By Nancy Tuller, KF8 Ghana, Africa
“Akwaaba!” (Welcome!), I heard, over and over in my first few days here in Ghana, and what a wonderful welcome it has been! When I stepped outside the Kotoka International Airport in Accra, my heart lept at the feel of the warm and humid summer night clinging to my skin and the cacophony of voices in Twi, which is the most commonly spoken language here in Ghana. It sounded to me like a kind of chaotic harmony, blending perfectly with snatches of disparate Ghanaian music coming from various vehicles as I left the airport for my hotel. Every face I encountered could only be described as friendly, every voice warmly welcoming me! The next day, I grilled the Sinapi Aba Trust (SAT) driver, Elvis, so that by the time I arrived at my placement destination, I could say “Maha, atase?” (“Good afternoon, how are you?”) and respond appropriately, “Mahoye” (fine). I could ask anyone their name and tell them my own, and could even say “no problem” in Twi, among other things, much to the amusement of the SAT staff I met that first day.
Now I have been in Kumasi, the city of over three million residents, where Sinapi Aba Trust (SAT) has its headquarters, for four whole days as a Kiva Fellow. I have only been to work two days (Friday and Monday), and that was enough to know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be! One Kiva staff member told me that she felt that Africa was her home. I can easily see why she feels that way, and I wonder if I will be next to express that sentiment! Already I am calling the apartment where I am staying with one of the SAT staff members and his wife “home”. Joshua, Nana and I live in a two bedroom apartment on the third floor in a complex that at one time was a prestigious address, but has lost the right to that claim since the corporation who owns the complex decided not to maintain the roads, lights, security or even the reservoir that should be pumping water to the complex. The apartment itself is simple, clean and lovely, and I am very comfortable here, but all residents suffer a lack of running water. A water truck brings water, and persons are paid to carry water in 20 liter buckets on top their heads, up the stairs (no elevators) to each apartment. Water is used very sparingly, and of course the water problem is not just in this complex, it extends all over Africa. The effects of climate change are very real-time here, as they are in many developing countries. Nana says the monsoon season definitely is bringing less rain (it’s only rained briefly one time since I’ve been here and it is monsoon season now), and the large river that has always supplied the Kumasi area with water is low. Though there is a large water table beneath Kumasi, very few can afford to bore a hole to access it. This is a country where almost everyone, and perhaps especially the poor, have to pay market prices for clean water or make do with polluted water, increasing their exposure and vulnerability to illness and disease. Add to this the absolutely alarming rate of inflation (currently 26.6%), in which the price of a banana or a cassava (and water) might go up by almost o.66% overnight, and where unemployment is (depending upon whom you ask) between 30-40%!! Such are some of the most visible factors of poverty here in Ghana, making the provision of basic financial services such as savings, loans, and insurance all the more crucial to the ability of the poor to weather such tumultuous financial storms.
If you would like to learn more about Sinapi Aba Trust and their work of providing microloans to Ghanaian entrepreneurs, go to: http://www.kiva.org/about/aboutPartner?id=88&_tpg=fb