By Lord M. Nixon
Meet Agnes Nti, one of the very first women to benefit from health screenings and the SoCCs small loans scheme in the Bantama Market. She sells condiments and a variety of food items. As she is she is seen as a leader amongst her peers, she is affectionately called “SoCCs Hemaa” ( literally translated as SoCCs Queen) in the Bantama Market. She is a four time beneficiary of the small loan scheme under the SoCCs project
On a routine tour of the market in March, she invited me to her shop for a brief conversation. After about 4 minutes of conversation, I noticed she was offloading various food items ranging from canned tomato paste to shea butter into a new shop next to her own. I asked if she was helping a friend offload her goods, she smiled and told me that was her new shop. The conversation then got very interesting as she started to explain how the loans had gradually helped her expand her business, create a healthy savings account and allow her to be more financially independent as she does not borrow from loan sharks anymore.
To me, this is a very progressive woman who understands the SoCCs program and has made positive use of the knowledge and skills she has acquired from the program. Furthermore, she is serving as a positive role model for the women in the Bantama community as most of her peers hold her in high regard.
A Life-Altering Journey to Health and Increased Wealth
Madam Adwoa Tawiah is a vegetable oil trader who has been operating in Bantama Market – the second largest market in Kumasi, Ghana – for the past three years. Responsible for a younger sibling and three children, Mme. Tawiah also cares for her aging mother, who lives in her hometown, some 35 miles away.
For nearly two years, Madam Tawiah had been managing all this while battling extreme fatigue, bodily pain and insomnia among other symptoms, when Women’s Health to Wealth (WHW) – a member of WomenStrong International’s Consortium dedicated to empowering women and girls to become agents of change – started our women’s health screening project in the Bantama Market. This screening project was designed as an entry point into a small loans scheme with the goal of enhancing the businesses and economic vitality of these impoverished market women.
When her screenings revealed hypertension and pre-diabetes, Mme. Tawiah was seen and put on a treatment plan by WHW’s attending physician. She now attends monthly check-ups and obtains her monthly medication free of charge from the Bantama Market Clinic, thanks to medical supplies procured through WHW partners AmeriCares and WomenStrong International (WSI). Mme. Tawiah is full of praise for the initiative, as she now is in better health and finally understands that her ailment was not due to any negative spiritual forces, as she had been led to believe.
But recovering her physical health and wellbeing were only the beginning: having been through the health screenings, Mme. Tawiah was now qualified to access WHW’s collateral-free small loans scheme under the Social Capital Credits (SoCCs) program.“SoCCs” offer impoverished women access to a financial “bartering” scheme that counters money-based poverty by enabling them to earn and spend from a community-developed menu of goods and services. And indeed, Mme. Tawiah has had to deal with serious business-related problems, in addition to her physical ones. Because of Ghana’s severe energy crisis, she told WHW, food vendors and caterers who relied on electricity to store their foodstuffs were purchasing less of her oil, since it would spoil, given the constant and protracted power outages. Moreover, her competitors were selling in unauthorized places, leaving her cut off from prospective customers and further damaging her business.
So together with four other pre-qualified colleagues, Madam Tawiah formed the “Nyame ne Hene” (“God is King”) savings group, through which she has obtained two successive loans of 500 GH ($150), which she used to enhance her inventory by purchasing an additional 20 gallons of oil. Although the loans have been helpful, Mme. Tawiah says she is looking forward to being able to take out a loan twice that size: now feeling healthy, with a few more assets and able to dream farther ahead, she intends to use the increased earnings and loans accessed through WHW’s Social Capital Credits program to help her children complete their education and to build her own home, over the years to come.
In mid-November a clean-up exercise was organized by the women of the Bantama community who are members of the Social Capital Credits (SoCCs) groups created by Women’s Health to Wealth (WHW) in partnership with WomenStrong International (WSI). The clean-up was an example of the WHW’s and WSI’s activities focused on two of women’s 6 essential needs: economic empowerment and creating a functioning urban environment.
All of the SoCCs group women are market traders eager for their area to be more orderly, less dusty or garbage-ridden, and more attractive to shoppers, to improve their daily sales. Eighty women from Bantama’s three SoCCs groups participated in this exercise, which ran from 11:00am -1:30pm. Participants gathered at the Bantama Ebenezer Methodist Church, where their SoCCs meetings are usually held, and proceeded into the surrounding streets and pavements, where business activities were ongoing.
The clean-up focused on the vegetables and plantain section of the market, where a lot of rotten organic waste had heaped up. Surrounding areas where the women swept and tidied up the grounds included the church premises. The women earned between 10 and 20 SoCCs points for their efforts, depending on the extent of their participation as determined by their groups’ SoCCs managers, who determined that those who swept the church premises and other external surroundings without helping to remove the rotten waste heap would earn 10 points, while those who did both would earn 20. Each SoCCs group has its own menu for how these earned points can be spent; items range from making incremental improvements to their own market stalls (an extra table, or expanding the array of wares for sale) to paying the cost of a child’s school fees, and include other desired goods and services, all selected by the group members themselves.
Because the activity was organized on a very busy Wednesday morning, when market activity was at its peak, traders camped along the sidewalks were reluctant to let the energetic Bantama women sweep the pavement where they were conducting their business transactions. Nevertheless, the SoCCs women, sporting their WHW T-shirts, went about their business, without interfering with ongoing sales. Designed to help the program gain exposure, the WHW T-shirts came in handy, as many women were curious to know who these WHW cleaner-uppers were and what we were about.
The “social currency” of earning SoCCs enabled these conversations, which hopefully will attract more market women to come to WHW’s clinics to be screened, so that they can then be prequalified to enroll in WHW’s savings and SoCCs groups: “women’s health to wealth,” indeed!