Monday, January 31, 2011

The Oldest Credit Union in Africa

This past weekend we headed to Mole International Park. The park is the largest wildlife reserve in Ghana. It hosts many animals that use it's popular watering holes to cool from the scorching sun. It was a time we used to unwind from the long amounts of travels we endured over the past two weeks. 
The drive up to Mole allowed us to see additional credit unions in very rural areas. In most cases it is the only financial institution for miles. They provide much needed services for the many kiosks and small businesses in the area. Evidence of micr-lending were plentiful on the drive. Farming is popular with small areas producing mace, and cashew trees. 
The hotel at Mole was populated by different people who seemed to have something in common. Most visitors there were in ghana to volunteer their services. We had lunch one evening with two doctors who had moved to Ghana 5 years ago to train nurses and doctors for the region. Their story was quite moving as they had retired before taking on this humanitarian task. We also met two young girls from Holland that just finished volunteering at a orphanage for 6 months. Their story was equally moving. Time and time again we explained what our mission was in Ghana. I was never so proud to work in the credit union movement in my life. People were so impressed that we were there to assist our friends in Ghana. Everyone deserves access to financial services, regardless of the level of poverty. The credit unions here are so socially cognizant, it is truly inspirational. 
Today we went further North to visit the first credit union in Africa! Yes the very first one, and what a honor it was. The building entrance has large hearts carved into the cement which just adds to it's beautiful appearance. We were greater with open arms and their hospitality was tremendous. We listened for the better part of the day as they described their challenges and then we provided them guidance. We are working this evening on a report to assist them in their future planning. Again, what a wonderful day! I am trying to learn how to upload pictures so stay tuned! 
Reporting from north Ghana, where the temperature today hit 40' yours truly,


Saturday, January 29, 2011

Wa community credit union

Week one of the CCA/Ghana partnership is now complete. My first assignment was for a credit union in the upper Ghana region called Wa Community Credit Union. The trek to get to Wa took about 14 hours in a truck which was donated by the CCA. Our driver Calistus, who is from the Wa region got us safely to our destination. I was partnered with a manger from the Cork region of Ireland. Barry was a second year coach who traveled to the Cape Coast region of Ghana in 2010. 
Upon visiting our first credit union I was surprised to learn they had over 9000 members and was a flagship operation for micro-financing. They assisted members in small loans to start businesses, become farmers, or other activities to generate income. The loans ranged in size from 5 cidi (about 3$ cdn) to 10,000 cidi. We had the opportunity to visit a small business in which a woman was given a very small amount in a loan to buy some merchandise for a store. Today she employees some staff and has a very successful business. 
What is very impressive is that all of the micro loans have been paid back with no defaults, assisting many people. It is examples like Wa community credit union that demonstrate the true social development that credit unions should be involved in. They see the value added of assisting a member, which in turn stimulates a community. They truly practice the co-operative principles. 
Cory in Wa, Ghana

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day before departure to Africa

In the past few days I had the opportunity to take part in some training that prepared me for my trip to Ghana, Africa.
In the beginning I thought the training was to advise of logistics, such as hotel accommodations, flight information, etc. The program however focused on two components, understanding the culture of Ghanaians and our role as coaches to the credit unions we will be visiting.  
I didn't question why we were going to spend two days on cultural understanding however at first I didn't see it's true relevance. 
The training was so valuable as it opened my eyes to how are Canadian culture and beliefs are so different from the Ghanaians. When visiting a foreign place we have these stereotype opinions prior to departure. I am sure if I posed the question "what is your vision of Africa"? Most people would answer poverty, safaris, political unrest, gender inequality, and maybe crime. Over the last few days i learned so much about this wonderful country, and the importance to visit it and cast your own opinion. In a wonderful discussion with a ghanian, Issac who was here on exchange he described the area in which we are going to visit and a smile immediately developed on my face. The people were described much the same as Newfoundlanders. Warm, helpful, pleasant, happy, friendly, hard working, innovative, with a strong tolerance for stress was some of the words that were used. I guess the message I would like to leave people and one that certainly will be enforced as my experience grows is to not make pre-judgements of people. Judgements of people are like any unknown experience. We all have opinions on vehicles we haven't driven, places we have not visited, or even characters we have not met. Our opinion is driven by media and social perception. We are consumed about discovering information prior to making a purchase or a decision, however sometimes we rely to much on our research which can be skewed. The true opinion is only available through experience. Unfortunately we make decisions based on research which potentially can present barriers and experience is then lost. If the fear I felt prior to me volunteering to take part in this program transpired, who knows if the credit unions in this country would have benefited from my knowledge transfer. Failure to act is defeat, and the good of actions are never realized. 

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ghana, Africa trip

The date has finally arrived. In 2010 I applied to the Canadian Co-operative Association (CCA)for the opportunity to go to an international credit union to lend some support in numerous capacities. I was selected in the summer of 2010 for a posting in Wa, Ghana. Today I am writing this blog from Halifax airport as I await my flight to Ottawa for three days training prior to flying to Ghana.
I hope to be able to update my travel experience depending of course on connectivity. Many people are not aware that the credit union movement is worldwide. I was even quite surprised to learn that there is even a credit union in Afganistan! So stay tuned hopefully I will some interesting stories to tell.
Take care everyone,