We're back from our summer journey to Ghana, a trip in which we strove to better understand the people in the villages of the Eastern Region. We first went to Ghana in 2008, a trip that gave us plenty of great information, data points crucial to feel comfortable with our family decision to invest in The Hunger Project and its partnership with the rural communities.
This trip was quite different. For one thing, we traveled with other Hunger Project investors from Holland, the UK, Australia and Sweden, so it was fascinating to get the world view as well as a perspective from both newer and more experienced investors. (For those unfamiliar with our terminology, investors are those often are referred to as donors in other orgs; The Hunger Project uses investors because we are investing in the lives of others, with returns expected -- not financial but clear returns.)
The other -- and more important difference -- was the opportunity to spend time one-on-one or in very small groups with the villagers, chiefs, trainers, workshop leaders and others.
So, at our family meeting this morning back in Atlanta, I asked Joan, Joe and Hannah this question: What would the villagers want us to tell people back home in the U.S.? Here's what we concluded:
1. Our village is a hopeful, happy place. We are more vibrant and active economically than ever before. Electricity is coming (we know because we are paying for poles ourselves out of money we are raising). As Hannah said this morning, as she role-played an African villager, "Most of the time, poor and lazy go together, at least that's how people think about the poor. I want Americans to know how hard we work."
2. Our mindset is changing. To quote Joe: "We are mentally changing to a more optimistic outlook for our futures." The chiefs will tell you, as Nana Owusu Kyere II told me, that villagers see success and jump on board. "Formerly, we were in darkness. Now they see the town is developing, so they want to work to bring the light too."
3. We are innovative. Look at our fields, where we are testing new techniques for better yields and working together to build community farms to provide food security. Look at our nurse's clinics, where infant mortality is a thing of the past. Look at our micro-loan program, where loans of only 50 Ghanaian cedis (about $40) are helping women build small businesses. Look at how we are bringing in revenue ourselves through the income-generation projects, like the palm-oil processing facility in Besease that helped to build a kindergarten and pre-K school building or the chair-rental business that is seating people from outside our village for other communities' funerals.
4. We've found new strength in teaming up. Neighboring villages in the past were often consumed with just surviving, rarely meeting each other and never working together. Now, we are working with our neighbors ("I have new friends from projects we've done with other villages," Mabel Hervie told me in Obenyemi.) There is a new unity among us and we can use that to demand more from the district government.
5. Sometimes, we're surprised by the side effects of what we do. John, the HIV/AIDS trainer in Darmang, spends his days educating people in that village and 10 others about the health danger of unprotected sex. In other words, HIV kills. But as he did, he began to notice that the teen pregnancy rates were plunging. Previously, he told me, about 75% of teen girls in the villages became pregnant (a number that seems implausibly high to me, but even if it's half that, that's still way too many). Since he began teaching condom use and greater infection avoidance, the pregnancy rate among those teen girls dropped to near zero for the girls still in school and about 35% for girls who have dropped out. A success we hadn't expected, John said proudly.
6. We need a bit more. Villagers often asked us for more help for their improvement path. More medical supplies for the clinics, books for the libraries, an irrigation system to sidestep the vagaries of weather, help for support of a technical school some chiefs would like to build. There is always need for more. (When we asked Dr. Naana, the Ghanaian country director for The Hunger Project, about this, her reply was: "We'll happily partner with them if they work to raise funds for those things." That's THP's way -- helping people build their own futures.)
7. We are so appreciative of partners. In consecutive stops in the villages, we heard: "if the cock crows tomorrow, it means that I am grateful" and "if the crops grow tomorrow, it means that I am grateful."
The villagers would like you to know.