Fourth-year Earl Woods Scholar Vina Vo has traveled to some of the most amazing places during her college career. From France to Rome to Barcelona and Prague, to spending time with children in Ecuador and learning how to cook from Chilean women who know food and family best, Vina has seen and experienced the world in ways that most people only dream about. So, it was not a surprise when Vina left this past winter to spend time in Ghana. Vina and her group of 20 went to Ghana as part of an organization called the Global Business Brigades, which is the largest student-led global health and sustainable development organization in the world.
The Global Business Brigades traveled to the village of Ekomfi Ekotsi, Ghana, with the mission of establishing the village's very first community development bank. Ekomfi Ekotsi had a population of 900, and many of its citizens expressed an urgent need for a savings culture in their village.
"During our door-to-door interviews, the villagers told us that they just spent all their money before," an excited Vina said. "But now, they want to save the money for their children's education and for emergencies. The people in the village said that they wanted their children to go to universities in the big cities like Accra and Cape Coast to find more opportunities for themselves."
Vina reported that the Global Business Brigades made impressive headway in Ghana. They focused on three aspects in developing the bank: loans, the shareholder model and compensation. They trained bank leaders on issuing loans, taught villagers how to apply for loans, sold shares to villagers to get the bank started, matched those shares collected and set up a reward system so that volunteers would be compensated at the end of the year.
How did Ghana differ from the other places Vina has visited?
"Looking back, I feel like I grew so much from this trip," she said. "I have traveled before, but this trip especially made me realize the difference between needs versus wants. I also learned the true meaning of 'first world problems.' In the village where we worked, the only source of water was a river. Unfortunately, other villages upstream also use this river for bathing, cooking, cleaning and drinking, meaning that this village received upper-stream contamination. A lot of the children had infections on their skin and lacked clothing that fully covered their bodies."
Although Vina and her organization were not equipped to address the issues of water and health, Vina believes that her services to the community of Ekomfi Ekotsi were significant because this new savings culture will allow parents and their children to better stabilize their futures, both financially and academically.
Take Mary, for example, a 9-year-old girl Vina met on the beaches of Cape Coast. Vina spotted Mary selling oranges along the white, sandy beach.
"In order to help support her family, Mary tries to sell oranges that she peels herself. She told me that she lives with her grandmother, who also sells oranges, and her mom sells oranges in another village. When it gets dark, her aunt comes to collect her. She then briefly mentioned that her father died. I still think about Mary from time to time, wishing I could have done something more for her."
But Vina and her organization are doing something for children like Mary. With this new bank in place, perhaps Mary's family can one day save enough money so that she can go to college. Perhaps one day, girls like Mary won't have to sell oranges on the beach anymore. The Global Business Brigades gave the villagers not only knowledge, but also hope.