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July 5, 2012 July 6, 2012

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I’m reading The Alchemist and realizing I need to take a step back before school starts to figure out how everything’s affected me, figure out how I feel about NGOs, and love, and Africa, and travel. And life, and everything, pretty much.

Mole national park is incredible. After our bus ride from hell we crashed in our hostel room, and then we woke up in the morning to the sound of… monkeys? We ran outside and there were baboons just chilling outside our door, eating the plants. We went on a walking safari this morning, and saw warthogs, to which of course we immediately said, “Like Pumba!” and the guide replied, “Yes, like Pumba.” Then, we saw elephants, oh my goodness! Our guide told us there used to be an elephant that was super friendly and named “People’s Friend” and used to drink from the pool at the hotel.

ImageI then a nice night with the other interns. Ate ramen with cheese, fine dining right there, for dinner.  And then I just looked at the stars, standing in the parking lot of Mole, neck craned upwards. Goodness. A man on a motorcycle was watching me, then came over and asked if I was admiring the stars. He had studied tourism at Cape Coast, and loved working at Mole. He was wearing a rad striped shirt, just like the one I bought for my boyfriend Stuy. I asked him if he had ever left Ghana and he said no, and told he thought there would be no place better for him, which I thought was really beautiful. And right now Ghana feels, for sure, like the best place in the world and my heart aches already to leave it. Oh my.

July 4, 2012 July 4, 2012

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I ran out of internet credit while on the trip so am uploading now what I wrote in a journal instead.

What a day. 2 days ago we started our road trip to Mole National Park, while some members of the GB staff went on a roadtrip to Lake Chad. We went to Kumasi and had a fun dinner together at a restaurant of the sketchiest quality–found a piece of tile in our rice. Then, we went to the market in Kumasi, and I have really come to loathe these market trips, haha. People touching you because you look different, and it’s so hot and there are so many different smells and things to see. I saw the most interesting animal heads, stuffed little lizards and some sort of wolf, and those made me sneeze, haha. Then, we got back in the bus and headed up to Mole. We stopped by a monkey sanctuary and I got to feed monkeys, which was pretty much the highlight of my life.

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And then we got back on the bus for what should’ve been a 6 hour, but somehow turned into like a 13 hour bus ride because the roads were so muddy. There was a very scary moment when our bus started sliding back off of the road but we accelerated through! Then, I got really sick on the side of the road. My stomach’s not loving the food for sure. Oh Ghana. But it’s like right when you want to leave, it pulls you back in. Just a surreal moment on our bus ride of hell as night hit. Bonding with one of the interns, listening to Arcade Fire, looking up at the stars, a whole new set of constellations, watching the clouds, the green, the thatched huts, the red dirt road. Driving so fast, zooming, racing, swerving around potholes, my butt coming out of the seat, the wheels skidding in the mud. This is Africa, and I love it.

Can a skinny chicken lay eggs? June 24, 2012

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I think I’ve hit my low point (or at least I hope I have) while in Ghana. It’s been emotional for sure. We’ve been going into communities and talking to people about their financial situations, and it’s difficult because there’s just not a ton of economic opportunity. Micro finance is kind of really depressing. Telling a woman, so far in debt, that she needs to pay back 367 cedis a week when she only makes 50 cedis a week is hard. Telling a man that he will not be able to send his children to secondary school based on the income he is making currently sucks. And feeling powerless to help is even worse.

I’ve been trying to think about what I want to implement in the short time I have here, and I have so many  ideas, it’s difficult to choose what needs to be a priority.

It’s tough to look at the big picture when you build these relationships with people. You don’t want to say, it’s alright, this bank that I’m helping develop should be flourishing in twenty years and poor people will be able to take out loans without the crippling interest that keeps them in a vicious debt cycle. You want it to work now, for the grandmother of 5 who has just invited you into her home and talked to you for two hours, pulled out her best chair, and shared what little she has with you.

I’ve been trying to think of what I want to leave this place with, what I want to have gained. At first I thought optimism–as a naturally optimistic person, I’ve kind of been depressed these past few days and it’s very difficult to look at the situation in an optimistic light. And then I considered peace–but I shouldn’t leave with peace, because the things I’ve learned, they are unsettling, and leaving with peace is living in denial. And so I hope to leave with hope, for a better future, and I’m going to do everything I can to leave behind a program that I can have hope in.

June 19, 2012

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Today was the first day I felt overwhelmed. The tropics are a little exhausting. We visited the communities and looked at their sources of water. Ekomfi Ekotsi has a running river near it that they use for drinking, bathing etc. Orion, the director, drank from it and got three parasites. While the adults have drank from it their whole lives and become immune to it, most of the children in the community have trouble with diarrhea and other illnesses. We checked out the community development fund that Global Brigades helped install, and then visited the Mankessim market. I don’t enjoy shopping for long periods of time in the States as is, so shopping in the market was not my favorite thing in the world… the amount of people, the goods being sold, the people talking about you, the horns honking, the powerful smells of fish and food. I bought some local peanut butter and some fabric to take to the seamstress. I wish I had pictures, but many Ghanaians don’t like having their picture taken at the market, and we were drawing enough attention as is. Everyone was staring, but not with the curious eyes and friendly smiles of the people in the villages that Global Brigades has been working in and building relationships with for a year, but with mistrust—what are these abruni doing here? And one of the other interns became ill. I was glad when I got home.

Over dinner, I finally met and talked forever with Claire and William, the coordinators of microfinance for Global Brigades. This was most definitely the most exciting part of the day. The bank Global Brigades has developed here is very different than the microfinance initiatives I’ve read about in Bangladesh and India and Rwanda. And it’s very new, and it’s very overwhelming because it works with so little capital. There were no initial grants to provide a cushion for the bank, aside from small $100 donations from students, which is pretty much nothing. I’m very unsure of what economic opportunities exist in this community. They seem to be scarce, or at least quite modest. And the competition is incredibly intense, as I’ve seen in the market. I went to 4 fabric stalls today, all within perhaps a half mile of each other. How large can the economic gains be when you borrow money to expand your fabric shop when there are three other right next door? Most of the economics majors that have come in to visit from other schools have left very discouraged, and I’m still trying to process how to tailor microfinance so that it fits into this community. Claire has been here for over a year, and studied Development Studies at Berkeley while William grew up in the Eastern region of Ghana and studied Mathematics & Statistics at the University of Accra. Their enthusiasm and energy truly excites me—especially William’s. As I was asking them questions and processing facts in my head I could see him becoming impatient—what are your ideas? What do you want to achieve as an intern? He was so eager for my input, and it made me realize I really am helping form and build an NGO that is only 9 or 10 years old, and has only been in Ghana for a year and a half, and that has expanded and grown so quickly due to demand and the hard, after hours work of Ghanaians and Americans alike.

Other news: I washed some clothes Ghana style AKA huddled over a bucket with powdered soap today, and I have maybe my first sunburn, ever. (I’m Southeast Asian, so a sunburn is kind of foreign to me, haha). And I’m really really sweaty, constantly. That’s about it.

Loving every minute and learning a ton. So thankful for Fleet to help me go on this amazing opportunity.

Trisha

Akwaaba! Welcome to my country. June 18, 2012

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I don’t really have words to describe what it is like here, but I will try.

First of all, I LOVE it. I’m ridiculously excited every single minute of every single day and don’t really know when it’s going to rub off. in Biffkrum, in the Central Region of Ghana, just outside of Mankessim. Here, it is rainy season, and it’s very green and lush.

I’m here in Ghana as a microfinance intern for the NGO Global Brigades, the world’s largest student led international development organization. It started back in ’03 o4 ’04 in Honduras when a Honduran nonprofit wanted to provide medical services for people in a community in the mountains that were isolated from health care. The nonprofit works by sending university students on 7 to 10 day trips that they pay for themselves to provide medical services. In 2007, these services spread to encompass a more holistic approach, and now students from multiple disciplines come provide dental relief, microfinance expertise, etc.

Yesterday, the village we are working in, Ekumfi Ekotso, welcomed us with an opening ceremony, which they do whenever they have a large group of foreign visitors. It was an absolutely incredible, unforgettable experience. We walked through the village dancing to music. Children came up to us and grabbed at our hands and danced with us. I spoke to them in the few words of Fante that I’m picking up—wo ho fre den? What is your name?  Wo ho te den? How are you? Afterwards, we listened to speeches from the different chiefs (fun fact: the co-founder of Global Brigades Ghana, Orion, is the chief of development in the village now.) And we were made to dance in front of everyone, and I embarrassed myself wholeheartedly… videos to come.

Today, I went door to door with my translator, Janet, who is absolutely a gem and wants to be a high school Fante teacher and another intern asking the community members what they want from us. I talked to many elderly people, and they all had like 8+ children—incredible! It seemed that the adults were most interested in obtaining machines to make farming easier. Most everyone in the village is a subsistence farmer grows cassava and maize. The children and teenagers, on the other hand, would love a secondary school in the community that is cheaper. I also visited the community bank today in the village we are working in, Ekumfi Ekotso. The bank is volunteer based and has around 400 villagers who have accounts there, and it’s my job to help strengthen it and develop it further during the time I am here. My mind is absolutely teeming with ideas, and I can’t wait to start on my work.

The intern house we are staying in is nice in comparison to the homes we are staying in. I am pretty much just always sweating, but we do have running water. The power goes out often and we had to push the van out of a pothole in the road today, haha, but I am just in love with every single adventure and loving every single minute!

Me ma wo ah jo. Good night!

Ama Trisha