Masset Credit Union staffer helps out in Ghana

  • Mar. 28, 2008 2:00 p.m.

Submitted by Lareina Grosse-I have two passions in life, one is travelling and the other is helping others with financial literacy. When I saw that the Canadian Co-op Association was looking for credit union employees to volunteer to be part of a coaching program in Africa I jumped at the opportunity and filled out an application. Last May, I learned I would be traveling to Ghana in February and March. After many months of preparation I and 12 other Canadians flew to Ghana to start our assignments. Once there, we were paired off and then travelled to various parts of the country. I worked in two communities; the first one Nkoranza has a population of 1,800 and Techiman, a population of 200,000. Nkoranza was my favorite place, it’s a small town that reminds me of home and the people were unbelievably welcoming. Working and living there was interesting as we were the only non-African people in the town. I had done a lot of homework prior to my trip but it didn’t adequately prepare me for the reality – and the reality was harsh. Living and working among the impoverished is probably the most humbling experience of my life. The credit union system in Ghana is similar to what islanders had in the 1970s, prior to computerization. But they have even more challenges; like not having the simplest things like cabinets, folders or even paperclips. Trying to formulate a filing system with only a stapler was a bit of a challenge, but we managed. My coaching partner and I worked in three credit unions. The biggest challenge in each was a high level of loan delinquency. One of the most heart-breaking facts I learned is their education system is not free. Many loans are for education and children’s uniforms. Imagine how hard it is for a credit union to collect on a delinquent loan given for that reason. After working long days and sometimes evenings, we left detailed reports, policies, procedures and forms with all of the credit unions. Next January we will return to see how they are doing and will work at three more credit unions. It’s important that the coaching doesn’t stop once we return home so we have established e-mail addresses so that we can continue this relationship for as long as is needed. Having lived my life on the islands and having aboriginal children was definitely an asset during my travels. Once the Ghanaian’s saw pictures of the Haida and a potlatch and learned that my husband and children belonged to a clan or, in their terminology a tribe, it made for smoother communication and seemed to bridge the culture gap a little bit. The Haida and the Ghanaian people have many similarities when it comes to traditions, honoring their deceased loved ones is done in a similar fashion in both cultures. I would like to thank those who donated items and pictures to take with me and most importantly my family and Northern Savings for supporting me. I would love to do some fundraising before I go back; specifically I am looking for funds for soccer balls for the people there. Soccer is their passion and it’s played by everyone, everywhere, in empty lots, alongside the road with whatever they can find; most often it’s not a real ball. Northern Savings Credit Union is a member of the Canadian Co-operative Association, a national not-for-profit organization representing the interests of co-operatives and credit unions. Ms Grosse will be doing presentations at the NSCU branches and a credit union in Quesnel. She will also speak publicly and show pictures at the Trout House on April 12 at 6 pm. She would love to give more talks, so those interested can call her at 626-5231, local 222.

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