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.