Empower 450 Women in Ghana with Microcredit Loans

by Self-Help International
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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

A few months ago, we hosted our first ever Leadership Summit to celebrate the strongest leaders in our micro-credit program.  We expected that it would enable women to celebrate one another, make market linkages across the value chain, and exchange ideas - and it did! But it also highlighted a challenge for us: we realized that while we're meeting women where they're at, we're not preventing them from being in that situation.

For the women we serve, they don't have access to any other banking or credit facilities, so we're providing an important service. Because of the training and micro-loans, they are able to afford the school fees to keep their children and grandchildren in school. Yet for many of the women, their daughters are already adults themselves, or have already dropped out of school.

It's not that their daughters don't want an education - they want one badly!  But they face many challenges, even if they are among the lucky few whose parents or relatives are able to gather together sufficient funding to cover the school fees.  For example, in the traditional Ghanaian home, girls perform most of the household chores while the boys are always idling about, making it difficult to keep pace with their male colleagues. This heavy chore load, such as fetching water, preparing meals, and caring for younger siblings drains girls’ energies, making their participation and contribution in class lower than that of their male counterparts. Girls go to school tired, doze off in class and become laughing stocks among their peers.  

As girls enter puberty, insufficient knowledge about the changes the female body undergoes during adolescence is a major cause of teenage pregnancy. More than 13% of girls in Ghana give birth between the ages of 15 – 19 years old, a time when they should be completing junior or senior high school, but are instead dropping out to start a family.  Most young girls do not fully understand that the new feelings and changes in their bodies are normal. Neither parents nor teachers spend time educating young girls about puberty, in part because the subject is not discussed and in part because they may not have ever learned about the biological changes at puberty either. Girls easily fall prey when any man gives them little attention or care in dealing with these changes. 

Beginning menstruation adds to the challenges girls face in keeping up at school. It is common for girls to miss one week of school each month due to her period, because she lacks funds to buy sanitary towels to manage her menstrual flows. While girls are working on household chores without any form of allowance or compensation, young men have time to engage in income-generating activities to earn spending money for themselves. They in turn deceive young girls, giving the girls paltry sums of money to finance such needs as school supplies or sanitary supplies, and then take advantage of the girls, leading to teenage pregnancy.

On top of these challenges, some parents, especially fathers, believe that no matter how enlightened a woman is, she will be given in marriage to a man, breed children and that will be the end of her education, so there is no need to educate a girl child. Some marry off their female children at school-going age to rich men for money. Ironically, they justify the practice by saying that part of the money is used to educate their male children.

The situation calls for a concerted effort. For the past few months, we've been meeting with girls, mostly the daughters of women in our micro-credit program, to learn about the challenges they face to staying in school and help them craft solutions to address those challenges.  They have shared with us the difficulties they go through such as inadequate parental guidance and support; parents’ refusal to provide school supplies; and lack of funds to buy to sanitary towels. So, we have begun mobilizing girls of school going age in rural Ghana into groups, and educating them to stay longer in school and away from situations that are likely to lead them to start a family before they are truly ready.

These girls and their parents, especially mothers, are very excited about the program. They tell us, “Our communities shall know what we stand for and the message we preach,” and that, “More of our girls can go to school: this alone will keep the trouble makers away.”  We plan to officially launch the first girls health education workshops later this month and to distribute reusable sanitary kits to all girls present.  With sufficient funding, we will continue to offer additional trainings to the girls in small income-generating activities so they don't have to depend on boyfriends for spending money, and perhaps even take them on college visits so they can be exposed to life outside of their rural villages, and the possibilities that their future could hold if they stay in school.  Together, we can give a future to these young girls.

Join us in empowering young women in Ghana! Make a donation now, or mark your calendar to make a gift on Wednesday, September 21 during the GlobalGiving Match Day! Details on the matching funds are available here

Girls discuss barriers to staying in school
Girls discuss barriers to staying in school
Listening to girls from Timeabu share challenges
Listening to girls from Timeabu share challenges
Your support has changed Lydia
Your support has changed Lydia's & Nelly's stories

***LYDIA'S PHOTO MADE THE GLOBALGIVING PHOTO CONTEST***
CLICK HERE TO HELP US WIN THE $1,000 GRAND PRIZE

Two years ago, we shared Lydia's story with you.  Providing for her family was a daily struggle. But she used a micro-loan in 2013 to purchase a sewing machine and start a sewing business and things got a little bit better. And after another micro-loan in 2014, she was able to purchase fabrics for re-sale. She became a "one-stop-shop" so her customers could purchase fabric from her and commission her to make their clothes, rather than going to two different places for the services.  Lydia was using her profits to feed and clothe her two daughters, and pay school fees for the older girl. She had hopes of expanding her fabric trading business to sell other products as well. 

Today, Lydia is making progress toward her dreams. Lydia has expanded her petty trading business, in hopes of increasing income so she can better provide for her daughters - particularly as her older daughter enters her teenage years and junior high and high school fees loom.  Nelly, now 4 1/2, started school in Beposo last year, and will enter Kindergarten 2 this fall. Lydia takes great pride in seeing her daughters get an education.  

Like other traders, Lydia sets off very early each morning to walk from village to village to sell her products, or to take them to market on market days. She tries to be the first person there so she can get the most customers since there are many other petty traders selling similar products.  

Because she sets off so early, Lydia doesn't have time to prepare breakfast for the girls before school. If she made breakfast each morning, and took the time to fetch water, fetch firewood, boil the water, and prepare the porridge, she would miss out on the sales that put dinner on the table at night. 

Lydia shared that Self-Help has been very very good to her. and she really appreciates it. In addition to micro-loans, she is grateful to Self-Help for supporting the start of a new school in Beposo. It is near enough that Nelly can easily walk to it each morning, and thanks to Self-Help, Nelly gets a hot breakfast first thing in the morning, even though Lydia has already left the house. Life as a petty trader isn't easy, but for her children, it's worth it.

***VOTE FOR LYDIA'S PHOTO IN THE GLOBALGIVING PHOTO CONTEST FROM JULY 18 - 22***

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Sandra, February 2016
Sandra, February 2016

"NO MATTER THE SITUATION, YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHANGE IT"

Sandra is a forty-year-old woman from Kwaso, a rural community in the Ashanti Region of Ghana. Sandra dropped out of junior high school at age 19 when she became pregnant with her first and only child. Girls are not allowed to go to school while pregnant, and there was never an opportunity to go back to school to complete her education after her son was born. She resorted to selling fruits to earn a living.

Sandra was never able to marry the man who impregnated her because her family refused to give him her hand in marriage because of existing tribal conflicts between the two families, and the fact that Sandra was not ready for marriage at the time. It is a source of pain for Sandra that after her son was born, he went to live with his father, apart from Sandra since she was struggling to provide for him on her own. 

Returns from the sale of fruits were not encouraging and so Sandra’s mother taught her to prepare kenkey, a fermented corn-based food, for sale. Sandra would wake up very early in the morning to prepare and sell kenkey in her community and assist her mother by working on her farm. She used earnings from her kenkey business to provide for herself. Sandra’s mother, who incidentally raised Sandra as a single mother herself, was a member of Self-Help International (SHI) micro-credit program at Kwaso. She introduced Sandra to Madam Olivia, the leader of the group at Kwaso, who then invited Sandra to SHI’s micro-credit program to improve her financial situation.

Sandra joined the micro-credit program in 2012 and took out her first loan of GHC 100 (US $25).  She continued to work hard selling kenkey to make ends meet, though it was a struggle.  Then in May and June 2015, SHI micro-credit program organized a series of training sessions to teach women at Kwaso to make additional businesses out of beads, including how to make earrings, necklaces, bracelets and casual flip-flop sandals locally called “Charlie”. “Charlie” is a type of rubber slip-on designed to be worn when bathing. Recently most people have learned to modify the designs on the slip-on and now it serves other purposes as well. “Charlie” can now be worn to many places such as markets, church, and funerals.

After the workshops, Sandra decided to make a business out of the beads by making and selling decorative ‘charlie’ sandals during special occasions, especially funerals. Since last August, Sandra now has two sources of income: vending kenkey and selling “Charlie.” Sandra has built her creditworthiness up to now taking out a loan of GHC 600 (US $150), which she invests in her two businesses. 

Last August, Self-Help organized additional training sessions on the importance of savings, how to save up, and then helped fifty-nine women to open their very first bank accounts. After years of living hand-to-mouth, Sandra now has a formal savings account with a commercial bank!

By dint of hard work, Sandra has been able to save some money to acquire a piece of land, and she is preparing to build a house and move out of her family home for the first time. Sandra is self-reliant now. She is a proud woman who feels empowered by Self-Help and the lovely people surrounding her. She believes SHI micro-credit and her family’s support has brought her this far. She is forever grateful to SHI and its donors across the globe. 

Mother's Day is next Sunday, May 8. Why not give your mother or grandmother the gift of empowering a woman like Sandra in her honor? When you make a gift to this project, you'll empower a mother in need - plus it's easy to print a card to let mom know what you've done in her honor!

Learning beadmaking, May 2015
Learning beadmaking, May 2015
Learning beadmaking, June 2015
Learning beadmaking, June 2015
Showing off at Sept 2015 Women
Showing off at Sept 2015 Women's Leadership Summit
Sandra proudly shows off her charlies
Sandra proudly shows off her charlies
ED Nora Tobin giving out an award to Olivia
ED Nora Tobin giving out an award to Olivia

What a wonderful few months of milestones it has been for women in Ghana!  Micro-credit officers Victoria and Elizabeth have been working hard to celebrate leadership and promote self-sufficiency by linking women to commercial banks, a feat that has taken time.

Many women have made tremendous progress as local businesswomen, so we took some time to celebrate their accomplishments by hosting the first ever Women’s Leadership Summit, which was held at Calvary Methodist Church.  Micro-credit beneficiaries from the communities of Abompe, Asuogya, Bedaabour, Beposo, Kwamedwaa, Afari/Nerebehi, Kwaso, Nkawie, Adagya, and Worapong were brought together to interact, share experiences, business ideas, and exchange contacts together under one roof. Nearly 100 of the 400 women in the micro-credit program were in attendance.  Outstanding leaders including Olivia from Kwaso and Abena from Beposo shared their success stories with the attendees. Outstanding groups and individuals were awarded with certificates of honor to recognize their leadership, dedication, commitment and problem-solving abilities. Each participant was given a T-shirt to thank them, and help advertise the micro-credit program.  The Women’s Leadership Summit challenged groups who have not yet been recognized to step up their performances. Some of the groups have reshuffled and elected new leaders with the hope to win additional awards at the next summit. 

Leadership is important to building a strong community, and so is access to resources, especially for rural women.  If women farmers had the same access to productive resources as men, including training, education, and capital, there would be 150 million fewer hungry people in the world.  It’s a staggering figure to consider, and the very goal that the Self-Help International Women’s Micro-Credit Program is working toward. Self-Help invests in the future of women by providing training, access to loans, and follow up advising to women so they can start up and expand their businesses, generate income, and better provide for their families. 

In addition to the successful Women’s Leadership Summit, the micro-credit program reached a milestone that has been elusive for four years: all 59 women from Kwaso and Timeabu have now opened accounts with the Agricultural Development Bank. Bank identification cards as well as check books have been issued to them. Some of the women have already made deposits into their savings accounts. Approximately 98% of these women have bank accounts for the first time in their lives.

Women
Women's Leadership Summit Group Picture
Group from Kwaso showing their check books
Group from Kwaso showing their check books
Group at Timeabu displaying their cheque books
Group at Timeabu displaying their cheque books
 

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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
2016 Year End Campaign
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436 donations
$1,035 to go
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