Monday, January 31, 2011

ACCU Credit Union

Abosomankotere Co-operative Credit Union (ACCU) Ltd.
Kintampo Branch, Ghana
Grand Opening - January 29, 2011.
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Kintampo Falls

Kintampo Falls, Kintampo, Ghana

(L to R) Dorothy, Kojo Moses (our driver), Damien and Heidi
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Dancin in the streets of Africa!!!

I have to say it's true what they say....."shake what your Mama gave you!" hahaha......I had such an incredible day Saturday....yes ANOTHER one!!! Let me tell you all about it....

It started out as a bit of a surprise, we were invited to a special grand opening of the new branch of the Abosomankotere Co-operative Credit Union in Kintampo on Saturday. Our driver insisted that we had to leave at 5:30 am in order to get there early! One thing I've learnt about our driver Moses, while he can have trouble at time communicating in English with us I have to trust his instincts, and he was quite insistent that we had to go, and go early.

Since we made it there a bit early we took in some sightseeing of a local attraction, the Kintampo Falls, they were beautiful! After the sightseeing we went to the new branch and boy is it beautiful!! It's puts any of our branches to shame, it is stunning and a real credit to their Manager, Prosper Aforbu who is really taking this credit union to new heights, and their financials are incredible!

So for the Grand Opening they had a brass band come and we took to the streets, we actually danced around the whole town, meandering through the streets with the locals...and that's all 100+ of us in our white Abosomakotere Credit Union shirts. As usual Damien and I were the only Obrunis (white people) so we attracted a lot of attention, in particular from the kids. I actually felt like a pied piper as they followed us along the whole way. The Ghanaians are such amazing people, so warm and friendly and boy can they dance!! Even from a very young age they can really dance! WOW! When we made it back to the branch, the ladies took to some dancing some more and one of them, Ruth came up to me to dance with I mimicked her dancing the best I could (for an Obruni!) and got so many laughs and cheers, especially when I was shaking my booty....hahaha....what an amazing day.....I never imagined in a million years I would be dancing in the streets of Africa with the!! Really, really cool! A memory I'll never forget!

So Me Dasi Moses, for insisting that we get there so early as we later found out this was the experience he did not want us to miss! And he was so was AMAZING and was definitely not something I would have missed for anything!

Sister Akua :)
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Friday, January 28, 2011

Nkoranza AGM

Well another day in Ghana and another surprise came our way...yet again!

Damien and I were visiting a smaller credit union in Nkoranza, a re-visit actually to see if any of the suggestion that were left with them last year from the CCA team were helpful or not.

Let's just say they definitely were! In fact I think almost every single suggestion had been and now they have added another branch 10 klms away and they have purchased the land to build a new branch in Nkoranza as they have outgrown their current building!! WOW! It is so rewarding to see these credit unions use our suggestions and have them make a difference, this is a great program!

While we were there Damien and I thought we had made out pretty good today with an easy visit and we would be back at our hotel in no time enjoying a tall cool Gulder. NOT!! We actually ended up being "invited" to the Nkoranza Area Teachers' Co-op Credit Union, so we both looked at each other and said "cool, should be fun!"

Well little did we know what we were in for!!!

Today is Friday and in Ghana Friday is considered "cloth day", each profession has their own cloth to symbolize them and it is very recognizable in the communitites. Damien has the credit union cloth for a shirt as he received it as a present. I on the other hand wore an Interior Savings Credit Union shirt that I had brought along and I have to tell you when that many people are wearing the same material you definitely feel left out!

We arrived at the AGM and we were floored!! Everywhere you looked there was the blue credit union cloth, apparently even their members wear it here! Needless to say there were 768 people at their outdoor AGM!! And that's 768 out of a membership of 1600!!! Those numbers are unheard of back home, even with the 80,000 memebers we have we've never even come close to a figure like that.

As we were the only Obrunis (white people) there we really stuck out but I can truly say I am used to it now. Damien and I had plans to stand at the back and watch the proceedings...but oh no......we ended up being "special guests" and were given a place of honour up in the main tent behind the one and only Mr Darko ....then on top of all that we were introduced to the crowd and had to stand up and be acknowledged by which I might add we received a big round of applause, especially when were were introduced by our Ghana names and christian names!

All in all another great day in Ghana full of exciting new experiences, and one that I can hardly wait to share with you when I'm back home and YES I have video of the ballot casting and you just have to see it to believe it!

Me dasi,

Sister Akua

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AGM Voting Box in Ghana

The "Volta" box on the chair is the voting box for the AGM we attended today at the Nkoranza Area Teachers' Co-op Credit Union and the blue shirt is made of the credit union cloth.
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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sunyani Municipal Teacher's Co-op Credit Union

Damien Brady, Larkhill & District Credit Union, Dublin, Ireland and Heidi Hyokki, Interior Savings Credit Union, Kelowna, BC, Canada with the Board of the Sunyani Municipal Teacher's Co-op Credit Union

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Sister Akua Heidi and Kuabena Adusei, Chair of the Board of the
Sunyani Municipal Teacher's Co-op Credit Union Ltd.
Accepting my Ghana Gift, a dress! :) 27Jan11
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What an AMAZING day!!!!!!!!

I had the BEST DAY EVER today!!!!!  It made my whole trip worthwhile.....I can hardly wait to tell you all about it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I started early this morning at about 5 am, I still had some finishing touches to put on my report for the Sunyani Municipal Teacher's Co-operative Credit Union...phew what a mouthful....I think I need to teach them about acronyms!  This credit union truly is amazing and they have such a vision for themselves, and all of it is for the betterment of their members and their's their only focus.....a true co-operative!

Damien and I put our finishing touches on our report, hung around the hotel and then had our driver come and get us.  Our appointment was with the Board at 2:30 so we left our hotel at 2:15 as we didn't want to be too early...there is something called "Ghana Time" here which basically means you show up when you feel like it and they are notoriously late.  To their credit though they live life for this very moment, so nothing is more important than what they are doing right this second so they are known for being late...a very valid excuse if you ask me....(Lois and Elenore good luck trying this one at the office with me when I get back! LOL!) all seriousness though...I think there just might be yet ANOTHER lesson there for us all!

So we arrived just before 2:30 and the whole Board of Directors were sitting there waiting for US...unreal!  And apparently they had been waiting for over an hour!!  This country and these beautiful people never cease to surprise me! 

We made our presentation to the Board and they asked so many questions, it was amazing.....they want to learn and grow this credit union into something really special for the community and there is no doubt in my mind that they will, in fact I already told them when I come back to Ghana next year I am going to check up on them!

During our meeting we had an unexpected guest drop by, Mr. Darko, or the "Big Man" (a name they use here to refer to someones importance not their size) and let me tell you in the credit union world, they don't come any bigger than Mr Darko!  He is the President and CEO of CUA which is the equivalent of Central 1 back home....WOW!  He was passing through and had heard we were here so he just dropped by.  They have this really cool custom here when someone stops by you have to spend a few minutes explaining what your mission or purpose of your visit is.  Mr Darko explained he had stopped by to see us....he reiterated the importance of these coaching programs and that the credit unions in Ghana need to be open to us and our suggestions and to follow them so they can be successful...weeeelllllll....we couldn't have asked for a better endorsement! I think we are rock stars here now!!  LOL!

At the end of our meeting (two and a half hours later!!!) we exchanged gifts and I received the most beautiful Ghana dress in the colours of Sunyani, and I LOVE IT....I ABSOLUTELY LOVE IT!!  So be prepared for me to wear it to the office this summer on a nice warm day :)

My hope with this trip was to really make a contribution to the credit unions in Ghana, and today my friends, I did just that......<BIG SMILE!>...time to cross another thing off the bucket list!

Me dasi,

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ghana Names

One thing I've come across in Ghana is that "Heidi" is very difficult for the Ghanaians to pronounce.  Fortunately I knew what my Ghana name was and introduce myself as Akua Heidi whenever I meet someone so now I have become Akua (pronounced a-qia) to everyone!! The usual response to my attempt at the local dialect is for them to laugh (in a good way) and smile and say "good, good" to me.  I've noticed that things are usually repeated twice here, just an observation so hopefully I don't drive everyone crazy back at home when I repeat myself as it is so easy to pick up these traits.

Some other common gestures are the "hissing" sound that they make to get someones attention....and it is quite loud! They also make this unusual noise when you are having a conversation, instead of saying "yes" or "okay" they say aaaaahuhhhhhhhhh.  I'm sorry I can't for the life of me figure out how to spell it so I'll just have to show you when I get home as I now find myself doing it all the time......much to Damien's delight I'm sure!  LOL.....  We've actually had some fun the last 2 nights comparing some slang words in each other countries....hahaha......I've learnt some real keepers from Ireland for when I get home but probably not any I could repeat here ;)

So the Ghanaian naming is very unique. Your first name is after the day of the week you were born, then you receive your other names after that. There are characteristics for each of these as follows:.

Monday - (male) Kojo (female) Adjoa - nurturing in nature, dependable and organized and protective of their family
Tuesday - (male) Kwabena (female) Abena - structured in nature, neutral in all matters and never takes sides
Wednesday - (male) Kwaku (female) Akua - fully in control in every situation, does not want to be told what to do, knows it all, is spontaneous, vibrant and cordial
Thursday - (male) Yaw (female) Yaa - quiet in nature and incredibly observant, they are generally listeners, not talkers, and analyzes situations very well
Friday - (male) Kofi (female) Afua - a leader, not a follower, temperamental but has a big heart, generally the instigator of everything
Saturday - (male) Kwame (female) Ama - likes to take control of family situations, runs the show, makes the rules but will go out of her way for others anytime
Sunday - (male) Kwesi (female) Akosua - passive, sensitive and warm member of the family, tends to be shy and likes to keep to themselves, usually the secret keeper of the family

Tomorrow we meet with the Board and Management from the Sunyani Teacher Credit Union.  Hopefully they are happy with our suggestions as we've put a lot of work into them...YES....I am actually working over here!

Heidi :)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Coaching AND Learning....

Well, here we are, my partner Damien from Ireland and I are in Sunyani in the Brong-Ahafo (BA) region of Ghana.  We arrived very late last night after over 8 hours of driving from the capital in Accra...oh boy what a long day but we made it here in one piece and the roads were much better than I expected.

It's interesting how they drive here...when it is dark out and you approach an oncoming vehicle they put their left hand blinker that the other vehicle can see you better....and when there is someone in front of you that you want to pass you flash your lights at them and then they will put their right blinker on when it is safe to pass! it me or does this not seem like a great idea?!

We spent our first coaching experience at the Sunyani Teachers Credit Union.  The credit union welcomed us with open arms and I can't say enough about their hospitality and how open they were to us, it was wonderful....what a great first experience for me.

I have to admit I was little overwhelmed before we went there this morning...questioning myself and my abilities....I think at times I get way too hard on myself and this was one of those times.  I can't say enough about my partner Damien, he is a returning coach from last year and has been such a great resource for me, he reminded me that if we only leave 1 thing here that is useful then we will have accomplished our goal...thanks Damien I really needed that pep talk, you were awesome today!

So we went over their books at the Sunyani Teachers Credit Union and met with their Board to answer all of our questions, they are a very organized credit union with a beautiful building and a great future ahead of themselves as they have such a solid background in place including an excellent business plan.  I'm looking forward to how we can help them become even more successful in their community as they so want to be able to give back. 

I had an interesting conversation with their Vice-Chair today and it was something I have taken note of (who knew these credit unions were going to be coaching me instead of the other way around!) HUH!  I had exchanged business cards with him and he looked at my card and said you are not from a credit union as we do not use the words "Credit Union" or the universal hands and globe logo on our business cards.  Hmmm.......he's so someone outside the Okanagan, how would you know that "Interior Savings" is actually a credit union? Hmmm........

A great quote today comes from the Mission Statement of the Sunyani Teachers Credit Union:

"The ultimate aim of the Union is to improve the living standards of teachers, their families, and the people within this community."

It is such an honour to be here working with these talented people who are so passionate about making a difference in their communities and the people who live in them! that's exactly what a credit union is all about!

Heidi :)

P.S. Sorry for the lack of pictures I'm having trouble downloading them :(
Hopefully I can get this resolved soon!

Now THIS is Africa!

Post from Saturday, January 22nd:

WOW!! I'm in AFRICA...or should I say GHANA!!

We had the chance to look around today in Accra.  Our group (11 of us) headed out this morning along the main drag in front of our hotel to find a money exchange outlet.  The local currency is Cedi's but they can only be bought and sold in Ghana.

For our first stroll everything hit me all at once!!!!!  The sites, the smells, the heat, everything!  No matter how I try to describe it I could never do it justice...but I'll try my best....

The sounds - the traffic here is crazy...yet it seems to move better than back home and there are far less traffic lights.  They use their horns a lot here to communicate with one another...and there are different honks to signal different things...a honk to get out of the way ....this is alonger one!  LOL!  and there are quick short honks from the cabs at pedestrians to inquire if you need a's all very fascinating.

We were walking along the road and a tro tro (a small van that you can hitch a ride on for a small fee) went by that was full of young women...we were quite the spectacle all 11 of us obruni's (white people) walking together....these ladies waved at us and then broke out into song for us...everyone here is so friendly and unlike other places when they find out we're from Canada they ask what part.  Usually they ask Toronto or Vancouver so I just say's cool!

We went to the currency exchange centre and I started talking to the guard on duty.  He originally thought we were Americans as we were exchanging US funds but when he found out we were Canadians his whole demeanor changed.

The Canadians have done so much for the Ghanaians, millions of dollars in aid in helping them with their country and they all seem to know this here and are very fond of the Canadians.

The guard asked me what I thought of Ghana and I said it was beautiful and he smiled.....a big smile and gave me their special shake hands, then when you go to release hands you use each others middle fingers to snap your fingers...WOW!  COOL!  My first Ghanaian handshake!

Then we went to the Arts Market...holy cow!! What an experience, word spread through the market that there were Canadians there so they were again very welcoming to us and many asked where we were from in Canada and what we were doing in Ghana.  When we explained we were there to help work with their credit unions they said this was "nice, very nice".

Every where you go in the Market they say "no charge for looking; please come inside and look" and once inside they all say "I give you a good price" I went into one stall and said to the vendor, I heard you were going to give me a really good price and he laughed and laughed!

What amazing people, truly!  The friendliest I think I've ever encountered (except of course in the Yukon! ;)

We met a Ghanaian named Collin Powell, he came to the pub we were at (again having another Gulder!) as he wanted to meet the Canadians...he knew so much about Canada!!  I'm afraid probably more than most Canadians! LOL!  I asked him how he knew so much about Canada and he said when he was in school he'd received some books from Canada and one of them was a map and he studied that map and memorized every province, territory and capital city in all of Canada.  Then he had me film he while he serenaded us with O' Canada!  I'll have to see if I can download that clip! It truly is something to see.

Heidi :)


Sorry I'm so behind on my posts, yes I am still alive and well but Internet has been an issue for me and I haven't had any online access for days...funny how we take things like that for granted back home! I've been saving up my posts so I'll post them in a row.

This is my posting from Friday, January 21st


Arriving at the airport in Ghana you step off the plane and into a steep staircase to walk down to the tarmac and the moment you leave the plane it hits you.......HOT and MUGGY and HUMID...words cannot explain it so I won't even try....(if you ever catch me referring to Kelowna weather as "Africa Hot" slap there is absolutely no comparison! LOL!!)

You then climb onto a bus to take your to the airport terminal and I am happy to report that ALL of our luggage showed up! YEAH!  A good sign for the start of our trip.

Then we went through customs as a group and we were waved straight through - they didn't even check our passports, one of the perks of travelling in a large group!

The veterans in our group warned us to expect the worst as it was going to be chaos as soon as we excited the airport and we all braced ourselves to fight off the locals wanting to help with our luggage, but we didn't experience any of that, not at all, in fact it was quite pleasant.  Our contact from CUA (Ghana's Central Credit Union) was waiting for us with 2 vans to transport us to our was great....HOT....but great!

We made it to our hotel, The Paloma (a different one then the coaches have stayed at in the past) and we all went to our rooms to have a shower...after 2 full days of travelling it felt fantastic!!

Then we met in the courtyard for a beer (which is pretty much the same price as a pop here!).  I had a large Gulder (a Ghanian beer).

What can I say.....other than great company....we've done it...We're in AFRICA!!!!!!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Training in Ottawa...

We finished our cultural training in Ottawa, I'm sure you are probably wondering just what exactly is cultural training?  It was a great experience and we learnt so many things and I had a real Ah-Ha moment as did some of my fellow coaches that I would like to share with you....

We watched a video of a lady from Nairobi and she told her story...of growing up middle class in Nairobi and going off to University in the States  and her roommate was surprised that she spoke English (even though English is the official language of Nairobi) and that she knew how to even use a stove....what she found was that everyone she met assumed she was poor and uneducated since she came from an African country. 

Her message was not to tell a single story as the media often only portrays one side of a story and we need to make sure that other stories are told as well.

It caused me to pause..... ........ ........

and think of my own preconceptions that I had of the people of Ghana and I realized that I too had done the exact same thing!


So here's my promise......

to try and find the real stories of Ghana and its beautiful people and to share those with you!

Wow!! I have to tell you that message really touched me......deep inside......

Who knew I was  going to learn so many things about myself on this adventure?!

I cannot begin to tell you how thankful I am to have this opportunity to be making this trip.....and to think it is only just beginning!!

Me Dasi!!

Heidi :)

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

In & sound

Well I'm happy to report that I made it to Ottawa safe and sound, I arrived late last night around midnight and got to bed around 2:30 am by the time I got all settled into my hotel....then it was up again in 4 hours to spend the day @ the Canadian Cooperative Association to receive day 1 of my cultural was AWESOME!!

There are 3 groups here all at the same time, my group going to Ghana, another to Malawi and another to Uganda...what an amazing group of people...very welcoming and warm and so talented...I really think that credit union people are a breed all of their own and I was so proud to be representing Interior Savings today with this group......these next couple of weeks are going to be GREAT!

One of the coaches from my group, Lennie, who is from Thunder Bay, we had a great moment today.  We both were being teased by the group about our lack of experience with when we got our passports back today from CCA and they actually had stamps in them from Ghana for our travel Visa we both were pretty excited and took pictures of each other with our "stamped passports".  I can't say enough about the coaches on this trip, they really are amazing people!

Our group met up with two individuals from Ghana today, Vida and Isaac.  Vida was born and raised in Ghana and moved to Ottawa 12 years ago with her husband and family.  Isaac is from Accra and he is in University here and plans to go back in a few weeks.

We learnt so much from them today.....WOW...where do I start......

  • A home remedy for diarrhea (this one I paid particular attention to!) either drink coconut water (they called it coconut water not coconut milk) or add salt to your pop, apparently if you have salt and sugar together this is a great remedy...who knew?!

  • do not use your left hand for pretty much anything (as this is your wiping hand for when you go to the bathroom.....good thing I'm not left handed! hahaha)

  • do NOT make a fist with your thumb on top and then flick your thumb at someone...apparently this is their version of flipping someone the bird....boys do not use this one at school!!!

  • do NOT talk while eating (this is apparently bad manners!)

  • And NO singing in the shower or at night.....I guess I'd better lay off the i-pod while I'm there!

But one of my biggest take aways from today is that Canadians are very highly regarded by the Ghanaian's and there isn't anything they wouldn't do for us....even if they don't know the answer to our questions apparently they will still give you an answer as they want to be I guess it is always wise to double check  if you are getting directions!

All in all a marvelous day...we have 2 more here in Ottawa and then it's finally off to Africa

Friday, January 14, 2011

Hmmm.....such a hard decision for a woman.....what to pack?

Or should I say what NOT to pack?! hahaha......

4 more sleeps and I'll be in Ottawa for my cultural training on Ghana...YAHOO....I can hardly wait!!

I've been setting aside the items I want to pack for a few weeks now (yes, I'm a planner!) and have it narrowed down to as little as possible but I'm sure I still have way too much! Our baggage allowance on Air Canada is only 1 checked bag and 1 carry one so I may have to get pretty creative!

I've learnt that the business wear for women in Ghana is for your shoulders and knees to be covered (not bare) and that a dress or skirt is appropriate, not "trousers". Oh boy...that rules almost all of my clothes out, especially my summer outfits!  Oh darn...I just HAD to go out and purchase some long skirts for Africa as I had none (ha, ha...I'll use any excuse for new clothes!).  When I was trying on my new "outfits" for Ghana my youngest son said....."Mum you aren't going to wear that back home are you?"  LOL...well I guess apparently NOT as it didn't go over so well with him, but hopefully it's acceptable over in Ghana.

4 more sleeps....4 more sleeps....4 more sleeps... :)

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dukoral...Schmukoral!'s starting to get really close to my departure date now......ahhhhhh....I am SO EXCITED!!!!!! Only 9 more sleeps to go!!!!!!

I had to take my first dose of "Dukoral" yesterday....YUCK! It was really awful.....<GAG!>

It's an oral vaccine to prevent traveller's diarrhea and it tastes like the fluoride rinse at the dentist only 100 times more potent.  I didn't think it would be THAT bad and thought I could down it all in one shot......NOT!!!!

I was in the kitchen attempting to drink the vaccine and my boys were getting such a kick out of seeing their poor old Mum gagging into the sink......and of course my oldest son had to whip out his camera phone to capture the whole event on video.....I told him if that clip shows up on You-Tube he's in big trouble, as I did NOT consent to him posting my image online....ha, ha, ha.....good to see even when I'm under the weather my "PF" (Privacy Freak) side is still alive and kicking!

So back to the Dukoral, you have to take two doses one week apart so now I have to attempt this all over again in a week......oh my!!!  Just a little tip for any of you reading this...if it comes in a pill format, take it!  The other little interesting fact about this vaccine is the side affects...basically in order to prevent diarrhea, it gives you diarrhea.....needless to say if given the choice I would much rather have this "condition" in Canada rather than Ghana!  Thankfully my office at work is very close to the bathroom as my stomach was churning all day long....but I'm sure it will all be worth it!!