In September 2014 I was fortunate to visit Opportunity International’s programmes in Ghana where we support 70,000 small businesses with microloans and provide savings facilities to over 375,000 Ghanaians living in poverty.
The country’s rich mineral resources of gold and oil mean Ghana is officially a middle income country. But the reality is that many, many Ghanaians still live in poverty. During my visit, I saw living conditions comparable to or worse than countries with lower GDPs. The informal settlements on the outskirts of Accra are vast and sprawling with inadequate water and sanitation facilities – open sewers cast a distinctive and unpleasant odor over the urban landscape. Those lucky enough to have water piped into their home are restricted to its usage on only a couple of days a week.
Education is highly valued as many Ghanaians know that a child with an education is more likely to break out of this poverty. But the Government’s State schools are bursting at the seams and the youth population is growing rapidly. In response, many community leaders and retired teachers are establishing community schools. Typically, the schools start by providing classes to a few neighbours. But for those that do a good job, their reputation soon spreads and very soon they find themselves inundated with requests from parents to educate their children. Opportunity International provides the loans and training that the schools need to grow – to build classrooms, kitchens and toilet blocks.
I visited Great Vision School – only a short distance as the bird flies from the major town of Kumasi but the roads were bumpy, winding and dusty making it feel like a different world altogether. The head teacher of Great Vision, Samuel, founded the school in 2008 in response to the lack of quality education in his home community. Samuel has worked with Opportunity International to grow the school and he now has 800 pupils.
Samuel knows the responsibility he has, and his teachers were smartly dressed and enthusiastic to teach. The facilities were basic – with school lunches being cooked on an open fire in a far corner of the school compound. But the children had a hunger to learn.
We arrived on the first day of term and the school was taking inventory of their new text books. Samuel had made a point of ensuring every child could have access to a text book by loaning these out to those who could not afford to buy them.
Samuel and his staff’s efforts were getting great results. Great Vision had ranked fifth in the region’s exams – with all 22 children who sat exams passing. For these graduates and those still learning at Great Vision, a brighter future is ahead of them – all made possible by support of donors and the hard work and determination of Samuel and his team.
Gareth Simpson is Director of Philanthropy and Strategic Partnerships at Opportunity International UK.