Empower 550 Women in Ghana with Microcredit Loans

by Self-Help International
Sewing training a success!
Sewing training a success!

At Self-Help, we’re all about helping people help themselves. So after we heard from the girls that they definitely liked the Days for Girls feminine hygiene kits and were using them, and then heard from their mothers and sisters that they wanted kits too, we knew it was time to put our sustainability plan into action. We couldn’t have the women dependent on us; they needed to be able to make the kits themselves.

So last month, Self-Help Ghana hosted a workshop to teach seamstresses in Ghana how to sew the Days for Girls kits for themselves! The women were eager to learn and paid very close attention every step of the way.  Barb Dahlby and Gail Stelmacher were the skilled seamstresses who volunteered to travel to Ghana to teach the women. Here are Gail’s reflections from the workshop:

...

My teaching day had arrived! We traveled to the SHI training center in Nkwakrom for the sewing workshop. It was a long day today, but rewarding. Barb and I met 9 lovely ladies who are seamstress and expressed a desire to learn how to make the Days for Girls sanitary kits.

Lucy, Sara, Dinah, Elizabeth, Olivia, Helena, Hadjara, Sharifa, and Vivian travel from the villages of Kwaso, Adegya, Worapong, Bedaabour, and Nerebehi, carrying their sewing machines and “knitting machines” (sergers) on their heads and babies on their backs.  Seven of the ladies were current members or graduates of Self-Help’s micro-credit program, and two were apprentices who work at Madam Sara’s shop.

The idea was that we would teach these ladies the basic steps in of making the kits. They would then decide if they would be interested in obtaining further instruction so they could make it one of their micro-credit businesses. I had never taught anyone, other than my two boys, how to sew, so I was a little nervous. But then, these ladies are pros at using a sewing machine. The sewing machines were hand crank machines except for one powered by electricity. I was amazed at how fast and accurate the women could sew on the hand crank machines.

Barb and I worked together to tag team the explanation of the how the kit is used and then how to make them. The ladies listened closely as Victoria, Self-Help’s program coordinator in Ghana, translated into Twi. One lady who could speak English, Olivia, asked very good questions along the way.

The women were very open to learning. Every now and then I would have to have them re-do a piece and do it over to ensure it was right, and they did so enthusiastically. Even though most of them did not understand English, I felt I had no trouble helping them learn. It was exciting when they would finish a part correctly and I would give them a smile and two thumbs up. The look of pride was written all over their faces.

After we did the first run through of a shield, Victoria had us give them more fabric and then they were timed to see if they could correctly make a shield without being told how. I was totally impressed. Only one lady needed a very little guidance. Then I “judged” them and the best 3 got prizes! Very cool.

I think they all learned a lot and truly appreciated the lesson. I know it made me feel good to know I could use a God given talent that I have had all my life to help in just this little way.

...

This transfer of knowledge is both helping the women expand their existing sewing operations by creating this new product that’s already in demand, and ensuring that these innovative reusable feminine hygiene kits are available for all women who need them without depending on us to bring the kits over to them.

Thank you for your support, which is financing the business expansion loans for the seamstresses who attended this workshop to purchase materials and surgers so they can create high quality reusable feminine hygiene products. By supporting their businesses, you are ensuring that the women and girls in even remote and rural villages in Ghana can access affordable reusable sanitary kits so they can stay in school and attend to their families' needs every day of the month! 

Trainees are hanging on Gail
Trainees are hanging on Gail's every stitch
Diana learns to make a shield
Diana learns to make a shield
Victoria translates the next instructions
Victoria translates the next instructions
Helena shows off her handiwork
Helena shows off her handiwork
Nora (L) and Gail (R) present Olivia with a prize
Nora (L) and Gail (R) present Olivia with a prize

Links:

Timeabu Teens Club, February 2017
Timeabu Teens Club, February 2017

"Having the Days for Girls kits saves us money," Mariatu said.  

"Yes," Windolina chimed in, "I used to have to use my lunch money to buy pads. Now I don't need to anymore."

Then Kadija and Fridaus and Salamatu and one girl after the next stood up and repeated the same thing: now that they have reusable cloth pads, they get to eat lunch every day -- even when they have their periods. 

. . .

Last September, we shared with you the challenges that girls face when they hit puberty, detailed our plans to launch a Teen Girls Club in Ghana, and asked for your support to help make those plans a reality - and you responded!  I'm pleased to report that thanks to your generous financial support, we've made great progress at helping the girls better face those challenges over the past six months, including: 

Three weeks ago, I got to visit the village of Timeabu with our local project leaders to listen and learn how things were going from the girls in the Teens Club.  After an opening dance, Mariatu and Windolina and all their friends stood up in front of our Self-Help staff and volunteers, their mothers, their teachers, and even the local village chief and echoed the same sentiment: the girls love the feminine hygiene kits, and their mothers are clamoring to have kits for themselves too!  More than that: they love the Teen Girls Club, and yes, their mothers - and the chief - do too. 

"The Teens Club is helping me stay in school so I can be a lawyer one day!" Janet shared. "And it will help me become a bank manager," Gifty followed. Other girls agreed that it will help them achieve their dreams of becoming nurses, teachers, soldiers, and respectable mothers. 

"The girls in this community are more respectful of their elders now," Ayishetu shared. "Now, when I am carrying produce back from the farm, the ones in the Teens Club stop me and carry the load for me...I don't even have daughters, but I came to testify that the club is good, and is should stay!"

We couldn't agree more, and we need your help to continue serving the girls.  We started the club in September as a pilot project, and now after hearing from mothers, teachers, the chief, and the girls themselves, it's clear that the club is helping the girls not only stay in school, but also develop life skills to help them achieve self-sufficiency. 

Our friends at GlobalGiving have invited us to compete for an estimated $10,000 more in funding through their newly launched Girl Fund.  Joining the Girl Fund would allow us to continue supporting the Teen Girls Club by forming study groups, offering contests designed to enhance their reading and critical thinking skills, and take them on college visits so they can better envision and achieve the future of their dreams!

To win the funds, our new project Stop Teen Girls in Ghana from Missing School needs to be one of the top four projects with the most number of donors by March 15th. A big thank you to the more than 100 people who have already made a gift to keep us in the running!  As of publishing time, we're currently in 4th place and we need your help to stay in the top four to join the Girl Fund. Check the leaderboard here for our current standing.

Here's how you can help:

  1. Make a donation of $10 or more to our sister project: Stop Teen Girls in Ghana from Missing School
  2. Forward this message along to a friend who believes that all girls deserve a chance to earn an education, and invite them to join you in empowering teen girls in Ghana
  3. Share this link on social media: https://www.globalgiving.org/projects/empowergirls/ 

Thank you in advance for all you have done and continue to do to empower women and girls around the world!

PS: Stay tuned for an update next week on the results of the contest and the implementation of our sustainability plan.

Teen girls perform welcome dance to start meeting
Teen girls perform welcome dance to start meeting
Janet dreams of becoming a lawyer one day
Janet dreams of becoming a lawyer one day
Having a Days for Girls kit saves Windolina money
Having a Days for Girls kit saves Windolina money
Visit our new sister project to empower Teen Girls
Visit our new sister project to empower Teen Girls

Links:

Sandra shows off her beaded sandals
Sandra shows off her beaded sandals

In addition to offering general business training and micro-loans, from time to time we are able to offer women skills training so they can learn new trades.  The most recent skills-based training session we held was on beading for women in the villages of Bedabour, Beposo and Kwame Dwaa, and it was a great success: 8 more women are using their new skills to start new beading businesses!

Back in May 2015, we taught several micro-credit trust groups from Kwaso village how to develop enterprises involving beaded products, such as making necklaces, bracelets, and beaded flip flops.  These sandals, locally called “charlie” are mostly used in the bathroom or when attending funerals. With beads added, they become multi-purpose and can be worn to church services or the market as well.

Sandra experienced great success with her beading business following that training session and also taught the trade to a friend who now earns her living from making and selling beads products. As her business grew, she demonstrated creativity in creating innovative designs to set her sandals apart from the standard ones sold in the market. Women from other villages began requesting to learn beading as well, so we invited Sandra and her friend to serve as the skilled trainers to teach others the trade and enhance their leadership development.  

The training was offered to any who were interested, whether they were already involved in our micro-credit program or not, and we expected about 15 women to attend the training session based on conversations with women leading up to the training day. To our surprise, thirty one women showed up to the three days of training sessions, demonstrating the demand and interest from community members!

Training on the first day was mind blowing as women tried their hands on what was being taught. Eager to learn and make a business out of the training, their attention towards the training was impressive. Unperturbed about making mistakes or not getting it right both young and old women tried their hands. All participants had the chance to make one, two, or three pieces of slippers and necklaces depending on their speed. It was also an excellent opportunity for Sandra and her friend to develop new leadership skills. It was beautiful to see how far Sandra has come from needed training to now offering the training. 

At the end of the third day, eight women decided to make and sell bead slippers and necklaces as their new business. We assured them that upon completion of the financial literacy training sessions, funds would be available to initiate the new business ventures and put their new skills into action.

Thank you for your ongoing support, which makes training sessions like this one possible, and enables women to start up new business ventures. We had funds to issue the eight women start up loans of $50 each. Your continued support of this project will provide the funds to help the women expand their businesses with higher loan amounts in the coming months. 

Trainees show off their first pairs of sandals
Trainees show off their first pairs of sandals
Learning beadmaking
Learning beadmaking
The final products: "charlie" sandals
The final products: "charlie" sandals

Links:

Veronica enjoying her success
Veronica enjoying her success

Veronica is a fifty-seven-year-old mother of five living in Kwaso village in the Ashanti region of Ghana. Even though Veronica is from a poor background, she is very hardworking and a highly motivated woman, and is proud that even as a single mother, she has been able to provide for her five children.

Before joining Self-Help’s micro-credit program in 2012, Veronica’s life story was unfortunate. She worked many jobs to make ends meet. She prepared and sold kenkey (a local Ghanaian dish made from corn dough), and also worked as a farmer, cultivating maize, cocoyam, cassava and plantain. However, all her businesses were on a small scale. She did everything by herself with little support from anyone. Her husband was initially helpful, but his health deteriorated due to excessive intake of alcohol and they soon divorced. Lacking access to formal banking, Veronica’s sources of funding were savings and loans from friends and business partners. Despite being a farmer, Veronica didn't grow enough maize to support her kenkey business. She had to buy maize on credit and return to pay for it after the sale of her own kenkey or farm produce, which meant she had to pay a higher price than if she could afford to purchase the maize outright at the time of purchase. She did her best to earn enough to support her two daughters and three sons.

Then four years ago, Veronica’s life changed. Thanks to business training and loans from Self-Help, she was able to expand her business.  Whereas before she could only afford the supplies to prepare kenkey once a week, she now prepares kenkey as many times a week as she had demand from her customers, and enjoys greater income as a result. Additionally, Veronica is able to use her loans to purchase maize and farm inputs outright with cash, rather than on credit, saving her money in the long run.

The results of this business expansion have impacted Veronica’s family in so many ways. Thanks to her sacrifices and support, Veronica children have achieved self-sufficiency.  They will not face the same struggles she did.  Her two daughters are married now, her sons are also working in professional jobs; two are teachers in Accra (the capital city) and one is a skilled electrician.

On top of all of this, after renting a house in deteriorating condition for most of her adult life, Veronica has purchased her own land and is now building a two-room home using profits from her business earnings.  With her next loan, she will add a roof to her new home. She is proud of herself concerning how far she has come, and told us, “It is my fervent prayer and hope that the benefits of this micro-credit program be extended to many more women, to put smiles on their faces too.” Veronica is forever grateful to you for your support!

Thanks to your generous support, we've been able to empower 400 women like Veronica! Now, we need your help to expand the micro-credit to reach 500 women so that they too can achieve self-sufficiency.  Please give now. 

PS: Christmas is less than a week away! Is there someone on your list who would treasure a gift of empowering a woman in Ghana this season? Make a donation now in honor a loved one and print off a card to give as your gift - it's truly the gift that keeps giving!

Veronica in front of her soon-to-be new home
Veronica in front of her soon-to-be new home
Talking w/ Veronica about the changes in her life
Talking w/ Veronica about the changes in her life
Akosua selling her handmade soaps to the community
Akosua selling her handmade soaps to the community

Meet Akosua, a thirty-eight year old woman from Timeabu, a village of about 500 people in the Ashanti region of Ghana. Akosua is a mother of six: three girls and three boys. She and her husband share the house with two other wives and six children. Though Akosua is hardworking, she comes from a poor background. She grew up in tough times, as her family worked hard to provide for her. They passed on the trait of ambition, as Akosua has worked diligently to provide more income for her children as they grow up. Her success story began two years ago, when Akosua joined Self-Help’s micro-credit program in Ghana.

However, before she joined the micro-credit program, her story was different. She worked with her husband on their farm. They had cocoa intercropped with food crops like cocoyam, cassava and plantain to provide a variety of sustenance to the family. Apart from farming, she had no other income source and therefore relied on her husband for her basic needs. “I was very unhappy as I virtually had to beg for money all the time from my husband,” she said.

In 2014, she was introduced to the Self-Help micro-credit program by some of the women who had benefited from the program in her village. Akosua already knew how to make soap, but could not properly put her skills to practice because she lacked the funding. In the past she had borrowed from family members and friends at unfavorable conditions with high interest rates and irregular repayment schedules. There were times she had to halt production completely due to inadequate funding for the supplies.

That’s when an opportunity fell into Akosua’s hands, finally giving her some ease. Through the Self-Help micro-credit program, she was able to access a loan of GHC 100 (then about $50 USD) at a market-based interest rate, much lower than what she had previously been able to access. She used her first loan to purchase the supplies to re-start her soap-making business. She paid her loan back on time each month, and was able to access greater levels of loans. Whereas before, she had to buy her soap-making materials from other vendors on credit at higher prices, now she is able to use her loan to buy the materials outright at better prices. Akosua’s soap business has created an additional source of income for her, and enabled her to feel much more independent.

Currently, she produces and markets soaps in and outside her community. Creatively, she has added attractive colors to add more value to her soap. On festive occasions, she wraps her soaps beautifully in colorful wrappers and people buy them as presents for their loved ones.

Akosua’s life story after her encounter with SHI micro-credit program has been different. She no longer begs her husband for money and can contributes financially towards her children’s upbringing. In early 2016, she decided to diversify her business by adding on processing and marketing of animal hide. The micro-credit team linked her to appropriate vendors with moderate prices in the Kumasi area, to be able to buy and sell the hides at competitive prices in her village.

Akosua now generates additional income to support her family. The micro-credit program has impacted her life greatly: she’s able to support her husband by helping take care of their children’s educational needs. Even though their first child could not go to school due to past economic hardship, her daughter is now an apprentice hairdresser and will soon be an independent stylist. The rest of the children are currently enrolled in school and it is Akosua’s dream that they become teachers, doctors and lawyers.

She is grateful for your support, which has transformed her life and the lives of many of her friends and fellow community members in Timeabu and across Ghana. 

Akosua with her newly decorated products
Akosua with her newly decorated products
 

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Organization Information

Self-Help International

Location: Waverly, IA - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.selfhelpinternational.org
Project Leader:
Nora Tobin
Waverly, IA United States
$49,935 raised of $55,000 goal
 
488 donations
$5,065 to go
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