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The Office

Yesterday, I got my first taste of a full day in the VEG (Village Exchange Ghana) office in downtown Ho. The office is shared by three sections: reproductive health and women’s empowerment education, microfinance, and a bead making and batiking (cloth dying and sewing) business.

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Even though each operation has their own separate part of the office, they are connected in every way (or are supposed to be, but more about that later). VEG focuses on helping disadvantaged women, so each of these areas plays a part in empowering them and pulling them out of poverty.

The young women are educated on the perils of teenage pregnancy and the prevention of STD’s, especially HIV. To allow the women to become even more independent, VEG can provide jobs to these women in the areas of batiking and bead making. Once they are financially self-sufficient, they gain self-esteem, becoming more proud of their purpose in life. No longer do they have to chase after men in order to put food on their children’s plates. Once they have useful vocational skills, the microfinance section can help them start their own businesses or expand already existing ones.

In theory, everyone would work together with the same people, passing them along to the next section of VEG as needed. But of course, this view is not universally accepted. In any organization, it is often hard to see the big picture. It is no different in Ghana. Hopefully, however, we can help pull everyone back together on the same page. You can’t have one piece without the other.

On Thursday, a few of us will go with Kofi, the social mission director, and Felix, the loan officer, to three villages just outside Ho. Every Thursday is repayment day for outstanding loans, so a trip must be made to each group in the villages to collect money from each partner that has taken out a loan. Felix will lead the collections as Kofi will give a presentation on useful business skills for entrepreneurs. This is a new system that VEG has just implemented this year, but hopefully it will increase the success of the small businesses that receive the loans.


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A day in Accra

(Pictures, and you don’t need to be my Facebook friend to see them:

Since the organization I am volunteering with is not picking us up until tomorrow, we had the chance to explore Accra today. My mom had the great idea of bringing a guidebook with us from the U.S. Without it, we would have been lost for sure.

The streets of Accra are easily walkable. Most people getting from place to place around town just walk. The other modes of transportation are shared cabs (more like vans overflowing with bodies) which follow preset routes and “drop” cabs which operate like any normal taxi cab you might be used to (the “drop” means they drop you wherever you choose).

The shared cabs have set prices, but the “drop” taxi rates are up for bargaining. Around midday, after my mom and I had walked around a ton, we were looking to head back to the hotel to try to find a currency exchange. So we decided to take our first adventure into the taxi system. I decided to try to be the one to bargain, seeing if I could live up to my dad’s expertise that I had seen him use so often during other trips. Well, let’s just say my first time didn’t go so great.

The guidebook had said that you should be able to get anywhere in the city for around 3 Ghanaian cedis (roughly $1.50 USD). The cab driver started at 10 cedis, and a few minutes of bargaining dropped the price to 7 cedis. I got fed up and bit the bullet.

In the scheme of things, I probably could have gotten the price down farther had I been willing to bargain for a few more minutes and feign walking away. But especially when I was fighting over barely $2, I decided that it wasn’t really worth it. Looking at the bigger picture, $2 isn’t a ton of money for me, but it could be the difference between a decent day and a great day for the driver. Sometimes being ripped off isn’t such a bad thing.

And to think of the competition this guy must have had. While walking down the streets of Accra, barely five seconds elapses between each easily recognizable “honk” of a taxi’s horn as it passes you, a sign the drivers use to ask if you need a ride. I heard six honks already while writing this sentence.

But enough about taxis. We only had a few suggestions of destinations in mind when setting out on our self-guided walking tour. We ended up walking to the beach first, where we saw a bunch of families having a relaxing Sunday on the water and a plethora of informal soccer matches. Right afterwards, we headed through Independence Square, a huge expanse of concrete that is used for patriotic celebrations. There is a huge statue of Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, as well as a tall, “Arc de Triomphe”-esque arch dedicated to the independence of Ghana in 1959.

We also visited the National Museum, though that name should be taken lightly. There were a few interesting pieces about the slave trade, including shackles (allegedly) used by slave traders during the 18th century. However, most of the “exhibits” were deteriorating photographs of Ghanaian people, weird mannequins demonstrating different cultural dances, and a random 5th century statue of the head of Marcus Aurelius that was found in Libya (not sure how that reflects Ghana’s national history.

I guess a National Museum says a lot about a country’s heritage. Being such a young nation, Ghana doesn’t have much of a national history to reflect upon. And without a long tradition of preserving ancient cultural items, there isn’t much to display in a museum. It’s getting there, just like the rest of Ghana. There’s too much patriotism and passion for it not to develop.

And after dinner jaunt for some pastries at a local shop gave us ample time to people watch. A night in Accra is just like one in any other city. People driving around looking for fun, meeting up with friends, and buying supplies for the long week ahead.

Just a perfect introduction into Ghanaian life. I could get used to this.

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