– A student perspective by Emily Lorsch, 14BBA

Emily Lorsch, 14BBA, president of Global Business Brigades at Goizueta, during the group's recent trip to Ghana

How many times do people ask you for money? There are so many different organizations helping others in need and many causes asking for your support. But how many times do you get to see where your money goes and the impact it makes?

I decided to organize a Microfinance trip to Ghana in January as the President of Global Business Brigades at Goizueta because I wanted to see and experience the impact. I wanted to teach while also learning, and experience the culture and people of a place much different from anywhere I’ve ever been.

After reviewing many applications, the Global Business Brigades Executive Board was formed. We advertised for the trip, raised money, held an information session in October and quickly registered more than a dozen students. By the end of October we finalized our group, sent in our deposits, and on January 1st, we landed in Ghana.

Spending ten days with families in the Ebuakwa community in the Central Region of Ghana opened my eyes to the disproportion of wealth and healthcare in the world, as well as cultural differences beyond my belief. When we stepped off the bus, we were swarmed by children running toward us just to get a chance to hold our hands. We witnessed people strutting through the streets to sell rice balls, pineapples, bananas, bread, corn, and so much more. Women and men of all ages were balancing large trays stacked with goods on their heads and pouncing right in front of cars.

During our opening ceremony the community danced for us, we danced for them, and then we all danced together to both Ghanaian and American music. Since all we could say in Fante was “hi” and “my name is,” and our hosts didn’t speak much English, dance was a means of understanding one another.

Each morning our group of 22 students went to the Ebuakwa community to teach financial literacy and assist with the individualized needs of each family business. We found that most families do not keep track of their money and many are farmers, struggling to earn just one cedi a day (roughly 50 cents).

All of the women I worked with were widows. One woman buys rice, spices, and cassava to prepare food to sell but rarely makes a profit after she pays for her crops and ingredients. Another woman takes care of her grandchildren and has more than she can count. She grows cassava and corn but can’t sell the corn in certain seasons, nor can she afford to pay for transportation to sell her corn somewhere else.

We came to this community to educate them about savings and the Community Development Fund (CDF, the bank that was established by a previous microfinance brigade). We also taught those with bank accounts about the loan application process. Each family welcomed us into their home, showed us their business, asked questions about the banking process and was curious about our culture. One by one we brought families to the CDF to open savings accounts, so they could start saving money to reach their financial goals. Whether that meant having enough money for food, water, or their children’s education, each family had a goal and now has a safe and secure place for their money.

At the end of the trip we each decided to donate $100 to purchase a van for the community to start a transportation business. Rides will be subsidized so that families in the community can afford to go to the market to buy and sell crops. An additional benefit is that some people can become more involved in the business and have a job during seasons when farming is not profitable. We also put a portion of our donation into an educational loan fund for the community.

While most of us growing up were taught to beware of strangers, in Ghanaian culture, children are taught to make friends with strangers. Only by exploring and experiencing other cultures can we truly understand, relate to, and ultimately impact people from these vastly different cultures. Ebuakwa is a friendly, loving, and welcoming community. It would be an understatement to say this was a life-changing and eye-opening experience. This community impacted me just as much as I hope we have impacted them. I look forward to hearing from our Global Brigades coordinators on how the community is doing and how many more families have opened savings accounts, applied for loans, and are on their way to reaching their financial goals, whatever they may be.

For more information, check out Global Brigades. In addition to Business Brigades, there are Medical, Dental, Law, Public Health and Environment chapters at Emory.

Emily Lorsch, 14BBA