Thursday, May 13, 2010

Day 3 - A trip through the jungle, African schools, and my first Gong Gong (in Opesika)!!!!

Today was a rather exciting day. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride...

Andrew and I had been planning to go with Tara and Jennia to the bead market this morning. However, about 12:00 Ankrah, one of Burro's employees, came to ask and asked us to go out with him. Ankrah is a new employee and is getting his driver's license so he needs someone to sit with him as he drives. Off we went to to visit some of the villages where Burro has resellers. As we headed out of Koforidua, I began to realize just how jungle like this part of Ghana is. Heading out of the city, we began to encounter lush, green rolling hills jungles full of palm trees, banana trees, mango trees, plantain trees, and pineapple bushes. The only thing missing were the monkeys :)
It is interesting some of the places where the villages are clustered here. Obviously a lot of the villages have been settled for many, many years now, but sometimes it is not quite so obvious why they are settled where they are. To arrive at some of these villages, you spend 20 to 30 minutes driving on a dusty, bumpy, dirt road. As you drive along the road, your typical thoughts of Africa begin to emerge: women carrying water pots on their heads (they seem to carry everything on their heads and have a certain talent for doing so), little children running around barefoot and waving at the car as it passes, etc...

Almost without fail, regardless of how small the village is, it has a school. A lot of the schools have similar looks, but may be of different sizes. Most of them consist of dirt floors, little wooden benches where the children sit, one or two old chalkboards, and of course a soccer field!!! They children love to play soccer.

Today I participated in my first Burro Gong Gong. A Gong Gong is where Burro meets with a village for the first time to talk about the battries and to get new clients signed up. It usually begins when either one of Burro's employees or one of Burro's resellers make arrangements to speak with one of the village chiefs. They briefly explain what Burro is trying to accomplish and then ask permission to come back and explain it to all. So once that has been arranged, we show up to conduct the Gong Gong. The truck that we were driving has some large speakers on it. We started today by playing some Bob Marley music as a way to get everyones attention. Then while driving down the dirt road, Ankrah used the microphone and started telling all of the people to meet at the town school to learn about a new battery that we have brought to the people. We would then pick up people on the way back and take them to the school. For this particular Gong Gong, we actually say in the school, but occasionally they are held outside as well. Some benches and chairs and organized for everyone and the talking begins.

Today, Ankrah started out by talking a little bit about the benefits of Burro (i.e they are cheaper than other batteries, and they don't leak). He then went on to explain how the exchange program would work. In a nutshell, a customer pay a certain amount of money as a deposit on the battery (which Burro holds until they ultimately return the battery and stop using the Burro service). The customer can also purchase a coupon book which gives them a certain number of battery rentals (they can purchase a coupon book for 7 battery rentals or for 16 battery rentals). In addition, Burro currently has a prototype battery powered phone charger that customers can purchase. (As part of our demonstration, we have people bring up their cell phones and set them on a table. We then show each individual how their phone can be charge using a Burro phone charger with Burro batteries)

Once all of the information has been shared, he asked for 5 volunteers who want to help out (they must be able to read and write). He then passes out customers order forms and everyone who is interested in purchasing Burro batteries fills out a form. Then the madness begins. People come up and purchase their batteries, get their phone chargers, and mulling around.

As I was sitting there at a small table watching all of this occur, it was really interesting to reflect on what this could mean for people. The people were very excited about what we were offering. Here were are offering a better battery and a lower price than they are currently paying. In addition, we are offering a battery that is guaranteed not to leak and will be safe for their children. In some regards, I think the experience may have been similar to when Grameen Bank was started. Going out to the village and explaining something to these people who could help them live better lives.

To end this post, it was a little interesting the name of the village where we held this Gong Gong. The name of the village is Opesika. When I asked what it meant, they just laughed and said that it means "loves money."

Thats all for now. The internet is very slow, but I will try and add a few pictures when I can.