In April, I arrived home from Ghana after completing an ACDI/VOCA volunteer assignment with the USAID-funded West Africa Farmer-to-Farmer Program to help a company—once Ghana’s largest poultry grower and processor—measure their assets for growth.

Originally, I planned to evaluate their properties and help them arrange financing. But upon arrival, my objective grew to include a loan request, business plan, and training materials for recruiting outgrowers to achieve maximum processing production. We had limited time to do the intensive work set out for us. But my host worked with me to ensure that we completed each part and presented to the group on the final day.

By the time I left, the poultry company was ready to secure financing and had the tools necessary for the lender to complete the request. Their revised business plan included five-year projections of operations and cash flows. They also learned how to recruit broiler outgrowers who would buy feed and day-old-chicks for subsequent sale to the company for processing. Evaluation reports for 13 of their properties could be used for collateral for the new financing they sought.

The assignment provided an excellent learning opportunity for me, as they always have. I started volunteering with ACDI/VOCA 22 years ago, beginning in 1995 in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. The following year, I completed another three visits to both countries.

Smith in Accra

Smith (left) with the general director after a debriefing in Accra

After retiring from banking in 1994, I purchased two H&R Block franchises in California to manage part-time while also volunteering. Once H&R Block bought those franchises in 1997 to convert into company stores, I realized how much I enjoyed ACDI/VOCA volunteer assignments. I had wonderful translators who helped me learn the culture and traditions of the former Soviet Union and each country. I knew I wanted to travel and experience more.

Since then, I have served at central banks in Russia, Armenia, Montenegro, Afghanistan, and Iraq for USAID and USDA projects.

In Ghana, I immersed myself with the local people to understand their traditions, food, and lifestyle, leaving behind preconceived notions of what I would see or do. Instead, I simply enjoyed each day and all the people as life moved forward. I would encourage anyone, at any age, to do at least one volunteer assignment. Be careful though. You may get hooked!