On Tuesday June 12, 2008, Mr. Offori Attah executive director of the Microfinance Community Development Organization (MFCDO) took us to the Buduburam Liberian Refugee Camp, in Accra, where some 40,000 Liberian refugees still live today.
From 2003 till the beginning of this year, the MFCDO has partnered with other local and international organizations to help Liberian women living at the camp create economic possibilities for themselves and their families.
MFCDO used group and community connections to recruit potential clients and then helped the women organize themselves in small businesses; and with the help of volunteers it provided skills training in computer, sewing, tie and dye, fish smoking, hair dressing, etc…
The goal of the program was for MFCDO to teach these women skills and services that they can use and sell for profit at the local markets. The women enrolled in the training program were then eligible for MFCDO micro loans programs upon completion of the skills trainings.
The loans were granted to the women following a group lending scheme to ensure that the program goal was effectively strengthening community ties and to minimize default risks on the loans. Then group leaders were elected by the members to manage and oversee activities related the management of the loans, the coordination membership activities. The Liberian refugee women through this program were able to enlist 3000 members and finance the construction of a primary school for Liberian children and a hospital for the Liberian community near by the refugee camp.
According to Mr. Offori, MFCDO had pride running this program because of its positive impacts in the community as well as in the personal lives of the women. Unfortunately, today, as you are reading this post the Buduburam camp is closing- for many political, and diplomatic issues, that will be too long and probably not appropriate to discuss here- all refugees living at Buduburam have been asked to return to Liberia or seek to be granted full citizenship in Ghana by the end of June 2008.
Beatrice, a Liberian refugee woman in her late fifties whom I had the pleasure to interview, member of MFCDO women program at Buduburam had been living in Accra since 1996.
She described to me the opportunity that the program created for her as an escape from abject poverty. Thanks to her involvement in the group activities, she said, she was able to provide for her family and had a greater sense of being part of a community.
At the end of this visit, in the van taking me back to Asheshi University, I could not agree more with economists propagandizing microfinance as a tool for poverty alleviation and development. At Buduburam microfinance economically made a difference in the lives of many Liberian refugee women but it also acted as a tool for social cohesion and economic development.