From Britney, Lisa’s niece, after just returning from volunteering in Kongo, Yakote, and other communities in the Nabdam district of northern Ghana:
At a meeting for our new feeding program at Piitanga Primary School, the headmistress referred to women as the “live wire” of the community: if the wire is broken, the village has no power. This metaphor really rings true in rural Ghana! In fact, the value of women in their communities is what the work of Yakote Women Farmers is all about.
Let’s start with the school feeding programs, my focus on this January trip to Ghana. I think these are a great model for programs that are based around the commitment of community members. First of all, the cooking is all done by volunteer mothers at the school. For 20 weeks or more, they spend hours preparing food for around 150-200+ students, 3 days per week. At the planning meetings for the feeding programs, even more mothers turned out to show their support. Many of these women appeared with their babies strapped to their backs, a common sight even among women working as nurses or teachers. All of the families must send their kids to school with firewood for cooking and some small change for soap, which is not insignificant considering that many can’t afford to put food on the table. The success of the feeding programs demonstrates a very strong, long-term community commitment to keeping their kids in school and giving them a chance to improve their lives, and it all starts with the mothers.
Another project for this trip was Marilyn’s annual ‘Goats for Girls’ purchase. The middle school girls who receive goats are able to pay for their school costs by raising the goats’ offspring and selling them. Successfully raising the goats and saving the money for school requires a lot of dedication from these young girls. Hopefully, having a sense of ownership over their own education will keep these girls motivated through high school and maybe a training program or university, before they go on to become the new generation of women that contribute to their families and villages.
The basket weaving cooperative, soon to expand from Kongo to Yakote, the shea butter group in Kongo, and the Yakote women’s savings groups are all examples of local women taking initiative in creating opportunities for themselves. YWF has worked with Mondo, an Estonian nonprofit, to provide guidance and a market for baskets and shea butter. Unlike most large distributors, all of our exports provide a reasonable wage to the women; with hard work, they earn enough that they can make a significant contribution to their families. Victoria, one of the the original basket weavers in Kongo, has been supporting her four children for the past 20 years through her basket weaving. Don’t be fooled: She weaves every day until late at night, and was even working while we were over for dinner at her home!
During my time in Ghana, I was continually struck by the cheerful hard work of all the women with whom I worked. Janet at the nutrition center is just as committed to her at-risk newborn and pregnant clients now as she was before she started volunteering full-time 15 years ago. (She was finally hired 2 years ago.) The women at Piitanga Primary, our newest feeding program and school building project, giggled as they grabbed my hands and pulled me through the market to make sure we got the best deals on the food they would be cooking for their school. Some of the basket weavers insisted that I learn to weave, and couldn’t contain their laughter as they witnessed my disastrous attempts. These women truly make the most of all the assistance we can give, spreading it as far and wide as possible. It has been an honor to work on projects that are focused on long-term change and that are truly community driven – these women are amazingly capable, hardworking, and generous and all they need is an opportunity to use their skills.