Monthly Archives: June 2011

Shots, shots, shots, everybody!

No, not that kind of shots.

Unfortunately, traveling into a developing country means coming in contact with diseases that largely have been eradicated in the United States. Diseases like yellow fever and malaria are common throughout Ghana, meaning I’m forced to take a bunch of medication both before and during my journey.

The doctor’s office.

Yesterday I visited a doctor that specializes in foreign infectious diseases to get my yellow fever vaccination shot. Out of all the shots I’ve had, this one wasn’t so bad, but I’m sure I will have a some muscle soreness in my arm for a few days.

In addition to the yellow fever shot, the doctor said I might need a shot for typhoid fever and possibly dengue fever as well. Ugh. There’s only so many times I want a person to stick a needle into my arm.

The yellow fever vaccine.

To prevent against malaria, the doctor wrote a prescription for Malarone. It’s a pill-based medication that you have to start taking a few days before the trip starts. I’ll have to take it daily for all 30 days of my Ghana trip, and then for a few weeks afterwards as well. I have taken it before on trips to South Africa, India, and Indonesia, so hopefully I run into any potential side effects. Malaria is spread via mosquitos in Ghana, so I’ll have to be extra careful to always have bug repellant on. We also get very cool looking mosquito nets to put over our beds.

A malarone a day keeps the malaria away.

It is a bit of a nuisance to take all of this medicine, but it’s just another part of the adventure. 13 days til departure!


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What is microfinance?

Even if you read my first post, you still might be wondering: what exactly is this microfinance mumbo jumbo?

Well, here’s a one way to explain it:

According to, the leader in web based microloans, microfinance is:

“a general term to describe financial services to low-income individuals or to those who do not have access to typical banking services.”

It is all based on the idea that impoverished people in developing countries could pull themselves out of poverty if they only had the opportunity to access a line of credit. They invest that money in expanding their small businesses, paying back the money a little at a time. It allows people to keep their dignity while still giving them help, preventing possible embarrassment from offers of charity.


The first experiments with modern microfinance were done by Bengladeshi Economics Professor Muhammad Yunus in the 1970s. He founded the microfinance institution Grameen Bank in 1983 to further this cause. The latest spike in popularity for microfinance began in 2006 after Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

Many people in developed countries want to help fund low-income people using microloans, but just are not able to travel to Ghana or Bangladesh to do so. That is where websites like come in. They allow users to fund microloans for as little as $25 at a time, and it’s all done online. And it’s not charity: the users get their money back once the loan is paid back, usually 4-6 months later depending on the conditions of the loan. The best part is that users get to pick who they want to fund. If their focus is on women or agriculture, or Asian livestock owners, they are able to pick exactly who they want to loan to and how much they want to loan.

Other websites have jumped on the bandwagon in a multitude of creative ways. uses microfinance to promote political reconciliation in the West Bank area of the Middle East. uses the online microloan model to distribute student loans to students in developing countries, allowing them to emerge from poverty through advancing their education and earnings potential.

One important thing to note about microfinance, however, is that it is not the be all, end all solution to poverty. It does not work in every situation, so we should not stop all of the other great programs in place to help the disadvantaged. But it is one step towards eradicating poverty for good. People working their way towards a better life, one microloan at a time.

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Going to Ghana!

And for another crazy Cohen family summer adventure…..I’m heading off to Ghana.

Yup, that’s right. For 21 days (that’s 504 hours, 30,240 minutes, or 1,814,400 seconds for my math geeks out there), I’ll be volunteering in the village of Ho, located on the eastern edge of southern Ghana, about 12 miles from the border with Togo and about 2 1/2 hours drive from Accra, the capital of Ghana. Afterwards, we will be spending a week traveling the surrounding area (can’t go to Africa and not see the sights).

So what does one do in a remote Ghanian village for three weeks? I’ll be volunteering through an organization called Village Exchange International. I’m specifically working on their Microfinance Institute project. The organization is able to provide rural villagers with a source of credit previously unavailable to them. Using these loans, they can invest in expanding the businesses that support their livelihoods, whether that is a roadside yam stand with dreams of diversifying their business to sell plantains as well, or a family buying a second cow to double their plowing capabilities while providing surplus milk to sell at the market. Micro-loans make this all possible, while allowing low-income groups to establish a solid credit history and learn the basics of finance and money management.

If you would like to read a little more about the organization, click here.

The organization is always looking for donations, so if supporting a struggling family or individual in Ghana seems like something you are interested in, just shoot me an email ( or comment below. I’d be glad to connect you to the right people. Heck, I’ll even do my best to show you where your money actually goes to while I’m down there. Instead of your money going off to a big pot at some charity’s headquarters, you can see the effects of your donation happening right before your eyes. Of course, I’m not making anything from it, so if you would rather just read the blog posts, that’s fine by me.

I would love if you would come by a few times during my trip. I promise to check in and spill the latest, with photos as well.

I’m not leaving until July 13th, but I will be blogging a bit about microfinance in the meantime. So sit down to your computer with a nice cold drink, learn something about microfinance, and enjoy the summer. It’s gonna be a wild one.


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