A group of local women are walking 132 kilometres to raise funds to support women who are farmers and entrepreneurs in Ghana.
The group is walking the length of the Guelph to Goderich Trail, and the project is called “Guelph to Goderich to Ghana to GROW.” The goal is to raise $100,000. So far the group has raised $87,500, said Elaine Shantz, one of the organizers of the project.
“I’ve been given many opportunities to develop as a leader and I always feel privileged when I can support another woman to grow in their career. And often this is within the organization in which I work, and so to be able to expand this to support women globally, is an incredible opportunity,” Shantz said. “As a group we’re not only helping them to survive and take care of their families, but to realize their dreams, just like we are as women leaders, and as business owners. So that’s pretty exciting.”
The funds will be given to the Greater Rural Opportunities for Women GROW2 project run by the Mennonite Economic Development Agency. It’s a continuation of the original GROW project MEDA ran in Ghana from 2012 to 2018.
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The fundraising walk started as an idea about a year ago between Shantz and a colleague who had both helped raise funds for the original GROW project.
“We were talking about how we’ve had two years of COVID, and both of us in healthcare, were very immersed in that. And we were talking about how it would really be great to do something again, that would make a difference,” she said.
They contacted MEDA staff who said their efforts would be best put toward the GROW2 project which was just getting off the ground.
Shantz recruited women to join the trek, some she knew, and some were referred. Along with Shantz, the walk’s participants now include Miriam Turnbull, Lisa Fehr, Jennifer Barnes, Brenda Leis, Tara Proper, Jenny Shantz, Dorothy Nyambi (MEDA’s president and CEO), Marcia Scheffler, Wendy Clayson and Lindsay Wallace.
Participants have been training for the trek, and held a practice day walking the first section of the trail from Guelph to Elmira in March.
During the day’s walk, “everyone had a chance to feel what it was like to get out there and put our hiking shoes on and begin the journey and to start to get to know each other. So that really was an inspiring day,” said Shantz.
The rest of the trek started Wednesday and began at the portion of the entrance to the trail off of Arthur Street in Elmira. From there, the participants will walk about 20 to 25 kilometres each day to cover the remaining 105 kilometres between Elmira and Goderich until May 15.
Drivers will be assisting the group to pick them up at the end of their walks, and then drop them off on the trail the next day. The last two days the women will stay in overnight accommodations. One of the drivers is a registered nurse who will be available for any minor issues, said Shantz.
There will be a tailgate water stop somewhere along the way each day as well, she said.
What was MEDA staff’s reaction to hearing Shantz’s proposal for a fundraiser?
“Amazement,” said MEDA’s senior development officer Dean Shoemaker. “We are very, very fortunate to have committed supporters.
“The other thing that was really neat is that they’re engaging with other women in leadership, who are also newer to knowing about MEDA,” he said. “So that’s the other thing that’s really valuable for us as an organization is that we have other people becoming interested in MEDA because of what they’re doing.”
The GROW2 project is aimed to help women in Ghana access land, labour-saving, climate-smart technologies, affordable inputs and sustainable business development services, according to the project’s webpage.
The project is a continuation of the original GROW project which focused on helping women grow more soybeans, and developing markets for soybean growing, processing and products in the country. This includes soy food products, soya milk production, soya oil, as well as selling the soya byproduct for livestock feed, Shoemaker said.
“It was one of MEDA’s most successful projects to date,” Shoemaker said.
The original project aimed to help 20,000 women, but actually helped 23,000. The GROW2 project aims to help 40,000 women, he said.
“That’s MEDA’s mission, is to basically create those business solutions where it’s sustainable.”
Shoemaker said the project targets helping women because in Ghana, especially northern Ghana, women have less opportunity to borrow money, they often do not own collateral or assets to grow their businesses, and traditionally are not as active in business in general.
The project is also backed by Global Affairs Canada, which will multiply private donations by eight times, said Shoemaker.
“So when they reach their goal of $100,000, that’ll have close to a million dollars of impact that will be delivered in the country in business training, access to capital and market development.
“So, yeah, the impact is huge from what these ladies are doing,” he said.
The funds will be put to work in the form of business training, helping women grow their skills in their field such as how to become more efficient at what they do, or how to apply proper amounts of fertilizer as well as helping them access capital from financial partners in the country.
MEDA teaches financial partners in the country about the soybean market, and helps women access loans. Sometimes that involves loan guarantees to reduce the perceived risk of lending money, says Shoemaker.
Finally, the money will also go toward developing the soybean markets, and providing matching grants for soybean businesses, like crop aggregators, to help them access needed equipment like more storage bins to safely store more crops from more small-scale farmers.
“So it all works hand in hand,” he said.
“The experience itself of being able to support a project and to learn more about this project, I think it expands our thinking,” said Shantz. “It expands the way in which we wish to give and it really helps us to be grateful for what we have.”
Donations to the Guelph to Goderich to Ghana to GROW project can be sent via MEDA.org/g2g2g, or contact MEDA staff by phone at 519-725-1633.
Community members are invited to join the group for portions of the trek, and asked to contact MEDA staff if interested.