The Balloon programme is a lot of fun, but it’s definitely not a holiday.
Your first few days in Ghana are a whirlwind. You’ll be hit by a wall of heat as you step off the plane, and then weave along roads between the potholes and rickety public minibuses (tro-tros), and when you stop at a junction someone will try to sell you bananas, books, maybe even a table. You’ll spill water all over yourself as you try to drink water from a sachet, set your mouth on fire with your first spicy Ghanaian meal, and get used to finding your way in the dark during power cuts. Embrace it! It’s exactly the chaos and vibrancy of countries like Ghana that makes living there such a rewarding experience.
The beginning of the programme will also be dominated by Balloon training. At this stage you’ll probably be wondering what you can offer in a country where you’re struggling to even eat and drink normally. Fortunately the training is excellent, focussed on finding creative solutions, teaching business essentials and equipping you with a set of tools that you can use across the programme and beyond. I won’t ruin any surprises, but it’s also very practical. Lots of us found the quick cycles of creating, testing and learning were far more natural to the way that we worked than anything we’d been taught before, and far more exciting!
The fast pace of the programme is something that runs right the way through. You’ll be working alongside several entrepreneurs and helping to start or improve multiple businesses at the same time. You could be jumping from designing a fashion website to walking around a village followed by a crowd of children as you test fruit juice flavours. The same entrepreneur might even change businesses, and we saw a change from hair salon, to groceries, to electrical repairs across four weeks! There’s a large degree of flexibility in how you work; and whether you get hands on cutting out Valentines cards or dedicate most of your time to teaching skills, the main thing you can contribute is providing the energy and focus to make change possible. If you have strengths you’ll be able to use them, but you’ll also learn a lot from your entrepreneurs, many of whom are already running successful businesses of their own.
Working alongside the community will also give you far more insight into the country than any tourist. You’ll make friends with entrepreneurs and may be invited to visit their homes, you’ll get to share things from your own culture (and realise just how strange you seem to other people). The maniac public minibuses will become a trusted form of transport, and you might even learn a few words of Twee, master eating with your hands, and end up speaking on local radio! You’ll also get to see some of the more beautiful parts of the country, walking amongst the rainforest canopy at Kakum National Park and sipping a cold Star on the palm fringed beaches with your team and entrepreneurs.
So go! Take the challenge and discover Ghana, entrepreneurship, and a little bit more about yourself along the way.
Andy (Balloon Fellow January 2015 Eldoret)