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FUN TIME: Ashley Ranck, a Slippery Rock University English major from Lancaster, enjoys the company of Ghanaian children. Ranck visited Ghana in August as part of an undergraduate research project.

Student researchers visit Ghana

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - They stayed in a village that lacked electricity until a year ago. They ate goat soup and taught in a classroom without a roof. But the insight three Slippery Rock University students gained into the lives of women in the Republic of Ghana far out weighed the lack of modern conveniences during a recent research trip there.

Students said they also learned a lot about themselves.

"I knew it would be the experience of a lifetime and something I would most likely not get the chance to do again," said Ashley Ranck, an English major from Lancaster. "I am really passionate about women's studies and felt the need to help others help themselves. The opportunity to do this in Ghana was perfect."

Ranck, Kara Cooke Robeson, a social work major from Slippery Rock, and Nita Shippy, an English major from Hyndman, spent two weeks researching the daily lives and economic status of women in Ghana. Cindy LaCom, SRU professor of English and coordinator of the University's Women's Studies Program, led the once-in-a lifetime endeavor.

Students said the purpose of their research was to learn more about the dynamics of Ghanaian women within their families, villages and country. Students are also researching how small loans help women build businesses and, ultimately, improve the national economy.

Ghana, in West Africa, has a population of 24 million people and is home to more than 100 ethic groups with more than 40 languages. The official language is English, but most Ghanaians speak at least one local language.

SRU students conducted dozens of interviews with young and older women and read four books about micro financing, including "Banker to the Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty" by Muhammad Yunus.

"We really went over there to see how these women can help themselves, which is the most powerful thing you can do for someone," Ranck said. "We wanted to see the roles of men versus women and the roles women hold in their society. To give women power that can't be torn down by a natural disaster or taken by the government and that will continue once we step off African soil was very important to us."

Students are writing papers about their observations this semester and plan to present their ethnographic findings during SRU's annual research symposium in the spring and at the 2011 National Women's Studies Association Conference, LaCom said. The Ghana women are clients of Joy 2 the World, a non-profit organization that provides microloans for women entrepreneurs in Ghana. Translators were provided for the interviews.

"We asked what a typical day is like for them, what their financial contribution to the household was, the children's education and how often they ate," Ranck said. "We really wanted to make these women into humans and not just a 'client' or simply a far-away story."