ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
A young boy living in Ghana in West Africa borrows a few coins from his village's collective fund. Kojo has an idea: He wants to buy one hen. He walks two hours to a chicken farm in a neighboring village, and he finds the hen he wants - plump and brown, with a bright red comb.
Ms. KATIE SMITH MILWAY (Author, "One Hen"): Kojo pays for the brown hen and puts her in a wicker basket. He gently covers the hen with a cloth and lifts the basket onto his head.
Mr. KWABENA DARKO: As he walks home, he dreams about the future and he see a lot of eggs in it - eggs to eat and, if he is lucky, eggs that he can sell to buy more hens.
BLOCK: And he does buy more hens - and more and more of them. What evolves from that small loan is told in a children's book "One Hen" written by Katie Smith Milway. It's based on the story of Kwabena Darko, whose friends call him Darko.
Like Kojo, Darko is from a small village in Ghana and his father died when he was young. Chickens came into his life, he says, after he read a book on chicken farming and after he won a college scholarship to study poultry science in Israel.
Mr. DARKO: And, boy, I was again excited about raising chicken, I got to know that if you raise chicken, you're going to get money out of it. And after my training from Israel, I worked for the government and later I worked for my stepfather's chicken farm that he has started. The earliest chicken farm from daily about a small flock to 100,000 egg-laying flock, and I realized that there was a lot of money within (unintelligible) stepfather apparently started multiplying (unintelligible). In our part of the way polygamy is the norm and he married a whole lot people and I was jealous for my mom because of that I decided that I was (unintelligible) so that I can support my mother, support my siblings and of course also be able to help the needy and the poor.
BLOCK: And we should mention the fact that your stepfather had multiple wives is not in the book. It's not that (unintelligible)
Ms. MILWAY: I didn't know about until
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. MILWAY: we started doing these interviews.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. MILWAY: That's news to me. But one other thing I've learned during these interviews, I knew that Darko had been a petty trader but I didn't realize exactly when he was trading and his mother would get him up at four in the morning with the other five kids and give them all baskets of fruit and vegetables and things and they take them out - and she basically bought wholesale and the kids would retail them before breakfast and send them out to all the neighbors, sell them to the neighbors and that sort of thing.
BLOCK: Mm-hmm. You have a scene in the book. Kojo wants to start a real poultry farm. He needs 900 hens and he's rejected by a banker. He finally does find another bank that agrees to take a chance and give a loan. This is a key turning point in the story.
Ms. MILWAY: It is. And, you know, it's a real fulcrum point in the life of any microentrepreneur. It's when they can go from a small loan that's given by a nongovernmental organization like Opportunity International, which is where Darko now serves on the board of directors to real commercial credit. And that's one thing I loved about his story, is that he made that leap.
BLOCK: And I'm flipping through the pages here. We're seeing Kojo's farm in the book getting bigger and bigger, and more and more people coming to work and that kids in the village are going to school, they're coming back now and asking Kojo as an adult asking him for loans.
Ms. MILWAY: Yeah.
BLOCK: Trucks goes all over the country, everyone prospers, not just in the village but allover Ghana.
Ms. MILWAY: I think that's the universal story of microfinance at its best. And it's actually that is quite parallel to Darko's own story. Six-hundred and fifty people now work at his farm and he did start a small loan program himself called Sinapi Aba, which means Mustard Seed Trust and starting giving out loans to entrepreneurs around his community
BLOCK: Mr. Darko, what kinds of projects are you loaning money for them?
Mr. DARKO: Some are bakers, then we have dressmakers - the women in the house, they can sew dresses at the same time and take care of their kids. Then we also have things like the seller (unintelligible). They sell products (unintelligible) because normally as trader, you need some inventory. So these are small, small, small projects - sewing, batik making, they make their own clothing and so many other products that all of them are within the micro enterprises.
BLOCK: And are you doing pretty well in terms of getting those loans repaid?
Mr. DARKO: Yes, and in fact, our repayment rate, it's about 98 percent. I have about 20 groups that always - we have 100 percent repayment. It's amazing.
BLOCK: Hmm. And Mr. Darko what did you hope that kids in this country would take away from reading about your story, as a kid in Ghana?
Mr. DARKO: I believe that kids are very curious just like me, the way mom taught me from the very beginning in trading and all that, which picked from there. And so if kids read the story like that, they can say that, oh, it's possible, it brings hope to the whole place and it also helps them also too imagine that, oh, it's possible that in the future I can also begin to grow and become somebody so that I can also affect others.
BLOCK: Well, Kwabena Darko and Katie Smith Milway, thanks so much for talking to us.
Mr. DARKO: Thank you, ma'am.
Ms. MILWAY: A pleasure.
BLOCK: Kwabena Darko's story is the basis for the children's book, "One Hen" written by Katie Smith Milway. You can see the young character Kojo and his plump, brown hen and read a bit more from the book at npr.org.
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