Sunday, November 18, 2012

Puneet Batra's Experience in Ghana

On a warm day this summer, I found myself in the most unexpected of situations – standing at a junction in the town of Yamoransa, in Ghana, running up to passing trucks, peddling Kenkey packed in blue plastic bags. Inside were 8 fist-sized balls of the fermented starch with a going price of 4 Ghana Cedis, the equivalent of 2 US Dollars. I asked my hosts – the women entrepreneurs who produce and sell this corn based staple – how did the truck drivers know what was in the blue plastic bags? It turns out that Yamoransa is known for its Kenkey and everyone recognizes the bright blue plastic bags as containing Kenkey.

I was in Yamoransa with the Yale Alumni Service Corps’ first service trip to Africa. The Kenkey women were one of many groups of women that the business development team was working with. Since we were asking so many questions about how Kenkey is made and how it is sold, they decided that we would learn best by doing it. So that’s how I ended up on the side of the road in Ghana, selling Kenkey to truck drivers. And yes, I did make a sale.
We helped the Kenkey women form an association for handling bulk orders, negotiating bulk pricing, and branding. They even got a logo designed by YASC volunteer, Cynthia Frank. Other members of the business group worked with the bread makers who also formed an association, and helped them negotiate down the price of flour that they buy from the mill. The dress makers were able to create contacts with a local resort where the manager agreed to have them sell dresses whenever a large group of tourists was in town. These are just some examples of what the business development group was able to achieve in a matter of just one week, surpassing any of our expectations.

Meanwhile, the construction crew was busy laying the foundation for a new building which would house the Information, Communication and Technology center, bringing internet connectivity into Yamoransa for the first time. The education teams carried out fun experiments with the children to explain concepts such as magnetism and gravity while introducing them to the scientific method. The arts group had the children create body impressions on Tyvek, create collages and self-portraits among other things. The mural group painted a beautiful mural representing Yamoransa and Yale on the side of the primary school. The athletics team held a soccer “world cup” after which hundreds of children erupted in celebration onto the courtyard singing “Ole, Ole, Ole!” The college mentoring group mentored groups of boys and girls on why and how to apply for college, among other things. The medical team saw over 700 patients in a span of 5 days, treating a variety of ailments and providing treatment as well as advice on how to manage the conditions after we were gone.
In addition to the 150 YASC volunteers that descended on Yamoransa, we were assisted by an army of volunteers from AFS Ghana who helped us with everything from translation to teaching us how to dance like a Ghanaian. We also worked with strong partners such as ONE, the Coca Cola Foundation, Unite for Sight and the University of Cape Coast.
Yamoransa is a poor town but proved to be a very rich experience. I can’t forget our Kenkey women hosts walking us back after my successful sale, insisting on buying us soft drinks that cost what some of these women make in a day. While I can only hope that we helped the community of Yamoransa in at least a small way, I’m thankful for the kindness they showed us and the personal bonds that were formed, despite all our differences. I can’t wait to go back next year.

Puneet Batra: Puneet continues his role with the YASC back in the States as Secretary of the YASC.  He will return to Ghana in 2013 as co-leader along with Lata Prabhakar.

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