Category Archives: Interviews

Grace Abdjei

Second follow-up interview. Another borrower I met during my trip.

Grace Abdjei is an expressive and confident woman, concealing all signs of the great losses she has suffered already at the age of 32: both of her children died at a young age and she is now divorced from her husband. In addition, the lack of support at home and her difficulties in school, meant that she was not able to fulfill her dream of going to university.

Instead, she went to Accra where she worked as a maid in order to earn a living and at the same time she managed to acquire a respectable proficiency in English. This was, however, only an intermediate solution for Grace, as she aspired to start her own business in the region where she originally comes from. In 2005 she finally decided to move to Dodome Avexa near Ho in the Volta Region and about three years ago she opened her own little business selling many different kinds of snacks and basic household items.

In order to expand her business she took a loan from Village Exchange International (VEG) of GHS 250 (USD 165 or EUR 115) which she used to buy bowls for her business and thereby increase her product offering. Her small business is now a quasi general store.

In the future she dreams of opening a larger store where she will sell many more products both for her own village and for neighbouring villages. Small loans like this one will provide her with the opportunity to achieve this goal.

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Evelyn Agbo

Catching up on some interviews. One more coming soon!

150 kilometers. That’s the farthest Evelyn Agbo has ever been from the confines of her remote village an hour outside the small Ghanaian city of Ho. Her visit to family members in Accra, the capital city, only lasted a week. Then it was straight back to her hometown. Many would say this would put her in isolation, but in fact, it has helped her understand the demands of her customers. Evelyn is an entrepreneur. She started her own business cooking and selling rice & beans and kenkey, a dough made of ground maize, to local farmers and schoolchildren. She operates her stand just outside her father’s house and uses his kitchen to make her food products.

Evelyn and her food stand.

Evelyn was born and grew up in the very same village. She graduated from junior high school just down the road and attended vocational school to learn the culinary trade. Evelyn eventually got married to a man in the village and had one son with him, five years old now, named Godson Abote. In order to help support her new family, Evelyn had to find some work.

At first, Evelyn worked for a fried fish saleswoman in the village. She worked on commission, getting one Ghana cedi (about €.50 or $0.66) for every 5 cedi bag that she could sell. A bag usually took her a day or two to sell, so Evelyn could not earn enough to significantly supplement her husband’s income.

Like so many other Ghanaians looking to improve their lifestyles, Evelyn took hold of the enterprising spirit inside of her and started a business.

At first, Evelyn was only able to sell rice & beans, but this did not bode well for her success. Many of her customers in the early morning hours were farmers heading out to their fields for the day. They found that the rice & beans did not satisfy their appetite enough, so some began to buy breakfast elsewhere. Evelyn wanted to start a business selling kenkey and fried fish (her own this time), but she did not have the capital to buy the supplies she needed.

In came VEG (Village Exchange Ghana). The organization had previously been operating some microloans in the village, but when Evelyn heard that VEG was planning a new cycle to start in July 2011, she jumped at the opportunity. Evelyn was approved for a loan of 200 Ghana cedis, and on July 5th 2011, the loan was finally disbursed.

Evelyn used some of the money to start the kenkey business, buying maize in bulk from the market. With the other money, Evelyn bought more rice to be able to continue to offer rice & beans, and bought her own fried fish to sell in the village. She now goes to Ho, the closest major city, by tro-tro (the local public transportation) every market day to buy a new supply of fish. The fish goes great with both the rice and the kenkey, and so far her customers seem to be very satisfied with the increased diversity of choices.

With more happy customers, Evelyn has been able to increase the volume of food she sells each day. Evelyn’s microloan has also enabled her to earn more money from selling fish. Now from a 25 cedi bag of fish, Evelyn earns a profit of 7 cedis, instead of the 5 cedis she would get before. And because sales have picked up in pace, she profits much more than she did from her commission job.

Evelyn has used her business knowledge to set up an interesting system with her kenkey competitors in the community. With a decline in customers after the December harvest (fewer farmers going to farm in the mornings), she realized that they were driving each other out of business. Evelyn and her competitor across the street came to a deal that everyone in the village could benefit from. They split the week into two, each having three days during which they could sell kenkey. They set the same price for their kenkey, picking a value which they knew was reasonable for people in the community to pay.

Evelyn’s limited travels have kept her close to her community for her entire life. Having a hand on the pulse of the village, Evelyn knows the demands of her customers well, and this has played a key role in helping her find success as an entrepreneur. Evelyn picks certain days or times of day to sell each product during the week depending on a variety of factors, like events going on or the time of year. For example, on the last day of school, Evelyn decided not to sell rice & beans. Schoolchildren coming back from school are her biggest customer for this dish, but she knew they would be having parties at school and would have already eaten before reaching her stand. Evelyn also doesn’t usually sell rice & beans until the afternoon because of the farmers’s preference for kenkey. She is a sharp businesswoman, tailoring the product to best suit her customers.

She’s a dreamer too. Evelyn has plans to start a restaurant in the village. She wants to hire employees and cook a wider variety of dishes to suit every palette. As long as VEG is offering microloans, Evelyn plans to continue to use them to fuel her business, giving her the power to rise up out of poverty.

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Hope in a terrible situation: Anita Amenuveve

“I really didn’t want it to be this way. I just feel lost now, and I’m really confused about what to do.”

— Anita Amenuveve

(This is the second in a serious of interviews I am doing with some of the microfinance borrowers I am working with here in Ghana. This story is particularly mindblowing for me because she is only two years younger than me. The fact that she attacks life with so much drive and passion despite her hardship shows the true spirit of a Ghanaian. One of my fellow volunteers commented, “She’s just a little girl.” That may be true, but she shows the heart of someone much more mature).

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Barely a teenager adult, Anita Amenuveve was stuck with the hardest crossroads of her short life. Having come from a family of eight children supported by peasant farmer parents, Anita was in a situation where food and money was already scarce. But now there was another mouth to feed.

During junior high school at the age of 13, Anita got pregnant. With not enough provisions for eight, adding a ninth child  to feed, clothe, and house was not an option for Anita’s parents. So they made her leave the house and live with her uncle in the neighboring village where the father of her child also lived. In Ghana, if a young man gets a young woman pregnant, as a social formality the two must marry. Anita eventually moved in with the 24 year old father, a peasant farmer barely able to support himself, let alone a wife and an infant.

Anita gave birth to Caleb in February 2011. Caring for the baby took up too much time, so she had to drop out of school. Anita knew that in order to support her son, she could not rely on the meager provisions her husband could provide. Anita started to work for a peanut seller in the village, earning a commission on every small bag of peanuts that she sold.

When VEG came to her village, she attended some of the initial prospective borrower meetings. Encouraged by other women who were taking out loans, Anita applied and was accepted for a loan of 50 cedis (about $33 or €50). She is using the money bit by bit, making sure every piece of it is invested properly. Anita has been able to start her own business selling raw peanuts door to door in the village, using the money from the loan to buy a large supply of peanuts. Each day, Anita is able to sell about 30 small bags for 0.20 cedis each. She plans to roast many of the excess peanuts, storing them until peanut season is over. At that time, the price of peanuts will rise considerably, netting her a much better profit than she can earn right now (lack of schooling does not mean lack of a sharp mind).

Anita goes hungry many nights. She eats at her uncle’s house when she can, but he has many children so he cannot always provide for her. Meals from her husband are few and far between, but sometimes his parents give them a little help. With the new money she is making from her peanut business, Anita hopes to create a more stable eating situation for Caleb and herself.

Anita desperately wants to return to school, but she has no money to pay for it (only primary education is free in Ghana). She must save the profits from her peanut business in order to have enough money for tuition once Caleb is old enough to leave her side. She talks of “being somebody” when she is older, and she says an education is the only way to achieve that goal. Her dream is to work in a Ghanaian bank and be able to provide her son with a great lifestyle. At age 15, she is working hard to support herself, and doing an amazing job of it.

Even though she is in a horrible situation, Anita has been able to use her microloan to start herself on a path towards success and a better life. Just another case of microfinance giving unfortunate situations a little bit of hope.

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The first interview: Edith Worwornyo

(Note: I am working on a series of interviews with the people I meet in Ghana. Women like Edith have used microfinance to enhance their quality of life, even if it has been in the smallest way. I’ll be posting a few of the stories as I get the chance to interview more people. Here’s Edith Worwornyo’s story.)

Edith Worwornyo was born in the village of Adaklu Helkape. DSC01688
Her parents sent her to junior high school in Accra, where she successfully graduated. With ambitions of a higher level of education, Edith enrolled in secondary (or high) school. After a year, however, Edith got pregnant and had to drop out of school. Her parents were not willing to support both Edith and the child, so Edith was forced to start trying to make a living. She moved back to her The father of the child to give more than occasional money for child support, so Edith had to find a way to make enough money to feed both herself and her daughter.

It was a rough time for Edith and her daughter Ester. Their first “home” was a badly made wooden shed. Any time that it rained, water would come streaming into the house, making conditions very unpleasant.

To make some money, Edith first started working at her sister’s food stand. But Edith had big plans for herself, so she eventually started her own business making meat pies on the side of the street. She sold to schoolchildren passing by in the morning before school and in the evening time after school. After buying meat, flour, and oil from local sources, she fried up the flour in little balls with meat inside. Business was good enough that she was soon able to move out of the shed and into a better made structure on the other side of the street. The roof of the new house does not leak even in the harshest of storms.

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When Village Exchange Ghana (VEG) came to her village and talked about microfinance opportunities for local entrepreneurs, Edith was excited for the chance to expand her street side food business. Her application was quickly approved by VEG, and after four weeks of consistent savings, Edith was given a loan of 150 Ghana cedis (about $100 USD or €75). She used the loan to start a new element to her business: selling cooked rice and beans. Edith bought the beans, rice, and oil that she needed in bulk in order to create a larger profit margin. Many people do not like meat pies, so by diversifying her products, she can attract new customers. Without the loan, she would not have been to expand her business.

The future looks bright for Edith. The Ghanaian Transportation Authority will soon pave the road that passes through her village. This path will become a major route from Ho to Accra (two main Ghanaian cities), so there will be a large increase of traffic flowing through the village. Edith plans to capitalize on this flow of new potential customers, marketing her food to travelers.

With this increase in customers, Edith hopes to be able to expand even further. She plans to take out a second loan with VEG once the first is repaid. She wants to eventually start buying supplies to make banku and fufu, Ghanaian food staples made out of corn, yam, and cassava. Edith learned how to make these foods from a short time she spent working in her sister’s business. These foods are very popular with Ghanaians, so she hopes she will be able to offer some kind of food to even the pickiest eaters.

In the long term, Edith wants to be able to hire a few employees to help her make all of the food. As long as the volume of customers is high, Edith should be able to achieve her goal. She works hard, but it all would not be possible without continued financial support through microfinance loans.

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