Monday, February 13, 2012

Women's Work

Pokuase, Ghana
February 2012

I recently spent a week in Pokuase -- a village of 20,000 people about 20 minutes northeast of Ghana's capital city, Accra – where I met and interviewed some of the women and girls who benefit from the microfinance and scholarship programs of WomensTrust.  I went there to learn first-hand about the impact of WomensTrust's efforts to improve the lives of impoverished women and girls through education and entrepreneurship.

To my friends and family who have given their support to WomensTrust,  you have my deepest thanks and gratitude. I'm happy to report your donations have been well invested.

I left Pokuase humbled and inspired by the stories of the hard-working women I got to know there -- food sellers, seamstresses, small traders, beauticians, and shopkeepers -- who, with the barest of resources, have built livelihoods and sustainable incomes in a place where opportunity is scarce and illiteracy is high, especially among women, most of whom leave school by junior high. Several of the women I met never went to school at all. For all of the women I spoke with, self-employment isn't a choice; it's a necessity.

And it's astounding what a difference just a little bit of capital can make in their lives. Pictured here are some of the enterprising women I met in Pokuase who've received microloans from WomensTrust--loans amounting to no more than $50 or $100--that they have used to expand their inventory, improve their facilities, strengthen their purchasing power, negotiate better prices with their suppliers, and increase their profit margins--and incomes.

Feel-good stories? I found a lot in Pokuase. Meet some of the clients of WomensTrust who shared their stories with me. 

Mary Atenaba was a brewer of pito (a type of beer made from fermented millet) when she first came to WomensTrust in 2008. A succession of microloans from WomensTrust enabled her to open a small shop and expand her business to selling food staples like corn, peanuts, and beans. Six times a year Mary makes the 14-hour trip by bus to the Northern region to buy directly from the farmers there and transports bulk quantities back to Pokuase. Her customers include a local school and individual food sellers like Grace (below).

Grace Akor runs a chop bar in Pokuase that by 7 am is packed with young men starting their day with a homemade breakfast of Grace's banku and palm oil stew. Grace has been a client of WomensTrust since 2006, and has steadily repaid a series of loans that she's used to expand her menu, buy in bulk at better prices, hire another food preparer and build a small eating area for her customers.

Agnes Dziku, flour seller and WomensTrust client since 2010. The mother of seven children, Agnes, 52, never attended school and speaks only Ewe, one of the predominant languages spoken in Ghana. She is hoping to secure a larger loan from WomensTrust that would enable her to circumvent wholesalers and buy cheaper, larger quantities of grain directly from farmers.

Bernice Darkoa, a seller of second-hand clothing and housewares and WomensTrust client. She has successfully repaid several loans that she used to expand her inventory. Bernice, 29,  also never attended school, and would like to take classes to learn how to read and write.

Salome Attah (left) runs a hair salon in Pokuase and is training several young women in the art of plaiting. She used a WomensTrust loan to hire a local contractor to construct her shop from a shipping container, now commonly used throughout Ghana to house small shops and enterprises like Salome's.

Gladys Danquah, who repurposes remants of second-hand clothing. Here, at home with reclaimed fabric she will take to a tailor in Accra to fashion into new garments and sell in the local market. Gladys brought eight other women to WomensTrust to benefit from its microloan program. With futher assistance from WomensTrust, she hopes to open a dry goods store and hire an employee to run it.

Paulina Nyarko, a multi-year WomensTrust client who runs the only woman-owned hardware store in Pokuase.
Hannah is a new client of WomensTrust. Hannah had been a cook at the local orphanage, where her husband is also employed as a teacher, but had to leave her job after the orphanage prohibited married couples from working together. To help support their four young children, Hannah sold second-hand clothing in the local market. Three years ago, with the help of her husband, Hannah opened a small kiosk to sell staples like onions and herbs, rice, corn, and cooking oil, and a variety of canned foods and dry goods. Her first loan from WomensTrust (70 cedis, or about $43) enabled Hannah to expand her inventory and increase her purchasing power (and profit margin). She successfully repaid her first loan and recently received a second loan, of 150 cedis (about $90), to purchase larger quantities of products to meet the growing demand of her customers.

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