Today was our site visit with Self-Help International. Our wonderful host Rita and her father drove us to the main road where we met Benjamin, the Project Coordinator at Self-Help. First we went to the main office which is in a building owned by the Ministry of Food and Agriculture which Self-Help partners with at times for training and micro-finance operations. We met with Wilberforce, the country director, to discuss the administrative side of Self-Help Ghana. Then Benjamin and 2 of his colleague whisked us off to visit beneficiaries.
We first stopped at a pottery co-op that was using a loan from Self-Help to purchase clay to make high-quality pots for farmers and other locals. It was amazing the work that went into each bowl that would be sold at the market for less than $1. Then we went to a poultry project Self Help worked with the government to set up with its borrowers. This was an example of taking a problem and being creative to develop a solution that made everyone benefit. The farmers were having problems with low maize prices during the harvest time because there was a large supply from all the farmers. So, instead, they introduced poultry farms to these farmers and gave them small storage silos to keep the maize in for 5-6 months to feed to the poultry. This allowed them to decrease the supply on the market, thereby raising the prices, and create another revenue stream from selling eggs in their community. The additional high-quality maize stored in the silo could be fed to the chickens and would not spoil before the next harvest. Self-Help was able to finance the special seeds and other materials needed for this production so the farmers would be able to start the new program immediately and not have to wait until they saved enough money to afford the additional resources.
After we visited with the poultry farmers, we visited another of Self-Help’s local community programs to feed nutritious breakfasts to about 300 children 6 years old and below at the local school. This program allowed local farmers, which were also micro-credit borrowers to provide the school with the cornmeal necessary to make the porridge daily. When speaking with the headmaster of the school, he said that in the 2 terms that the program was in existence, they were able to see a big difference in the performance of the students. Then, we were able to get a little testimony of that ourselves as we went outside to see the classrooms and as soon as we were ready to take some pictures, about 200 excited children came running out to be included in the photo shoot. We decided that the porridge must really work and we wanted some so we could be that energetic too.
The visit was completed with a discussion with a group of the poultry program beneficiaries, where they expressed their happiness with the organization and its program and the things it has allowed them to accomplish, like sending their children to school. The only ways they said the Self-Help program could improve was to be able to lend larger loan amounts, which is a common issue for micro-credit programs that are so successful in helping their borrowers develop good businesses that they need larger loans to expand their profitable businesses, but the micro-credit program is limited in the amount of money they have available to lend to their customers. Overall, we were very impressed with Self-Help’s projects and felt that with more funding, they would be able to expand their beneficial programs to assist more communities in Ghana.
Sarah and four other In-the-Field Travelers are currently in Ghana before they are making their way to Mali and Burkina Faso. They'll be visiting more than 30 GlobalGiving projects in the next month. Follow their adventures at http://itfwa.wordpress.com/.