Ghana is a vibrant nation home to innovative, determined, and peaceful people. However, over the years, the stark poverty existing in the very communities we serve became too difficult to accept. We tour various villages educating people about HIV, how they should prevent it, and clinics they need to visit for follow-up and care. Nevertheless, nagging questions arose: what do people realistically do when there is little money for prevention or care? How do women demand that men use condoms to protect themselves from disease when they depend on men for all basic life necessities, such as food and shelter, without risk of being abandoned or thrown out of the home? Why would our clients worry about a disease that can kill them in the future when they are focused on merely surviving today? Poverty poses immense challenges for many community members to live healthy, productive, and sustainable lives. Our journey of creating an empowering job creation program for 200 women arose out of this need to increase prosperity for our outreach communities; all while creating a sustainable fundraising effort that helps provide free HIV/AIDS services for 10,000 people yearly in Ghana.
For the past 10 years, I have lived in two worlds: our outreach community in Ghana and my base in California. In 2007, during one of my trips to the Bay Area, I was introduced to the world of design by a fashion designer attending trade shows that market world style items to U.S. buyers. I’ve always had a passion for esthetics, style, and the beautiful West African textiles common in Africa. I discovered my hidden talent for design making samples of various clothing, home décor, and style items based on current trends and my vision of adapting the beautiful African clothes to functional, yet stylish Western products. At the time, I began exhibiting my designs for the wholesale market as a way to provide income for women in our outreach, but on a small scale. Then, one day at a trade show, a “Vogue” editor approached me asking for samples to feature me as a designer for an upcoming editorial. She was impressed by the craftsmanship of the tailoring in the products, determination of “Sankofa’s Women”; as well as our HIV prevention efforts in communities in Ghana. She suggested I exhibit our designs in New York to increase our orders in the wholesale trade industry.
Back in Ghana, I meet many women in our HIV outreach who are simply looking for dependable work and sustainable income. Some of the women had no sewing experience while others were experienced seamstresses. Some were HIV positive, while others were negative but faced constant economic hardships that put them in dangerous and compromising positions. Therefore, I had an idea: Why not try to create a sustainable product line based on my design accolade which provides people in our communities with real livelihoods sewing the line while providing needed funds for our growing HIV/AIDS outreach? Soon, Sankofa had amassed a growing team of local tailors whom I taught proper stitch, construction, and design that adheres to Western standards; often over laughter, tears, and Ghanaian meals at the village Co-op base I call home. Armed with new designs for Western retailers, and a growing group of committed Ghanaian women, I visited New York’s trade shows for wholesale exhibition.
Our unique designs were a big hit with retailers in the U.S. and in International stores, who loved the fact that Sankofa’s line not only provides sustainable Fair-Trade income for women in our outreach communities in Ghana; but also finances the continuation of our HIV/AIDS projects. Since 2007, our Fair-Trade Co-op has grown to support over 200 women in various communities making the product line while helping to finance free HIV/AIDS services for 10,000 community members yearly in Ghana!
Share Our Impact, Shop Sankofa Here:
Meet a few women at our Co-op and read their stories
Our Artisanal Co-Op
Empower 200 women in Africa with Fair Trade Jobs.
Meet Gladys! She loves to work because she uses the skills learned at the workshop for her home. She has become very empowered.
Grace is a crafty 25 year-old woman with her first job being here at The Sankofa Center. She comes from the Eastern Region, where she learned to cook special family recipes with mixtures of rice, Fufu, Banku and Yam.
Monica is from the Asante Region which she is very proud of because of the large influence that the culture and Twi language still have today. Years ago, she was a very good runner and would compete at her school in a 400.
Meet Francesca! She works with Sankofa to support her family and finds Ronnie very influential.
Rose is mother to five children ranging from 17-31 years old. Originally from Ghana, she grew up working on a farm with mostly goats and chickens. Then, Rose worked in a market selling food to support her children.
list of some of the hard working women in co-op:
- Monica Ashanti
- Francesca Kenkey
- Gladys Okyere
- Rose Ahianyo
- Charity Dunyo
- Grace Asiama
- Stellar Kotuwe
- Valantina Amega
According to Unicef, Ghana’s extreme poverty rate is 29% of the population. This means that many people in this West African nation make less than $1.25 per day. Women in male dominated traditional societies, such as Ghana, often face additional burdens based on gender roles that intensify their poverty and lack of opportunity for economic growth. “Sankofa’s Women”, and a few of our men, reverse this trend and create a triple-impact making the Fair Trade product line by:
1. Empowering Gender Equality 2. Reducing Poverty 3. Preventing HIV/AIDS!
Shopping Fair Trade with “Sankofa” ensures you are purchasing products that create fair access for women in our communities to live sustainable lives. Our tailors earn 53% more than Ghanaian minimum wage, which means their employment provides real means to afford food, housing, health care, and education for their children. Shopping Fair Trade with “Sankofa” means you are empowering women to change their lives in Ghana! Proceeds from our line fund free HIV/AIDS education and prevention services that have reached over 50,000 people in Ghana to date!
FAIR TRADE PRINCIPLES SANKOFA STANDS FOR:
Creating Opportunities for Economically Disadvantaged Producers
Sankofa supports marginalized women in our outreach communities who join our co-operative. We seek to move our tailors from income insecurity to economic self-sufficiency.
Transparency and Accountability
Sankofa is transparent in its management and commercial relations. It is accountable to all its tailors, respects the sensitivity and confidentiality of commercial information supplied. The organization includes our tailors in all decision-making processes.
Fair Trading Practices
The organization trades with concern for the social, economic and environmental well-being of our Co-op and communities we live in. We maintain long-term relationships based on solidarity, trust and mutual respect that contribute to the promotion and growth of Fair Trade.
Payment of a Fair Price
We pay a fair price that has been mutually agreed upon by all through dialogue and participation, in which our Co-op members can live sustainable lives for their efforts; and the market can realistically resell our goods at reasonable market price.
Ensuring No Child Labor and Forced Labor
The organization ensures that there is no forced labor or child labor at our Co-op.
Respect Cultural Identity
Sankofa uses traditional themes and processes in our design esthetic and we avoid inappropriate themes and materials offensive to Ghana tradition and customs.
Commitment to Non-Discrimination, Gender Equity and Women’s Economic Empowerment and Freedom of Association
The organization has a non-discrimination policy that does not discriminate in hiring, remuneration, access to training, promotion, or termination based on race, caste, national origin, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, HIV/AIDS status or age.
Ensuring Good Working Conditions
Sankofa provides a bathroom, washroom, kitchen, and air conditioning in our Co-op workspace. Co-op members receive unlimited breaks and work 8 hours per day/40 hours per week with weekends and all Ghanaian holidays off. Equipment and workspace receive weekly checks for safety, repairs if necessary, and are kept clean, secure, and free from debris and clutter.
Providing Capacity Building
The organization seeks to increase capacity for our Co-op members by increasing orders through trade show exhibition and increased marketing, streamlining production processes, business training, and educating Co-op members on finance management.
Promoting Fair Trade
The Sankofa Center raises awareness of the need for greater justice in World Trade through Fair Trade at all trade shows, public events, and through the sale of our product line.
The organization has an active recycling protocol in which we collect, recycle, and reuse materials within our production. We promote recycling and reuse of resources within all aspects of our Co-op operations.