When I embarked on my fellowship four months ago, I was excited but nervous. As with any new experience, the unknowns can be interesting, exhilarating, challenging and overwhelming all at the same time. With these feelings, I boarded my flight to Ghana. I had two simple objectives for my fellowship – help my MFI as much as I can and learn as much as I can. As my journal entry from my flight states, I wanted to learn about microfinance, Ghanaian culture, common characteristics that make us human, and myself. Though I’ve probably only scratched the surface on these lofty goals, I am surprised at how much these objectives shaped my fellowship experience. I’d like to take this final blog to share a little bit of what I’ve learned.
My Work at Christian Rural Aid Network (CRAN)
In my time here, I worked most closely with CRAN’s three Kiva staff. Together, we analyzed CRAN’s Kiva processes and implemented changes that would improve both efficiency and data accuracy. I am impressed by the team’s commitment to learning and continuous improvement, two very key ingredients of a successful Kiva partnership. I am humbled by their hard work and perseverance. Despite intermittent power outages, questionable Internet speed and numerous other daily setbacks, the Kiva staff remain committed to making Kiva happen. For this, I commend them.
In ways that would have been unimaginable to me four short months ago, I feel at home here. Largely, I think I have to thank CRAN staff for this wonderful feeling of belonging. From the moment I walked into CRAN offices, I was welcomed with open arms. CRAN staff take hospitability very seriously and tremendously value their volunteers. It’s been such a rewarding experience to be able to share my skills with them.
I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating what microfinance is and isn’t. While my time has been too short to make any decisive conclusions, what I have observed is that micro-loans make people happy. They create opportunities. They provide a financial product to an otherwise unserved population. They help fulfill some very basic needs. They make a difference in the borrowers’ lives – more often positive than not. They make it possible to dream maybe just a little bigger. They connect people to their communities and through Kiva, the world at large. These reasons alone are enough to convince me that microfinance is a worthwhile tool. While I appreciate its limitations, I am proud to support the world of microfinance.
Ghanaian culture has been fascinating to learn about. I was staying with a Ghanaian family for the duration of my fellowship, which provided a great peak at the Ghanaian family life. It is true! Ghanaians are extremely hospitable. They welcome foreigners with open arms and want to make your stay as pleasant as possible. They love sharing their culture and get excited when foreigners show an interest in learning about it. Introducing yourself with your Ghanaian name, trying to speak the local language (no matter how horribly) and wearing African print win bonus points in most social circles.
Ghanaians smile a lot. They are happy-natured people. It is important to them to take the time to interact with one another, laugh and joke. It is much more important to them to greet one another appropriately than to complete that one last task. Their ideas of time well spent are certainly different than that of Western ideas. Why rush through life being busy when you can take your time and enjoy it?
Ghana is a community-oriented culture. People know their neighbours and take care of a much larger extended community than just their immediate family. The power of the individual is less important. It’s the well-being of the collective that matters. And lastly, Ghanaians love to dance! From diapers to walkers, Ghanaian men and women know how to move to the beat. Why sit still when you can dance? You got music, you got dancing!
Common Characteristics That Make Us Human
I have always found people and their interactions, motivations, and behaviours to be fascinating to observe. I think us humans have some very basic needs that transcend cultures and continents. We have a need to love and be loved. We seek to understand and be understood. We have a natural tendency to form communities and groups. Within these groups, we seek leaders to guide us. We want to be accepted. We want to belong. We want to care for our loved ones. And it is this last need that I think microfinance so elegantly helps fulfill.
Over and over, I witnessed such a joy for life in the eyes of CRAN’s borrowers. I witnessed hard work. I witnessed perseverance. I witnessed a very simple truth – our very basic human need to fight for and provide for our families. No matter who we are or where we are, we desire to be in a position to care for our loved ones. It is rewarding to see that these micro-loans enable borrowers to do just that. When I ask borrowers what their dreams are, the most common response I hear is their desire to see their children in better places. A simple dream, yet one that speaks volumes…
Self awareness is an important value of mine. In addition to all the experiences I’ve had above, the past four months have been a fabulous self discovery journey. It’s funny how being removed from familiar surroundings can do that. You get an opportunity to think about and question things that you took for granted. Things you had always accepted as truths or facts become challenged by the new perspectives that you gain. While this in itself can be uncomfortable, you eventually form your new realities and find your way back.
I think the most important thing I learned about myself is the idea of balance. Maybe life isn’t about being one way or another, but learning where in the pendulum you should be at a given time. I have learned that I have to balance my thirst for adventure with how much I enjoy feeling settled. Similarly, I have to balance my ambitions and future-orientation with being present. I have to balance my desires for task completion and planning with going with the flow. I have to balance my values of hard work and discipline with my desire to be self-forgiving. I guess at the core of it, it’s about pushing yourself to be the best that you can while appreciating and accepting your limitations. Is this possible? I’m optimistic. Is it easy? No good thing in life really is. Is it worthwhile to pursue? For me it is…
As you can see, my Kiva fellowship has been such a rich learning experience. These were some of my highlights. While my time in Ghana concludes, these learnings will stay with me for times to come. I am appreciative of Kiva for providing me with the fellowship opportunity and of CRAN for being so welcoming. Thank you all for sharing the journey with me.
By, Zerrin Cetin, KF12 Ghana