BY Chris Bosch, Interim VP, Programs
In May 2019 I traveled to Ghana on behalf of Canadian Feed The Children to visit CFTC’s local Ghanaian partner, Regional Advisory Information and Network Systems (RAINS). I was eager to see all the diverse programs in action.
Let me tell you, it was an eye-opening experience to see first-hand all the incredible work that RAINS is doing to implement programs to help children, families and entire communities thrive, all with the help of CFTC donors.
I’d love to share one particularly impressive day. CFTC’s Ghana Country Director, Augustine N-Yokuni, took me to Sang, a small village in Ghana’s Northern Region. We visited an elementary school and a Village Savings and Loans (VSLA) group to see how generous Canadian donors are helping to support these life-changing programs. I hope that my words inspire you as Sang inspired me — especially to continue to advocate for girl’s and women’s rights, clean water, and education.
STUDENTS WITH THE HOPE AND COURAGE TO PURSUE SOMETHING BETTER
We arrived at the local elementary school in Sang and immediately I was struck by the students’ determination to pursue something better for their community. They believe that they can shape the future if given the opportunity.
I asked them what they thought was important in terms of improving their community and they responded overwhelming with clean water, latrines (especially for girls), and a local health clinic. I saw some children who weren’t attending school and instead were fetching water for their families.
It highlighted for me the barriers to education that poverty imposes on children, and reinforced for me the importance of ensuring that all children are given opportunities for a brighter future.
The students are very hopeful and that is a powerful antidote to a lot of evidence that could lead them to the opposite conclusion. There is an understandable anger and frustration about their condition but it is a properly directed frustration: they know they can do something about it. They just need a little help to get them to the next level of self-sufficiency.
When I spoke to a couple of students, they acknowledged that they need help from organizations like RAINS and CFTC. In particular, they were very grateful to CFTC donors who recently provided 30 bicycles so that all the students who travel long distances from their homes to the school could make the trek more easily.
I asked the students what they wanted to do with their lives after they graduated. We heard many wonderful responses like teacher and doctor, but the one response that I won’t soon forget is the young lady who boldly stood and declared she would be the first female president of Ghana! Yes! Education promotes the courage to think big. We want to be part of more stories of courage and a feisty resolve to do more and to do it better.
WOMEN LEADING THE WAY
What struck me first about meeting with the women of the Sang-based VSLA group was their brightly coloured clothing. When these 25 women heard that we were coming, they left the fields, went home to get dressed, and came to the centre of town to demonstrate a savings cycle to us, even though they were fasting. This was an incredibly humbling experience.
What struck me next, however, was how resourceful, capable and empowered these women are. VSLAs are bringing not just access to credit, the opportunity to save money, and financial know-how to women throughout Ghana (where at least 7 out of every 10 VSLA members are women), but they are creating a venue for women to challenge the systemic inequities they face and gain power and social standing in their communities.
I learned through speaking with the women in the VSLAs that they had been able to save up and supply a brand new tin roof for the elementary school that I had just visited! It was so thrilling to see the pride and ownership that these women had for the school, their children and the community as a whole. When a community comes together and agrees to do the same thing, cents turn into dollars and dollars turn into loans for student fees, better roofs or toilets, and the purchase of livestock for small businesses.
The women I met are proof that the care and development of a community is always through them. This is why CFTC takes great care to design programs that specifically solicit women’s input and engage them to fully participate in the programs that most directly impact their own and their children’s lives. Empowered women are a force to be reckoned with!
If you had to put your bets on one intervention for a community, the VSLA would be one of your best returns. It is completely membership-led and organized and does not require the ongoing assistance or support that other programs need. It’s a perfect example of grassroots, community-led development that remains well after an NGO has left the community.
Organizations like Canadian Feed The Children are important for initiating VSLAs and encouraging the multiplication of these groups within the wider community. But once they are an embedded practice, they take on a life of their own! Now that’s good development!
My experience was one of great fun, inspiration and hope. Huge thanks to the wonderful people of Sang, RAINS program staff and Augustine and the CFTC Ghana Country Office for their magnificent work. But, thank you so much to generous donors for helping to bring these programs to life and giving families the chance to thrive in Ghana.