Teaming up for women’s empowerment
By Crossroader in Ghana, Melanie Anderson
A team of seven volunteers from the Québec Sans Frontières (QSF) program traveled to the rural Volta Region of Ghana in 2017 for a ten-week immersive program aimed at women’s empowerment in the agricultural sector. This was the first trip of a QSF group to Ghana, the little pocket of English speakers nestled amongst the francophonie of West Africa. With the support of Crossroads International, the team worked with local partner Pro-Link Organization on assisting a group of women to expand their farming practices and to generate supplemental income. I have been in Kadjebi with Crossroads since January, working on similar women’s economic empowerment projects, so was really excited to meet a new group of people to bring new ideas into the community (and it was a great excuse to practice my French!).
As a team, we provided training for a group of women in the next village in areas such as business management, marketing and sales, bookkeeping, group constitutions, gender equity and organic agriculture techniques. The funding for the group was enough to support them with an irrigation system to extend their growing season into the dry winter months, potentially doubling their annual incomes. The goals of the women are to create a revenue stream to allow them to support their families, gain financial independence and improve their community’s food security. The QSF team additionally participated in field visits, clearing of land, preparing and planting a nursery and even helped plant 4 acres of corn by hand!
The typical farming model in Ghana, as encouraged by the ministry of food and agriculture, is very heavy in chemical fertilizers, GMO seeds and pesticides. The group was inspired to plan and build a compost program; the first of its kind in the district, which we are happy to see, is already being used by community members. The aim of the compost program is to educate the women and community members about the potential of organic scraps to be used at fertilizer for their crops, reducing their dependency on more chemical fertilizers generally available and reducing waste.
Each of the QSF volunteers brought particular skills including biology, agrology, teaching, international relations and human resources that were combined for a dynamic think tank to tackle their mandate in such a short summer. One of the volunteers, Francois-Xavier raised funds for his trip by making and selling handmade soaps in Quebec. With his skills we were able to run several soap making workshops to introduce potential tertiary income opportunities for women in the off season. Groups gathered each time we ‘cooked’ the soap and we shared our finished products with all, encouraging women to learn a new trade and the children to wash with soap and water.
When the QSF team first arrived they were getting used to spicy foods, language barriers and mosquitos that can kill you. Our final days together in the village were filled with visits and smiles and exchanging gifts with hosts that had grown to become extensions of our Ghanaian family. The town seemed genuinely sad to see their new friends leave but what they introduced to their group of women, their families, friends and the entire community will leave a lasting impact. And I will still be here for the next few months to check in on the fruits of their labor that are just beginning to grow into brighter futures for all those involved.
Launched in 1996 by Quebec’s Ministère des Relations internationales et de la Francophonie, the QSF program introduced young Quebeckers between 18 and 35 to international cooperation through short overseas mandates with international cooperation agencies. Crossroads International has been part of the program since its launch and is the organization that has sent the most volunteers overseas to work with local partners.