Wikipedia describes Ghana as well endowed with natural resources with exports such as gold, cocoa, crude oil, natural gas, timber, electricity, diamond, bauxite, and manganese. In 1966 when Nkrumah led the government Ghana was among the wealthiest and most socially advanced areas in Africa. Yet due to corruption in all aspects of Ghanaian life, today Ghana remains a developing nation after 55 years of independence. Today Ghana is considered a Low Income Economy. 35% of Ghana’s population are living on less than $1.25 per day in addition of 55% living on less than $2 per day, and a rate of 78% youth unemployment.
On my second visit to Ghana in January 2012, during my 5 weeks there what struck me the most was this dichotomy. On the one hand Ghana has so much, wonderful local fruits and vegetables, for instance; yet, on the other, there is abject poverty and terrible pollution. On the one hand, you will see a young man wearing jeans, tshirt and running shoes. He looks exactly like any youth you would see on a Montreal street. Then walking past him will be someone in barefeet with a huge stack of wood kindling balanced precariously on his head…
Women are still a vunerable group world wide but in Ghana their position is made more precarious by this poverty and because of old cultural ‘habits’. Village Exchange was started by a woman, Christiane Milev who saw this vunerability and wanted to do something about it.
Christiane started by studying teenage pregnancies. This led to educating these young women about health issues and family planning…. which led to finding ways to alleviate their poverty and empower them through small loans and employment.
[Christiane Milev, the founder of www.villageexchangeinternational.org with Sika ]
Lady Volta emerged out of many years of this study and work. Today Lady Volta employs one Project Manager, 5 Seamstresses, 3 Batikkers, 2 Beaders, one Baby Manager and one Store Manager … 13 young women whose lives are more fulfilled because of this dream come true…
Lady Volta is one part of Village Exchange. There is a whole other section that deals with the Microfinancing and Life Education. I hope to learn more about this part of Village Exchange International as i have invested in the Microfinancing …. i will be learning about the women who will be benefitting from the loans generated … i hope to impart some of this to you later so come back and visit. Maybe it will interest you and make you want to be a part of this as well!! Sika is involved in that part of the organization as is Albert, Kofu and Felix. Since i volunteered with the Beads and Batik Project or Lady Volta, my first presentation is about that part of Village Exchange only.
[Bernice’s smile is the first thing that greets you when you walk into the Village Exchange Building. In the front is a small tea shop filled with Lady Volta’s colourful products. Pure Art is selling Lady Volta products in their stores in Hudson and Montreal! The bright and cheery batik fabric is a wonderful preview of Spring and her flowers!! ]
Volunteers come from around the world and spend time working with the women in Lady Volta. I was only there for 3 weeks but Shoko who is a young designer from Japan, will spend two years here. Kathy, an accountant from England and Clarisse, a business student from France will be there for three months working to make this NGO a better functioning enterprise!
During my time volunteering i felt this NGO was doing something real and hands on. I felt my time there was a real exchange between cultures. I taught these women a little bit of the best of my culture and they in turn taught me a lot of the best of their culture.
[Shoko has introduced wonderful new ideas for both the batik fabric and for products to be sewn from the fabric. In the photo below she is teaching the women how to create a whimisical elephant made from the batik and stuffed with batik fabric remnants… nothing goes to waste here!! Something to note: Shoko spoke almost no English when she arrived in Ghana a year ago yet she has established an amazingly deep and rich rapport with these women… they really love her. No wonder, really. She is amazing. It teaches you how important communication is … not necessarily words… communication. Shoko communicates her love of people really well.]
The Batikers are extremely talented and hard working young women. Luki, who is the head Batiker showed me, shyly and proudly, each step of the formation of Batik Fabric. I was enthralled to see a plain white piece of fabric transformed! An amazing time of my stay was creating my own ‘stamp’ and watching these magicians turn my idea into reality!! I will be doing a photo essay of Lady Volta’s Batik making so keep an eye out … also now when you buy a necklace, it will be sent in a bag made from the Batik Fabric Luki, Precious and Lucie made for me!!
[Luki and Shoko stamping a brand new design that Shoko had worked out. And Lucie and Precious are doing the second dying after stamping with wax.]
Rita and Yaya are the Beaders.. I spent many hours with them doing my own beading and trying to design something new for Lady Volta. Even though i did not come up with a specific new design, i did introduce macramé to them. At first we were stumped by the fact that the different cords were not available in Ghana. Then we found a string in the markets that would work!! But it was an ugly white, so we asked the Batikers to dye it for us. I made a bracelet that i am still wearing … i left some books and ideas behind… hopefully they will germinate!!
Rita is the head Beader for the Beads and Batik Project, Lady Volta. Rita is modeling a necklace which was made while spending many wonderful hours beading with her and her fellow Beader, Yayra .. listening to them chatting and laughing.. Rita would also sing while she worked in a lovely pure voice. Her faith in life unfolding as it should came through the lyrics she sang…. ‘God will find a way …’
As head Beader, part of Rita’s job is to go to the bead market to replenish the stock of Lady Volta’s bead supply. She was delighted to see that i was a complete novice at buying beads. She went through the pricing of the beads with me, told me which vendors to go and see …Bernice and her even phoned ahead and told people to watch out for me… I was so fortunate to have a Bead Ambassador like her as i entered this new world!! Her advice was invaluable when i found myself trying to navigate the market! Slowly i learned to take my time, really examine the beads and then negotiate a fair price…
Belinda has a really important and busy job… she looks after the babies!! The moms are allowed to bring their babies to work. This adds a real zest to the atmosphere!! There is invariably one baby crying to be fed… and mom can just bustle up from wherever she is working because she can hear her baby calling her!! Even though it is Belinda’s job everybody pitches in at one point or another. Either because Belinda has more than her hands can jiggle or just for a cuddle!!
[Yaya’s baby took awhile to get used to that funny looking white woman … but towards the end i became just another aspect to her environment!! …. and then sometimes the babies blissed out all together after a good feed!!]
Prescilla as Beads and Batik Project manager has her hands full!! It is her job to make sure the products that have been ordered will be made on time. There is also all the stock that needs to be constantly refilled …
[Prescilla still manages to be a Mom in her role as Project manager….]