Chance of a Lifetime
Trip Start Aug 27, 2010
14Trip End Dec 13, 2010
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Hello my eager readers,
I first must apologize for not blogging more often. My goal has been to blog after every country, but even that measly goal I have failed at. I invite all of you to follow my adventure so that you feel you may join in the experience, and then I don't even write. I am sorry. But here I am in Takoradi, Ghana and I could not let today’s experience pass you by. I greatly enjoyed my visit and experiences in both Spain and Morocco, but it was just something about Ghana that caught my attention. I feel as though God is going to speak to me in many ways during my 4 day stay. I am excited to see how God moves in my life, the lives of my peers and in the people we all encounter. It is refreshing to arrive in a country where 70% of the population believes in God. You cannot travel anywhere in Ghana without seeing the strong value they place on their faith. As we drove past a market today there was a large sign at the entrance stating: God is Great!
Day one in Ghana will be a day I will never forget. I stumbled upon a chance of a lifetime to accompany eight other Semester at Students and shadow an organization called Opportunity International. This company is a microfinance bank that loans small loans to groups on individuals as well as small businesses that normally would not get financed through a traditional bank. The groups of locals that Opportunity International helps are all living in poverty and in efforts to relive and lift the Ghanaian people out of poverty they offer an alternative way of life. Groups of no less than five people can join together and take out a loan, with this loan; they each individually start a business to support their family and community. Payments are due each week/month from the collective group. As well as financial support, the clients also receive weekly trainings in business, evangelism and guidance to a better life for their families. Opportunity International is headquartered in the U.S., but there are now office locations all over the world. The change that this concept of banking brings to people in poverty is unbelievable; it was an honor to witness that today.
So you have the history, now you are probably wondering how I got the opportunity to shadow this cause. A fellow SAS student got connections through a friend and was introduced to Opportunity International in Ghana. It turns out, the individuals whom my friend had been corresponding with for months leading up to the voyage was the president of the branch in Takoradi. Some connection huh? I didn’t know what to expect as I walked off the ship this morning, but once we met our leaders we knew we were in good hands for the day. The manager himself, Paul, and his two associates: Martha and Gifte (sp?) greeted us with smiles and suites. To say we felt underdressed in our t-shirts was an understatement. The first place they brought us to was their office in the "downtown" of Takoradi. At the office we met everyone from the tellers to the financial officers. All of the employees were so eager to meet us, as we were to meet them. One employee also named Gifte took me by the hand to show me all around the office. It was very evident that every employee at Opportunity International had such a heart for the organization and loved their jobs! In the office we also got the chance to interact with a couple of clients waiting in lines. Ghanaian people are the most welcoming, friendly people you will ever encounter. You can’t help but think that they must be happy all the time. They love life! After the office visit we proceeded back into the van and throughout the course of the afternoon we made our way to three client locations. Each Wednesday meetings are held with the clients in the local area’s to receive training as well as to pay their portions of the loan. The three different locations that we traveled to were all in the Takoradi area, but most of the time it felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere. We would go from rainforest drives to dusty narrow streets to churches.
The first client visit was in a village somewhere in Takoradi and the meeting location was under a large open structure in the middle of a school and residential area. There were roughly 40 women and young children gathered for the weekly meeting. We got to sit in on a small portion of the meeting and then we were given the OK to go and interact with these warm hearted people. I met 4 women most of whom were named Sarah. Three of them had small children hiding behind themselves; the children were very bashful but so precious! Two of the children were 1 and ½ years, and the smallest was 4 months old. They were what formed a group and each of them ran their own businesses, everything from Cocoa to textiles. It was so refreshing to be able to communicate with people because everyone in Ghana knows enough English to hold a conversation. The moment that I had to share with them did not last long, but it touched me to share life with them even if it was only for a couple minutes. At the end of our conversation they all wanted to exchange phone numbers. I did not give them mine, partly because I don’t even have a phone with me, but secondly because realistically there is no way to actually contact them. But the thought was what counted. It was hard to just leave these people sitting there as we drove off in our van because when you sit down and converse with individuals all of the “differences” between you and them disappear. But then reality comes back and crashes down the fact that while I was heading back to a luxury “cruise” ship at the end of the day, they live in that village. That is their life, but yet they do not pity themselves, they just smile and fill themselves with the joys that life gives.
The second client visit was in another area of Takoradi and the meeting location was at a church in the middle of a village. The life inside this church spread like wildfire. The women and young children sitting in that building greeted us all with song and dance that just flowed out of them. I am not a dancer, at all. But the joy that these women have inside themselves is just infectiousness and so ultimately by the time we were settled we all were dancing with them. It was a moment I wish I could have frozen in time. That is what I hope heaven is like a joyous celebration of song and dance just because! As a present, these women offered us some homemade biscuits/pita bread. It was very good. I asked Gifte after we were in the van again how the women made it and she said she had no idea…how comforting. Haha.
The third client visit was to a small oil business near the tropics of Takoradi. This is an example of the kind of businesses that Opportunity International supports because banks will not support them. All of the employees were women and the jobs ranged from picking out the palm tree nuts to standing over a HOT cauldron boiling the nuts to extract oil. All of the work looked very tedious and labor intensive. But yet, all of the women had smiles on their faces.
After all of the client visits it was lunch time. We didn’t know what to expect for lunch, all we knew was that we were hungry. It was a pleasant surprise when we arrived at our destination. The three leaders took us to the Rainbow hotel in Takoradi, a very nice resort. The restaurant was under a covered bamboo hut outside in the warm but relaxing air. I spoiled myself I must admit because I have been craving some good seafood the entire voyage. So I went with boiled lobster with a white cream sauce covered with cheese. It was amazing. Add fried rice to that and I have never been so full in my life. During lunch, which lasted 2 hours I got the chance to sit next to Paul, the branch manager. I got to learn more about the organization as well as Ghana in general. It was great to learn some insight into Ghana and its various opportunities and issues. It was also fun to get to know him as a person. I found out his favorite kind of music is Country. I found that very amusing. But it made it a good conversation piece because I could then tell him all about Nashville. It was cool that he was able to tell me about his country of Ghana but then in return I was also able to share some information about my country.
Ghana is an incredible country. If any of you ever have the chance to visit, GO! It has only been one day and already I feel like my life will be affected by my visit. I thank God for the blessing to visit the clients from this amazing organization today; it was God set up and led. It is going to be hard to beat my experience today but I think Ghana has many more experiences up its sleeve. I hope you all felt a little piece of Ghana from this entry. I will try to post pictures and more experiences from Ghana as the days go on. I miss you all so much, you all add such special and individual pieces to my life and I cannot wait to see you again!