In April of 2019, Fabian and Lauritz visited the SYC in Saboba. Here they share some of their experiences with us.
nearly two years have passed since my trip to Saboba in September of 2017. Back then, it was my goal to find out whether a long-term cooperation with the Saboba Youth Centre (SYC) would make sense and how this cooperation could work best. Some of you may still remember my travelogue that I wrote after the trip. You can find some impressions from the report here. The voyage made me very optimistic: On the one hand, I saw that the SYC had already achieved much and that the SYC’s members still had many more ideas for the future. On the other hand the trip showed that even smaller sums of money can make a lasting impact.
Therefore some of you may wonder why you didn’t hear from us for such a long time. But we haven’t been idling in the last two years! Rather, we have been working on founding a non-profit association dedicated to supporting the SYC. However, the bureaucratic hurdles in Germany turned out to be much higher than we expected. For example, we have to send our funds for the SYC via its parent organization, Youth Empowerment for Life (YEfL). To attain the non-profit status, we had to prove that YEfL is a non-profit organization according to German law! It was only thanks to two friends of us who study law and after many visits to the German revenue service that we could finally incorporate our associaton in the beginning of the year. Our association Biyoom e.V. has now also received the non-profit, tax-exempt status, meaning that we finally can support the SYC reliably and efficiently!
My friend Fabian Wildgrube and I traveled to Saboba in April to maintain the close contact with the SYC and see the progress on the SYC’s projects. Fabian helped a lot with the establishment of the club and is now our treasurer. Of course we would once again like to share some of our experiences. Sadly, we only had one week in Ghana, so we had barely any time to travel the country (not counting the 15 hour bus rides to Saboba from Accra, the capital), but the brevity of the trip made for much more intensive experiences.
We were able to use the days directly after arriving and before leaving to do at least some sightseeing, and when we were in Saboba we would start early and return late to see as many of the projects as possible, or discuss the next steps with the SYC leadership.
The Community Led Total Sanitation
We drove into the first community on the very same day we arrived in Saboba – that’s what the small villages around Saboba are normally called – to look at a project by the SYC that addresses a very serious issue: Most houses around here don’t have toilets, so people relieve themselves outside. This bad hygiene, most of all when the feces reach the water sources, can quickly lead to diseases.
This is where the SYC gets involved with the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS): Volunteers regularly visit the village and inform its inhabitants of these dangers. Also, they show them how to build simple latrines: Except for a small amount of concrete, only local materials are used. Thus the latrines are built from a mixture of clay and cow dung and covered in straw. A family can thus build a toilet that will last several years for very low costs.
The SYC aims to have every house in a village equipped with a latrine after four months of ground work. At the same time, several members of the community are taught to deal with typical construction problems as well as how to remind other families to build new latrines when previous ones are filling up. After the initial four months, SYC volunteers will only drop by occasionally, since by then the community should consider the project as their own.
While we could see the CTLS project underway in this first community, a second community we visited the day after had already finished construction of the latrines and was now running the project by itself: the community even made a law that forbids open defecation and puts it under fine.
The responses we got from the communities concerning the project were overwhelming. People told us that disease rates, particularly for children, had dropped significantly, especially in the village where the project already had been implemented. Thus these children miss school less often and healthy parents can offer a more reliable upbringing to their children.
The Savings Groups
During our stay in Saboba we also got to see several VSLA groups, which I already wrote about in my first travelogue. My positive picture of this project was again reinforced. However this time I will leave it to Fabian to tell you about it, since a second opinion is more interesting!
That’s right, so now it’s me, Fabian Wildgrube, continuing the story. I met Lauritz during my studies, and I was immediately enthusiastic when he told me about the SYC and his plans two years ago. From then onward I have been helping him in any way I can. It was thus really only a question of time when I would first travel to Ghana to meet the SYC’s team and see their projects. Finally, in April, the time was come for my very first trip to Africa. I was (and still am) very impressed by Ghana, an extraordinarily colorful, loud, sometimes chaotic, but most of all cheerful country. I saw and learned many new things in this week, even though I was a little bit skeptic in the beginning. I’m already looking forward to my next voyage to Ghana!
But back to the SYC and my impressions of the VSLA groups. These are savings groups where 20-30 people meet to save their money together, to lend each other money and to distribute the savings and profits at the end of the year. The SYC supplies each group with a metal box secured by three locks as well as the stationery required for bookkeeping. The keys to the three locks are given to different members of the group so that nobody can secretly enrich themselves.
The principle of the savings groups consists in the shares that one can buy at each meeting of the group. The price of a share is agreed upon at the beginning of the term and then is valid for the whole year. For every member, there is a booklet in the box into which is written how many shares this person bought every week. Thus more and more money is saved every week in the box. Members of the group can then take a loan from this coffer if needed. The amount of the loan is documented and must be repaid with interest, the rate of which was also agreed upon at the beginning of the year. However there is no fixed rate of repayment, so that the borrower can repay the amount as possible, e.g. 5 Cedi in one week, but 20 Cedi in the next.
The repayment of the loans with interest creates a profit, so that at the end of the saving period the money in the box is divided by the number of shares to determine the new share price, augmented by the interest payments. Each group member then receives the money for the shares that he or she has bought. The group can then start for another year and reset the price of the shares and the interest rate and start all over again.
We had the opportunity to attend the meetings of different VSLA groups and also to talk to the participants. The feedback from the people was consistently positive. We heard, for example, that the weekly meeting made people much more aware of how to handle money and prevented some people from spending their earned money directly but rather encouraged them to save it. Many participants also talked about the possibilities they would not have had without the loans from the groups. Thus unexpected medical costs, school fees for secondary schools or new equipment for businesses could be financed. A young woman was able to buy a sewing machine that she had paid off in less than a year and at the same time could finance her living by sewing. Silas knew many similar stories from the various savings groups, but telling them all would go beyond the scope of this report. In my opinion, the VSLA project has altogether a really big and very positive influence on the life of the participants and contributes to structure the handling of money and makes larger investments possible, which can improve the standard of living.
But what impressed me most about all the projects and groups we visited was the way the SYC volunteers were received in the communities and how they interacted with them. The helpers were greeted like close friends, chatting jokingly and in a completely relaxed way with the people. At the same time you could see that they also enjoyed their respect. As soon as they gave tips or explained something about the content of the projects, they had the full attention of the listeners and yet it never felt as if the residents would perceive this as paternalism or something similar. The much too often used term “capacity building” suddenly made sense. The committed members of the SYC help their acquaintances, friends and neighbors to improve their living conditions. However, they do this in a way that would never be possible as a foreigner on the one hand, and on the other hand the projects are specifically designed to ensure that the communities continue them after a certain time by themselves and out of intrinsic motivation alone.
The Youth Parliament
The item on the agenda that I (now Lauritz again) was most excited about was the session of the Youth Parliament that we were supposed to attend. Such a meeting had also been planned during my first visit, but was prevented at that time by the weather. This time, however, nothing stood in the way!
I was very impressed. The meeting took place in a community, about 20-30 minutes drive from Saboba, and dealt with the question whether the government alone was responsible for the drinking water supply of the population or whether NGOs and other institutions could or should take over this task. The water supply is one of the biggest problems for the people here – all the communities we talked to called it their biggest concern. In some villages, larger NGOs such as World Vision have installed pumps and water tanks, but in the dry season their capacity is too small so that unclean water from water holes is used, which is often polluted by excrements and dirt.
Therefore, the topic of the meeting was well chosen. It took place exactly like a parliamentary session in the national parliament in Accra – every detail was attended to, with everybody standing up when the speaker of parliament stepped into the chamber (since the session took place outside, one had to imagine the door). The procedure of the session was explained beforehand to the assembled inhabitants of the village, who then listened to the debate, which was extremely lively and was conducted with a lot of heart and soul. All parliamentarians were well prepared and argued with much enthusiasm. Silas translated for us, since the debate was held in the local language so that everybody could understand (except for us! I did learn some few expressions, however…). But the discussion was so intense that he could hardly keep up.
After the actual parliamentary session, which lasted for about one hour, members of the community were able to express their thoughts on the question that was debated. At first I didn’t understand why the parliamentary session should be held to a community, when it is much easier for the parliamentarians to come to Saboba, but now I could quickly see the advantages: This allows also the members of the communities to see how the parliament of their country works and to take part in the discussion. Actually, a representative of the district government should also have been present to answer questions from the parliament and the community and to see the discussed problem with their own eyes. But the invited representative had cancelled the meeting in the morning – which happens quite often, it seems. Many politicians here are somewhat reluctant to be questioned.
But after each session of the parliament, the results and decisions of the Youth Parliament are summarized and submitted to the respective competent authority. This has already led to changes, for example when the bad work of a contractor on the extension of the road to Saboba was criticized. This road was afterwards improved.
The date of the parliamentary session was specially chosen so that Fabian and I could be present. That is why it was not held in the weekend, as usual, but during the week, and the parliamentarians who had to work or go to school could not attend. In fact, we experienced the parliament only in a reduced form, which was nevertheless impressive. There are over fifty Members in all.
In any case, the members present were very enthusiastic about the topic and the debate. In the minibus that brought us back to Saboba, the discussion continued at least as lively – but without the strict order of the parliamentary session! It got mixed up very quickly, but the aim of the project, namely to involve young people in political discussions, was certainly achieved!
Problems and Challenges
In addition to the insight into the SYC’s projects, we now also have a better understanding of the challenges facing the SYC. The largest of these is certainly transport. The SYC only consists of volunteers who live mainly in Saboba. However, the communities are up to 30 km away from Saboba. To get there you need a motorcycle and fuel. They usually have to borrow a motorcycle at their own risk – on the bad roads something can break quickly – and fuel is hardly cheaper in Ghana than in Germany, but people here have much less money at hand. The volunteers of the SYC often simply cannot afford to get involved with the SYC in the communities, where the need is much greater than in Saboba itself – especially since they have to come regularly to guarantee success.
But it is precisely with such problems that our association can help: Until now the volunteers of the SYC had to bear these costs themselves. This has severely limited the possibilities and reach of the SYC. Silas told us that it was only thanks to the donations we were able to give them in 2017 that the SYC was able to continue to reliably support the communities in which they were active. And not only that, they were even able to increase the number of communities in which they were at work! Since 2017, SYC has successfully completed the CLTS project in 15 communities. They are currently working on it in nine communities – and six more are planned. During this time, 14 VSLA groups have also been created, and six more communities are already waiting in line. In the district many people, even in more remote communities, have heard of the SYC, so that the volunteers receive calls from people asking them to come to their villages as well.
The fact that so much has already been achieved with the unique support we have been able to provide so far has impressed me and also gives me confidence that we, as a small association, can also help a lot there. Silas and the other members of the SYC management have expressly asked me to offer their deepest thanks to the former donors. Of course I would like to join them in expressing my gratitude!
The Path Forward
By visiting Saboba we have learned a lot, once again. In particular, the visit motivated us to continue looking for ways to support the SYC. We rely on donations, one-time and regular, large and small! I hope that this report and our website have convinced you to support the Saboba Youth Centre. You can also donate directly here or even become a supporting member, for which we would be most grateful!
We would be especially happy if you would tell your friends about us! It is important, in particular as a young association, that we get the word out about us.
Our website also provides information about the goals we are currently working towards and which projects will be supported with your donations. At the moment we can’t estimate how many donations we can transfer to the SYC on a regular basis, so we don’t want to go out on a limb with too big a goal. For now, SYC is planning to open up further communities for the CLTS and VSLA projects and to continue the Youth Parliament on a regular basis. The financing of this parliament has been secured by the NGO World Vision, but will expire in the coming months. If we have any donations left, we would like to finance a motorcycle for the SYC. Getting into the communities is currently the biggest challenge for the SYC. We want to address this issue by covering the fuel costs of the VSLA and CLTS projects, but a motorcycle for the SYC would help even more.
As soon as we are able to estimate how much money we will be able to provide to the SYC on a regular and reliable basis, we will evaluate together with the SYC management what our goals are for the future. Of course, if you are interested, we will keep you informed#! If you would like to receive more reports and information from us, please subscribe to our newsletter, which we will send out twice a year.
Thank you very much, or, as they say it in Saboba: Ni ni lituln!
Lauritz & Fabian