“What happens to Africa matters to the world.” – Patrick Awuah
As a fellow in Ghana doing market research on the potential for an education loan I, along with my co-fellow Megan, have had the chance to meet some incredible people here. One of those we’ve met has been Patrick Awuah, the founder of Ashesi University. Ashesi University is a school in Ghana that is famous for its liberal arts curriculum and students’ dedication to remain in Ghana and serve their country. Many of the students there are becoming the next leaders in government, business and technology. In a lecture Mr. Awuah gave as part of the TED talk series, he outlines what he found are the three key issues that limit the growth of many sectors in Ghana: corruption, weak institutions, and the people who run them. He advocates that it is not until we properly educate our youth, who are the leaders of tomorrow, that we will see a positive change in Ghana’s institutions and leaders that are honest and transparent. He claims that a typical student now has a stronger sense of entitlement than responsibility. This can be true anywhere there is a small percentage of people being given the privilege to participate in something everybody wants, in this case the opportunity to go to college. Only 9% of those 18 and older in Ghana are enrolled in tertiary education but the numbers of enrollment are skyrocketing. Larger and larger portions of each generation are seeking to go to college, but not all of them can attend due to the cost of education.
I’ve lived in Ghana for 10 months – 6 months as a volunteer and 4 of those months as a fellow at Vittana devoted to its efforts to introduce student loans into the products offered by Vittana’s partner, Opportunity International Savings and Loans Ltd. In my brief time as a resident of Ghana, I have been graced by the unconditional friendliness and helpfulness of Ghanaians. It seems that in whatever you are doing here, you will always have a helping hand. In a meeting I had with the head of the Student Financial Aid Office at the University of Ghana- Legon, she adequately summarized how helpfulness is such a poignant part of the culture. She explained “we are all in this struggle together” and all need help at some point in our lives, so why not lend help to someone who needs it? Ghanaian by birth but having lived in the US for a large portion of her life, she amusedly compared a potential scenario between an American and Ghanaian: you visit your friend and find she has not yet finished washing her clothes, so you sit and wait patiently, chatting with her while she finishes. In Ghana, you don’t sit and chat but jump right in, get your hands wet, and help her finish.
In our focus group sessions with tertiary students they also echoed the sentiment of lending a helping hand. When asked if what they do if they cannot pay for school, one of their first responses was that they find the money from family or friends. Here in Ghana you can call someone a brother or sister even though they are not related: and the likelihood that your “brother” or “sister” will be willing to help you out with paying your school fees, whether expecting to be paid back or not, is just as strong as if it were family. But sometimes the main family business hits a low point. Or times are unusually tough and it seems like everyone needs help from a friend. This is where Vittana comes in: to also lend a helping hand.
Vittana can be another form of support in Ghana to help send to school the vast population of students whose friends or family don’t have the financial means to help them through. When a student has no other options he/she can visit a branch at Vittana’s partner Opportunity International and take out a loan to pay for school fees, hostel fees and/or whatever else is difficult to pay for related to school. Thousands of students are enrolling in university in Ghana at an exponential rate but a large percentage will either drop out or not even attend because they will not be able to afford it. This percentage of students, who are doing their best to help out their friends or help out their family when in need, could be the future leaders of Ghana who wish to help out their nation as well. A number of of our student survey responses at the Ghana Institute of Journalism, when asked why you are pursuing your studies, responded “to serve my nation”, “to improve the quality of our media”, or “to bring transparency and accountability to our leaders”. It is this sentiment that drives Vittana, to empower young people to live their life in the way they imagined and to open up the potential of an entire generation of young people.