Matt Fahlman - Microfinance in Ghana
I spent just over 10 weeks volunteering on a Micro-finance project in Koforidua, Ghana from January to March of 2014, and I can honestly say that it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
I am from a small city called Regina in the prairie province of Saskatchewan, Canada. Saskatchewan is incredibly different from Ghana: we have frigid winters (it usually hits -40 Celsius for a week or two every year) and the landscape is flat, with prairie land stretching as far as the eye can see.
If you were born in Saskatchewan, there’s a good chance your grandparents (or great-grandparents) were farmers, so we pride ourselves on being resourceful, friendly and hardworking people. Most citizens of Saskatchewan have no idea where Ghana is, and a lot of people haven’t even heard of it. So how did I come to volunteer in Ghana?
A part of me always wanted to travel and Africa always appealed to me because of how different it is than where I’m from. When I was researching different countries to go to, what stood out for me was Ghana’s well-deserved reputation for being friendly, hospitable and having some of the kindest people in the world. Plus the country is very safe for tourists, so I was sold!
As a student I majored in finance and economics, so the concept of micro-finance really intrigues me. Economic development is a field that I’d love to make a career out of, so I thought I’d get some first-hand experience to see what it’s really like. A couple of months later and I was on a plane heading from New York to Accra for the adventure of a lifetime!
First impressions of Ghana
Ghanaian culture is really interesting. The people are incredibly friendly, and Ghanaian’s do a fantastic job of welcoming you to their country. One of my most memorable experiences was having lunch (fufu – an awesome Ghanaian dish that’s an experience in itself) at one of the villager’s homes where we worked. It was an experience that I’ll never forget.
I’m sure the incredible weather (usually 28-32 degrees Celsius with high humidity and plenty of sun) contributes to this, but the culture is also much more laid-back than North American culture. Things don’t seem as rushed, and punctuality is not nearly as big a deal.
Working on the Micro-finance project
The actual work I did was incredibly rewarding. The other volunteers and I were tasked with helping to setup small businesses in villages that would benefit from additional income. One of the best parts of the job was feeling that we could actually make a long-term difference in people’s lives.
We worked primarily in two villages and the two businesses we helped to set up were a poultry farm and a soap manufacturing business. It was also a great experience to get to know some of the villagers on personal levels. We saw their homes and met their families.
Host families and Projects Abroad staff
The host family I stayed with (the Fahene’s) were incredible. They always took care of me and made me feel like part of the family. I also got to meet some of their family (grandparents, aunts and uncles) and was treated with respect by everyone.
The Projects Abroad staff was also awesome. I had plenty of laughs with those guys and they were always there to answer our questions and make sure we were doing ok. Writing all this out is bringing back a lot of great memories and I’m very fortunate that I was able to have such a rewarding experience.
Meeting other volunteers and traveling
The other volunteers were also great to hang out with and talk about our shared experiences. I made some really good friends that will hopefully last a lifetime, people from Germany, Sweden, France, Italy, Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and plenty more from all over Europe.
We also spent our weekends traveling all over Ghana and in my experiences I got to swim in West Africa’s largest waterfall (which was ice cold), feed a monkey a banana by hand, see a family of elephants, and stay on some of the nicest beach resorts I’ve ever seen. Every weekend was a new adventure and I’m so happy I got to see so much of Ghana.
Final thoughts on my trip
All in all, volunteering in Ghana was one of the greatest experiences of my life. It definitely shaped me as a person and I know that one day I’ll go back and visit. Whether that’s in one year or 30, I’ll be back.
Ghana is now my second home and I’ll forever hold it close to my heart. The decision to actually head to Ghana has become a defining moment in my life and I wish others had the same opportunity that I did. If you’re on the fence about going, I’d highly recommend going for it - you’ll never regret going on a potentially life-changing adventure. Trust me.
Read more about Micro-finance in Ghana