Welcome to the Canadian Co-operative Association's international development blog devoted to the Uganda/Malawi and Ghana coaching programs taking place in January 2011. With volunteers working on the frontline of development, experience the missions through their photos, words and videos.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Almost Home - Cory Munden - Ghana

Well here I am in Halifax airport after my long journey from Ghana, Africa. Arriving to an airport surrounded by snow was a welcoming site. I find at this time I am flooded with a huge mixed bag of emotions.  Although we spent a full day in London, getting training on how to adapt to the shift in coming back, it still is hard to describe.

I am happy that I am almost home, and although I am in Halifax, I can feel the atmosphere that Maritime people express. The warm smiles, the casual conversations with their friends and their relaxing type of attitude. It is a welcoming feeling!
I cannot discount however the void I feel by leaving behind my co- workers in Africa. The bonds I have formed with these people in the last little while has been such a rewarding experience. I know that the advice myself and my colleague from Ireland provided to the credit unions were very useful and will impact them in many ways. Its the personal connections that I will miss, as we certainly formed great relationships.

My good friend Abraham, a new manager of Wa Community Credit Union, reminds me of myself when I first started with the credit union. He is facing the same challenges as I faced back in 1999. The system in Ghana is about 20 years back from where the credit union system is in Canada, so as a coach we have to remember this when making recommendations. When he advised me that he liked the recommendation I made that the board consider having Internet in the office so he can communicate with other managers, partners and continue assistance from me, it reminded me that our recommendations seem trivial but have huge impacts. This is a guy that has to bring in his cell phone to charge at the office because there is no electricity where he stays. They have very unique challenges such as delinquency levels of 20 percent. In an environment where it should be less than 5 percent, they lack the training, policies and procedures to manage this portfolio. I am confident that the material we left behind, the training we suggested will help him tremendously. 

The boards of all the credit unions however were engaging and were very serious about our recommendations. They truly have the people who bank with the credit union in their mind as they try new innovative things to strengthen their operations. They do a wonderful job in providing the poorest of people an opportunity to save and borrow for micro financing loans. Loans as small as $50 for seeds, were granted providing people with a small start to lift them from poverty. They spent huge amounts of time educating their members on money management, business, and other training. It was quite amazing to be a part of this.

So many stories will be told over the next week, as now I have my Internet back. Once I get into work I will upload some pictures. Right now, I am pleased to be on my last leg home, and look forward to seeing everyone and doing numerous presentations on this experience and how it ties to leadership, development, and social responsibility.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Are we leaving already?

Stewart Oke - Uganda
This morning we woke to a beautiful sunny day…the rain has stopped and everything smells fresh and green.   That is the one thing about Uganda…it is very lush and productive.  The land is fertile and produces good crops as well as adequate feed for the cattle, goats, and other livestock.
Today was our final day with the Kagamba SACCO.   The road conditions had improved substantially with only a few soft spots remaining.  That is the beauty of clay…it dries and hardens quite quickly!!
Our meeting with the SACCO went well and our report was well received by everyone.  The board graciously considered our recommendations and asked some excellent questions to clarify how they could accomplish some of the recommendations.  It was rewarding to know that our hard work was appreciated.  
Friday will be our last day in Africa and a very busy day as well.  We have a meeting scheduled in the Morning with the Canadian Consulate here in Kampala and then we will spend the afternoon in de-brief meetings with the UCA.  From there we will head for the airport and catch the red-eye to London for the CCA de-brief.  And then HOME!!! 

Blake Reynolds - Malawi

Erin and Grace, Manager
Auction Holdings Employees SACCO
We made our presentation to the Auction Holding Employees SACCO this morning.  They are a pretty healthy SACCO with good leadership at both the board and management levels so it’s difficult in some ways to make many suggestions.  But that being said, our observations and suggestions were very well accepted, and it was sad to say good bye to these wonderful people.
  This afternoon we will re-joined with our other Malawi teammates at MUSCCO.  As we were already in Lilongwe, we were able to have an extra day with our SACCO which was very nice.   I’m really looking forward to hearing about their own adventures and stories, and perhaps sharing a few of my own.

Are we leaving already?  What an amazing two weeks!  When you arrive in Malawi, it’s laid back vibe makes you feel like you have all the time in the world.  “Malawi Time” really does sneak up on you.  Unfortunately this second week, the realisation dawns on you that there are things left to be done, places left to be seen, adventures yet to be had and stories yet to discovered…and time suddenly is not on your side.
Heidi Hyokki - Ghana
Heidi and Damien
As tomorrow is our last credit union evaluation, Damien and I are reflecting back on our top ten list of items that we have learnt in the last 12 days about Ghana....

#1 - If asked to attend a credit union AGM clarify BEFORE you say yes how long it is....BTW....the 2 that we attended were both 5 hours long!!!

#2 - If you ask how much further you will be told "it's not far".....always determine how far this really is as "it's not far" usually means 2 hours

#3 - Everything is "within walking distance" in Ghana

#4 - If you ask a question and it is answered with "okay" it's not

#5 - Unless you like to eat "soup" with your hands, don't order the fufu

#6 - If a Ghanaian makes a "clicking" sound while talking this is a good sign

#7 - You need to practice singing "It's a Small World"

#8 - The only safe food to eat is chicken & rice...and more chicken & rice...and even more chicken & rice

#9 - Always carry your own roll of toilet paper and bring extra immodium and a cork for the car rides that "aren't too far"

And finally........

#10 - Prepare to leave a little piece of you behind when you leave Ghana, as you will never forget the amazing people and cherished new friends you will meet.  :)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"Join a credit union today" - Lennie Hampton - Malawi

For the next three days we will be working with Danwell Credit Union. It has one main branch and two agencies as they are called here, one in Kasaam and one in Boaman both of which we will be visiting tomorrow. We were at the main branch today visiting with the staff and working with the Manageress Mrs. Philomina Sarpong. Danwell has an assets base of $900,000.00 and is home to 2400 active and dormant members. They have 9 staff members and have complimented their lending products with a Micro Finance department as well. Here in Ghana they have savings boxes, which are strong boxes that are given to members to save money in, piggy banks have nothing on these! There is only one set of keys for the box and they are held at the Credit Unions. The members on a daily basis put money in to the boxes and once the money has gone in the members are unable to access the savings again until the Credit Union comes to open the box for them. The funds are then brought to the Credit Union and deposited into the members account. Danwell has 600 of these savings boxes out in the community. It is a great program and seems to work well for both members and the Credit Union.

Seth Koduah working in his sandal shop
On our way back from lunch we were able to stop in and see a few Credit Union members at their shops. We had the great pleasure of meeting Mr. Seth Koduah. Seth owns a sandal making shop which employs 9 people. When we asked him why he liked dealing at the Credit Union he said that the Credit Union is the best family he has. He told us that his mother was unable to help him with money so he went to the Credit Union to get a loan to help start his shop, and because he paid his loan back quickly he has been able to borrow a few more times to add machines to his shop to help with his business. He said he wouldn't have been able to do it without the Credit Unions help. His business is growing nicely and he is almost ready to expand into a bigger shop and he says he will be back to the Credit Union for another loan. It was wonderful to meet Seth and see first hand what a difference the Credit Union helps make.  As the Credit Union cloth here in Ghana says "Join a Credit Union today the happy family".  
One of Seth's staff members
Seth and his staff at the sandal shop

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Stepping back in time - Stewart Oke - Uganda

Today we visited the Kagamba SACCO.  They are located in the very most southern part of Uganda, almost bordering on Tanzania.  To get there it was about a 45 minute drive on pavement (or tarmack) as the locals call it, and another 40 minutes down a narrow single lane dirt road which took us deep into the heart of the Uganda.

Street scene outside the credit union
When we arrived we were greeted by Martha, the Branch Manager, and a large contingent of the Board.  The existing branch building is extremely small and very cramped.  The SACCO has recently purchased  some land further up the road, so we head over there to have our meeting with the board.  We are the first coaching team the UCA/CCA has sent to Kagamba and everyone was so gracious for our interest in the little SACCO.  The meeting last for about 2 hours and we discussed some of the high level challenges that Kagamba is facing.  These include membership growth, loan delinquency, board succession planning, new loan growth, new building costs, and lack of electricity….you see Kagamba has no power at all in the village…only small generators and solar panels.
A future credit union member?
After our board meeting, we headed back down the branch to meet with the staff and learn how they operate their SACCO.  With no electricity and no computers, everything is entered the long way…using GL’s and loan binders.  This is very time consuming and requires a significant amount of man-power each day.  A simple software program and reliable electricity would make their lives so much easier.  We really noticed how far back in time we had stepped and essentially experienced how all Credit Unions in Canada, including Servus Credit Union, would have initially started their operations.  It was really interesting to experience.
Tomorrow we will go back and learn more about their business model as well as visit a couple of local farmers and maybe even a coffee plantation.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Goodbye to Fodya - Blake Reynolds - Malawi

Erin and Blake with Fodya board of directors
We ended our work day back at the MUSCCO offices chatting with Swanzie about youth programs.  They have a clean slate, but are hoping to explore youth savings clubs (very successful in Ghana), as well as potential financial literacy programs for schools and leadership camps to help educate young people about co-operatives and SACCOs.  There are many different programs across the country, so my goal is to put these people if possible in touch with Swanzie or at least point her in the right direction.  It’s neat to see how the “co-operative and credit union movement” can so easily and effectively cross borders!

Brian and Erin at the Fodya SACCO

We walked back to the branch and said our good byes to Rita and Brian.  Brian coyly explained that he was not there yesterday because his wife gave birth to their second son!  He proudly showed off pictures of his wife and sons, Wisdom and Wonderful, and it made more a bit more sad to leave all the people at this wonderful SACCO. 

Wa success stories - Cory Munden - Ghana
Week one of the CCA/Ghana partnership is now complete. My first assignment was for a credit union in the upper Ghana region called Wa Community Credit Union. The trek to get to Wa took about 14 hours in a truck which was donated by CCA. Our driver Calistus, who is from the Wa region got us safely to our destination. I was partnered with a manger from the Cork region of Ireland. Barry was a second year coach who traveled to the Cape Coast region of Ghana in 2010.
Upon visiting our first credit union I was surprised to learn they had over 9000 members and was a flagship operation for micro-financing. They assisted members in small loans to start businesses, become farmers, or other activities to generate income. The loans ranged in size from 5 cidi (about 3$ cdn) to 10,000 cidi. We had the opportunity to visit a small business in which a woman was given a very small amount in a loan to buy some merchandise for a store. Today she employees some staff and has a very successful business.
What is very impressive is that all of the micro loans have been paid back with no defaults, assisting many people. It is examples like Wa community credit union that demonstrate the true social development that credit unions should be involved in. They see the value added of assisting a member, which in turn stimulates a community. They truly practice the co-operative principles. 

Friday, January 28, 2011

One Happy Family - Lennie Hampton - Ghana

We finised meeting with the staff of our first Credit Union (Tek University Credit Union) today, as their Board was not able to meet with us until 3:00 we took sometime to visit one of the local community schools.  The childern were so thrilled to see us that their teachers where almost unable to keep them in their seats. Emmanuel our Credit Union driver also took us to see his community and his home. It was wonderful to experience both. We then meet with the Board of Directors and Management at theCredit Union and provided them with our report. They were very happy with the report and the suggestions and recommendations that we made. Once we finished presenting the report the Board and Management presented myself and Kristin with traditional Africian dresses and head covers they are beautiful. We put the dresses on and had pictures taken with the Board and Management.

Lennie and Kristen with Tek University Credit Union staff
Here in Ghana they have what they call Credit Union cloth that they make skirts and shirts and pants out of and one of the messages on the cloth is "one happy family" today this was very apparent as even though we live on the other side of the world today we stood together with other Credit Union employees and shared ideas and had our pictures taken.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Inspiring Youth Savers - Kati Clark - GHANA

There is something infectious about being around people who are passionate about what they do. Every day that I spend with CUA the more inspired I am in my own work. I have been able to spend the last few days with my new friend and CUA (Credit Union Association of Ghana) staff member Ernest, the Youth Savings Officer.  I asked to spend a little time with him to better understand the Youth Savings Program instituted by CUA, it is now two days later and I am realizing I have only begun to scratch the surface of the impressive work that CUA is doing.
Ernest explained to me that for the last ten years CUA has been helping schools throughout Ghana institute Youth Savings Clubs, that to date total 47 clubs. The clubs are run by a few teachers who volunteer their time and act as supervisors, there is also an executive committee made up of four members of the student body as well as a number of student representatives from each class. The student reps take deposits from their fellow members; note it in the depositor’s passport and another notation on the accounts sheets. They then bring the money to the teacher supervisor who will sign for the money and make a note in their general accounts book, then take it to the credit union to deposit into the general account. When a student wishes to make a withdrawal they need to submit a request in writing to the teacher including the item they wish to purchase and what it will be used for, generally the withdrawals go towards school fees and books. Not all requests are successful, as no matter how convincing a teenager can be, extra minutes for their cell phones or a second month anniversary present for their girl/boyfriend won’t make the cut. The program is about building a savings culture in this newest generation that will help them remain financially responsible for the rest of their lives.
Esther Pabi and Hackman Eric, Chem SHS Youth Savings Club members
I was able to go to a school in Tema, CHEM Senior High School, and meet these young micro financiers in person today. I sat at the head table and looked out at the 13 young faces before me along with Ernest and the three volunteer teacher supervisors. Of course at first my obrunyi presence made for shy looks and quiet whispers but it didn’t take more than a minute or two of listening to Ernest speak about the importance of their club and what they are doing, not for their teachers or school or this Canadian sitting before them but themselves and their fellow students before the audience was wrapped in the task at hand.
Once Ernest was finished inspiring, the floor was opened for any questions. This was not a timid group. When should we be giving the deposits to our teacher? As soon as break arrives, replied Ernest, holding your fellow students deposit is a great responsibility and you want to make sure that it doesn’t get lost along the way. The others want to know why it takes so long to get their withdrawals. It can sometimes take up to a week and they don’t want to put their money in the savings anymore. Ernest quickly replies that of course it takes some time to get your money; it is not in Madame’s pocket it is at the credit union where it is safe and growing with each deposit you make. She cannot just leave and get your money, give her sometime and if the withdrawal is approved you will get.
Ernest ends the session with reminding the students that they should remember to make deposits regularly; take the small money that you don’t want and put it in your savings.  A pesewa a day can grow into a cedi before you know it!!!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Another day "At the Office" - Blake Reynolds - Malawi

Today was mine and Erin's second day "at work", and I think we are hitting our stride!  I honestly did not know what to expect going into this, and even though I won't get much pity from my family and friends in New Brunswick ,Canada currently enduring -35 Celsius temperatures (yes it was probably 25 Celsius this morning but it WAS muggy), I can honestly say that this is work... it just happens to be very rewarding and enjoyable work! 

Erin & I in front of Fodya SACCO

We had some wonderful conversations with Rita and Brian of Fodya (Chichewa for tobacco) SACCO (Credit Union), which is a closed-bond SACCO which serves the Alliance One tobacco refinery in Lilongwe.  We were also fortunate to meet and speak with Fodya's board treasurer Wilson and Oscar Phiri the board president. Both Rita and Brian are working full time at the SACCO while going to college studying accounting and couldn't be more enthusiastic! Though part of a small SACCO, Brian and Rita truly see their work as more than a job, and often refer to their roles and the role of the once struggling SACCO "in the movement".  Mr. Phiri proudly talked with us about Fodya's early struggles including an exodus of some members to being awarded MUSCCO's 2009 "Most Improved SACCO".
Rita, Oscar and Brian with their MUSCCO "Most improved SACCO" award.

Sunyani Teachers Credit Union - Heidi Hyokki - Ghana

We spent our first coaching experience at the Sunyani Teachers Credit Union.  The credit union welcomed us with open arms and I can't say enough about their hospitality and how open they were to us, it was wonderful....what a great first experience for me.

So we went over their books at the Sunyani Teachers Credit Union and met with their board to answer all of our questions, they are a very organized credit union with a beautiful building and a great future ahead of themselves as they have such a solid background in place including an excellent business plan.  I'm looking forward to how we can help them become even more successful in their community as they so want to be able to give back. 
A great quote today comes from the Mission Statement of the Sunyani Teachers Credit Union:

"The ultimate aim of the Union is to improve the living standards of teachers, their families, and the people within this community."

It is such an honour to be here working with these talented people who are so passionate about making a difference in their communities and the people who live in them!  Wow....now that's exactly what a credit union is all about!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Getting to work...

After breakfast we walked to the MUSCCO, which is the Central, and had a meeting with Sylvester, the CEO; Lillian, Business Development Manager and Swanzie, Business Development Officer.  Also attending the meeting was Fumbani, Head of Finance and Administration. The meeting was very informal but productive. Again I might mention the friendly nature of the Malawi people and these people treat you like none other.

   From there we said goodbye to the other teams and Scott and I started off to our SACCO's we would be meeting. We did find out that although the distance is only 470 kms we would not make it there today which I found unusual. But after about one hour of travel I knew why. 

   Let me start. You do not drive for 200 meters without passing someone walking by the road. There are numerous villages that you must reduce your speed to 50kms an hour. The traffic starting out was very heavy as Lilongwe is a city of 2 million people. the roads are in good condition but very curvy. It may seem frustration to many of you but what a truely beautiful road to travel that you cannot try to do justice by describing and pictures I'm sure will only tell half the story. Truly amazing!

Brad Shultz - Malawi

Stewart Oke at the equator - Uganda
We had a great drive out with Francis our driver for the next two weeks…it is about 140 kms to Masaka and we arrived roughly 2.5 hours after leaving Kampala.  In order to avoid the morning rush hour traffic, we travelled through some of the suburbs of Kampala and really saw how the poorest of the poor in Africa live…it was difficult to witness and tugged at the heart strings. 
About 100 kms  from Kampala we reached the Equator!!!  We stopped and took some pictures standing on the monument that separates the Northern Hemisphere from the Southern Hemisphere.  This was a very cool experience !!  The equator crosses the highway at about a 45 degree angle, so they have a monument on each side as well as a bowl with water that demonstrates that the water does not ‘swirl’ left or right!!
When we arrived in Masaka (Masaka is both a district of Uganda as well as a city within the district) we learned that the current President of Uganda, who is seeking re-election, will be holding a major rally right outside of our hotel.  They are expecting thousands of people and they are preparing the area as I write this.  (setting up tents, cleaning the area, pruning tress etc)  There is also a huge army presence in the area.  Major security for this event. 
This evening we will meet with Richard who is the regional director for the credit unions in Masaka.  He will provide more specific information about the credit unions we will be visiting over the next two weeks.  We look forward to meeting him and learning as much as we can about our work here in Uganda.
Stewart Oke - Uganda


Monday, January 24, 2011

More Arrivals...

We made it!  Exhausted, dirty, needing sleep, etc but we made it!  Pretty excited but likely going to be an early night as we are all fading VERY fast.  Have met up with Swanzie and Lillian from MUSCCO - they picked us up, showed us around a bit, helped us exchange some US Cash for Kwacha's, etc.

Scott Kennedy - Malawi

Well after several days of intense training and two very long flights and some turbulence like I have never experienced before, I made it to Accra. We landed last night at 9:00. When we stepped off the plane you walked into a wall of heat and humidity. We really couldn't see much as it was dark so we are looking forward to doing some exploring tomorrow. Until then, good night from Africa.
Lennie Hampton - Ghana

Arriving in Uganda

We safely arrived in Entebbe Africa around 10 pm local time after flying for roughly one full day and all most non stop….Ottawa to Toronto…Toronto to London…and London to Entebbe!!!!  It really was a whirlwind.  Stepped of the plane on the tarmac as was greeted with warm humid Africa air…felt good after our Canadian winter!!!!
Our driver last night was a great guy named John…he picked us up in a diesel ¼ ton Nissan crew cab truck…and we were off to Kampala and the hotel….roughly 45 minutes away.  He was a great driver and we felt very save with him. 
This evening we will meet with Richard who is the regional director for the credit unions in Masaka.  He will provide more specific information about the credit unions we will be visiting over the next two weeks.  We look forward to meeting him and learning as much as we can about our work here in Uganda.
Winston Churchill once stated that “Uganda is the Pearl of Africa” and from our experiences so far I would have to agree with him!
Stewart Oke - Uganda

Stewart Oke and his driver John in Uganda

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Departure Day!

Today is the final day of briefing, with the 23 coaches and two CCA co-ordinators (Kati - Ghana and Laurie - Uganda/Malawi) all flying out of Ottawa tonight.  The CCA office has been filled with excitement, energy and lots of emotions this week with everyone meeting, planning and saying their goodbyes.
The Malawi bound coaches chatting with Stella and Mathias from Malawi
Check back soon for updates from Uganda, Malawi and Ghana, with pictures, stories and hopefully a video or two.