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Why being #ProudOfAid has got me blogging again

On 1st May this year I returned from Ghana again after a short visit to see friends and catch up with the project I recently spent two years working on as a Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) volunteer.

Since I returned from my VSO placement I haven’t written a single blog post but what I saw on my recent trip inspired me to write again.

From 2013-2015 I helped to set up a savings scheme to empower women to have some financial independence, make great use of their money and give them access to small loans. I’ll never forget the ‘share-out’ day where the money that the women saved was shared out between them.

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To see a group of ‘poor’ women come away from that meeting with a handful of cash was amazing. They’d been able to take control of their own financial situation, taken loans for school fees and to develop their own businesses and managed to save money every single week for a whole year.

Eight months on, the savings schemes are going strong. The groups have attracted new members, the women are saving more every week than they did before and more people are being trained to manage the schemes.

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When I visited, the women literally welcomed me with open arms (in fact they came running towards me with open arms which was quite an overwhelming experience).

Their lives have changed because they’ve been given new skills. Nobody gave them money. Money funded the project to teach them how to run a savings scheme.

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And what was very important to me is that when I left Ghana I could leave the whole project behind knowing it would continue. The people I worked with as a volunteer now have the skills and abilities to be able to continue without any outside help.

So it’s made a long lasting impact. Just like much of #UKAid.

Here’s something you don’t hear about in the newspapers, or being discussed by politicians or by the 20,000 people who petitioned the government to stop spending on #UKAid:

  • 54.4 million people, including 26.9 million women, now have access to financial services to help them work their way out of poverty
  • Since 2000, #UKAid has helped to cut malaria by 60%, saving over 6 million lives
  • A child is vaccinated every two seconds because of #UKAid and 1.4 million lives have been saved over the past four years*

*Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/annual-results-of-britains-international-development-investment-2014-15

We all know that not every project is successful. We can all identify an initiative in our own jobs that just didn’t work. But the point is that when there’s success with #UKAid, it changes the lives of the world’s poorest people who didn’t choose where they were born.

So with the progress that’s been made so far, we need to keep going don’t we? And we only spend 0.7% of the UK’s budget on aid, much less than most people believe.

What would have happened if I’d left half way through my placement and the women hadn’t been trained properly?

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What would have happened if I the record keepers of the savings groups weren’t confident enough to run the schemes properly?

Not finishing the job would have made the result a whole lot less satisfying.

My Dad’s mantra has always been ‘whatever you do, do it well’. And in the UK, some of these results show that we do #UKAid well. By setting the example and committing to spending just 0.7% of our budget on aid many other countries are encouraged to follow suit.

So let’s not leave the job half done. Let’s finish it and be #ProudOfAid and what it can achieve for people.

Whatever we do, let’s do it really well and make more progress on bringing more people out of poverty.

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You know you’ve been living in Tamale, Ghana for almost two years when…

  • You no longer find it strange to see a wide screened TV / fridge / live goat / dead goat / bicycle / a whole family / a bare saw/spade/hammer or tightly strapped bible being carried on a motorbike
  • You are perfectly comfortable talking to complete strangers in a shared taxi with a cracked windscreen and broken doors
  • You can’t get your motorbike started and feel completely free to beckon a complete stranger to come and help you
  • You fully expect to see vehicles coming towards you at a keen pace on the wrong side of the road and are now using your horn freely
  • The metro mass bus station feels like home
  • You do your fruit shopping by stopping at the side of the road on your motorbike in proximity to a fruit stall, opening the visor of your helmet and shouting for what you want
  • A trip to the market is a social event as well as a retail experience
  • You are used to waking up with a wet pillow because of sweating all night
  • You are thrilled when it rains as you know that it will bring the temperature down for a short time and you’ll get a decent night’s sleep
  • You are no longer fascinated to see someone getting out their prayer mat and performing prayers at a petrol station
  • You are used to places of worship belting out calls for prayer/ songs of praise at top volume
  • You complain about the price of tomatoes because you normally get 5 cedis worth- it used to be half a bucket full and now you get just 6 or 7 of them so they should ‘add you small’
  • Any imported foods you buy have doubled in price in the last two years
  • You continue your conversation almost without noticing the lights have just gone off due to a power-cut
  • You plan your nights out according to when a power outage is due in your area
  • You are used to chopping vegetables by the light of a head torch
  • You are happy when you can have a Skype/ ‘phone conversation which only cuts out two or three times
  • You know that a fall in water pressure means you’re going to be without it very soon
  • The clincher for choosing a bar or restaurant is good toilet facilities
  • You invite your electrician to your parties – he’s been to your house so many times to fix problems that he’s become a friend
  • You know that part of the local greeting during Ramadan includes enquiring how the fasting is going
  • You are now fine with receiving a ‘greeting’ ‘phone call at 6.30am
  • You’re not sure whether your upset stomach is due to malaria, typhoid or worms
  • You always answer that your husband is fine even if you don’t have one
  • You talk about ‘alighting’ from a taxi, ‘flashing’ someone and ‘picking’ your ‘sister’ on your ‘moto’
  • You always, always greet someone and ask them how they are and how their family is before you start a conversation
  • You realise you’ll miss the local children shouting ‘siliminga byebye’ as you’re walking towards them
  • You’re looking forward to going home to your family and friends and to a more comfortable environment but wonder whether you’ll ever again find as many helpful, friendly people that are so generous with their time as you have here