Last week I met the ladies of Sorlimor Group in Chorkor, an overpopulated fishing area in Greater Accra. After numerous tro tros (three in two hours!) the loan officer and I finally arrived at the meeting spot (for more information on tro tros; what they are and what it is like riding them, see Kadri’s blog entry here).
At the moment, I am working with ID Ghana (a Microfinance institution that partners with Kiva) who mainly disburse group loans in Accra. Issuing a loan in a group encourages the borrowers to pay back their loan through light peer pressure - no one wants to let their fellow group members down so the system is usually pretty effective. My visit to Sorlimor Group was my first borrower verification with Kiva and ID Ghana.
Sorlimor has about 25 members and meets in a common area every two weeks. Most of the members in the group use their loans to buy provisions to sell in small grocery stores. The fortnightly meetings usually run for about 90mins, however this is Ghana so often that is a guideline rather than a set time (GMT = Ghana Maybe Time). From what I observed, the meeting is split into three sections:
- Repayments and financials (60 minutes). This is the main part of the meeting and involves everyone in the group paying their fortnightly instalment to the loan officer and then the loan officer manually recording this information. It is also usually very lively as most of the group members are friends and like to chat. ID Ghana also encourages its borrowers to save so this is usually when the borrowers deposit their savings as well (for most borrowers, this is about 5 Cedis a fortnight). Most of the borrowers are illiterate so although the information is written down, the loan officer also has to read the figures to the borrowers so that they understand how much they have saved/repaid. ID Ghana is training some of the borrowers in math and English so that they can help the loan officers and members of the group with these tasks (maybe this will shorten the meeting time, maybe….).
- Training (30 minutes). Apart from issuing loans, ID Ghana also provides basic business and social training to the borrowers. The day I was there, the group members were being taught basic first aid (what to do if you get a cut/drink poison/have a seizure etc). A lot of people in Ghana, and especially in Chorkor, still put their faith in traditional African remedies. This results in a lot of unnecessary suffering (and sometimes death, see further down) when often they should really go to the hospitals.
- Prayer (5 minutes). The majority of Ghanaians (especially in Accra) are devout Christians so most events throughout the day usually can’t begin (or end) without someone preaching something. Also, ‘sorlimor’ is the local word for prayer, so it is no surprise this ended the meeting!
After the group meeting the ID Ghana staff and I had to track down a few members that hadn’t come to the meeting. Unfortunately, one of the group members had passed away over the weekend (a scenario, by the way, that is not in the Kiva Fellows handbook!). Hearing the news, the ID Ghana staff wanted to visit the extended family of the borrower to pay their respects. Of course, the whole group came with us so we found the place quite easily (as easily as you can whilst walking through a West African slum - everything is relative).
The loan to the deceased borrower will likely be written off with perhaps some of her savings offsetting it. The ID Ghana staff were all pretty compassionate and will no doubt go to the funeral as well as offer some counselling and support to the family. I spent most of the time in the family’s home ‘trying’ to be inconspicuous as my presence there attracted a large crowd of onlookers which I am sure is not what the family wanted when they were grieving. Unfortunately, my Casper-the-friendly-ghost complexion let me down and I was obvious as ever, especially as the family made me sit in the middle of the room. Ahh, Africa.
More information on ID Ghana as an organisation can be found here. To see what ID Ghana loans are awaiting funding on Kiva you can visit the Kiva website here.