Tuesday, May 1, 2012

"What Girls Want" on GlobalGiving.org

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 MY BLOG POST, "What Girls Want," is featured on the website of Global Giving. The post describes the work of WomensTrust, a nonprofit that helps empower impoverished women and girls in West Africa through microfinance and educational scholarships. I recently visited WomensTrust's computer class for girls in Pokuase and was inspired by the girls' hunger for learning--and the great work WomensTrust is doing in Ghana.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Africa in Perspective

Africa's geographic size is equal to 18 countries. The United States covers barely one-quarter of the continent with a land mass roughly the same as West Africa. Though it is second only to Asia, the world's largest continent, Africa can fit the whole of China into its southern region and still have room left for Japan. Can you find Ghana? (Hint: it's about where Arizona is on this map.) The map is a creation of digital graphic design pioneer Kai Krause, copyright-free 2010. Unfortunately, blogspot would not allow me to publish the work from the website; this is a screen shot. Click here to go to the site. Thanks to Tye Ferrell for sharing this on his Facebook page. 

Friday, April 13, 2012

Some Girls

A girl and her dog, in Aburi.

AN ASSORTMENT OF PORTRAITS OF girls and women I met in Aburi and Pokuase. Beauty in abundance.

Friends, in Aburi.

Relaxing after school, in Pokuase.

Little Abena, in Damfah.

Home from school, in Pokuase. Love the shoes.

Big sister, in Pokuase. Blue shoes for her, pink for little brother.

Going blonde, in Pokuase.

At the salon, in Aburi.

Going to a funeral, in Aburi.

Woman at a funeral, in Aburi.

Up-do, in Aburi.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Car Ride Through an African Village in the Rain

Under a harmattan sky: Dust from the Sahara blots out the afternoon sun, on the road to Accra.

DURING THE DRY SEASON IN GHANA a wind called the harmattan blows in from the Sahara Desert, filling the air with a particulate haze, at times so thick it blots out the sun. Typically the harmattan lasts from October until March, after which comes the rainy season.

But weather is anything but typical, and for a long time now. (Check out this New York Times article about "weather weirding.") The first harmattan I experienced in the 1980s went on for nearly 2 years. Day after day the sky would cloud over and rumble, squeeze a pitiful drop or two and then move on. That drought led to widespread hunger in Ghana and across the continent. Years of dry seasons followed. Five years ago, Lake Volta, which powers Ghana's hydroelectric dam, the region's only source of electricity, receded to record lows and caused massive power shortages and rationing. Now, the Lake is back to record-high levels, due to unseasonably heavy rains over the last several years that caused flooding and deaths across the country's northern savannah. Still, power outages continue, not from nature but the demand of a region undergoing rapid development.

Storm clouds amass over a hillside in Aburi.
This year's harmattan was among the worst in memory. The dust was so thick it shut down the airports for days due to poor visibility and muted the sun, making the mornings pleasantly cool while bringing on itchy eyes and cold-like symptoms.

And then, an unexpected rain one Sunday afternoon in February momentarily cleared the air, and it felt like an African Spring had arrived. Back in the drought years, people prayed for days like these. This afternoon was like an answered prayer.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Portraits of the Grandchildren

The best grandfather in the world: Godfried, with his granddaughter Jenny.
Connie, Godfried's wife, with Maurino, their 11th grandchild.
I HAVE KNOWN THE OFORI FAMILY for more than 25 years. Godfried and Connie were my neighbors in Aburi, where I lived and taught school for several years. They have six children; their eldest son, Alex, was my student.

Godfried is a retired educator who taught for many years at Ghana's only school for the deaf, and later became  headmaster of the middle school in Aburi. He has also spent a lifetime as an enterprising farmer, entrepreneur, and community leader in Aburi. Godfried is one of the most creative thinkers and doers I've ever met. (I'll write more about Godfried in future posts.)

Godfried and Connie still live in the same house where they raised their six children. Annie, their eldest daughter, now lives in the US with her husband and their two children. Except for their youngest son, Richard, all of their other children are raising families of their own in Aburi. 

On February 3, Godfried and Connie welcomed their 12th grandchild, Kofi, into the Ofori family fold.Three generations of Oforis now occupy the family compound, aka GAO Villa (GAO are Godfried's initials). Meet the grandchildren:

The best grandmother in the world: Connie with Maurino.

Third-generation Oforis: cousins Ben Juniour, Kofi, Nana, Jenny, Ohenewa, Betsy, and Jerald.

Paa Kwame.

Bernice, wife of Alex, days away from giving birth to Connie and Godfried's 12th grandchild...
Godfried, with granddaughter Jenny and youngest son, Richard.

Richard is studying to be a surveyor. He is also a weight-lifter and has built a gym at his home in Aburi that has attracted a following of local body-building enthusiasts.

Big sister: Maurino with cousin Ohenewa.

"Dads RULE": Cousins Jerald and Betsy.

Rawlingsia, Godfried and Connie's youngest daughter, with her son Maurino, having breakfast. She was only a baby when I first met Rawlie. Now the mother of two boys--Jerald is her first-born--Rawlie is policewoman in Accra. When she's not fighting crime she enjoys spending time with the family in Aburi.

Back-seat driver: Ohenewa. She wants to be a doctor, an artist or an architect. Maybe all three.

Cousins Kofi, Ohenewa, and Nana.

Jerald, with cousin Betsy in mommy's hairpiece.

Dress-up is fun!

Cousins Nana, Betsy, Kofi, and Jerald.

Cousins Ben Juniour, Betsy, Jerald, and Nana.

Ben Jr.

Nana and a friend reading the Lion King.

Maurino on the crawl.

Superheroes: Jerald and Spidey.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Difference 40 Bucks Can Make

In an earlier post I wrote about my work with WomensTrust, a US-based non-profit that provides education scholarships and microloans to girls and women in Pokuase, Ghana.  WomensTrust client Grace Akor (above) has received multiple loans over the years, ranging from $30 to $250, that have enabled her to increase her purchasing power, production, and profit margin for her chop bar, where she makes and serves hundreds of meals of banku every day. A mother of 7 children, 3 of whom are still at home, she maintains two bank accounts -- one personal, one for her business -- and has been able to support her youngest children's educations on her income and savings.


A new survey from Barclay's Bank and Care International UK shows that impoverished women in Ghana, many of whom live on less than $2 a day, are much better at saving money than low-income women in Britain.

In fact, "94% of women in Ghana - where double as many people live below the poverty line as in the UK - save cash compared to 55% of Brits," the survey found, as reported in The Huffington Post UK.

Paulina Nyarko, a multi-year WomensTrust client who runs the only woman-owned hardware store in Pokuase.
Barclay's director of global community investment, Rachel Barber, who wrote about the survey, notes that banks can help alleviate poverty by making it easier for women to save and access small loans to build income-generating businesses. 

The majority of the 106 Ghanaian women in the Barclay's survey, she adds, "although poor, were nevertheless extremely optimistic and expected to earn more money in the future. Three-quarters of them also believe that they already have the skills to do so."

Barber observes that Ghanaian women "have a strong entrepreneurial spirit. This means that despite lack of access to basic financial services, they still save. We also know from our work in developing countries that women are far more likely than men to reinvest the money they make into their families and communities."

WomensTrust is a small operation, run and managed day to day in Pokuase by a dedicated staff of Ghanaians--Wilma, Gertrude, Solomon, Eric, Dominic, Samuel, Abigail--who inspired me with their commitment to building a better future for their country. Their efforts have made a positive difference in Pokuase, and just a little support from us can help them continue this all-important work. 

Want to know more? Check out WomensTrust's website.
Grace Akor making an installment on her loan, at the  WomensTrust office in Pokuase. Intern Rita Nyadzro (r) is a former scholarship recipient of WomensTrust's Keep Girls in School program, which has provided more than 700 scholarships to date to girls like Rita who otherwise couldn't afford to continue their education. Yaa Ofusua Odame (in the background), a recent graduate of the University of Ghana, is a Ghana National Service volunteer. Read about Rita and the scholarship program in WomensTrust's annual report.
(l-r): Loan administrator Solomon Fiagah; intern Rita Nyadzro; Eric Ankrah, general services officer; and National Service volunteer Yaa Odame.

Meet some of the staff of WomensTrust:
(l-r): WomensTrust Executive Director Wilma Longdon with Canadian volunteer Jody Nozetz. Wilma, a former banking executive in Ghana who studied finance at the London School of Economics, joined WomensTrust in early 2011. Read Wilma's personal story in WomensTrust's annual report (p. 5).
Gertrude Ankrah, WomensTrust program development director. Gertie, who grew up in Pokuase, recently traveled to New York City to speak on a panel about rural women and sustainable development, during a conference of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.

Dominic Osei, computer instructor. Read my post about WomensTrust's computer class for girls in Pokuase.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Farmer's Farmer

Paa Kwame with his dad Jonas, at his farm in Aburi. Jonas raises pigs....

...and chickens (that's Jonas' other son, Kofi)...

...and rabbits...

...and, the most recent addition to his menagerie...

...a young Brahmin bull (greeting Jonas' daughter Nana and Kofi)...

...and his bride.

AMONG THE OFORI brothers, Jonas is the farmer's farmer. As the third-born son, Jonas takes after the agrarian side of his father Godfried, who won national farming awards as a leader among Ghana's corps of small farmers who rebuilt the country's agricultural sector after the lean years of the 1980s and '90s.

Godfried still keeps chickens, along with a couple of goats and a small flock of sheep, which wander freely around the family compound and keep the grass in the school yard next door neatly trimmed. 
Godfried's sheep, hanging around the house.

Jonas chose pigs. A few years ago, he built a house just up the hill from his parents' where he lives with his wife and 3 young children -- Nana, Kofi and Paa Kwame--and started the first piggery in Aburi. The front gate of his small compound opens to a lively bestiary of creatures great and small--in addition to his pigs, there are also chickens, and rabbits, and two young cows he recently added to the mix, purchased from a cattle herder in a neighboring village. 

Jonas is a builder. He spent several years constructing his house, a spacious bungalow fronted by a wide concrete patio that contains an underground water cistern. The cistern collects rain water from gutters along the roof and then pumps it through a purifier up into a large water tank on the side of the house. Not so long ago, people collected their water in buckets at the town well, and endured frequent water shortages. The drilling of bore holes and water collection systems like Jonas' in many homes have been a big improvement in people's lives here.

Jonas at his flour mill, in Aburi town.
A laborer running the grinder.
Farming isn't Jonas' only livelihood. After tending to his animals, Jonas puts in long hours running the family's flour mill in town. He employs a laborer to help operate the milling machine, which grinds whole corn into flour that is a staple in Ghanaian cuisine. Everyone in the area comes to his mill to turn their sacks of corn into flour to make kenkey and banku -- market women, food sellers, local schools, households. It's a lucrative business, but hazardous work; they cover their faces with rags to avoid breathing in the corn dust that floats in the air and use sign language to communicate over the machinery's ear-splitting roar.

Jonas has plans to move his farm to several acres he's purchased near Aburi.  He wants to build a cattle ranch, and expand his piggery to help meet the food demands of a burgeoning nation.

Because of farmers like the Oforis, Ghana need never go hungry again.

Ben's Pigs

Ben, Jonas' older brother, recently started his own piggery. He is leasing pens on a nearby farm where he is raising about a dozen piglets. The pigs are still small and lean. Their ears are rimmed with feathery hairs that make you think maybe they can fly. They gaze up at their visitors with heart-breakingly human eyes. Their sweet, inquisitive expressions moved me to tears. 

If only they didn't taste so good.