By Kris Asleson | Founder | 8/29/2017
As I prepared to head off to Ghana for the 4th time since 2011, I will admit I was in a state of mental and emotional fatigue. My wife Cassie and I were in the middle of a budget DIY remodel of an outdated, unsafe home that we bought earlier this year. Business has been growing fast with my marketing agency (my day job) and I had also been training for a swim competition in Minnesota right before the trip.
Anyone who knows international development knows how consuming the work can be and burnout is a real threat for anyone who has put in more than a few years. As a younger founder (and definitely not a trust fund kid!), I was feeling a lot of pressure to engage in this work I am so passionate about while still keeping my own affairs and household afloat.
Despite my fierce commitment to our programs, I was hoping and praying that my own life would find some of the sustainability that we have worked hard to build in to our Farm in a Barrel and Village Drill programs.
I arrived in Ghana anxious and sleep deprived. A big expansion of our programs in 2015 followed by our largest major donor unexpectedly pulling support in 2016 (despite nothing changing with their interest and passion for our work) led to many challenges.
As I reverted back to a volunteer executive director, I faced difficulties managing a commitment to this important ministry together with personal responsibilities as mentioned above. My heart was as dedicated as ever, yet I could feel myself starting to wonder how I would keep this up.
In the next two weeks, all of that would change.
The first few days in Ghana were par for the course. After taking a “day off” to manage all my client marketing campaigns, I headed over to the Western region of the country to check on our drill team as they worked to construct a new well for a local hospital that sometimes went days without water.
On the way, our old SUV had engine problems, and I had to make the rest of the trip with public transport. A few hours turned into a full day and night, but the following day I had arrived.
It was great to see Pastor Vincent and the rest of the drill team. Everyone was much more comfortable using the drill than during my last trip in 2015. I was still feeling pretty tired and stressed, especially with very limited Wi-Fi (it’s not quite a first world problem when it’s your job). The team worked from 6am into the night until about 10:30. I ended up just eating and sleeping on site with the team to keep things simple since we were without a car.
Vincent was up again at 5:30 the next morning, and I wasn’t too far behind. We were up and running again by 7:30 and worked straight until 2pm. I had to head back at this point, but the team was making good progress despite some challenges. Shortly after, we completed the project and helped the hospital better serve their 2,000 constituents.
Eric, our Farm in a Barrel program manager, had been working to fix the car with the local mechanic the whole time I was with the drill team. Despite trying several different fixes, the car died on us again on the way back and we were forced to abandon it at a fueling station and head back to town on public transportation.
A quick note on that: never underestimate the importance of having infrastructure when working in developing countries. In all truthfulness, having an effective vehicle would improve our program delivery perhaps more than anything else right now. However, the idea of fundraising for a company vehicle makes me shudder, as it’s less impactful and way more money than sponsoring a Farm in a Barrel or a drilling project in the minds of most donors.
After returning to Kasoa, a rural community about an hour from Accra, I got settled back in and prepared to pick up Jerry Tindall from the airport. Jerry is the inventor of Farm in a Barrel and was coming for the second half of the trip, which was to be focused on that program. We had some challenges to work through since expanding the program in 2015, and we had also just purchased a small plot of land for a farm and brooding house for our Farm in a Barrel chickens.
The next week was incredible. We visited just about every Farm in a Barrel beneficiary and learned that even though some had faced challenges that come with starting a new business, every single one of them was optimistic and excited to keep moving forward with their program. Many even wanted to expand their farm. We linked up with a national network of women involved with poultry training, and discovered ways we may be able to scale our Farm in a Barrel program better. We strategized with partners and spent time building out Google Sheets to better manage program tracking and evaluation. We had a great place to stay at night and didn’t spend half of our day stuck in the Accra traffic. The week could not have gone better.
In addition to Jerry’s arrival, we welcomed a special guest from Sierra Leone last week. Pastor Peter Alfred had been following our work via email for a few years, and when he heard we were going to Ghana he was able to raise support from a generous donor to come see our programs in action. Peter is the founder of Comin-SL, an outreach mission in Sierra Leone that also is passionate about developing sustainable programs. It was great to get to know Peter and we hope to bring Farm in a Barrel to Sierra Leone in the coming years!
As the trip was coming to an end, I realized my attitude had changed completely. I went in feeling tired, a bit stressed, and not knowing what the future held. I left with complete confidence and conviction that I want to be involved in this work my entire life.
I might not always know what the future holds, but I do know that this is an important cause and that we have an amazing team making a difference in Ghana.
The future looks bright and full of impact. Our drill team has now made some valuable headway in the Western region and has a few more projects lined up already. Our farm is poised to start creating value and support for our programs in the next year. Farm in a Barrel is looking strong going into the festive holiday season.
Overall, we are catching our stride across all fronts and I personally have never been this inspired.
The last year or so has been hard for us. Anytime you unexpectedly lose a major source of financial support as a small organization, it’s difficult to recover. However, hardship has a way of forcing efficiencies both in people and organizations.
After this trip, I saw how these challenging times had actually brought out the best in us. Our programs became more efficient, and new donors and volunteers have stepped up in significant ways.
Everyone is thinking even more sustainably and efficiently, with a deeper focus and commitment to serving those that need a hand up. I’m thrilled to be called to this work and couldn’t be more excited to keep walking alongside everyone involved with this mission. Let’s keep moving forward!