My colleague Patrick Cheah, Senior Program Officer, and I visited Ghana recently to see the project in action around the city of Tamale, in the northern region of Ghana. We departed from Accra to Tamale on an early morning flight accompanied by Kyerewa Asamoah, a program officer at GCAP, who was our guide.
In Tamale we were greeted by the GCAP field office team. We planned to visit two local communities - Fuu and Dalogyili - that were selected as target areas for the project activities.
Our first stop was the Fuu community located 17 miles east of Tamale (population 4,210). The location of Fuu, remote from Tamale and Salaga (the district capital), makes it difficult to establish a proper territorial mandate. We were told that authorities do not pay sufficient attention to the community???s needs and developmental activities.
The people of Fuu are Kparibas, a tribe that combines the languages of Gonja and Dagbani. The structure of the Fuu community is interesting: the Fuu Wura is the overall chief and has elders most of whom are non Gonjas. The Wuriche is the head of the women folk assisted by a number elected women???s group leaders known as Magazias. We were greeted by a Magazia called Dada, who was the Chairperson of the Fuu women???s group.
Our tour around the village was extremely useful for getting an idea about women???s livelihoods. We spoke with women carrying out their daily activities: groundnut oil extraction, shea butter extraction, fish smoking and rice processing. Watching them was instructive as their work is extremely time-consuming and done completely by hand.
After our tour around the village, we went to a local school for a meeting with the women???s group we were supporting with a micro-credit program. The name of the group is "Gubkatimali Nangbanyini" which means "Let???s Unite and Develop."
I asked the group of young women how many attended school. Only 2 out of 20 raised their hands. I asked how many were married. Our guide/interpreter told me there was no need to ask: wearing a head scarf indicates that a woman is married. All of the young women in the group were wearing headscarves.
We discussed what the women think about microcredit; the changes it will bring; their experiences and the needs of their community. They mentioned the following challenges:
- Education for kids: sending kids to Tamale for school requires resources they simply do not have.
- Education for women: they could improve their economic situation if they had the opportunity to improve their math and marketing skills.
- Marketing: they wanted to know more about how to link with those who would purchase their products and how they could deliver grain to Tamale - a ???buyers??? market??? - and ensure that they would get a ???better price??? for their products.
These women have no previous experience with microcredit or financial support of any kind. The project we are supporting was launched recently and is in its initial stage. The GCAP team has helped the women fill out and submit applications for the microcredit assistance. We learned that the group has already opened a Group Savings Account in Tamale where their monthly dues (GHC 0.20 or 14 cents per person) are saved. This money is withdrawn from time to time to assist individual members in need and paid back with minimal interest.
I asked the women how microcredit support might help them and what changes they think it could bring. They were very hopeful that it will improve their livelihoods and the future of their community. They explained that an early project they are planning involves fixing their grinding machine.
In the afternoon we headed to the Dalogyili community, located 10 miles south of Tamale. It is the last community of the Tamale Metropolitan Area with a population of 750 people, mostly Dagombas with a few Fulani settlers. The Un-Dakpemah is the overall chief and has elders (Kukuonaah and Yipeilinaah). This community predominantly engages in farming of grains and cereals.
The women???s group in Dalogyili is called: ???Sugru bor bene??? or ???Patience looks for wealth.??? It has 21 members with 5 executives. We had a meeting at their gathering place where we discussed community needs and their experience with microcredit.
This group, unlike the women in the Fuu community, has experience with microcredit. In 2007 these women benefited from a Presbyterian Farmers Training Programme supported by GCAP. Initially each woman was given GHC 20 (14 USD) with 30% interest to be paid back in 10 month starting 3 months after receipt of the money. All the women paid back without default except one who had her child admitted to a hospital. The whole group paid off her debt. After repayment each woman was again given support, this time ranging between GHC 50 and GHC 60 (30-40 USD) with the same terms of repayment. Again all women paid without any default.
Reflecting on their previous experience with microcredit they said that they would definitely do it again. They had some plans to get a new storage facility and a bigger frying food processer. We then visited the GCAP field office where we had an extremely interesting and productive discussion about the microcredit scheme. We were told how each beneficiary must apply to a Governing Board made up of a GCAP officer with microcredit expertise, two members of the National Organization for Small Skill Industry and two representatives of the regional government. The Board reviews applications and manages the revolving fund. Successful applicants receive between GHC 50-200 (about 30 ??? 140 US dollars) with an interest rate 2% per month for six months or 0.5% a week with a grace period of two weeks.
Our trip to Ghana was a unique opportunity to learn firsthand about the project and people we are trying to help and empower. I left feeling that all of us should be doing much more to support the economic empowerment of women in Ghana and throughout Africa. Supporting women is the key to development and achieving the MDGs!
Weblog: Ghana and Liberia - Heather Grady, Director of Policy and Strategy and the Trade and Decent Work Program; August 2009