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Presenter: Hello and good day to you, our cherished listeners and farmers. It is another day and time to tune in your usual program, Vom Yella, on Radio Style (Editor’s note: Vom Yella means “Life matters” in English). I am your presenter, Lydia Ajono. Today, we continue our series on co-operatives in the Kpandai District of Ghana’s Northern Region. We shall be looking at rural commercial co-operative groups and how they are fighting poverty and hunger. This program will focus on women’s groups, and especially on microfinance.
Rosemary Sonlari is the group leader of the hairdressers Trusted friend co-operative. Mama Dodoi is leader of the women baker’s co-operative group and has been trained to encourage and teach gender awareness to children, both at her bakery and at her church. These women will be sharing their stories on the program today. Please stay with us.
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Presenter: Welcome back. If you have just joined us, you are listening to Vom Yella. Madam Rosemary Sonlari and Mama Dodoi are group leaders of women’s commercial co-operative groups in Kpandai. They will share their success stories after 15 years of experience. First is Rosemary Sonlari, leader of the women hairdressers’ co-operative group. I asked her the reason for organizing the co-operative.
Madam Rosemary Sonlari: In 1996, I was among the first women to attend gender sensitization meetings offered by SEND-Ghana in Kpandai town. Issues raised at the meeting focused on environmental cleanliness and home management. Among the home management topics were teaching our girls and boys to respect each other’s roles in the home. At that time, there was a great need for women in Kpandai town to tackle sanitation. Children were always sick with malaria, which thrived in the filth of the town. I took the idea and further discussed it with my hairdresser colleagues. We decided to form this group to start doing education on environmental sanitation.
Presenter: Why did you change from sanitation education to a commercial co-operative?
Rosemary Sonlari: Actually, we did not change. The group is continuing with the sanitation education. But what happened is that the NGO, SEND-Ghana, introduced microfinance to us. We embraced it with all our hearts, because at that time the hairdressing business was just a struggle to survive.
I did not know how to manage my finances, or how to do basic bookkeeping. I did not know how to tell the difference between capital and profit. I never tried to save any of the money I earned. I realized that many of my colleagues were in the same situation. Hence, we created the Trusted friend approach to allow our hairdressers’ group to access microfinance loans from SEND-Ghana.
Presenter: How does the Trusted friend approach work?
Rosemary Sonlari: The Trusted friend approach creates a team of five women who receive loans from the bigger co-operative group, which is the rural women’s commercial co-operative group. Having a five-woman team ensures that the group will be able to repay the loan and also save some money.
Presenter: How much does each member contribute before she is allowed to take out a loan?
Rosemary Sonlari: We started with monthly membership dues of five Ghana cedis (Editor’s note: about US$3.30). The Kpandai Co-operative Credit Union savings and loan scheme allows 17 weeks for a group to get and repay a loan. While making the loan payments, individuals must make deposits in individual savings accounts. This ensures that by the time the loan repayments are completed, the group members have enough savings to act as seed money for another venture or investment. When the scheme started about 15 years ago, the first loans were six cedis per person. Today, each member can get up to 200 cedis (Editor’s note: about US$125). So if there are five people in a Trusted friend group, the total amount of loans for the group is up to 1000 Ghana cedis (Editor’s note: about US$625).
If one person defaults on their loan, the group members have to repay the loan from their own savings. This is a large amount of money. So the Trusted friend small groups are always working hard to support each other not to default on their loans.
Presenter: How has this microfinance scheme helped you personally and helped your family?
Rosemary Sonlari: Personally, it has helped me to gain knowledge of running a business and of working in a team. At first, I did not know that working in smaller groups to get loans and to save money was far better and easier than doing it alone. In the group, we learn leadership skills. And we learn how to sustain the trust we have cultivated over the years as members, not only in the co-operative group but in our hairdressing businesses.
Personally, I have expanded my business from two to 10 apprentices. I can now buy more hair products from different dealers and pay for them without relying on credit, as I used to do.
Presenter: How about your family? What benefits do they enjoy?
Rosemary Sonlari: I now buy nice clothes for my family, especially my two girls, and of course my husband. I contribute to paying the children’s school fees and cooking good food for them. This is all because I earn more income from the business now than before joining the co-operative group. Also, through the SEND-Ghana microfinance education, I have gained knowledge in gender equity and I make efforts to practice it in my home. For instance, my in-laws didn’t used to support the idea that my husband help cook for the children or the boys cooking and sweeping. But now they have come to practically benefit from the gender equality skills my husband acquired from the gender training sessions.
Presenter: You may have had some challenges along the way. What are some of these challenges?
Rosemary Sonlari: Yes, one of the main challenges is getting men to participate in some of our community sanitation activities. The other one is that the cost of hair products is ever-increasing, making it difficult to continue to make a profit.
Presenter: Thank you so much. Now let us hear from Mama Dodoi.
Mama Dodoi is 49-year-old baker with three children. She says she learned how to bake bread many years ago, when she worked as a labourer for one of the big bakers in the city. I asked her why she left the job and joined the Kpandai rural women’s commercial co-operative.
Mama Dodoi: Actually, I am one of the women who first started the group. I stopped being a labourer and started my own baking. I started baking small round balls of bread, targeting schools and the very poor who could not afford the big loaves.
Presenter: What is the capacity of your business?
Mama Dodoi: Currently, I bake about five to 10 maxi-bags of bread flour a week, which is about eight kilograms of flour. My children, especially my boy, help me do all the baking and distribution. I don’t hire other people to work with us. Apart from selling to the general public, I also have special orders.
Presenter: What improvements has the co-operative group brought to you personally?
Mama Dodoi: Oh, if I wanted to list them all, we might not finish today. But I will just give two main examples of the improvements in my life. First is my children’s education. I have been able to send all my children to school. They have completed their basic levels and are pursuing higher education in the city. Secondly, through group training activities, I have learned to train other women and educate them on home management. Because of that, I serve in my church in the women’s fellowship group. The gender education from the co-operative group has also helped me to train my boy and other male children of my relatives, and today they appreciate gender roles
Presenter: What are the things that are not working well in the co-operative group that you wish you could change?
Mama Dodoi: To me, things are okay. You know, change takes time. Our people always want to see others try and succeed at something before adopting it themselves. But I would like the leaders of the group and SEND-Ghana to sponsor needy children to attend school at the tertiary level. That would help increase the numbers of Kpandai children in university or polytechnic institutions.
Presenter: Thank you. The Trusted friend model used by the Kpandai rural women’s commercial co-operative of the Kpandai Cooperative Credit Union is growing from strength to strength. The co-operative groups are involved in many types of rural income-generating activities, ranging from food processing such as shea butter extraction to crafts. Also, the continuous sharing of knowledge on gender equity has empowered the women to be assertive and further lead their communities in key decision-making processes such as giving equal opportunities to boys and girls.
The power of co-operatives cannot be overemphasized at the Kpandai Co-operative Credit Union Associations. The residents of this fast-growing small town have a good and memorable story to tell the next generation. Join us again at the same time next week for another exciting episode of Vom Yella. Till then, bye.
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