Louise Gappa : Ghana

Originally from the great state of Minnesota, I moved to Seattle to attend school at Seattle University.  My experience on a justice trip in Kenya when I was 16 sparked my interest in international studies.  Also, living in Ecuador for 2 months increased my global awareness and sense of purpose in my studies.  With a major in Economics with a Specialization in International Economic Development and a minor in Spanish, I plan to work in the area of non-profit organizations and NGOs in the future.  In my free time I like to go to concerts, watch movies, and hang out with friends.  I look forward to my first long-term internship abroad with IDIP for a taste of what the field of development work will be like.

Reflection # 1 

When I first arrived in Ghana, I had no idea what to expect.  I had been to Kenya in 2009 for a 3 week immersion trip in high school, but I knew this would be a completely different experience.  I'm working with Lumana: a microfinance NGO founded in Seattle that works exclusively with Ghana.  I'm living in Anloga, a small village about 3 hours east of Accra, the capital city.    Lumana has over 600 clients in 13 rural and peri-urban villages in the Volta and Greater Accra regions of Ghana.  Currently, their work is focused on micro-credit loans complete with business training and entrepreneurial support.  Clients form themselves into groups before getting a loan, which promotes accountability and group responsibility if one member is delinquent on loan payments.  Also, Lumana is a means for clients to engage in savings; it has been beneficial for clients to keep savings in financial institutions to reduce cash-in-hand liabilities and temptations.

My work at Lumana started by engaging in an ongoing focus of cash flow analysis for individuals, groups, and industries.  To do this, the staff and I schedule interviews with individual clients to discuss business logistics, expenses, revenue, and profit.  The questions are tailored to their profession as well as if they are delinquent or making steady payments on their loan.  It has been difficult, but also enlightening, to work with clients as I slowly start to figure out the economic structure of the villages here.  I learned quickly that applying a capitalist model to help understand how supply and demand work here leads me to frustration and ultimately, a dead end.  I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that the way the US approaches business and finance is inapplicable in rural Africa.  It is amazing how many presuppositions and judgments I bring with me wherever I go.  Much of my time here has been spent restructuring my mind and learning that the simple questions I feel I shouldn't have to ask are the very foundations I need to understand anything.

Along with restructuring my mindset when it comes to the micro-economies of Ghanaian villages, I realize I also need to reframe the way I approach work.  It's definitely not the hurried, fast pace way of doing pretty much anything in the US.  I am in the process of teaching my mind there is "No Hurry in Life," which is a common saying on the side of houses in Ghana.  I feel privileged to be able to live in almost complete solidarity with those I work with.  The staff house is definitely big by the village's standards, and we are lucky enough to have electricity, fans, and running water about 70% of the time.  I've gotten the opportunities to visit a slave castle in Keta, a town farther east of Anloga, dance with locals at a funeral in Dzita, and teach our Ghanaian staff members how to swim in the Keta Lagoon and ocean.  I've met some incredible people here so far, and the friendly reputation of Ghanaians has exceeded my expectations.

I'm also beginning to get involved in Lumana's newest venture of social investment.  The idea is to fund entrepreneurs with sustainable ideas that result in large social impact.  This is a bit of a shift from microfinance, which focuses on the financial lives of individuals, and creates a platform for one person to make a substantial impact on many people.  In order to do this, they need more resources, capital, and funds.  A project I am researching now focuses on how Lumana can assess entrepreneurs' business ideas to find out if they are a worthwhile investment.  It is an exciting new area for international development and I am glad I've had the opportunity to learn about it through Lumana and IDIP.

Reflection # 2

I’m finishing up my seventh week here in Ghana and it’s starting to dawn on me: I’m not going to be here forever.  I’ve grown accustomed to my life here and am having a hard time picturing how I will leave Ghana in about a month.  Until recently, I’ve been working in Anloga and Lumana’s other offices in the Volta region.  A few days ago, I came to another office in Ofankor, outside of Accra, to start cash flow analysis interviews with the staff here.  In the Volta region, we spent about six weeks with the whole process: introducing the idea, conducting interviews, and then slowly transferring the control back to the staff.  The response was positive and the staff are catching on quickly.  However, here in Ofankor, there are only about two weeks to accomplish the same goal.  Likely, there will only be time to introduce the concept and have some interviews throughout the weeks.  This process is meant to reduce delinquency and assess clients’ abilities to reapply for larger loans.  Also, it is designed to provide the staff with valuable critical thinking and interviewing skills, which will be helpful in understanding clients’ behavior and micro-finance as a whole.

On the social investment side, I’ve been continuing to work on up-and-coming projects in which Lumana hopes to invest.  I’ve been able to become involved in basically whichever area I’m interested in and contribute meaningful work in the development of this process.  Recently, I’ve been working on a flyer to attract potential investors to a social investment opportunity, as well as attending meetings and entrepreneurial expositions to further market research in this area.  I’m lucky to have been placed with an organization that values my ideas about how they are running their operations and welcomes my efforts to increase efficacy.  I’m excited to see where Lumana takes this opportunity to become involved in larger social change and how my contributions will aid this process.

Recently, we have been traveling quite a bit on the weekends.  Last weekend we traveled to northern Volta to a town called Peki, near the bigger city of Ho.  We stayed at an eco-lodge ran by a Rastafarian couple with Lumana staff and a few friends.  It was fascinating to experience a bigger town in Ghana and see how different but ultimately similar places in Ghana generally are.  There’s a unique structure and environment of each town, but the vibes from the people are the same: friendly, hard-working, and happy.  It always puts a smile on my face to pass by people sharing a laugh or kids inventing a new game with what little they have.  The joy and struggles in their lives are right on the surface.  The poverty is inches away from me, but so is their love of community and passion for life.  My weekend in Peki was spent walking through town, going on a hike to a waterfall, and meeting new people.  I’m spending this weekend in Accra and planning a trip to Cape Coast next weekend.  It’s fun to be a tourist from time to time!

I can already tell how much I’ve grown throughout my time here in Ghana.  It takes a great amount of motivation and independence to work in international development.  With Ghana’s intense heat, all you want to do is lay down and try not to melt.  I’ve learned a great deal about myself and how I deal with new and difficult situations.  I’ve pushed myself to resist getting stuck in frustration or collapsing from lack of patience.  Because of this, I think I’m becoming a stronger and more understanding person.  The work Lumana is doing in Ghana is not just benefitting clients and Ghanaian staff, but also attempts to bridge the gap between the US and Ghana.  I’ve started to feel that the world is not such a huge place.  These distances are only constructed through lack of cultural understanding.  Through the new people I meet everyday on the way to work or hanging out on the soccer fields, I know these barriers can be broken down through friendship and genuine human connection.  We aren’t all that different from each other, and so long as we learn about people’s unique perspectives, we’ll be able to realize that we are all one people, one love.