David Swanson : Ghana

David Swanson is a Junior pursuing a double degree in Humanities and Economics with a Specialization in International Economic Development, as well as a minor in Non-Profit Leadership. He is also the president of the Seattle University Global Water Brigade, which went on a service trip this past summer to Honduras in order to work on a water system, providing an indigenous community with access to clean water. This year, he is working with club leaders to expand such service trip opportunities for SU students into new areas of development. Outside of Seattle U, David works with the Washington Access Fund, a local Community Development Financial Institution that serves individuals with disabilities, and has gained much experience there in fundraising, grant writing, and program development.

David’s international experience, along with Honduras, includes volunteer work in Tijuana, Mexico with Esperanza International and Kolkata, India with Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity. Through his non-profit/NGO experience, he has developed a passion for international work as well as a commitment to development projects around the world. David hopes to pursue a career in International Development, working on microfinance/microenterprise or basic needs development in underdeveloped areas of the world.

Reflection #1  (Country- Ghana)

I had a very difficult time sleeping my first night in Ghana. In part, it was due to the fact that I was 8 hours ahead of my usual schedule, had slept too much on the plane, and therefore felt wide-awake. However, what seemed to account more for my spontaneous insomnia was the thought running through my head that, “I cannot believe that I am actually here in Ghana!” I could hardly contain my excitement and wanted it to be daytime so I could get out and experience this amazing country and its culture. A recent experience I had in a third world country was in Kolkata, India. Despite the fact that I was told then that I had seen the worlds’ poorest of the poor, I had no idea what to expect in traveling to another developing country I’ve heard very little about. To my surprise, Ghana turned out to be a thriving, though still developing, country with a powerful culture and some of the nicest people I have ever met.

My internship here is with Lumana Micro-credit, a non-profit organization based in Seattle that works to provide loans, savings, and other financial services to entrepreneurs in small under-resourced communities of Ghana. A rapidly expanding organization, Lumana has two offices through which they manage the loans and savings of over 350borrowers and provide business courses prior to loan distribution. Although my prior research has seemed to show many microfinance organizations to be rather ineffective, with high interest rates and no additional programs to assist the borrowers, I have found Lumana’s model to be very efficient and positively managed. They have an impressive drive to expand their services and operations so as to make a broader impact in the various communities of Ghana.

The specific projects I will be working on are a part of this expansionary drive of Lumana. One of them is to aid in the implementation of a pilot investment project. In this program, Lumana will connect social investors in the US with some of their present clients who are looking to greatly expand their businesses. I am working with one client in particular, who is looking to expand his tomato processing business, by helping him organize his financials and his clients in order to be prepared for the investment and upcoming expansion. The other project I am working on is through a partnership between Lumana and Blossom Farms to set up an organic, sustainably run farm here in Anloga. I will secure land and work with Blossom Farms to design it in a sustainable manner, and determine its finance structure, so as to be ready for the upcoming season. These are both very exciting projects that I am looking forward to learning a great deal from in my time here.

Ghana has not only proven to provide me with such an amazing internship opportunity, it has also proven to be made up of some of the most beautiful beachfronts, nicest people, and exciting experiences. So far, we have gone swimming twice in the Gulf of Guinea and had a staff retreat on a breath-taking white beach front under the shade of palm trees. We have traveled to various small towns on the coast to visit inspiring business owners, see a slave fort built in 1784 by the Danes, and soak up such a unique culture.  Everyone here is so willing to help you learn their language and will always smile, wave, and call out a welcoming “Good Day” as you walk down the street. I feel truly blessed to be here.

I have often struggled with the idea of traveling abroad to work on development projects. It almost seems wasteful to spend such large amounts of money to travel someplace and offer assistance when that money could be put to better use. However, what I have grown to understand is that when traveling abroad, we are not just there to help, but we are there to learn. I look forward to learning so much from the people of Ghana and have only just begun to understand how they live, how they treat others so well, and even some of their language. Although the work is, and definitely will continue to be, very exciting here, I can already tell that I will learn more than I ever thought I would by simply spending time with the lovely people of Ghana.


Reflection #2

 I am just now halfway through my time here in Ghana and I could not be enjoying myself more. Even though work has definitely picked up, and I am finding myself busier by the week, I love every minute of it and am becoming so much more accustomed to life here in the village of Anloga. I have even started to accept the increasingly more frequent power and water outages as a part of daily life. Either way, it is amazing to think that I have less than five weeks left here; I really do not want any of it to end but am definitely looking forward to what is yet to come. Like I said above, the work has definitely increased and sometimes it feels as though there simply isn’t enough time in a day. As the project lead, here in Ghana, for Lumana’s pilot investment project, I am working simultaneously with a client of ours, Sena Ahiabor, to prepare him for investment money that will greatly expand his business, and with our implementation partner company, Blossom Farms, to start up an aquaponics farm in Atokor. With Sena, I am organizing all of his financials and preparing a balance sheet and financial statement for the past two years that can be sent to potential investors in the US. I also am working on a project proposal that will outline his intended machinery and inventory purchases with the investment money, as well as a market analysis and company overview for his tomato processing business Tip Top Foods. I travel out to Sena’s house, which his business is located next to, multiple times a week and really enjoy getting to learn from him and also learn so much, through my work, of financial statements and the necessary information for investment acquisition.

The other work I am doing is with Blossom Farms. My involvement with this project is to be the primary connection with Blossom Farms and head up all work on Lumana’s side of things here in Ghana. In my time here, I will be able to help find and secure land for the aquaponics system, aid in establishing our official partnership with Blossom Farms, and hopefully put in a good amount of work on the actually construction of the system. An aquaponics farm is a sustainable farming method in which crops grow with their roots in troughs of water, rather than soil, which is pumped to the troughs from a fish pond. The compost and nutrients from the fish acts as fertilizer for the plants, and then the nutrients from the crops are pumped back to the fish pond to feed the fish. This closed system is very efficient as the only water lost in the process is through evaporation. So far, we have established the partnership with Blossom Farms, and have a general understanding of our roles, as well as found the land that we are going to use for the project.

I am beginning to understand better how Ghanaians function and how they go about business. Work is definitely important but they have a very relaxed attitude about it all. They enjoy the work that they do here and don’t allow themselves to become stressed out. In fact, if there is no work to do at any specific moment, they will relax, walk next door to meet with their friends, or take a nap. As well, there never seems to be too much rush to get things done. Just this past week, I have been working in setting up our lease on the land for the farm. This involved setting up meetings with the land surveyor and with the land owner. My meeting with the surveyor turned out to be preliminary and we had to wait for a time the landowner could come out with us to do the survey. As well, when we actually intended to have that meeting, the landowner was too tired to make it out to the land so I had to cancel with the surveyor and meet up with the owner at her house instead. At this meeting, relaxed as could be, we ended up discussing her family and saw a bunch of pictures from her Uncles funeral. She is such a lovely lady but not much was decided upon in terms of the land. Therefore, we are going to be meeting, bright and early, this coming Monday to actually go out to the land and discuss the agreement further. I am learning to be very patient here and to simply enjoy the process of things, which makes me enjoy Ghana so much more.

It has been rather hard to establish a normal routine here but I am beginning to enjoy a constantly changing day-to-day schedule, which I often have not even figured out until the day begins. Other than the days when I have very early morning meetings, I usually wake up around 8 and spend the first hour or two of my day reading. This is a rather nice way to start out the day, if I do say so myself. Some days I just work on my computer organizing financial statements and line item documents but most days I am traveling around to different meetings, working at Sena’s place, or visiting the farmland. As well, every four days is the market day in Anloga in which I often walk around and do the house shopping for food and supplies. It is a very exciting and crowded market that I have grown to really enjoy. I find time to go running everyday around 5 PM and am getting more and more used to the high temperatures and humidity. Nights are usually spent cooking, hanging out, and watching movies with everyone in the house.

All in all, I am really enjoying my time here in Ghana. There is so much that I am learning, not only about investment and financial statements but also about the culture here. The language is becoming easier to use in basic interaction and the food has really grown on me. Though I only have five weeks left, I look forward to the coming weeks with great excitement.         

Reflection #3

I have been back in the US for about a week and am only now really getting used to the swing of things. The pace of life back here is much different than in Ghana but it has been very nice to connect back up with family and friends. My time in Ghana was filled to the brim with amazing experiences, hard work, some of the nicest people I have ever met and, yes, uncomfortably high temperatures. Yet, as life goes, some things must come to an end, but I will continue to hold onto everything I have learned in my ten weeks in Ghana. I do already miss the food, the market days, the trips to the beach, and the work. However, what I do miss the most, are the people. Ghanaian people are so welcoming and truly make you feel so much a part of their community. As well, even though I know I will see them soon, I miss the US staff there in Ghana who taught me so much and made my experience so exhilarating and enjoyable.
In looking back on the time that I spent in Ghana, it truly was an amazing experience for me in which I learned so much, both in terms of practical skills and about my future career plans. This primarily came about through my work with Sena and his business Tip Top Foods Inc. Although I have never taken an accounting course in college, my work with Tip Top Foods really opened up the accounting world to me and gave me a good basis to build on for future learning and application. To work on compiling a financial statement and balance sheet from scratch was both an exhilarating and frustrating experience. It really made me realize the complex process of tracking a business’ financials as well as the importance of such information for investment acquisition. I also had the opportunity to develop a strong, familial relationship with Sena who is such an inspiring individual to learn from and spend time with. I already have plans to continue working with him when I travel back to Ghana in the near future.
My work with Blossom Farms also taught me a lot in terms of the complex process of land acquisition and leasing agreements in Ghana. Although I did have to leave before we were able to come to an official agreement over the lease, it was a very rewarding experience to work with Nancy, the landowner, and Blossom Farms to help bring about a sustainable farming system in the south of Ghana. I definitely learned much about patience in the whole process and how all of the time invested in a project can really be worth it all in the end. Although I am presently not looking at a possible future in agricultural development, my work in both of these projects has really spurred an interest in social investment that I plan to follow in my future career. Beyond microfinance, social investment proves to be a very promising method by which to further develop a nation’s economy.  As I have learned from Sena and Tip Top Foods, small to medium-sized enterprises have the potential to really make a positive impact on their community’s economic development.
It really feels as though I have been away from Ghana for such a long time even though it has only been a week. It really feels like an entirely different world, back here in the US, but I will always be able to hold onto everything I learned from my work in Ghana and all the relationships I made with the wonderful people there. Although I still have about a year and a half left of college, I know that in the near future, I will be going back to Ghana, even if not to work then at least to visit. As well, Lumana has proven to be a very impactful and effective organization that I am proud to have had the opportunity to work for. Even though it was only for a few months, I have truly enjoyed every minute I was able to work with Lumana and hope to continue my involvement with them long into the future.