothers are supporting their family using the skills their father taught them. Omar’s ten-person family lives together - Omar, his mother, his four brothers, and his four sisters. Five of his siblings are still studying in primary school, and they travel 3 km (approx. 1.9 mi) walking or on horseback to reach their school each day.

Omar is particularly adept at cultivating maize in traditional ways. He is a member of Self-Help’s Agriculture Program and has been trained with the planting system promoted by the organization. Additionally, he’s received production inputs for QPM, which is more nutritious than traditional maize.

However, when Omar entered the program, he, like many farmers, was skeptical of Self-Help’s double-row planting technique. He normally establishes up to 7,056 square meters of maize, and traditionally this one manzana (7,056 square meters) yields around 4,000 pounds of maize. But, he agreed to experiment with double-row planting. He established a 2,550 square meter plot. From this plot, he obtained a yield of 3,500 pounds.

By using the double row planting technique in a plot about a third of the size he normally plants, Omar yielded nearly what he would expect to yield using his previous methods. When Omar finished his experiment, he realized that the planting technique increases production and reduces production costs.

Surprised at the result obtained compared to his traditional planting system, Omar claims that if he had planted one full manzana, he would have yielded 9,333 pounds. This motivated him and also served as an example to other community members to apply this planting technique as well. Omar now recommends the technique to other farmers and encourages them to improve their quality of life by avoiding the problem of having to sell their products at a lower price.

Oct 16, 2020

Akwasi Finds Business Inspiration While Working with Self-Help

Akwasi's birds.
Akwasi's birds.

October 16 is World Food Day, and we're celebrating enterprising farmers like Akwasi who are doing important work in agriculture! A gift of just $25 can provide training materials to five farmers for them to grow their farms and improve their incomes!

Many countries in Africa are being faced with a high unemployment rate and they are struggling to create jobs to help address this challenge. In Ghana, young people (15-24 years old) form a large chunk of the population and also constitute a greater percentage of the unemployed. 

In an attempt to find a lasting solution, the government of Ghana introduced an initiative known as the Nation Builders Corps (NABCO) in May 2018 with the goal of alleviating recent graduate unemployment and to solve social problems.

In 2019, Self-Help International received 12 NABCO members, and three of them - Shawn Agyemang, Raymond Acquah and Akwasi Osei - were assigned to the Agriculture and Entrepreneur Development Program (AED). A few months after joining Self-Help, two of the recent graduates, Shawn and Raymond, leveraged the experience they gained with AED to secure a job at the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (MoFA).

Akwasi Osei was assigned to assist the first batch of the Graduate Entrepreneur Program (GEP) trainees with their projects as well as contribute to other activities at the training center.

Akwasi is 26 years old and holds a Higher National Diploma (HND) in Marketing from the Kumasi Technical University. He joined Self-Help in August 2019. Akwasi, with his marketing background, assisted the GEP cohort with marketing their products. His involvement with GEP and the training center stirred up his passion for agriculture, especially raising animals. This passion for agriculture grew considerably stronger as time went on as he continued to observe the successes of the graduate entrepreneurs. 

“Usually, I am free after 2:00 PM, and this made me think of how I can use my idle time profitably,” Akwasi said. “After giving it deeper thought, I decided to start raising rabbits  in my free time to earn extra money.”

Akwasi constructed the rabbit pen on his own and purchased three rabbits as a start-up for his business. In about three months, he had close to 20 rabbits. Akwasi had to sell his rabbits when he moved to a new house, but his new-found passion for agriculture did not diminish. After a series of meetings with his landlord to negotiate space for his business, the landlord finally agreed to let Akwasi raise animals on his property. 

Starting a business is not easy no matter how big the idea is. Akwasi was fully aware of this and knew it wasn’t easy to bring his idea to life and make it successful. He knew he needed to start small and test the waters, which is why he began with just rabbits. Now, with the green light from his landlord, he constructed structures on his own and purchased his breeding stock to start his animal venture once again. Currently, Akwasi has three turkeys, 20 rabbits, two cattle, one sheep, and around 30 birds.

When Akwasi was asked about his plans after NABCO, with a smile on his face he said, “I would like to go into animal rearing on a large scale, and I hope to raise some funds and breeding stock from what I am currently doing.”

Enterprising and dedicated young people like Akwasi are changing the outlook on agriculture in Ghana and ensuring employment not only for themselves, but as his endeavor grows, perhaps for others as well. 

One of Akwasi's pens.
One of Akwasi's pens.
 
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