“Computers are my passion”

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By Taylor Hanna, Ghana Ambassador Volunteer

After meeting with a few of his roommates, I had the chance to sit down with Isaac Baccah last week in Legon, a first-year student of Information Technology, at his residence hall near the University of Ghana. Public universities in Ghana are highly competitive and only admit students at the top of their class academically, and need or merit-based scholarship opportunities are limited or virtually nonexistent for would-be students. So he may be too modest to tell you but just being admitted and self-financing his education is evidence of Isaac’s drive.

To support his tuition expenses, Isaac works two jobs on campus.  One is cleaning dishes for an hour each day, for which he earns 25 cedis (about US $6.17) per month.  The second is as a typist at a print shop near the school library, where Isaac spends two hours per day, Monday through Friday, typing documents for a salary of 50 cedis (US $12.34) per month.

Although his parents have been very supportive of his journey, Isaac didn’t have access to computers at home. The middle child of three, his mother sells provisions on the street and his father owns a bicycle repair shop. Growing up, his family couldn’t afford much in the way of technology. Isaac was first introduced to computers in school. But he made up for lost time by making the computer lab his second home – the instructors would teach him in off hours and let him practice taking apart and repairing the machines. Now, he says, “Computers are my passion… my calling.”

Isaac used his first Zidisha loan of $50 to pay housing fees at the residence hall, something that had previously been out of reach due to the need to pay the full amount at the beginning of the semester. During his first semester commuting to classes from his parents’ home, he would often find himself in traffic for up to two hours in each direction, causing stress over being late to class or work, losing valuable study time, and preventing him from taking part in extracurricular activities. Since receiving his Zidisha loan, he moved into an airy dorm with three roommates (also Zidisha borrowers) and is just a short walk from class.

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Jean Nelson Hall consists of four stories of rooms surrounding a sunny rectangular courtyard with a basketball court and outdoor café. Residence halls make up their own small communities – each have unique personalities and rivalries and compete against each other in intramural sports. When I visit, students are reading and hanging their laundry to dry in the sun.

With three years left to finish his degree, Isaac wants to focus on his education while he has the chance – soaking up as many technical skills and programming languages as he can. He’s interested in programming and database management and dreams of a job at Microsoft. He hopes to use future Zidisha loans to continue to pay his school fees and to buy a faster computer that can handle his heavy use.

It was wonderful to get to meet Isaac and see his residence hall – all that talk about classes and student life made me want to go back to university! He is incredibly grateful for the support he has received through Zidisha and he is excited to continue his education.

Isaac – thank you so much for taking the time in between lectures and work to chat with me. We wish you the best with your schooling and career!

“I don’t need a job”

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By Taylor Hanna, Ghana Ambassador Volunteer

Edward Marfo lives near Cape Coast, a city known for being surrounded by beautiful beaches and haunting colonial forts. But we met recently in Accra where he popped in for a few days to take care of some business.

Edward’s story is nothing short of inspirational. Orphaned at the age of seven, he spent his early years in a charity center, which provided housing for orphans and rehabilitation for troubled youth. But the center lost funding while he was there and could no longer serve as a home or provide funding for many of its residents. Edward was fortunate enough to find an uncle to take him in. He was able attend school, excelling at his studies as the assistant school prefect, and graduate.

Edward has always been interested in business but lacked funds to pursue university. So he started to read and study on his own (most recently, Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins, and Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman)   and became interested in entrepreneurship. He began with the idea to open a computer center, but soon he noticed that there was no good pharmacy in his community. And after watching his neighbors have to travel very far in order to get their medicine, he decided to open one up himself.

The first challenge of opening a pharmacy, he told me, was obtaining the proper licenses. But once he had accomplished that, he ran into another difficulty – keeping a stocked inventory. He instantly attracted potential customers but couldn’t always provide them with the exact medicines they were seeking. Although the business had been started so that his neighbors wouldn’t have to travel far for their medicine, all too often he had to send them away on that same journey when he didn’t have what they needed on the shelves.

That’s when a friend introduced Edward to Zidisha. His Zidisha loan provided the upfront capital necessary to keep his inventory full of a wide variety of basic medicines. Finally, he could cater to his community’s needs and didn’t have to turn customers away.  Before his first loan, Edward’s pharmacy grossed about $20 in sales per day.  Edward’s first $100 loan allowed him to stock a larger inventory, boosting sales to $38 per day.  When the uncle who had adopted him passed away, Edward’s business earnings allowed him to provide financial support to the uncle’s son.

The pharmacy has been opened for a year and a half now and is continuing to grow. When we met, Edward was actually in Accra finishing up the paperwork for a license to bill prescription drugs to the National Health Insurance Scheme himself, further easing access to his customers.

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Although his focus now is on his current business, once that is established he has his sights set on expansion. He still keeps in touch with a few of his mates from the charity center home, smart individuals but many of whom, he explains, didn’t fare as well as he did. So in the future he hopes to provide one or two with job training and employment in his growing business.

“My aim in life is to become a social entrepreneur and grow my drug store business to a point where I can open many branches nationwide and help those in need,” says Edward.  “As a young man, my greatest philosophy is that I don’t need a job, all I need is a breakthrough idea and with the little I have started so far, if I keep going I will become an inspiration to the many youth in my country and continent at large.”

Edward, thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me on your trip to Accra. We wish you the best with your pharmacy and look forward to seeing how it grows!

A mother’s investment

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By Kerry Tiedeman, Kenya Ambassador Volunteer

Today I was had the opportunity to meet Lillian Kimko, a single mother who owns a sewing and tailoring shop near Ahi River just outside of Nairobi.

Lillian is quite tall and has a lovely warm presence. I am invited into her shop and her employee who is also named Lilian prepares me tea and Mandazi, a local fried dough, that tastes especially delicious with the tea. I soon come to find out that the beautiful red dress she has on, she made herself. It is obvious that she knows what she is doing when it comes to tailoring to fit just right, which is not an easy skill.

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Lillian and her employee

Lillian learned sewing and tailoring in 2009 from an NGO offering classes for 500KES (5 US dollars) to women from the community. Lillian excelled at the courses and was hired to work production at the NGO. After working there for six months, a teacher recommended her to a friend and she was offered a different job in downtown Nairobi which paid well and at the same time trained her in sewing interior decoration items like curtains and pillow cases.

Lillian worked there for two years, but with the commute she would leave work at 5pm but not arrive home until 9pm. Nairobi traffic is that bad. Having a young daughter, she decided that she was spending too many hours away from home and that is when she came up with the idea to begin her own sewing shop, starting it out of her home. Now she has a thriving shop in a different neighborhood in Nairobi.

Lillian began pursuing sewing and tailoring at the same time she became a widow and needed to support her daughter without any help. They had been married since Lillian was 25 years old, and he died in 2009 due to complications from diabetes. When we talked about her late husband, it was apparent he was a very good man.

When Lillian was 25, her father died and her mother abandoned Lillian and her six younger siblings. At the time Lillian was studying mechanical engineering at college in Nairobi. She was set to become the first woman ever to graduate in the field, however when her father passed, she could not afford to pay the 160,000KES ($1,600) in school fees and was barred from taking her exams. Not only could she not afford school fees, but her mother leaving left her to take care of her younger siblings. WIth no job, Lillian was completely desperate. Fortunately, and she calls him a gift from God, she met her husband at a party with friends. After two months of dating they married, and he shared the responsibility of the care of her younger siblings and the siblings ended up looking to him as a father.

Lillian is proud to say that two of her siblings have completed school and all of them are able to support themselves. Now she just has to take care of her twelve-year-old daughter. Although she misses the companionship and sharing these duties with her husband, she is strong and has moved forward in her life. As she says, “Life goes on. What can you do?”

She is very thankful to Zidisha lenders for supporting her. Without them she says she would not have started the shop. With their support, she has purchased a larger sewing machine, tailoring accessories and inventory for her shop. She dreams that in the future she will have not one, but three different shops strategically positioned in other neighborhoods of Nairobi. She also even thinks of using the profits from her business to return to school and take the exams that she was meant to take 15 years ago. For now, she is focusing on her daughter and harbors hopes that she will want to study engineering in the future (though now her daughter is more interested in hairstyling and being a model), and that the profits will pay for all her schooling.

I know that with Lillian’s positive attitude and the help of Zidisha, she will complete all of these goals.

 

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Brightening lives

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By Taylor Hanna, Ghana Ambassador Volunteer

Last week, a torrential rainstorm in Accra let up just enough for me to make it to the city center, where I met Monica Asiamah. Monica sells mobile phone recharge cards out of a small booth, just big enough to sit two people comfortably. Although the wooden structure is dark, it is brightened by Monica’s big smile, colorful dress, and the bejeweled butterfly clips in her hair.

Located in the heart of the city and right across from the main post office, Monica’s shop sees a lot of traffic. She sells single cards to individuals, but many of her customers are regulars and come for big orders of various cards to resell on the roadside or in shops.

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I was actually referred to Monica by Vincent, a student at the University of Ghana whom I had met earlier that week. Vincent was one of Monica’s regular customers but was disappointed one day when she didn’t have the cards in stock that he needed. She explained that since she lacked her own working capital fund, she was forced to buy the cards on credit, and she didn’t yet have the capital to pay back her last purchase and restock. He had recently used a Zidisha loan to pay his academic fees, and introduced her to the website.

Since getting started with Zidisha, Monica’s business has transformed. With her first loan, she bought an expanded inventory of cards upfront. Her second loan provided the capital for a big inventory purchase just before Christmas, to take advantage of a predictable surge in demand.

With the boost she earned from that season, she no longer buys cards on credit.  This has increased her profit margin in two ways: she no longer needs to pay her supplier for the credit, and she no longer loses sales due to stock outages. She is now able to keep her inventory well stocked, and that reliability has attracted a lot of new regulars.

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But it’s not just her business that benefits from her loans. Monica is a mother to her twelve-year-old daughter, Caribel, and lives with and cares for her youngest sister, Alice. And with her increased income, Monica has been able to pay for Alice to fulfill her dreams and attend nursing school.

I know Monica is incredibly grateful for the help she has received from Zidisha and her lenders, and hopes to continue to grow her business and support her family. And Monica – thank you so much for taking the time to meet with me. It was a delight!